Well-being, Hope … and the Role of Community

From the time we’re barely old enough to walk, the concept of “what we’re going to do” is instilled into us. Our parents have these grand aspirations for us – and rightly so. Society has always pegged the idea of who we are firmly encased in our occupation. And the higher paying these”jobs” are, the higher the level we can rise in society’s caste system. 

We devise these elaborate career paths that take decades to unfold. This is supposedly the road to our Perfect World. Yet often we put little thought into where the path is going to take us and what this illusionary world will look like once we get there. We become doctors because our parents want us to. Or we become lawyers because … well, that’s what smart kids are supposed to do. Occasionally we let marriage and child rearing interrupt us, but often not that much.

Society tells us this is what is expected of us. To not perform according to the norm is considered irresponsible. If we object there’s always someone to tell us – “No you’re on the wrong path. You’ll never get to your Perfect World that way.”

But what if this Perfect World of career proclamations isn’t who you are? What if the whole idea of “what you’re going to do” isn’t what you want to define you? What if your Perfect World wasn’t so much a place or an illusionary utopia, but rather your journey of life? 

For many, a few more dollars pale in comparison to being able to coach their son’s baseball team or be there to commiserate with their daughter doing her homework. And why shouldn’t it be?

Nilofer Merchant has been an advocate for Onlyness. In a piece by Esko Kilpi, he quotes Merchant: “Onlyness is what only that one individual can bring to a situation. It includes the journey and passions of each human.” While her context is a bit different from mine … I think we still end up in the same place. We both believe we are much more than a title on a business card; cringing at this societal obsession we have of basing our value on “what we do;” with “what we do” being nothing more than what happens between our morning and evening asphalt commutes.

My idea of the Perfect World isn’t one that fits on a 3 1/2 by 5 inch piece of cardboard. What if your business card stated what you really cared about and what you were doing about it.

It could say:

“Every day I spend an hour with my daughter walking around the neighborhood. I ask about her day and make sure if there was anything I could do to make it better.”


“I spend my weekends volunteering at the homeless shelter teaching technology to the residents there to better their lives as a contribution to my community.”

Or even:

“I write 500 words day and read a book a week in pursuit of my journey as a life long learner in hopes that someday I can do something for my city that no one else has.”

I look at my Perfect World that of a journey of well-being. I don’t mean strictly physical. And it sure isn’t the pursuit of more money just to buy more stuff. Of course we all need to work to sustain ourselves and our families; but does it have to turn into a materialistic obsession of “keeping up with the Jones” under the auspice of some antiquated version of the American Dream.

The Quest for Well-being through Self-Actualization

In his iconic hierarchy of needs, Abraham Maslow described the five needs humans strove to attain. At the top and most cerebrally advanced, he listed the need for self-actualization. Maslow believed that every person has a strong desire to realize his or her full potential, and the road to reach this full potential was the quest for self-actualization. A self-actualized person enjoys “peak experiences” high points in life when the individual is in harmony with himself and his surroundings. Later in life, Maslow explored self-actualization further. During this exploration he found an additional dimension of actualization – one of wanting to achieve goals outside oneself, through altruism and spirituality.Well-being cloud

I equate this quest for self-actualization and “peak experiences” to experiencing well-being. Simply put, well-being is having hope. As long as one has hope, they can look at their journey as significant and worth living to its fullest; fullest in the greatest benefit to themselves and those people and things around them. So how does one goes on this quest of well-being and being hopeful?

Let’s look at three components of well-being: physical, cerebral and spiritual.

By physical, I refer to the body and it’s upkeep. To maintain this upkeep one needs be physically fit. This is accomplished by exercising regularly, eating well and limiting oneself to negative illness causing pathogens. Unfortunately, even if we do all these things, our bodies still need help. Our access to professional medical care, both preventive and after the fact, is also imperative to physical upkeep.

“What a man can be, he must be.” – Abraham Maslow

The second aspect of well-being is the cerebral component. However important the body is, it’s there only to provide the vehicle for the brain and things it can conjure up. The well-being goal here is ultimately the pursuit of Maslow’s concept of “self-actualization” – to be everything we can be, both for ourselves and for those around us. For example, one individual may have the strong desire to become an ideal parent. In another, the desire may be expressed athletically. For others, it may be expressed in paintings, pictures, or inventions. 

But later in life, Maslow explored a further dimension of needs, while criticizing his own vision on self-actualization. The self only finds its actualization in giving itself to some higher goal outside oneself, in altruism and spirituality. He called this dimension or level Self-transcendence. It’s this level that we must ultimately strive to attain. For with it, a community will reach its potential in its quest for inclusive positive societal evolution.

To embark on this journey we have to look past the development of just ourselves. We have to look at our development in context of what it can do for our community or social grouping. The Scottish philosopher David Hume theorized that humans were inherently benevolent and if given the choice they would help another, rather than act selfishly. Our goals both individually and as a group should be to create a means or environment to enable us to unleash this inner benevolence Hume spoke of. Fundamental to this is nurturing our curiosity to become a life-long learners as well as developing the cerebral capacity to evolve and change for sustainability for oneself, one loved ones and others we may be responsible for (human and other).

Finally we must address the spiritual component. By spiritual, I don’t necessarily mean religion, organized or other. By spiritual I assume one’s need to believe there is a greater power that has influence over them. Whatever one believes this power is, is entirely up to the individual; and at no time should they impose their beliefs or lack there of on anyone else. Spirituality is not an excuse for ideological tyranny, or attempts at it.

