What do you consider a community? Not as a definition, but in your experience? In what groups has emerged the felt experience of a communitas as shared social system wrapped around a purpose or activity? We offer to explore the nature of community through dialogue and visual sensemaking in the traditionally offbeat August DwD, with whoever can join on the 3rd Tuesday.
In Design with Dialogue it has been almost 10 years since our last session on community. Before the summer is out, I would like to explore the ways we have evolved the understanding of community, how we create and take responsibility for our communities. For a succession of sessions, we had worked with Peter Block’s “A Small Group” practices: The Community Engagement booklet and his Six Questions. I recommend these as review before our next session.
Where do we find our Communities?
Those of us fortunate to live in high-engagement neighbourhoods or even buildings (such as my 12 years at the 7 Fraser Ave. artist studios) may understand a real community within a physical space peopled with relationships. Those with experience in professional associations might propose the Wengerian community of practice. In the best of these, a true communitas can form and last for years. Design with Dialogue is one, with over 15 years continuity. Peter Limberg often speaks of this distinction and the domain of The Stoa as a communitas. A faith community, such as James Carse discusses, can be understood as a communitas as opposed to a voluntary association or a gathering of “believers”.
In fact, Carse is where I draw the term communitas. A brief note from Pico Iyer’s review:
He “he lays out a distinction between the civitas (which he sees as a doctrinaire, and therefore defensive, community of believers) and a communitas (a collection of enlightened seekers)…”Holy Restlessness, from NY Review of Books
Creating Community, Inner & Outer
How might we might locate ourselves in our different communities as a cocreator? Can we expand their potential for vitality by discovering the inner and outer (external) social systems in which they are held together? If a community is cocreated by the affirmative participation of the individual in a collective, then both that person and the community find purposes together. In what ways do we hold inner experiences of communities as fields of appreciation or fulfillment? In what ways do different styles or aesthetic expression of a community system shape our own ways of being?
During the week after writing this invitation, one of the commentators I follow, Shahed Bolsen of Middle Nation, spoke about the West’s “Society of Strangers.” He shares how in traditional, family and tribal societies, that a common kinship and community homogeneity creates a stable harmony and self-regulation. That when larger, heterogeneous, highly mixed (what we like to call diverse) societies are constructed, then you have to implement synthetic orders of conduct.” These structures provide the basis for rule and administration. But this manufactured system of authority and order is necessary as system to sustain a a mixed society. This authority is unnecessary in the small town or tribal village.
“A society of strangers is always going to be on the verge of falling apart. So the only thing holding it together is the system.” People must conform to maintain the artificial organizing principles of society. The law of the land and the mores of community. The fatal flaw in all of this, is that system’s authority is unconvincing because it is unearned – conformity is simultaneously arbitrary and mandatory. It has to be this way because it has to be this way.” You have to adhere to it whether you believe it or not.
Bolsen speaks to the core tragedy not only in our communities, but in the Western civilization itself. We might ask, do we inherently seek or create communities that satisfy unconscious needs for what lies unfulfilled in the civitas? Can we unconceal these motivations and be clear about the values we seek, and unprejudiciously allow community participants to come and go within a more human system of communities?