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Strength in Community

Lenga Tree along Patagonia hiking trail

Humans are social creatures. We desire engagement with each other, often more so than we do other basic needs such as food and shelter. We are not meant to live in complete isolation, at least not happily or willingly.

In my work with corporations on their Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, community seems to be the most frequent request each strategic minority population has. Individuals, especially those who find themselves being the only one who looks like they do on their teams, want to build relationships with others who are like them. Sheryl Sandberg built an entire Lean In organization on that principle through providing a space for women to build Circles.

While traveling through Patagonia earlier this month, we stayed in Las Torres del Paine National Park. In 2011, a fire started by a camper, who burned his used toilet paper to avoid carrying it along his hike, ravaged much of the park. The region’s notoriously strong winds escalated that small quick action to devastation before anyone even realized what was happening. The scars on the land are still prominent these seven years later. We were told it would take over 100 years to replenish the foliage that was lost during that single fire.

One of our tour guides explained an interesting and recent change in reforestation philosophy. In generations past, ecologists believed each plant fought for resources such as light, water, dirt and space. Therefore, during reforestation they planted with the goal of each tree or bush having uninhibited access to such resources.

Given the harsh conditions in Southern Chile, for every 100 new Lenga trees planted, only one would survive and take to the land. After more research and desperate to find a better solution, they started to plant Lenga trees in close clusters and introduced a specific species of mushroom to the dirt around the bases of each. With this simple change in perspective about resources and the interrelationship of plants, they were able to substantially increase this tree’s chance of survival.

This reminded me of how penguins in the arctic will huddle in a giant circle with those on the outer edges regularly rotating in. This gives those protected in the inner portion time to warm up, sleep and get a break from the harsh winds and cold rather than each individually bracing the weather alone. There truly is strength in numbers.

We can learn so much from animals and nature. All living beings are stronger together.

For me personally, the lowest points in my life were made brighter and bearable simply by building relationships. Some of my favorite memories are hosting weekend brunches or wine tours through Napa with close girlfriends. The bonds that I forged with those friends still stoke a warm fire in my heart today.

Never forget the power of community and what we can do when we come together to be a force for good, a force for change, and a force for healing. If you know someone who’s hurting, reach out and invite them to do something together. That one, simple act could provide the reprieve they need to restore and rejuvenate.