An Introvert’s Survival Guide to Communities

Dear Readers,

Let me start off by saying: I get it. Alright? I get why so many of you out there want Communities. And I’m not some myopic hack who can’t piece together the idea that Communities have been both desirable and important since the time before humans became humans, okay? Communities have clustered together for thousands of years, and for good reasons; foremost, that strength lay in numbers, and that Death, in its many permutations, liked to pick the stragglers off one by one.

But now? In this decade? I can’t get through a cup of coffee without a call to participate in some Community, and these little groups — with few exceptions — are neither Desirable nor Important.

Let’s start off with the exceptions: Global Community? Good. Aspiring to be great. And you know what else is great about it? You can feel like you are working toward a Greater Good, while still dealing with it in The Abstract. Climate Change? Let’s all work together to cut that crap out. I do my part, you do yours; we elect people to manage the respective parts on meta levels, and we all benefit from participating in that community. Best part? It all can happen without stepping my foot inside one horrible, sweat-popping, throat-closing happy hour mixer.

Special interest groups: I’m thinking of support groups for people who may be going through life-changing events, who need a support system for questions, answers, and helpful tools to carry them through Their Ordeal. Are you or someone you love fighting a horrible disease? Did a natural disaster occur and alter your universe forever? Are you dealing with some kind of syndrome or addiction or diagnosis? Gurl: Get into a Community, right now. You need it. Legit. Because if you talk to me or some other Schmo, we won’t be able to offer you any decent advice or comfort. Don’t waste your time.

As for the rest of you: Go commune with yourselves. Leave me out of it. And don’t try to give me the pity face that second-grade teachers give the kids who still eat paste, like I am somehow lacking in my life, and I cannot even comprehend it.

As an Introvert, I get more than people know. I do not feel like I am left on the sidelines. Really. I like being left to my own devices, to have the freedom to do what I love, which is to examine the bigger picture of everything. I do not thrive when I am forced to act in small groups. I will say the wrong thing, because I am not thinking about everyone’s feelings, in the moment, nor am I listening with an immediate ear; I am thinking about how your moment fits in with larger dynamics. Sometimes, I am not thinking about your intent, as much as I am thinking that the turn of phrase you used is really interesting.

And so, when people push for Community on the sidelines of my kids’ sports events, it shoots adrenaline into my gut and nauseates me. When Communities float in my email folders in the form of real and nebulous organizations that want my time, energy, and money, my legs start to bounce in my chair. When action committees want me to sign up and join their outraged petition Communities, my jaws clench. And, when schools want to talk about their future-is-now, let’s-all-helicopter-around-it Communities, I scream in my head for days.

No Introvert can escape today’s relentless drive for Community. I’ve tried, but Individuals whom I like and admire will try and entice me into a sharing circle. I was recently obligated — through a friend — to attend a meeting focused on building a Community around a Worthy Cause. During the two-hour event, I was made to listen for An Hour to a redundant round in which each person echoed a refrain about their personal connection to said Cause. I practiced my Alert Resting Face, and calculated the demographics of the room, wondering how many of them would have been as eager to join this Community, had it not had a level of local prestige attached to it (I didn’t join). I determined the room was too homogenous, and the invite list followed a particular algorithm that did not represent the people who needed the Cause most.

See? That’s what I think about if I’m forced to sit with groups. Seriously: Stop inviting me.

Last week, I was obligated to attend another Community meeting organized by someone I admire very much. During said meeting, I was forced to mingle with about 40 people, each wearing a name tag with a social justice-centered conversation prompt written on it. Rather than face that Unspeakable Terror, I hid in the hallway and, in the event an Extrovert came to drag me into the meeting room, I pretended to be fascinated by a series of post-it notes plastered on a large Venn diagram that centered around this particular Community’s mission. I was already a tangential part of this Community, so I white-knuckled it for the small-group work that followed, or trust me, I would have run.

The idea of Community has now seeped into they way schools and companies try to solve problems, with “collaborative dynamics” and “small-group project-based learning” being the sexy phrases du jour.

Just typing out those words? My palms itched.

Today’s thinkers like to posit that Community’s recent rise in popularity centers around a collective shift away from the Individualism that had been — for varying reasons — prevalent in the past few decades; think money-grabbing 1980s and anti-establishment 1990s. Most recently, pundits pondered Community’s rise as a backlash against the insular, isolating lives into which Society had texted itself, with the Western World, in particular, collectively coming to some crisis of conscience.

I get that. What I don’t understand, however, is why I, too, must be forced to consider your Social Crisis as my crisis.

You see, I don’t have a problem with free time on my calendar. I don’t have a problem with eating with a book, instead of a person. I don’t have a problem being in a room full of people, and not saying a word. I also have no problem with quiet time, or with the precious few moments I can string together to carry a thought through to some half-assed conclusion before someone or something calls for my attention.

Here is what I have had to learn, painfully, and through a great deal of wasted time sitting in folded chairs while watching store brand cheese melt at the snack tables: If I want to support a Cause, I’ll join a Community. Not because you think it’s important for me to join. Definitely not for the snacks. I will no longer be guilted into giving away any more of my time because of any inferences that, if I do not offer up more of my most precious commodity, I am not a good parent or friend or member of the city or state I live in.

Even if I like a Cause, I may choose to support it individually, or behind the scenes, and I may not join a corroborating Community if I think the people in it kind of suck. You know who I’m talking about: The Pushy Stage Hogs, The Know-It-Alls, The Senior Member Condescenders, The Time Wasters, The Bandwagoneers, The Socialites, The Outraged Righteous. These jerks are all potential land mines in a Community, and there is almost always one or more of them in a group. You can argue that Society itself has these people, and that I can’t avoid Society, and then you may shake your head at me and look at me like that second-grade teacher and the paste eater. I agree that I cannot avoid Society, nor — surprise, surprise — would I want to, but Society doesn’t force me to participate in small-group dynamics every third Tuesday from 7–9 p.m. Those forced meetings, I blame on that over-perfumed, high-pitched bulldozer called Community.

I am sure I will continue to make many mistakes regarding Community, and I will, lamentably, give away more minutes and hours in support of something I don’t feel passionate about. I hope not, but I am realistic about my shortcomings, particularly when it comes to saying “no” to people I like and admire.

I ask, on your end: Please stop badgering people to join your cause. If you feel passionate about it, tell people, but don’t harp on it. Let them make their own decisions without you judging. If your potential recruit isn’t feeling it, it’ll just add a weak link to your chain. Keep your Community strong. Who knows, maybe I will join. Maybe.

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