I am on a mission to decommodify the concept of community. Like many other important human concepts – feminism, empowerment, revolution, etc. – we have commodified the concept of community. A blatant example? Seth Godin’s redefinition (and cultural appropriation) of tribes, which he used to sell a lot of books and marketing courses. Another? Most business people who call their newsletter list a community.
If you are talking at people through a newsletter and there is no on-going relationship between people on the receiving end, then it is not community. Even if some people on the receiving end write back to you for individual conversation, that is still not community. That would be nurturing an individual relationship.
If you are only committed because someone paid you for your time, then you are not providing them with community. A writing group, business program, or retreat that is limited by the time and rules of transaction is not a community.
If you lead by patriarchal, hierarchy based models on your social media page or online group and practice unilateral decision making like deleting conversations and blocking anyone who disagrees with you (which is incredibly disrespectful), you are definitely not nurturing community.
The test – would the people you call “your” community as a business person turn around and say that you have a mutual commitment to them and are part of their community? If not, you have a list, a page, an affinity group, a network, a gathering, not a community. I recognize that many of us in the online business sphere are in community with one another beyond the transactions of our businesses and that is different than the people who simply follow your business being called community.
I believe that a community involves reciprocal, nontransactional commitment to equitable relationship. It also *requires* going through the hard stuff together and coming out the other side transformed before it’s true community (as defined by M. Scott Peck, MD in the Psychology of Community and my lived experience). We need to find more accurate words for the affinity groups/gatherings/collectives we participate in and reserve community for deep collective relationship like we tend to reserve the word family for deep interpersonal relationship (although I realize as I’m writing this that family has been commodified at times as well).
In my research I find the definition of true community by psychologist M. Scott Peck, MD to be my goal.
The characteristics of a true community are inclusivity, mutual commitment, consensus (leadership by agreement because everyone is a leader), realism (which includes embracing complexity), self awareness, safe-to-brave space that nurtures vulnerability, willingness to dismantle internal oppression, and the ability to work through conflict gracefully.
For the depth of community that I am interested in building, I would add two other characteristics – transparency and respect for one another’s sovereignty.
The word community has been co-opted by online business in what are actually commodified and/or hierarchical groups with conditions for belonging. Conditions may include payment for participation; limiting participation because the group has a specific focus; and/or limiting one’s voice because disagreement or conflict with the founder will be quickly deleted and blocked. When our relationship is limited to one commonality and we are unable to bring our full selves to the table we are not in true community. When we are not mutually committed to one another as we move through this being human and its challenges we are not in true community.
It takes attention and intention to cultivate the engagement and vulnerability that leads to true community. It also takes the willingness to let go of ownership and allow the community to achieve mutual relationship with you and one another. In a culture that values individualism, authority, and hierarchical leadership, this is not easy. Our culture values the numbers – how many are on your list, how many follow you on Facebook and/or Instagram, how many have purchased your product. It does not value relationship, interdependency, and cultures of care. We do not value care at all, as evidenced by how we pay the lowest wages to the people who care for our most fragile – our children, elders, and disabled. If you desire to cultivate true community, you have to ask yourself how much you are willing to care for the people with whom you share space (while honoring consent and healthy boundaries). If you are not willing to care beyond the limits of your transactional agreements (no judgment if that’s your jam), then recognize that you are not nurturing community, you are running a business.
I am on a mission to reclaim the concept of community because I believe building a culture of interdependence, both with each other and with the earth, is the way we can mitigate the hard realities that are already in motion. We need to build cultures of care in order to sustain ourselves through the transitions and chaos that come with climate change and the dismantling of the kyriarchy. Instead of reserving mutual aid for after the hurricane or fire, establishing on-going mutual care in preparation for what comes is the best option we have to ride the shifts in landscape and population, the migrations and the tragic losses.
Community and care is my work. Yes, I have started Community Stewardship & Consulting business to help sustain myself and my family within the current capitalist economy. But I am moreso committed to my relationships and to the needs of the people I care for. I take the anti-capitalist stance that people matter more than money in every aspect of my life. This weaving of life and work is experimental, I have no idea how it will turn out. What I do know is that I am not interested in commodifying my relationships or the people I call my community. I am committed to seeing you, caring about you, and relating to you as you travel this human journey alongside me, whether or not we are bound by transactional agreement.
If you are interested in being a part of my community and experimenting with the possibilities, please start by joining my biweekly email list and friending me on Facebook under Connect With Me. Those will be the most reliable way of keeping up with my work, research, and experiments in building cultures of care.
Eclipses are said to be a powerful time for transformation and this eclipse in Leo gives us an opportunity to shine our lights more brightly. The eclipse is in my house of work and everything in my life the past few months (years) has been directing me toward a transformation in my work life. Today, after weeks of resistance, I am embracing the shift and using the magic of the eclipse to officially launch my new business as a Community Steward.
And you’re likely wondering what that means exactly.
