As much as we’d like to believe we can handle anything on our own, the truth is that we all need the support of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues… not only to get us through life’s challenges, but also to keep us healthy and happy. On this episode of Relate, you’ll hear about two groups that carry people from loneliness into the warm embrace of community. You’ll hear about retirees who get their grooves back while building projects and camaraderie, and from military families who land in neighborhoods far from home and are immediately by welcomed by their new communities.
Featured in this episode:
Retired men coming together in Men’s Sheds for activities like woodworking, cooking, bike repairs, and music
Blue Star Families, a group that helps to connect military families with friends and neighbors in new communities
SPEAKER: When you are so much about someone else that you'll drop what you're doing and help them, just because you know it would be a good thing for them.
SPEAKER: Community is just people plus people over time times good will.
TAMARA STANNERS: It's ironic that in this virtual, socially networked world that we live in, connection is harder to find than ever before. Today the Relate podcast is about community and how it's crucial to have the support of a network of friends and neighbors, colleagues, not only to get you through life's challenges, but also to keep you healthy and happy.
SPEAKER: You're listening to Relate.
SPEAKER: You're listening to Relate by Zendesk.
SPEAKER: Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships.
SPEAKER: For better customer relationships.
TAMARA STANNERS: I'm Tamara Stanners and this is Relate by Zendesk. I hope you love your job as much as I love mine, but even if we have the greatest job in the world, the dream of retirement is sweet. I mean, it's freedom. No more early mornings, no more commuting in crazy traffic jams, no more busy meeting schedules. I mean, it sounds perfect. Here's the thing, if you don't do it right retirement can actually be problem, especially for men.
For a lot of guys it can lead to boredom and depression. Health problems partly because men aren't typically as good as women are at making those relationship connections.
JOEL SEAGULL: When guys retire they have absolutely no idea what they're going to do with their time. They work eight hours a day for their whole life and suddenly that's gone.
TAMARA STANNERS: This is Joel Seagull. He's a retiree and he's got some perspective on this problem.
JOEL SEAGULL: I've talked to guys and I've said, "What are you going to do when you retire?" "I'm going to work on my stamp collection." "Oh, are you?" "Yeah." I say, "What are you going to do the next two weeks? You've got the rest of your life here. If you sit and watch television you'll be dead in two years. Simple. You need something to keep you busy."
TAMARA STANNERS: This is Doug Mackie.
DOUG MACKIE: When many men retire, they have no structure in their life and so they then are sitting around at home and starting to annoy their wives, gray divorce comes in, 25% of the people married at age 65 will divorce by the time they complete their lives. Suddenly, we've got men sitting at home not knowing what to do.
TAMARA STANNERS: This gentleman's name is John.
JOHN: Men are very closed about themselves about their lives. They don't talk about it. It's always been that way. The thing is when you grow up years ago it was bear with it, be a man. You know, don't complain. Never complain about nothing. Just do what you're told and that's it.
TAMARA STANNERS: Retirement isn't sounding as fun as we thought it was going to be is it? These guys are only talking about what happens when men are passive in their retirement. When they just let retirement happen. If you look at retirement as an opportunity to work at what you love and a chance to make new friends, well that's a whole different story.
JOHN: My name is John and I've been coming to Men Shed for four years.
TAMARA STANNERS: Yes, you heard right. The Men Shed. It's not actually a shed, though it is stocked with all kinds of tools. It's a place, and it's kind of like a club for men. They just get together. It's a place for them to talk shop. To work on things. To start projects and make friends.
JOHN: It gives you a purpose to get up in the morning. Two years ago I rebuilt the community centers lawnmower tractor here. I was a machinist millwright by trade, so they hadn't use it for 12 years. I pulled it apart and fixed it and it's running like a charm.
DOUG MACKIE: My name is Doug Mackie and I'm the cofounder of Men Sheds in Canada. Recently we started a Men Sheds in a town called Minnedosa. Those guys have got more projects on the go. They're going to build planters that are wheelchair accessible for their local Senior Center. They've got plans to build a gazebo in a park where they need to have a gazebo. They plan to work in their Heritage Village and have the high school students come and work with them. Who wins? I'll tell you who wins. The men do. Their wives do. Their children and other people in the community. It's a win, win, win.
TAMARA STANNERS: There are Men Sheds Chapters all over the world. There are about a thousand of them in Australia, they're in the UK, in the US. I think there's one starting up in Hawaii. There are some in Canada and yeah, it's about working on projects. There's a lot more to it.
JOHN: Initially I was looking for somewhere to carve and I found that. Sometimes I go here I don't carve anything we just sit and talk to a guy. How you doing? What's up? How are things in your life? I've become a little bit of a psychiatrist or something. My wife always tells me I'm going to get arrested for practicing medicine without a license but okay. I just try and help the guys along.
