Relationships Key in Community Building

I have struggled over the years to figure out what sustains a good RC Community. I believe that it has a lot to do with the quality of relationships.

More often than I care to remember, I have taught classes and led workshops that made me feel like I was making a real contribution and that I am part of this great movement to change society forever. We build up momentum and people enjoy good sessions. Then things fizzle out.1 People get discouraged and are overwhelmed by their day-to-day struggles to survive. RC becomes a “by the way”2 and “only if one can make the time.”

There are times when I have thought that RC is for the middle and owning classes. I tell myself surely working-class and poor people do not have time or the resources to sit around and tell sob stories.3 But in the back of my head, I know this is a lie. Working-class and poor people are able to prioritize their well-being and figure out how to use the resource of RC for themselves. There must be a way to build strong and sustainable RC Communities with the resources we currently have available.

Fundamentals classes and introductory workshops can only take us so far. There is a point beyond those classes that some people will not go—it becomes too scary. It seems easier for people to tuck in their hurts4 and go on with their lives the way they did before they were introduced to RC. The risk of opening up floodgates5 of hurts that we believe no one will really understand anyway is too high for many of us to take. This, I believe, is the major challenge of our Communities. We have not figured out how to be there for one another in a way that is safe enough for people to discharge their hurts.

I believe that Community building is about investing enough in a relationship that the relationship breaks that invisible barrier where people feel so very alone. This takes time and is not possible with large numbers of people at once. There are times when I’ve thought that having enough people in my class and doing enough workshops makes me a good RC leader. I am not so sure about this anymore. Sure, it feels good to introduce many people to RC and hope that, in the encounter, maybe one or two people will run with it6 and the Community will prosper.

I have suffered many “casualties” in my attempts to build Communities. There are times when I have wondered if it is worth the effort. Fortunately, I have some wonderful Co-Counselors with whom I believe I have been able to break the barrier of isolation. There are people in RC who can tell me they love me and I can believe they mean it. Then it is much easier for me to relate to that and fully discharge. It has taken many sessions to come this far.

I know now that to have a solid Community one needs good strong relationships. One has to be deliberate about which relationships to go after. Some relationships are easier than others. Sometimes this has to be one relationship at a time. How do you know a relationship is developed enough to move on to the next relationship? How do you do this in the face of your own distresses—of powerlessness, isolation, and hopelessness? The answer invariably comes up in Co-Counseling sessions, and sometimes it is hard for me and others in my Community to take enough time to have these sessions.

I am teaching an ongoing class of my local leaders and systematically trying to figure out a way for us to improve our connections. This seems to be at the expense of my other Community members outside Swaziland. I am sure, however, that with sustained discharge I will figure out how to balance my attention for all the key leaders in my Area, still teach my class, and make a living at the same time.

Through the work I am doing, I have learned to be ever more present with my children, and our relationship grows stronger and stronger. They are my inspiration. In the areas where I struggle the most and cannot get a good sense of my worth, I rely on my love for them. Because I love them enough and connect with them enough, then it must be possible for me to be lovable enough and connected enough with other people.

When it gets hard, I remember them and only have to imagine them having to grow up with the same garbage.7So I fight for them, because it is often easier to fight for them than it is to fight for me. In the process, I free up enough attention to see a glimpse of my real worth, and so I fight for me.

Bafana Matsebula
Regional Reference Person for Southernmost Africa 
Mbabane, Swaziland
Reprinted from Black Re-emergence No. 11


1 Things fizzle out means people lose interest.
2 A “by the way” means an afterthought, not important.
3 Sob stories is a negative reference to someone sharing sad feelings.
4 In this case, tuck in means hold in their hurts.
5 Opening up floodgates means allowing a large quantity to release.
6 In this context, run with it means use it fully.
7 In this case, the garbage means distress. 

Last modified: 2014-10-01 00:46:41+00