Systemic challenge of building meaningful communities: our unhealthy relationship with time

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I recently read Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas (which I can highly recommend). And it made me realize that if I want to help society build more meaningful relationships, I also have to start looking at the bigger picture and identify what systemic issues are in place that keep us from building a more connected, caring society.

And I keep coming back to our relationship with time.

In today’s society, time has become the scarcest of resource. Our capitalistic system is dedicated to optimizing our outputs and productivity. In pursuit of that we are constantly trying to optimize how we can squeeze more out of our time, do more, be more, have more. And as a result of that behavior, we are constantly out of time and so afraid of “wasting” time. Time for resting, time for simply being, time for building deep relationships is a luxury that few people can afford. It’s exhausting.

I sense that our unhealthy relationship is one of the key systemic barriers that hold us back from a more connected, more relationship-based society.

In my community work, I see that showing up on two levels:

  • When I zoom out, I see many communities driven by short-term goals and outcomes. Members have expectations to get something out of it in the short-term, otherwise why would it be worth their time?
  • When I zoom in, I experience many community experiences that are totally over-structured and over-filled. There is very little breathing room for “unproductive” time, simply being, for just relationships.

As a community builder, I feel that this is both one of the biggest challenges and yet also one of the biggest opportunities:

  • It’s a massive challenge, because changing our relationship with time is so deeply cultural and influenced by our current societal framework. Changing culture is very hard and ironically needs a lot of time.
  • It’s an incredible opportunity, because people are so hungry for patient spaces that are generous with their timeframes and time schedules.

Influenced by the thinking above I have come to believe that patience is one of the most strategic and important tools to build more meaningful communities. I’m going to write down more specific thoughts on strategic patience in one my next posts. As always, would be grateful to hear your perspectives!

Originally published at on January 23, 2019.

Fabian Pfortmüller

Written by

Grüezi, Swiss community builder in NYC, author of @CommunityCanvas, co-founder Together Institute,

Together Institute

Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help people and organizations build more meaningful communities. Here is where we share what we learn and think about.

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