DOUG MACKIE: I know of another man who first came to a Men Shed through a mental health unit. After about three months he went up to the head of the mental health unit and said, "I don't need your services any longer, I have Men Sheds." It wasn't that he was receiving counseling, it wasn't that he was receiving guidance, he suddenly found that he was in the company of men and this is really what he needed rather than the former counseling or guidance which a health unit could give him.
We also have a man who comes here on a regular basis. He was, well he's got one arm that doesn't work and then he wanted to make a walking stick. How do you make a walking stick if you've only got one arm? He propped it in his left shoulder, leaned against the floor and the wall angle there so the stick wouldn't move and carved with his right hand. None of us figured this out for him, he figured it out himself. His wife simply says, "You don't understand, after coming home from that session last week, he was just a changed and different man."
TAMARA STANNERS: The other thing about this community is these men are there for each other when the times get tough. These are older guys so inevitably there are health scares. The difference here is that they've got their buddies to be with them, to lean on to help them get through.
DOUG MACKIE: Recently a friend took me to the hospital because I was having chest pain. It wasn't a heart attack, but did I ever feel good to have my own friend take me to the hospital. Just unreal. Don't forget, I'm 76. As I grow older, more and more of my close friends that I've known for a long time are going to die. How do you replace your friendships? Many men don't replace their friendships and they slowly but steadily become isolated. Man, I don't think I'll ever be isolated. I'm going to have too many guys calling me or getting after me or checking up on me.
TAMARA STANNERS: Note to men, even you young ones, work on your friends. Cultivate those relationships. Build a community outside of work because you're going to need it someday.
Men Sheds, I love them, because it is true, everybody wins. If you'd like to find out more about Men Sheds find the links in the show notes or just Google Men Sheds. The thing is, you don't have to be retired, or a man, to feel isolated. It can happen to any one of us at any time. Maybe you work remotely or maybe you're just shy. There's an article over on the Relate online magazine with some really useful tips on building community no matter where you are. It's called “Introvert or remote worker? Use Twitter chats to build a community of colleagues.” You can find that piece and tons more helpful stuff at Relate.Zendesk.com. You're listening to Relate by Zendesk.
SPEAKER: Zendesk builds software for better customer relationships.
TAMARA STANNERS: If you've lived in one place for a really long time you kind of take it for granted that you know everybody. You've got your neighbors and the teachers at the kids school. You've got the Barista at the corner coffee shop and the checker that you always see at the grocery store. You've got friends nearby, too. What if you have to move a lot? What then?
KATHY ROTH-DOUQUET: I really came to understand this best when the Iraq and Afghanistan war started. My husband was off in Kuwait on the Iraqi border.
TAMARA STANNERS: This is Kathy Roth-Douquet. She had to move because her husband was in the military. When he was deployed, she was on her own.
KATHY ROTH-DOUQUET: There I was in my townhouse in La Jolla with my four year old and my infant listening to the radio as I knew my husband was invading a country where people were trying very hard to kill him. I was living far from family and friends because military orders had moved us. I was in school and I knew I had to stay in school and finish that work I was doing because it was possible my husband might not come back. That was tough. I had to keep my grades up to keep a scholarship. I had to keep those kids together. I did not have the support system and it was a pretty scary thing.
TAMARA STANNERS: You can imagine that some people would just bail on this kind of life. They'd get out of the military. For sure, marriages and relationships break up over this kind of uncertainty and disruption. It's hard having to move to a completely new town every few months or few years and having to start over from scratch every single time. Not only that, but your partner, the bread winner, might never come home. The kids, think about the kids.
KATHY ROTH-DOUQUET: A neighbor might reasonably think, "Uh, there's a kid in my child's class but I know they're leaving in nine months. When I'm planning dates do I really want to put the energy into investing into this kid who's going to be gone, or getting to know this family who's going to be gone." Maybe the answer is no, and that's understandable.
TAMARA STANNERS: Kathy's insight was that there were many other families going through similar challenges. She decided that she was going to reach out. Not just to the families, but to the communities where these families were landing. She started Blue Star Families. The group actually goes into these communities and explains to folks how these families are sacrificing a lot and really need support.
KATHY ROTH-DOUQUET: All they need from us is a little bit of friendship. All they need from us is a little bit of sympathy and inclusion. Would you be part of that? Would you be willing to be a good neighbor to these people? That's actually a really easy thing to ask and people are quick to say yes I do want to do it.
ASHLEY BURNETT: We just got really lucky here living right across the street from Ken and Judy. When we first moved in, they really took us under their wing. My name is Ashley Burnett and I met my husband almost six years ago. He's an active duty service member in the Army. This is our third duty station. We've been at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. We've been at Fort Benning, Georgia and now we're stationed here at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We had just had a baby two weeks before we moved here, so you know, we had a lot going on. We were trying to adjust to being new parents. We weren't getting much sleep just like most new parents don't. Then on top of all that, we were closing on a house where all of our belongings were being delivered and we had to find the time and the energy to unpack and make our home livable. We were basically just kind of in survival mode.
