Friday, February 27, 2009
The definition of community, for my purposes, is a group of people who find themselves connected through either choice or circumstance. Involvement in the community can be either active or passive.
I like this idea. I am all for active community involvement. In fact, its part of my personal mission statement "to build communities of interest with the goal of increasing meaning and authenticity in people's lives". But community makes me uncomfortable a lot of the time.
All communities have unwritten norms. The first is: to know and be known. Active membership demands engagement at a personal level - members want to know who I am and what I am about. Without even trying that puts me in a place of accountability, which I find pretty damn uncomfortable. Am I who I say I am?
The second norm is that communities work together based on mutual agreement. I am fine with that if it means there is mutual agreement that my ideas are best. I find it hard to give up control. I find it hard to defer.
The third norm is that communities take care of each other and share. I really love this. I do. But I find I have a limit and unfortunately my limit for caring and sharing stops short of what others may actually call caring and sharing.
So, here's a live example of me in community. I like to swim. A couple of times a week I join the community of swimmers. My greatest angst when I swim isn't my stroke, or getting tired, its being a member of a lane swimming community, having to share the water with others who don't necessarily think, or swim, the same way I do. There are ways and means to get along with each other in the water, but I immediately worry that the others in my lane don't know the 'rules'. It would be a lot to assume that everyone can , or chooses to, swim at the same speed - my speed. Invariably you have to either pass someone, or they pass you. But the stress attached to this whole exercise can drive me crazy. (and don't get me started on the back stroke!)
I wreck my own time in the water just stressing about if a) I am doing it right and b) more importantly, is everyone else in my lane doing it right. I have been known to arrive at the pool, look through the glass and see a number of swimmers in my lane and decide I can't swim that day and leave.
One day, after coping with a particularly slow breast stroker, I realized that my feelings and attitude might not be only manifest in the pool. Anytime I willfully put myself in a situation where others may do things differently than me, or may have ideas that don't line up with mine, or where there are expectations on me, I don't like it and I find it hard.
But, if I avoid those situations, like I avoid the pool, I do myself a disservice. Putting myself in community makes me a better person for the very reasons I find it hard. Knowing and being known, working together, and caring and sharing...now where are my swim goggles?