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Why We Belong to Communities

We didn’t invent them.

Communities are more like lightning, hurricanes, or for that matter, mountains. They just occur, forming when people have something in common. Great things can happen when the right environmental conditions come together – at the right time – to form or strengthen a community.

Communities are generational. Millennials. Harley troubadours. Software users. Deadheads.

Some communities are congregational. These tend to engage us in more than one way. Within congregations, we interact in 1-to-1 relationships and we join groups. We have a place where we reserve ourselves to share in that common something.

Sometimes communities arise in a flash and then fade away. Others were deliberately constructed by the generation(s) before us, for whose original vision and dedication we have to be thankful. Deeply-rooted communities become cornerstones in our world.

So why do we belong to communities, anyway?

We all belong to at least one community. Whether it’s a bedroom community north of Dallas or a cluster of relief tents outside Port au Prince, where we reside is defined by some kind of physical place. These natural occurring communities exist in workplaces, within school districts, countries or world regions. We belong to natural occurring communities by default, and decide individually on our participation level.

Then there are the communities that we make a concerted effort to join. Purpose-driven communities form when people dedicate their time and attention to foster the growth of an organization. We make a conscious decision to affiliate with them, and when the right mix of timing, people and resources comes together, purpose-driven communities flourish.

Physical vs. Virtual Communities

Prior to electronic media, most communities were natural occurring and congregational in nature. Things like church or civic organizations, industry trade associations, alumni groups, a population of cigar rollers, etc.

Then along came radio and television, providing a common thing for people with common interests to gather around at precisely the same time. Citizens Band (CB) radios enabled an interactive community explosion that transcended geographies in the 1970s. Private and public online networks (like AOL, Compuserve, and freenets) emerged in the late 1980s enabling communities to form via modem-connected personal computers. And of course today we have a proliferation of social media networks that are accessible all the time by most of the free world.

No Shortage of Communities to Join

We are besieged by a tidal wave of communities as brand marketers embrace mobile and social technologies to engage us. Facebook alone presents a myriad of communities and causes that we could affiliate our digital identity with. In fact, a single click to “Like” something brings out an interactive behavior in many Facebook users unlike anything we’ve seen before. But does associating with more causes / communities improve our life?

I’ll argue that as a whole, we’ll be better off being more selective of the communities we join. And, I challenge you to take a close look at the communities you spend time on, both physical and virtual. Are you really making the best use of your time lurking among others who look nothing at all like you? Friending someone you haven’t seen since high school could be a great move if you are actively organizing a milestone class reunion. But could that casual, non-purpose driven click expose yourself – and your true friends – to a felon? An identity thief? Or worse, a yet-to-be-caught child molester?

Take some time out and ask yourself. Honestly. Which communities should you really be involved with? Do you have the right cornerstone communities in your life? How many communities are too many?

These are personal decisions each of us has to make. Here’s my take on some things to consider:

  • If you are a homeowner, take an active role in your neighborhood. If there is an association, join it. Neighborhood communities need a common voice.
  • If you even think you might be spiritual, find a church. Don’t get turned off by one visit. Try many until you find a congregation where you connect.
  • If you are passionate about your career or trade specialization, explore the various communities dedicated to your professional development.
  • If you rely on a product, company, service or technology for success in your work, find out if an active user community exists. If not, consider organizing one.
  • If you have hobbies or personal interests that help recharge your body and mind, connect to others that you can share with and learn from.

Joining a community should not be an involuntary response, like ducking a punch or blinking your eyes. Reconsider where you belong, and how you spend your time. Communities should make us stronger, more aware, and more fulfilled. If your community involvement doesn’t pass that litmus test, ask why.

  1. Bill Cole
    August 30, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    A deeper look at the reasons for our involvement in communities is an outstanding exercise. Asking the question “Why?”, will often expose yourself to self examination and introspection that leads to life changing decisions and a better focus on what is important in your life. Thank you for writing this Paul.

    Bill Cole

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