TAMARA STANNERS: You know what that's like when you're living out of a suitcase and the most mundane things are super hard. It's times like this when a friendly neighbor is just the thing you need.
ASHLEY BURNETT: The day all of our belongings were delivered and someone knocked on the door and we opened the door and it was Judy.
JUDY OSBORNE: Okay, I'm Judy Osborne ...
KEN OSBORNE: ... and I'm Ken Osborne.
TAMARA STANNERS: Judy and Ken Osborne are exactly the kind of couple that Blue Star wants to connect with these military families that are moving all about.
ASHLEY BURNETT: She had brought this tray of sandwiches that she had made, as well as a loaf of homemade apple-cinnamon bread and she said, "I just wanted to come and introduce myself. This is for you guys, here you go. Enjoy a meal on me." We were like, oh my gosh, like that was so nice.
TAMARA STANNERS: I don't know about you but when I moved into my last home, I didn't get a greeting like that from anybody.
ASHLEY BURNETT: She has really been there for us when we needed pretty much anything. I think we had only lived here for maybe a week or two and she offered to come over and watch both of our kids so our three year old daughter, and our brand new baby, while my husband took me to the hospital. She just, from the very get go, she was there for us. Soon after that we found out that my husband was going to be deploying, so we were jumping right into deployment preparation and a lot goes into that. She was there for us through all that. Then he deployed and I was on my own. She was there for me the entire time.
JUDY OSBORNE: I think their needs are different than what a civilian neighbor might need. They have a lot more rapid changes in their life that sometimes they can't account for. One day things are going one way, and then the next day, I don't know, coming up on orders or going down range or anything like that that can just turn things topsy turvey in a life. If there's someone who can help be a stabilizing force or just a shoulder to lean on, makes all the difference in the world.
ASHLEY BURNETT: It's building those relationships during the things that seem to be small things, if you will, just the small everyday things. It really adds up and it has made such a big difference in our lives and our kids lives. Our kids just adore them almost like another set of grandparents.
JUDY OSBORNE: I love her children. I couldn't love them any more. Every once in awhile we'll hear a knock on the door and it's Olivia and Ashley will be with her and she'll say, "I just wanted to see you to make sure you were okay."
ASHLEY BURNETT: When you are around people so frequently and they make you feel so comfortable and so welcome, I think that relationship just builds naturally. It wasn't anything that either one of us were trying for necessarily, it just kind of happened. I mean, now, we all just kind of feel like family.
You know, we try to do as much as we can for other people, but being on the receiving end of that, it's such an incredible feeling and to know that they don't have to do any of that. Nobody asked them to do this. Nobody said, "Hey, I think it would be a great idea if you had them over every week for dinner." They just did it because they wanted to and because they cared about us. That's community. When you care so much about someone else that you'll drop what you're doing and help them just because you know it would be a good thing for them.
JUDY OSBORNE: One of the things that we had talked about at the Blue Star Ceremony about everybody being so isolated because their lives and children go in so many directions. Everybody has at least one commonality somewhere. If you draw on that, you don't know how far a friendship can go.
KATHY ROTH-DOUQUET: Community is just people plus people over time times good will. You have to put people together more than once. Not just a one and done, but literally over time repeatedly and in an atmosphere of goodwill whether it's a books on bases or a museum event, or just a neighbor's potluck or a Blue Star Families neighbor coffee meet up at Starbucks. In that atmosphere of good will of realizing that we all have a mission we're part of and by being together we're doing something positive for each other and for our community and for our country.
ASHLEY BURNETT: Every family is unique in their family dynamic and what they might need at the certain time. Anybody can reach out to a neighbor and say, "What can I do for you? How can I help you? Why don't you come over this weekend and we'll have you over for dinner." Whatever it may be, you know, the needs of a military family are unique but every family has different needs. Just knowing that you have someone that's close to you that's willing to help or be there for you, you know, no matter what you need. Anybody can do that.
TAMARA STANNERS: Anybody can do that. Maybe you can the next time somebody moves in close to you. Maybe you could bring them an apple-cinnamon loaf or muffins. Buy muffins, it's easier.
That's it for Relate this time around. Look for our next episode coming up in July. We're working on a whole lot of things including a story about a bike trip across the US where two guys find friendship despite a serious culture clash. We've also got an incredible piece on a daughter's relationship with her dying father. And a feature interview with author and radio personality, Jon Ronson. I can't wait for you to hear these. They're all coming up in the next few months.
In the meantime, you can subscribe to the show wherever you listen to Podcasts that way you'll get the next episode automatically. For more articles on connecting to your customers in deeper ways, visit Relate.Zendesk.com and if you want to explore technology built to improve your customer interactions, head over to Zendesk.com for a free trial. I'm Tamara Stanners, talk to you soon.