personal manifesto: community – both critical and dangerous

I have learned that there are two foundations, without which my intention to cultivate a life characterised by pleasure, betterness and meaning remains a fantasy. In my personal manifesto, section two is about these two foundations, the first of which I call ‘community’. I think that community is both critical and dangerous.

Community: a place to belong

My pursuit of pleasure, betterness and meaning almost always happens with other people. The most enjoyable sensual experiences tend to be shared. Of course I have great experiences on my own, but I would feel impoverished if my best encounters with the beauty in the world were always solo. I tend to gravitate to doing fun stuff with others, it is in my nature as a relational being.

The same can be said for our efforts to improve ourselves (betterness). Whether it is scrap booking, space travel, mastering a rubrics cube or playing cricket, we find a community of people who share our passion. In the context of that community we encourage each other, share information and tips, and enjoy the comradeship associated with shared achievement. We do better together than individually. Team sport, is an obvious but potent illustration of how this works in our lives.

If collaboration, comradeship and community are hallmarks in our pursuit of betterness, it is even more foundational in our pursuit of meaning. We find a group of people who believe the same as us when it comes to what is most important in life, and we ‘join up’. Whether it is a young mothers group, a faith community or environmental activist collective, we find in community a collective voice that stirs and fortifies us. Sometimes, in values driven organisations, it is our workplace.

Communities are not, of course, necessarily mutually exclusive. Some of us are sufficiently fortunate to live or work in places where communities associated with the three drivers (pleasure, betterness and meaning) intersect. In some cases family features in one or all communities too.

Community is the place where we determine our social identity in the world. It is where we form answers to the important question of where we belong; who are the people like me? Where is my ‘tribe’?. We understand who we are in the world by how we answer these questions. This is generally a natural and a good thing.

Two things to note about the power of tribes. Firstly, the risk of fundamentalism. When we experience each of pleasure, goodness and meaning within the same tribe, and we live virtually exclusively within that tribe, we can begin to believe that we are objectively ‘right’. This is not just about religious fundamentalism, it also applies to food fundamentalism, exercise fundamentalism and of course political fundamentalism.

This can sneak up on us. At face value, belonging to a community where I experience pleasure, betterness and meaning is a good thing. When the three things combine it becomes a potent attractor and can be intoxicating. Problems emerge however when I live exclusively within that community. I socialise and contribute within a particular homogeneous context. My view of the world, potently formed and reinforced within that community, goes unchallenged by voices that I respect. (Because everyone I truly respect also identifies within the community.)

Secondly, especially when it comes to our pursuit of meaning, we tend to believe we have thought our way to a particular ideological position. In practice, what happens is we adopt the worldview of those with whom we identify as significant others in our lives, those we respect within our chosen communities. This does not mean we don’t develop robust apologetics for our cause, just that we tend to select the data to affirm the position we already hold.

However, the key point here is that a life well lived is lived in community. Community is the context within which we experience pleasure, become better at being ourselves, and contribute meaningfully to the things that matter most to us. Community is where we know we are (meaningfully) part of something bigger than ourselves. Without community my pleasure is empty, my pursuit of excellence is pointless and my contribution is futile.

Questions to help me understand my communities

1.  Who are my kindred spirits?

a. With whom do I do fun stuff?

b. With whom do I share the journey of personal (including sports and hobbies) and professional development?

c. With whom do I collaborate in seeking to make the/your world a better place?

2.  What will I do to improve my relationships with people in these groups or communities?

3. How would I describe my ‘tribe’? What other communities in my life provide a healthy challenge to the dominant perspective within my tribe? To ensure my growth and development is characterised by wisdom alongside commitment, do I need to intentionally experience pleasure, betterness or meaning with a broader range of people? If yes, what will I do?

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