What it means to belong…

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Community contains as many variances of its definition as it does memberships and focus. In attempting to generate my own definition of community I have had to reflect on my personal position to certain elements of my concept of community. As a member of various communities such as; school/work, religious, societal, sport and interest based I am aware of the various roles required of community members but I have never paused to examine the interconnected nature and value of the community paying close attention to influences and the shared perspectives communal living can have on an individual. In order to generate a definition of community I first wanted to explore community concepts as covered in the readings.

In the first reading Furman looks at the concept of community through an additional scope of Postmodernism. Postmodernism incorporates the belief that many, if not all, apparent realities are only social constructs, as they are subject to change in relation to time and place. A postmodern philosophy emphasizes the role of language, power relations, and motivations; in particular it takes into consideration the use of reductionism classifications in all aspects of societal structures and works to reduce the impact such classifications could have. (2011, January 17) Furman’s postmodern view focus’ his attempt to define community through examining the differences within the community and moving forward on a platform of acceptance through trust and respect. Furman is also influenced by the concept of a global community of people, culture and the growth of the community’s members whom feel a sense of trust and belonging. To have empathy for members of a community and to base our interactions on empathy is a concept that will reemerge in the other readings as well as a part of my own thoughts on community.

As I read through Smith’s article several key elements to community life emerged. Smith’s take on community involves people being open to share as well as learn from one another. Smith also discusses community member’s role to help others even when there is nothing to be gained directly from the person offering the assistance or the situation. In order for the community to thrive members must trust one another although blind trust should be moderated via critical thought. Along with the above generalities Smith also breaks down community through a division into four interrelated concepts. Smith’s first definition holds community as a value. The values of a community are connected and a trustful nature of the community’s members is the connective force working to maintain the community. Smith also views community as a set of variables or a descriptive category in which community members share an expectation of the quality of their lives and this may include an identified set of risk factors and parameters within which cultural practices are judged. Community members become aware of social norms. Smith also provides a simplistic notion of community as a place connected to a shared geographical location often based on agricultural and industrial endeavors. Smith finishes his exploration of community as meaning where members share a common ideology. Although Smith’s analysis of community is not as detailed as the others the shared concepts of connection, responsibility and accountability are becoming clear as community standards.

“It is a strange fish that knows the existence of water.” (Bartle, 2005) This quote from Bartle caught my attention as it holds a self-awareness needed to be a part of a community as knowing ones surroundings is essential to understanding ones purpose within a community. Bartle further explores the concept of community as a construct or model, although conceptually he postulates community can be discussed although no two communities are the same. Bartle also brings into community the concept of its members consisting of all members past, present and future and the “…set of interactions, human behaviors that have meaning and expectations between its members. Not just action, but actions based on shared expectations, values, beliefs and meanings between individuals.” (Bartle, 2005) Bartle also frames community as a system of systems that are learned via the culture of the community members, which places an added element of community as “a superorganic system built up of learned ideas, expectations and behavior off human beings.” (Bartle, 2005)

Within Bartles system he further breaks down the concept of community into six dimensions. The first dimension of community deals with technology as capital. Technology is seen as the tools and skills and ways of dealing with the physical environment. When examining the interface between humanity and nature it is important to remember its not the actual hardware but the concepts of use, invention and teaching of technology that impacts community and that technology is often the easiest means by which to affect a change in a community. The impact of technology on a community is quite powerful. Both emerging and established web based social networks highlight the ease and ability in changing social understandings. Secondly the economic dimension of community is its various ways and means of production and allocation of scarce and useful goods and services whether that is through gift giving, obligations, barter, market trade, or state allocations. Community economic ideas and behaviors are what give value to the money system as shared throughout the community. The third dimension of community is political. The political dimension of community is its various ways and means of allocating power, influence and decision-making. It is not the same as ideology, which belongs to the values dimension although it includes, but is not limited to, types of governments and management systems. It also includes how people in small bands or informal groups make decisions when they do not have a recognized leader. A fourth dimension of communities is institutional. The social or institutional dimension of community is composed of the ways people act, interact between each other, react, and expect each other to act and interact. It includes such institutions as marriage or friendship, roles such as mother or police officer, status or class, and other patterns of human behavior. The fifth dimension Bartle discusses is one passed on through the socialization practices of its members. The aesthetic-value dimension of community is the structure of ideas, sometimes paradoxical, inconsistent, or contradictory, that people have about good and bad, about beautiful and ugly, and about right and wrong, which are the justifications that people cite to explain their actions. The final albeit most influential actions of community members is the belief construct. The belief-conceptual dimension of community is a structure of ideas, although sometimes contradictory, that people have about the nature of the universe, the world around them, their role in it, cause and effect, and the nature of time, matter, and behavior.

