“Shouting ‘self-care’ at people who actually need community care is how we fail people.”- Nakita Valerio
You’ve probably heard the term ‘self-care’ in some capacity– perhaps from a friend, colleague, or even a supervisor telling you to take care of yourself in a number of different ways. While this term has become popular in today’s world and derives from feminist theory, the question that remains for some of us is: what if self-care isn’t enough? In April of last year, community organizer and researcher Nakita Valerio stated that we needed another form of compassion: community care. When I first read this, I was both mind-blown and appreciative that her message went viral. As someone who was raised by parents who come from a collectivist culture, community care made absolute sense to me, even in the workplace. More often than not, I find that people don’t always know how to support each other during hard times because we’re told to deal with our problems on our own. Ultimately, the power and initiative to care for ourselves is our responsibility; but that doesn’t negate the power of collective caring, especially if we work together.
What is community care?
As Valerio describes it, community care means: “People committed to leveraging their privilege to be there for one another in various ways.” In many ways, this definition sounds similar to how we at SGO define allyship. Community care consists of both small- and large-scale actions that we can take to show our support for another person, or group of people. It may look like a team leaving sticky notes with encouraging words on their co-worker’s desk, or participating in a protest that advocates for the rights and livelihood of the community you serve. Depending on each of our roles and positions, the way we give care may look different for each of us.
Why community care and not self-care?
According to the World Health Organization, “self-care is what people do for themselves to establish and maintain mental health, and to prevent and deal with illness.” For many people, self-care can look like: taking a mental health day off of work, getting a massage at a spa, exercising during a lunch break, or even not checking work emails during the weekends. How we choose to care for ourselves has an impact on our overall health, which makes self-care practices important. Therefore, the concept of community care isn’t to eliminate self-care. Practicing community care, in addition to self-care, asks us to go one step further. It asks us to take the initiative to show and give compassion to each other, even if someone isn’t doing that for themselves. The assumption that there is a certain way to take care of ourselves, and that everyone knows what it means to take care of themselves, isn’t quite accurate.
As mentioned previously, growing up with parents who embraced collectivist culture, the idea of telling my mother to “take care of herself” could be seen as an insult. She was taught that her happiness is linked to the happiness of her family and community members, and therefore could never center herself.
Furthermore, many people, especially those of us with socially marginalized identities, deal with microaggressions and various forms of discrimnation on a daily basis. Unfortunately, these experiences have real effects on our well-being and don’t just vanish when we start taking care of ourselves. If people make up systems, and if many of the problems we face come from systemic issues, then we have a collective social responsibility to support one another as we work towards fixing those issues. When the people you work and live with can be of additional support, it makes each day that much better. Therefore, community care isn’t just about being there for other people in a way that you think is helpful, it’s (as Valerio states) about being there for people without them having to take that initial first step to reach out and ask for help and/or support.
How can we practice community care in the workplace?
The ideas of caring for our individual selves and for each other are not new concepts. Throughout history, we’ve found ways to survive and thrive in the spaces we occupy. Workplaces happen to be one of those spaces. There’s a growing trend of companies that have embraced the self-care movement by implementing initiatives such as: care kits for pregnant employees, childcare, counseling for individuals and couples, and wellness days that include massages, snacks, and yoga. These are all great initiatives and help support employees in many ways. We can also benefit from having additional initiatives that center group support and healing. Imagine working in a professional environment where co-workers are supported and can trust one another. This creates psychological space for employees to share, if they choose, how systemic and personal issues impact their well-being, and ultimately their ability to do their work. A workplace with a community care culture might have the following actions taking place: creating support groups, providing time during staff meetings to address an issue, or bringing awareness to a specific issue through the company’s website or social media platforms. This shift towards community care at work could ultimately change our workplace culture and how we interact with one another not just as colleagues, but as humans.
This is part one of a two-part series exploring community care in the workplace. In the next blog post, we will share specific ways you can implement community care in your workplace. Insights will come from our January DEI Meet-Up in Boston. If you’re in town, please join us!