I started 2009 curious about community, by September I was being quoted about it in articles, but I left 2009 almost entirely convinced that “community” is a waste of time.
Not the people but the term itself. It has become a phantom banner that people wave to try and rally a cause – don’t we all care about the community? Don’t we want to make it better?
Being in a community doesn’t inherently include a common goal or strong bond. It most cases it is simply “a group of people with a common interest”, like a a hobby, a belief, or an idea. People who live in Phoenix may be in a community, but it’s their personal interactions that really connect them, not their geography. With everyone having a different perspective about the people and places around them, you get different forms of participation and the inevitable grumbling that there isn’t just enough community spirit/involvement/awareness. Some people want more parks, some people want more childrens’ programs, and some people just want to be left alone.
Community also doesn’t include motivation. In an artistic community, for example, some people may want to pursue technical perfection while others seek abstract expressions. It’s an amiable community until you try to set a direction for that whole group. Then people will start pushing the agenda towards their own views, and be shocked to find others pushing in a different direction. The connecting theme of the community has been exceeded.
Human nature complicates things further by assuming people who think like us in a few areas think like us in all areas. I ran into this with Ignite Phoenix when it got some wide local press. I was accused by some of betraying the community, when I was only looking to bring in new people and ideas. Attending Ignite Phoenix was the community theme, and I exceeded that limit and discovered there were a lot of wildly different opinions about what Ignite was and should be.
I’ve decided in my own local work to focus less on the “community” and more on simply doing things I’m excited about with people I respect. That will draw in people who want to participate, and save a whole lot of hopping about regarding what any group does or doesn’t want.
Community is an abstraction, and you really can’t grow, direct, or build an abstraction. “Community” is still great shorthand for a group of people, like “family”, but it isn’t an end into itself. Chase it too closely and you’ll lose the very people that make it up. You need to focus on the people and their actions. Connect with them as individuals, not as abstractions, and realize no matter how hard you try there are some things they are just never going to do or be.
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