Friday, June 6, 2008

Dimensions of Community: Party of One

For the next stretch of blog entries, I'll be presenting a series on the Dimensions of Community. It was inspired by an animated plenary conversation on Creating Cmty Where You Are during the last day of the FIC organizational mtgs—just concluded at Hummingbird Cmty in the rarified air of northern NM. (If I'm any good at channeling the ideas and excitement of that conversation, perhaps, at least this once, you won't have had to have been there.)

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For this series, I will not be using "community" as shorthand for "intentional cmty." Instead, I'll be purposefully exploring and defining cmty in its fullest and broadest sense. So think expansively (I am). As part of my FIC elevator speech, I tell people that, "We're in the cmty business." This series is meant as a journey of discovery about all that that can mean.

In essence, cmty is about association. It's about connection and affiliation. While it implies consciousness and reciprocity, I will assume neither.
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This first offering will focus on community and the individual: Party of One

For a connection to occur, two (or more) things need to be linked. One end of that is yourself, and today I'll confine my remarks to just that single terminus. What does it take to be available for cmty?

Premise #1: Cmty is strengthened and enhanced by self-awareness. To be sure, the "knowing" may come in a wide variety of intelligences: the main channels being rational, emotional, intuitive, spiritual, and kinesthetic. And the permuttations explode when you take into account that these are often packaged in combination.

Almost immediately, this leads to two underlying questions: 1) How do you know you know?; and its corollary, 2) How do you accurately assess self-awareness in others? While it is relatively common to judge another's understanding of self based on their ability to articulate what they know about themselves, one's ability to describe or communicate their self-knowing is not at all the same as their self-knowing. Your knowings may be of different kinds; you may be using different "languages"; you may be assigning different meanings to similar terms—there are all kinds of ways that people can miss each other in the attempt to understand. If you rely on other's reflections to refine your sense of your own self-awareness, you must wrestle with distinguishing between the extent to which you are blind or ignorant, versus misunderstood or projected upon. The waters muddy quickly.

A spin-off of this first premise is that you can be desirous of cmty, yet minimally available for it. Tragically, you can know that cmty will be good for you, yet not present a terminus that is easily built to or from. (Some of the most trenchant and poignant dynamics involving difficult people in intentional cmty are of this nature.)

The more you know yourself, the clearer you'll be able to send out signals, both about who you are and about what you want. The more accurate your signals, the better the chances that you'll attract beneficial connections. Among those who understand this principle, the opportunity to enhance self-knowing is one of their prime motivations for seeking cmty.

Premise #2: Humans, as a species, are hard-wired to crave connection with our own kind. That is, we are born wanting cmty. Unfortunately, that does not mean we are born knowing how to get it. Worse, our mainstream hierarchic and competitive culture actively interferes with our ability to accurately connect. We live in a society that emphasizes differences above similarities; that rewards individual initiative ahead of collective success.

The desire for connection can come from many angles. Those seeking safety, recognition, or identity through cmty tend to pursue a buy-and-hold investment strategy. The key trap for these folks—please note that this is not inevitable—is the temptation to bolster their sense of connection through creating an us/them dynamic, which the mainstream adversarial culture will happily reinforce. It's dangerous because it's a sense of "us" pumped up on steroids, an enlarged self image that comes at the expense of increased alienation from those labeled "other." It sets up a fight (which tends to be a distraction, a distortion, and an energy sink), plus, it diminishes your options for cmty downstream. Yuck.

On the other hand, those approaching cmty looking for inspiration, insight, or stimulation are buying a different package.They're looking for return on their investment. Maybe immediate income; maybe long-term appreciation; maybe both.

It boils down to: are you seeking cmty to look good, or to look for Good? While the motivation for most of us is a mix of the two, it's important to b
e sensitive to this interplay—because, if you don't have a clue that it's there, you'll never see it.

Premise #3: Connection can be established unilaterally. While that may not be its fullest potential, it may be no less real or valuable for the projecting person. The key thing to understand here is that the individual has complete control of what they intend and it's possible to realize substantial and genuine benefits from such connections, even if the others being connected with have no knowledge of this happening, or actively reject the association from their end.

Please don't misunderstand this point. I am not saying it's better to establish connections unilaterally; I'm only saying it's possible. For most of us, it's a superior experience to feel that connections are reciprocated, yet you still have choices even when your hopes in this regard are not met.
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In sum, I'm trying to make the case that cmty is:
o Enhanced by self-awareness
o Universally desired
o Desired for a mixture of reasons
o Accessible unilaterally

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