Photo Credit: David Davis

Community

It’s funny to me how long it’s taken modern people to figure out that what we really want is community. We want to belong.

In the 1990’s, Honda stumbled upon a phenomenon that has led to a major re-definition of the concept of a niche. People began using the Honda Civic as a way to connect. People started modifying them, getting together, showing off their unique alterations and then connecting around that platform. Whoever tells you this was an intentional company move is making a generous joke. It was really a complete accident and ultimately Honda saw it and started developing it. The Civic became a tool for connection.

Cars are, of themselves, islands. Tools of isolation. When was the last time you saw a roadway full of vehicles where every seat was filled? Count the number of cars you see with only one person in it. Feel the drivers seat of your own car, is the padding more deteriorated there than in any other? It’s almost alarming at what rate we place speed and convenience over our most basic human need to connect, to commune. Myself included. (I am sneakily closing the craigslist tabs with search term “Crosstrek” as I write this.)

It makes sense that at some point, people begin trying to redeem these islands into bridges. Porsche Club of America, Hot Rod builders clubs, etc. The most isolating thing is the most aggressively converted. And yet we still market to the individual. We still cater to their sense of self-service and hope that we can sell enough widgets before people realize that they are tired of being separated from each other, and then innovate a way to re-connect. Some companies luck out, Honda, but others get totally side-stepped for the more “Connecting” product or service. Consider the market-share losses of big computer companies that still sell crap designed for anyone but human beings.

Why not shortcut the cycle? Why not look hard at yourself and ask a different question? Transition from, “How do I sell more” to, “How do I become the basis for interaction and connection?”. Glue Positioning might be a fun title for this concept.

As an owner, wouldn’t that be more fulfilling? To be the adhesive that brings people together? At this point your work transitions away from a panicked attempt to survive and prosper, and more into the realm of truly serving the needs of other people. And like an ant-eater’s snout, we have adapted to discerning what we need to survive. People smell sustenance and they stampede towards it.

We need it, we need community. More than dollars, or more expensive, isolating cars; we need to to be around one another. Drawn close in our interactions. We desire to collude around a fire-pit, making great plans, dreaming big dreams, or being silent and smiling. We need the accountability of our peers to behave in a way that sustains the order.

Wendell Berry puts it well when he says:

“It is the community, not the public, that is the…protector of other, tender, vulnerable and precious things–the childhood of children, for example, and the fertility of fields. These protections are left to the community, for they can be protected only by affection and by intimate knowledge, which are beyond the capacities of the public and beyond the power of the private citizen.”

A strong community will protect your work. They will keep you focused and serving, they will protect you from outside forces, they will be loyal.

You have to do your part. It’s not a one way street. Community is not a taking situation. It’s an ebb-and-flow of giving and receiving. Don’t picture a gimmick or quick-tactic. It’s a long, slow, arduous process. But it has staying power, far beyond our own lifetimes.

It’s not a tool. It’s an order, a system, a life-giving law.

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