What if we — collectively — became good at community again?
We are all naturally talented at community. But we are badly out of practice and we have lost so much wisdom.
In my early community years I used to think that there were very few people who could relate to my experiences weaving the Sandbox community. Everything just seemed so contextualized and unrelated to more “normal” types of work. But as I have been fortunate to work with community weavers across the globe, I have come to recognize my hubris and realize that the opposite is true: the world is FULL of people who understand community deeply.
I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when we were hosting a community training for a big non-profit. The organization’s culture is rather bureaucratic and their community work reflects that in its rigidity and formality. Yet in our shared conversations it didn’t take long to reveal that some people in the organization have an amazing natural sense of community. The conversation quickly went from the structural dimensions of community (where most organizations feel comfortable) to the deeper elements of care, safety and intimacy. Someone even mentioned the word “love” — isn’t it funny how transgressive that feels?
This keeps happening to me in the most unusual places: from big corporations to hierarchical non-profits to local governments, people seem to be naturally gifted at community, but they don’t know or don’t express that side of themselves. Their professional environments do not invite them to express care for other humans (rather it has to stay focused on ‘productive’ dimensions of community, such as collaboration or learning from others). Yet below that veneer of professionalism is a deep hunger for and an intuitive understanding of community.
We have become good at community over millennia
Our community talent is probably both biological and cultural: We are a social species and have learned over thousands of years that our survival depends on each other. We have been coming together since the dawn of time and community became a natural part of lives in extended families, tribes, villages, religious communities and in relationship with the land around us. If you look at art, literature and other markers of culture, community is a present theme throughout time. It seems that many cultures developed deep wisdom around community in the form of local traditions, practices and rituals. Our ancestors not only knew about the value of community, but more importantly they had figured out how to put it into practice in daily life. We see remnants of that in Indigenous cultures that have managed to keep some of their traditions alive, despite centuries of oppression and attempts to destroy their ways of being.
We are out of practice
Yet, despite our deep tradition of and natural talent for community, I feel that many of us — collectively and individually — are out of practice. Take my own example. Even though my whole life centers around community, I still feel like a beginner. I didn’t grow up with deep practices around community. I didn’t grow up in a healthy, functioning community. I didn’t go to community school and no Elders brought me into this work (although I have been fortunate to be mentored by wise peers, Elders and teachers in more recent years). I’m not practiced at calling in other people’s gifts. I’m not practiced at designing rituals that remind us of the deeper essence our group is trying to represent. I’m not practiced at setting expectations clearly. I’m not practiced at resourcing community. I’m not practiced at community leadership. I’m not practiced at power sharing. I’m not practiced at addressing conflicts in a regenerative way. And the list goes on…
While this certainly is true for myself, I also see it among my peers of community weavers. Most of us don’t come from a lineage, a community tradition. Instead we are guided by intuition. We are learning the basics. Most of us are figuring things out as we go. Even though community isn’t anything new, it feels like in today’s world it is a new profession, being reintroduced to society.
And on the flip side I come across many people who have a natural inclination for community, but their organizational environments do not support or encourage a community-driven approach. So they keep that part to themselves. Too woo-woo for a professional setting.
We have lost so much
I recently went to an exhibition at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam dedicated to non-Western dimensions of healing. It covered pretty much anything that’s not a doctor in a white coat trying to prescribe you pharmaceuticals. The exhibition highlighted the work of traditional healers, shamans, rituals, plant medicines, ceremonies and much more. And all I could think of is: We have lost so much. We have lost so, so, so much of wisdom and practices in our pursuit of the singular pursuit of Western thinking, Western science.
And I sense that the same applies to community. We have lost so much.
We have lost it in our own cultures of individualism and capitalism. We have lost it in the colonization and oppression of cultures across the world. We have lost it in the genocide of indigenous peoples everywhere. And because we started to neglect our own traditions of community (and oppress others’), we are collectively so out of practice with community.
What if we become good at community again?
The sadness I’m feeling around the neglect and destruction of our collective community knowledge is also one of the greatest sources of my motivation to do this work. What if we — collectively — could become good at community again?
What would the world look like if our collective community muscle became strong again? What if future generations would grow up steeped in a culture of community? What if future community weavers would grow up in strong communities and could follow tracks to become honored community professionals? I don’t quite know what that future would look like. But I’m intrigued by the question. What if we become good at community again?
How? Reestablishing community lineages
Becoming good at community again not only feels like a personal curiosity of mine, but an urgent element of the different future many of us are hoping to create.
But how? As usual, I don’t really know and all I can offer are some vague starting points: I believe the work is in re-establishing lineages of community practices. There are many community frameworks and models out there. More blog posts and PDFs than I’ll ever be able to read. The future lies in living and breathing communities of practice, who have a shared open-sourced methodology, work with that methodology and over decades and centuries evolve them and pass them on as lineages. I see that — for example — modeled by The Art of Hosting and recognize early elements of that in the Relationships Project, Microsolidarity and many others. It’s what I aspire for the Community Weaving methodology (our evolution of the Community Canvas 1.0, launching next year) to become.
What do you think of all of this?
So much in this blog post. How does this all land with you? I’d be so grateful to hear your honest reflections. Thank you for taking time to read this and sharing your perspective, I appreciate you.
There are many peers and teachers who have inspired this perspective in me. Much of this has been emerging out of the life-giving collaboration with Erin Dixon, Michel Bachmann, Lana Jelenjev and Sita Magnuson.
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