The Funny Art of Community

My friend rides a bike once a week to get groceries. Nothing too uncommon for quite a few people around the world. Except my friend must pedal 1.5 hours each direction. He works as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Africa, where he is trying his best to get ahold of the local dialect (he tells me nearly all foreign words end with “y”). In his weekly routes, he began to encounter local characters and began to hold little rituals when coming across them. For the mechanic he drives by in entering the larger town, a head nod and a quiet “Hello”; for the two, young girls who he sees walking along the road on his way to and from the town, he smiles and they always smile back; when he comes to a certain street corner, he nods and asks the old woman peddler the local equivalent of “How are you?”. We fall into these little traditions of people, into this funny art of communicating and existing within our spaces.

At a conference for entrepreneurs and founders, I notice how it turns into a smaller village of familiar faces we know, the familiar faces we do not know, and new people we have never met before. When its a multi-day conference, you get into the routine of nodding to certain folks and seeing certain others doing what they do best, from sitting in a corner on their smartphone to walking up to a stranger and asking for a business card. These events become a set of patterns and people. Its fascinating to watch this unfold, and if its a good conference, a little bitter-sweet when the fun ends.

Its a funny art of meeting new people and trying to figure out if you suit each other and how you complement each other professionally or personally. Like my friend in rural Africa, creating this community of nods, smiles, and friendly conversations will create a warm environment, but also a place for opportunity. For my friend, he once received a popsicle from the woman on the corner and, when it became too windy to drive back, he waited an hour under the roof of the mechanic until the winds died down.

We are in larger community than we think, surrounded by people who are engaged and ready to lend a helping hand when needed. Just be ready to be there, volunteering to serve that same group of people.