I currently work for feminist entrepreneur Kelly Diels as a Community Steward for the Facebook group she founded, We Are the Culture Makers. She pays me to spend five hours a week welcoming new members, reading every post and comment, supporting community members in their endeavors, moderating challenging conversations, and addressing guideline violations. It has been a steep learning curve to figure out how to apply my knowledge of nurturing in-person community to online groups – especially a group that takes on challenging topics like feminism, racism, and other forms of oppression – and I am still learning with the support of community members.
The truth is I didn’t even know this could be work that I could be paid for until last December when Kelly asked me to do it based on what she heard me share about leading the Vibes Crew for The Impropriety Society™ (the sex-positive organization I co-led for 5 years). I am a one-person Vibes Crew for her community. Then in a meeting earlier this summer she told me she believed I could turn this into a business and be a Community Steward for other entrepreneurs and thought leaders who have large online groups that are either too big for them to steward regularly and/or who desire to support shifting from a group to a true community. I am also offering one-off 90 minute strategy consultations on all aspects of community building. I will apply my intersectional commitments, radical inclusion practices, and decades of in-person community facilitation experience to consult on gatherings of all kinds both online and in person.
I am thrilled to be putting out my shingle to do this work. I have been wrestling with this possibility for years, but in hindsight I can see how I wasn’t ready until now. I have emerged from the dark cloud of grief that hung over my head for 4+ years. I have three years of deep research into community and belonging to add to my years of community leadership experience. I have a growing community of people who believe in me, my abilities, and my visions for what is possible. And every message from the Universe is telling me now is the time to shine my light and bring this work into the world.
So here I am introducing my new business: Community Stewardship – Building Belonging thru Radical Inclusion. Thank you for your witness on this special day.
While things are funky on the professional front, they are going well on the truth and reconciliation front with the open adoption. Steps were recently taken by both parties to open communication after a year and a half of walls between us.
There are still super hard bits coming, like listening to the hurt we caused one another and accepting responsibility for the harm done, whether it was by mean words or the silence of avoidance. But I can feel how that step, when it comes, will have a foundation of trust and love for ourselves, each other, and our shared son, rather than being filtered through our pain and trauma stories as it was before, and that makes all the difference in the world. I know we will all be safe in a room together because we are each doing the work to make ourselves safe to be with.
Due to our experience and the way we have chosen to restore relationship, I now understand how important it is to couple trauma recovery with harm reduction in interpersonal relationships, because we often cause the most harm to ourselves and those we love when we are acting out of our trauma. In our situation, we were all traumatized by violence as children and beyond and we learned violent ways of reacting, whether by violating ourselves or others. In the program, violence is the opposite of intimacy. Any behavior or action can either bring us closer to or separate us from ourselves and/or each other. Trauma behaviors, which we use in an attempt to protect ourselves, usually bring separation rather than intimacy.
I used to believe I was a nonviolent person, until this process unraveled all the ways I violate myself and violate others through avoidance, withdrawal, and neglect of the relationship. In my pregnancy trauma and birth mother grief, I separated from people who loved me rather than nurturing intimacy. I occasionally participated in more obvious acts of verbal violence toward others through unkind criticism and bullying when “triggered” (I put this in quotes because the program says trigger is a word that implies something external causes the internal upset, when the reality is that our trauma gets set off because we have internal healing to do). However, I mostly turn my violence on myself through behaviors like isolating from the relationships that support me, perfectionism, harsh criticism for mistakes, brain loops that cause anxiety, neglecting my health, bingeing on food and alcohol that later makes me feel physically bad, avoiding rather than facing what needs to be done, failing to do the things that bring me joy (like being creative or reading books instead of vegging on tv), etc.
I began the program by making agreements that I am violent and I am willing to stop my violence. That’s not an easy thing to do, but I think the world of humans would be much different if more of us were willing to face the truth of our own violent behaviors, whether they are internally or externally focused. I used to think that only some of us grew up in homes where violence was the primary language of relationship, but now I see how we are immersed in a culture of violence. Not just physical and sexual, but emotional and verbal. We put a bully in the White House and that says everything to me about how much we have normalized all forms of violence. As does the relationships I see on television and in movies.
We are also deeply afraid of intimacy in our culture. How many of us are starved for touch because we don’t show affection we feel beyond our romantic partners? How many of us avoid telling each other the truth, whether it’s how much we like each other or how our feelings are hurt? How many of us avoid sharing the vulnerable parts of ourselves out of shame and the belief that we will be othered if we are real about who we are?
As I learn about stewarding communities, I can see that this work of harm reduction and intimacy nurturance is necessary in all kinds of relationships. I believe this sort of work – whether it’s this program or offered in other ways – is vital to humans being able to connect while navigating oppression and all the ways we violate each other and the system violates us. It’s vital to our trauma work as individuals and collectives, so that we no longer violate from our pain and our fear, and instead connect through deepening intimacy.