Last time I talked about how important it is to make community visible by way of the shared story. I was reflecting on the viability of an ‘invisible’ community. Is it possible to have such a thing? Has it ever been possible? The more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that “community” may possibly be a more universally understood construct than “family”.
By that I mean you can go anywhere and people will understand the essential characteristics of community. Here is my paraphrase of the the Wikipedia definition:
Community—a more or less cohesive group with a common identity sustained by common intent, beliefs, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and any number of other conditions.
Family, on the other hand seems to be very open to interpretation. Does it include blood relations only (or as legally augmented through adoptions and marriages)? Just the atomic family of mother, father and children? The Chinese 7-pocket family where you have one kid, two parents and four grandparents? Is there a requirement for a blood relationship at all? Any specific mix of gender identities? In our modern world, we have patriarchal, matriarchal and anarchical family structures. Families with one, two, three and more identified generations in close contact. The variation is staggering.
But I digress. It occurred to me that historically all sorts of communities were open, visible and transparent. In more ‘primitive’ societies, not everyone has the wealth to own their respective homes and lands. They may not have a place to store food beyond what’s being prepared for the next day or two. They may not have electric or gas cooking ovens or private laundry facilities. In these settings, the community shared in many activities—hunting for or gathering food, preparing food, caring for children.
There is little done that is hidden from view. Most acts are public acts. The fact that everyone was working together, playing together, living together contextualized the world. Why would you twitter what everyone you knew could just see. There was a common flow and everyone you knew or cared about was in the same flow with you.
I remember the funeral for my grandma Griess back in 1975. It was in Sutton, Nebraska, a town of about 1800 for as long as I can remember. We had moved away and lived in various cities and college towns in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Michigan. I saw my grandparents for a week a year, at most, and had little interaction with their network. When we visited, we were busy with my extended family (my dad’s siblings and their children, my grandparents’ cousins and their descendents).
At the service, I remember commenting to my dad as I saw small children (5-10 years old, I guess) weeping at Grandma’s casket, “Dad, why are these little kids crying? They can’t really know Grandma.”
He replied, “Oh, yes. They know her. They have all been to the house and been with their parents as they took Grandma and Grandpa shopping.” They were clearly in the flow; I was not, clearly.
So what to make of all this as you try to make community work? I think there are a couple of lessons.
- You need to get in the flow. The flow is where the narrative is. It’s where things are volunteered and also observed.
- Getting in the flow is easy when you’re all telling tales around the kneading stone or camp fire. Or when the neighbors all gather at Cheers! It is much more difficult when we’re all in our own houses or places of business.
- In today’s social media, particularly of the business-oriented kind, it’s not good enough to be able to create a community space (note, a person can’t create a community, but they can create a space to foster community) or to be a member of a community. You need to interact.
- So a practice I recommend is to consider the ways you can see what the flow is and find times where you roll up your pant legs and get off the shore. Step into the flow and participate. If you use email, let updates come to you, by all means, but also follow the links back into the shared space.
- If people are gathering in person and you can get there, get there. If there’s a 3DI event with avatars, join in.
Some tools like Twitter and Facebook give you tools to be notified when your “friends” and “followers” do things. I like the notion implemented in Newsgator Social Sites where you can subscribe to a daily digest to see the overall flow for everything you are interested in, in the end, the information in the flow should take you back in to the community space so you can add to the narrative, not just observe.
To make communities visible, means to share stories, not in some private, point-to-point way, but out in the open. When I live out in the open, my stories can become our stories and the community can thrive.
Just because we don’t mean to be invisible, doesn’t mean we aren’t behaving like we are. Encourage people to interact, to collaborate, to join the story and to be visible.