Gold Coated Wall Details by Leonardo Aguiar licensed under CC BY 2.0

Gold Coated Wall Details by Leonardo Aguiar licensed under CC BY 2.0

I spend my days helping organizations thrive within their ecoystems. During evenings and weekends, I devote time to family, collaborators, friends, a circle of men, and folks from The Heartland.  My entire life revolves around community.

What is community?  Why is it important?

The Western focus on individualism, especially in the United States, has also led to a sense of separateness from each other.  We live with the burden of myths, including the self-made man, the American dream, and the objectification of everything.  So, as self-sufficient individuals and self-sufficient families, we keep our homes, possessions, finances, stories, and secrets to ourselves.  We cherish personal freedom, but sacrifice connectedness.  As George Monbiot writes, we live in an Age of Loneliness.

This is all shifting as the foundations on which our culture has been standing start to crumble.  The illusion of separation is beginning to become more evident throughout ecology, business, psychology, mathematics, sociology, and other fields.  We are all interconnected, and the more we sense the interdependencies, the more we can fully become ourselves within a more whole collective.

For me, community is a group of people who gather around a shared experience or purpose.  I am active within a spiritual community, a family, a neighborhood, a community of practice, and many others.  The deeper the experience and/or purpose, the deeper the community.  Regardless of the depth of the community, there are five elements that communities share.

A Place to Call Home

As Peter Block writes, community is “a structure of belonging.”  Belonging is a basic human need.  We join communities because we want to be known, seen, and accepted.  I want my skills to be known professionally.  I want my heart to be known personally.  In my diverse set of communities, I come home to each community when I share my experience and have it accepted – respected as unique and contributing to the whole.

Learning Deeply and Broadly

We need diversity in order to see ourselves more fully.  The ears and words of the Other help us see aspects of ourselves and our commonality that we cannot access alone.  On one level, I learn from my people I follow on Twitter.  On a deeper level, I learn through listening and sharing with members of my spiritual community.  It’s not just the absorption of knowledge – it’s the experience of sharing and listening that opens me to new ways of seeing and being.

Safe Place to Practice

Just as sports teams practice on a regular basis, we all need to practice being ourselves professionally and personally.  Whether I’m intending to grow in my ability to love and be loved, or wanting my business to be more successful, community offers a safe place to experiment and get feedback.  When I’m known and accepted, I have more space to flourish and stumble, go to my own edge or rest. The community can offer both celebration and empathy, letting me know that regardless of the outcomes, I am valuable.

Getting Support

The more we experiment, the more we are prone to fail and show our weak spots.  It’s crucial to have a place where we can acknowledge we make mistakes and still be supported.  In fact, communities thrive when the energy shifts from “look how great I am,” to “look how human I am.”  Having a soft place to land encourages more experimentation which leads to more growth.

Collective Action

Nothing is done nor built in isolation.  Everything happens in relationship, and more happens when a community is mobilized.  As my client Marti Spiegelman says, “The best results emerge in fertile collective environments, yet our smartest and most creative people often work in isolation.”  Communities offer a place to belong, learn, practice, get support, and also take action. With connections that already exist between us, we can move mountains when we have a shared purpose.

Why is community so important to me?  I believe it’s not the solution to every problem, but it’s interwoven with any sustainable solution.  Growth, happiness, a better future?  I cannot separate any of these from community.