I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the glories of summer -- especially slow-paced time with friends. In summertime, relationships are warm and the hours are fluid. A day at beach stretches into an evening around the campfire, stars overhead and crickets chirping.
But as autumn creeps nearer, things will inevitably quicken. In the worst case, my autumn relationship with the world will be characterized by frustration -- annoying school board meetings, polarizing debates, or nasty elections. My slow, summery community fades, to be replaced by cold politics and, frankly, people I simply may not agree with.
As a community-development kind of gal, I’m always looking for other models – ways to hold onto much-need connections and “slowness.” Here’s a new favorite.
“Warm Cookies of the Revolution” has been busy in Denver, Colorado for the past few years building community engagement – while having fun. They call it a “civic health club.” Their website explains, “Well, you go to a gym to exercise your physical health, a religious institution to exercise your spiritual health ... Warm Cookies of the Revolution is where you go to exercise your Civic Health.”
Founder Evan Weissman can hear your skepticism already, but his enthusiasm is contagious. He explains, “It doesn’t have to be, like, ‘I’m going to tell you why the world is horrible! And you have to listen and feel bad, and not know what to do!’”
Yes, as you’d expect, every “Warm Cookies” event features free milk and a variety of baked goods. But the name also symbolizes a far-reaching vision. Politics and social change don’t have to be scary; they can be appealing, lively, and often very funny.
One event, entitled “Bring Your Government,” featured a three-person panel discussing what an ideal government should look like. But with Warm Cookies, expect the unexpected. The panel featured a state senator, a mayoral candidate, and a local comedian. Oh, and while listening, the audience was simultaneously collaborating on building a Lego city.
When building community, laughter is a great start. But there’s more to this than feeling good. Brain science tells us that we can use our full intellectual capacity better when we don’t trigger the usual “us/them,” “fight/flight” response. We need techniques to slow down and engage people in a less polarizing way, so we can collaborate and discover new answers.
At the “civic health club,” you can experience authentic connection with a variety of viewpoints. Instead of a lecture about how horrible the world is, how about one of these events?
• “The Huddle” encourages participants to take time-outs while they watch the Thursday night football game to discuss the social issues that revolve around professional sports.
• “Pies, Pies, and Pie Charts” is a lively gathering where people enjoy pizza pie, dessert pie, and discuss – you guessed it -- economic issues.
• “Civic Stitch ‘n’ Bitch” features moderated discussions on tough political topics – think gentrification, gun control, or legalizing marijuana. But people are also encouraged to bring their knitting or other handwork – and if you forget your project, craft materials are supplied. The relaxed setting increases friendly idea-sharing (and reduces pontificating).
“People who have come to our events…feel better than when they came,” explains Weissman. “That’s what you expect when you do a workout. … That’s why you do it.”
As Weissman put it with a grin, “My civic muscle? It’s my mind – my heart – my soul!”
With slow patience, humor, and a little help from cookies, we can build the cozy, creative, crackling fire of community -- so important in the coming coolness of autumn.