The Community Building Process
The community building process can seem intimidating, even overwhelming when you’re trying it out for the first time. But the four stages of the process, which I outlined here can be reduced, for the purposes of simplifying the process, into four thought/feelings:
Stage one, Pseudocommunity: “Wow! We are all so much alike! How great is that!!!”
Stage two, Chaos: “Uh, actually, we’re not alike–not at all!”
Stage three, Emptiness: “We’re different, but maybe that can be okay.”
Stage four, Community: “Wow! We are all so different! How great is that!?!”
Can you feel the difference? Let’s go through each stage of the community building process in more detail.
In Pseudocommunity, we enjoy the feeling that we are all so much alike. When we first come together, we put our best foot forward, we are careful to get along with everyone. This is natural even when we minimize our differences by hiding the parts of ourselves which don’t seem to fit in. Since we are not well versed in dealing with confrontation, since we prefer peace, we often stay in Pseudommunity. Forever. What difference does it make when we don’t even know there is something better or how to attain it? But there is something better and it requires us to step forward into the next stage, Chaos.
We can’t force the exodus from Pseudocommunity into Chaos. We also don’t really need to worry about it. If there is at least one soul in the group who is unafraid of speaking his or her truth, or who can’t tolerate the facade of harmony when beneath it discord is brewing, the group will naturally be propelled into Chaos. Chaos is when we see that we’re not alike and our first response to this is to try to help the others to be more like us. We offer our thoughts and solutions, we share our tools, our problem-solving methods. We try to force everyone back into the Pseudocommunity mold, making us all the same again, so we don’t have to experience discord. The stage of Chaos doesn’t feel good at all: It’s Chaos! We try to back peddle. But it’s more often than not (thankfully) too late for that. The only way out, as they say, is through – through Emptiness!
The Emptiness stage is about navigating our way to “We’re all different and that’s okay.” It’s not often smooth sailing. Because it calls on us to let go. Books have been written about letting go. What we hold onto is what blocks our path into community. We hold onto our judgments of other’s actions, characters, and words, and we maintain our belief that we have the answers. There’s nothing wrong with believing we have the answers: Our lives have depended on us finding answers for ourselves. We seek answers to maintain our sanity and to navigate our way in the world. But there are other answers and other people have embraced them. We tend to cleave to what’s familiar and our answers are what is familiar to us. So Emptiness is a letting go of what’s familiar and dropping our judgements. It is hard work. But if we can do it. Ahhhh! Community is but a breath away.
Community building is about communication. It’s about talking and listening and trying to understand. In a sense, it’s letting go of our need to control how things go, trusting that our greatest needs will be met in community, those of support, understanding, collaboration, camaraderie, authenticity, commitment, inclusivity and a sharing of leadership. It’s about the sometimes-turbulent journey from the surface assumption “We are all so much alike! “ to a celebration of the discovery of the deeper truth that “We are all so different!” And yet, in the truest part of us, we are very much alike. It is both what makes us alike and what makes us different that creates a beautiful community.
The difference between the feeling of a group in Pseudocommunity and the feeling of a group in Community is profound. It’s difficult to describe but I will try. When the group first comes together in Pseudocommunity, the feeling is like a Dance of Joy feeling. It’s wonderful and this is why it is so often mistaken for Community. But the feeling of a group in Community is less a “Dance of Joy” feeling and more a deep, warm, amazing feeling in your heart, like a huge happy secret you have that you’re bursting to share. Pseudocommunity joy is surface and unsubstantiated; Community joy is grounded and sure, made so by the process the group has weathered together.
You see, it is difficult to know how Community feels until you experience it. So why not build a community and experience it for yourself? Community building is one of the greatest journeys you can embark upon in life. If you decide to build a community (here is one thing you can try), join the free Facebook Group, Sounding our Drums Together, to ask questions, share stories, and access help in dealing with issues you encounter as you make your way through the community building process.
Photo Credit: Shane Kemp