M. Scott Peck’s article “The True Meaning of Community” brought together a lot of the elements of community definitions as covered in the other readings. According to Peck community requires members to be inclusive. A community does not exclude with any bias and this process takes a commitment from all members particularly each member’s willingness to coexist being crucial. Also connected to the shared community is acknowledging not all members of a community will share perspectives but through sharing and understanding others right to individuality a consensus may result in a new community norm. The idea of coexistence connects closely to self reflection as contemplation of ones place in a community can add understanding to a larger perspective of an individual within a community. “The essential goal of contemplation is increased awareness of the world outside oneself, the world inside oneself, and the relationship between the two.” (Peck, 1998) When a community member finds connection and purpose in a community the community becomes a safe place. For these members a community can be a place for individuals to heal and convert within themselves to be free from imposed expectations “…as the masks drop and we see the suffering and courage and brokenness and deeper dignity underneath, we truly start to respect each other as fellow human beings.” (Peck, 1998) When community members find comfort and empathy it allows for

“…a place where conflict can be resolved without physical or emotional bloodshed and with wisdom as well as grace. A community is a group that can fight gracefully.” (Peck, 1998) A community needs to be committed to struggling together through conflict resolution, as members should view the community as a shared respect of peace generated through the respect and acceptance of the group’s members as it permeates the groups subconscious. Peck supposes once a community has reached a shared perspectives as an ideal decision making unit there is no need for an individual leader as all members democratically choose the communities path.

To define community and all its intricacies is a difficult task. After reading the above authors work I have learned that community is a comprehensive societal act that requires a vast array of interconnected players each with their own set of wants, needs, expectations and belief structures. To be a part of a community is to join those prescribed norms that constitute the communal agreement. I believe in a community people need to be open, connected, be willing to set aside ego and personal agendas that exist contrary to the benefit of the group. Communities need to accept all individuals who wish to be a part of the community regardless of demeanor. Community members need to acknowledge strengths and weakness and continually work towards shared goals. Although differences will arise and conflict cannot be avoided as long as community members have committed to democratic workings peaceful resolutions and new social norms can emerge from disagreements.

I believe community needs to be based on empathic socialization. While exploring the various author’s concepts of community the development of shared understanding and the willingness of community members to work towards common interests was a key element to their definitions. Empathy is the invisible hand that governs our communal relations. Neuroscience has been exploring the existence of mirror neurons, which may show people to be soft wired to share in each other’s experiences. Jeremy Rifkin postulates that humans are not soft wired for aggression, violence, self-interest and utilitarianism as presented by the rugged individualism present in today’s society but rather humans are soft wired for sociability, attachment affection and companionship as displayed through our first empathic drive to belong. This soft wiring begins at birth and can be observed in hospital nurseries when one baby cries those babies in proximity, more often than not will begin to cry as well. Empathic development continues when at six months children begin to recognize themselves in mirrors, which leads to mature empathy as a cultural phenomenon as children begin to connect emotionally with those in their immediate community. The process of self awareness and a growing empathic view allows children at the age of eight to realize life is fragile and it’s tough out there which furthers humanities ability to show solidarity and compassion with all living things. To empathize is to civilize and to be civil is to be a part of a community.

 

 

 

 

References

Bartle, P. (2005). What is community? A sociological perspective.

 

Furman, G. (2002), School as Community: From promise to practice. State University of New York Press, Albany. pp. 5 – 69.

 

Peck, Scott. (1998). The different drum: community making and peace. New York: Simon and Schuster.

 

Postmodernism. (2011, January 17). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved             19:33, January 17, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Postmodernism&oldid=408400141

 

Smith, M.K. (2002). Community. Encyclopedia of informal education.

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