The Role of Community in Personal Well-being

The pursuit of well-being cannot be limited only to our efforts internally. We don’t live in a vacuum. We are products of our environments. We must create environments and communities that nurture well-being and hope by creating avenues for us to engage with our world and express our curiosity and creativity … and as a result our inherent benevolence? Our communities must make “helping others” the societal norm … supplanting that of just making money and climbing ladder of the economic caste system.

And these avenues and communities can take place anywhere.

At Marion Correctional Institution, in central Ohio, inmates have not let their incarceration let them from pursuing their road to well-being.

Five years ago, to keep busy and give himself a sense of purpose while doing his time, Robert Cooper, a resident of Marion for the last fifteen years – joined several other men at the prison to start an organization they named Green Initiative. The original project was to start a garden on prison grounds so the men could be outside more, fill their days productively, and have fresher food available to them and their fellow prisoners. The men now grow crops on an acre and a half of land; last year they gave away 15,000 pounds of vegetables to the Salvation Army and local churches and community programs. Green Initiative also raises bees and has built a greenhouse to grow hydroponic herbs and raise tilapia in an aquaponic system. It started the prison’s first recycling program, diverting more than a million pounds of garbage from landfills in 2013 alone.

Cooper says the program gives meaning to his long days behind bars and offers a way to show others that he has changed. A gangbanger during his first few years in prison, today he’s affable and polite. All that’s left of that former self are the tattoos on his knuckles, which he says he wishes he could erase.

“A lot of guys give up on life in here,” he says. “That’s something I don’t want to do. I got kids. I got family that I actually want to make proud of me.” He pauses, clears his throat and adds: “I done enough for them to dislike me. I’m trying to make them where they like me again.”

The need to engage, and spur interest and curiosity is also fundamental to successful educational programs, whether in schools or in the real world. Engagement happens when a person finds something that is relevant in their journey to their Perfect World. Once this relevance is recognized – a person engages and does what I call a “deep dive.” A “deep dive” is the action of performing critical thought to the point of extreme cerebral satisfaction. This is not unlike the release of endorphins an athlete feels after an exhilarating physical activity. This is my version of Maslow’s “peak-experiences.”

What if we designed our communities around the idea of maximizing these “peak-experiences” for all residents; where a chance to have a creative or social “deep dive” was just around the corner. And what if opportunities to self-actualize through helping were part of the fabric our daily lives.

What if our physical security and well-being was not dependent on government assistance or the whims of a fickle market driven economy. What if the neighborhood was the safety net, a safety net that knew best what was needed in a neighbor’s time of need.

What if we designed communities with the idea that options for cerebral engagement – engagement that would stimulate the mind, cultivate curiosity and engender hope – where omnipresent even in people and places no one thought it would exist.

What if the streets of your communities became mixing pots of serendipity – places where curiosity was bred and benevolence was the norm.

What if engagement and well-being was how a community measured itself, not obtuse economic activity often distorted through one-dimensional rose-colored glasses. Rather than focusing wholly on jobs for “hard-working folk,” we create paths for “hard thinking” people. What if we fixated on what we “could,” rather than what we “can’t” – making our communities even better than they already are.

What if getting up in the morning was a chance to experience and nurture our hope … help others do the same.

This is my Perfect World. This is Community 3.0.


If you haven’t, I invite you to start by delving into my ideas by reading the series, On the Road to Your Community’s Perfect World,” This is my articulation of how we can create better, more inclusive, unique communities as the solution to our society’s pressing issues. Consider each week’s post a Mile Marker (MM), a cerebral off-ramp from the highway of your daily routine, taking a you little further down this road to a better version of society.


You can follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and on Google+.

7 thoughts on “Well-being, Hope … and the Role of Community

  1. Clay this is brilliant as always…(not gratuitous flattery- just my truth)…I love the concept and want to hear more…now the picture of front porches is much clearer…

  2. Hi Clay. I agree with the goals you’ve outlined in this and other articles. I’d like to see you write an article, using this concept map as the focus. http://tinyurl.com/TMI-Race-Poverty-Map I think people who are secure with a home/food/basic job security will approach your ideas from a different lens than those who are not sure where the next meal is coming from, or where they will spend the night, or if they will get work that covers basic expenses, or if they can keep the work they find. This concept may is one of many visualizations you can find on my blogs. I encourage you to borrow them if they help engage more people in working for the well-being of all.

    1. This makes sense Daniel. I’m a map freak so this should be no problem. In a couple weeks I’m going to get more into the execution of Community 3.0 and specifically the concept of the ‘Front Porch.’ Using a political analogy, the ‘Front Porch’ is like a caucus (including the physical setting of the meeting). I can see how using maps will determine the resources available and demographics at a specific ‘Font Porch’ (often located at a small business) will determine the volunteer needs of it. Demographic geography will play a crucial role in determining those needs. Thanks!

      1. Here’s another one of my maps. http://tinyurl.com/TM-BlogNet-Map In this case my goal is to use a google map to plot location of people who are writing about my ideas in their own blogs. In the “front porch” concept, you might want to have locations plotted, showing places were “front porch” discussions are taking place and helping to connect one place with another. If you were part of Jelly Week in 2011 and 2012 you’ll recall they created a Google map to show participation in their event. I used that image to illustrate my goal.

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