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.