Friday, September 21, 2012

We All Crave Belonging: The Disillusionment of Community

Having spent much of my life either belonging or attempting to belong to something, the false sense
of community has become glaringly evident. Everywhere you go there are little subcultures attempting to be a community – a collective of like minded individuals in the pursuit of a common goal – or if nothing else, labeling themselves as such…climbing community, psychological community, yoga community, paragliding community, green/sustainable community, co-ops, online community, religious community. The list goes on.

The desire for community is a rich and noble pursuit, but really can an authentic, true community exist? And if it can, why are they so hard to find? We love the idea of community but are often disillusioned by the fairytale.

In every town I’ve been in and in every activity that I’ve played, people yearn for a sense of belonging; crave being a part of something, often compromising themselves to feel connected at all costs. But when the curtain is down and the beers pour heavy, the true feelings show. No one really feels connected or feels as though they belong to a community. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Complaining and hurt feelings for the betrayal within their community is usually what it boils down to. This shows itself by the talking of others behind backs, the tendency not to be able to share openly one’s opinion without causing irreparable damage, the inability to put away the agenda and truly listen to someone else without having to one up them or compare yourself to and the need to see eye to eye with no disagreement.

Combining all the possible 94 definitions of the word community, here’s my summary: a group (two or   more) united by a common goal, interest, struggles, risks, and beliefs that create cohesiveness due to the shared stories paired with a desire to create something better.

Sitting back viewing with an ethnographical lens, the dramatically varied “communities” that I find myself on the periphery, there’s always a breakdown. This breakdown seems to occur because of the desperate need to belong to something. Unfortunately, just because you have the same interest as a handful of others, does not automatically make you a community. A true community takes much more than a shared interest and common goal. Thus the part of the definition stating a desire to create something better comes to fruition. This is the difference between pseudo-community and true community.

A community can’t just exist simply because of a common thread, there has to be active building and nurturing of the group in order for a real community to flourish. This is where the disillusionment begins. We all want to belong but aren’t really willing to put in the work to make a true community. There needs to be community building.

Sense of belonging comes from a fulfillment of needs and a shared emotional connection. In many of the pseudo-communities that I’ve experienced, this is the barrier. Due to the narcissistic nature of the shared, common interest (paragliding, climbing, athletics, etc) individuals aren’t able or willing to put themselves on the back burner long enough to have empathy for or to share in someone else’s experience.

In my narcissism, I’d love to think I was the first to broach this timely topic, but M. Scott Peck, psychiatrist and author has done a brilliant job of it before me. He states that in order for a true community to exist, there are four stages it must go through:

1. Pseudo-community – the stage when individuals pretend to see eye to eye, cover up differences, act nice and pretend that differences don’t exist
2. Chaos – when pseudo-community fails to work and shit hits the fan, people show their true colors, fighting, disagreements and bitterness between members
3. Emptiness – members empty themselves, shedding their ego, dropping the persona, requiring a death of narcissistic, individualistic ways
4. True Community – in empathy with other members of community, able to talk openly in an authentic way about all things sometimes disagreeing but listening and learning together without letting ego get in the way, able to put aside differences to work towards common goal and betterment

Here is my $.02 as to why it is so hard to find a true community, most of the communities we find ourselves in reside somewhere between pseudo-community and chaos. Everyone plays nice to each other, putting their best foot forward, seeming interested in others stories and experiences, but that is where the connection stops. Acting interested is different than being interested; pretending to listen is different than true empathy.

The next challenge is when someone dares to say something that goes against the pseudo-community’s protective peacekeeping defense mechanism. This creates utter emotional mayhem. In the American culture, we don’t like confrontation, we don’t like disagreements, we don’t like to be challenged. So, when someone in your nicey, nice community goes against your belief system, it fucks with your ego and creates chaos. Stubbornness, righteousness and narcissism can be blamed for this inability to hear and empathize with others and puts up a metaphorical blockade.

Rather than leaning into the confrontation, sharing opinions (I know it is shocking, but it is ok to disagree and have different beliefs even in a group of people who like to do the same activity) it’s common to get angry and pout off. This is usually followed by a storm of slandering and whispers behind backs. As a result of not being able to handle the chaos and move on to the next two stages, our communities stop here…dancing between pseudo-community and chaos never making it to the beautiful true community status.

Can’t we all just drop the façade and get along? Even though this was meant solely as a social commentary on recent experiences within communities that I’ve been exposed to lately, it seems to make a lot of sense in the bigger picture. We are all inter-dependent; cities, countries, globally. Letting self-righteousness get in the way stops people and countries from moving beyond differences. We all just want to belong…but in order to, you need to be willing to empathize, be honest, hear honestly and check your ego for once and for all. Does it really always have to do with ego? I guess so.

Homework: Make it a point today to strive for emptiness at least once. It isn’t as scary as it seems. Truly shed your agenda, listen to someone from your heart without thinking of what you will say next, actually empathize with their experience not what your experience is or what you think their experience should be…be a little vulnerable, emotionally get naked. I dare you.

Posted by: amyleecrawford | July 10, 2010

NOTE: A friend sent this to me today (thanks, Adam!) and I am sitting with it and the thoughts and ideas it brings to mind for a while. She really explains well what I too often have felt myself and hold to be true about the groups we belong to, attempt to belong to and the people we surround ourselves with. I wish I could communicate as well. What are your thoughts about this article?

1 comment:

  1. i love that you are examining the idea of community, even through others' writing. i enjoyed the article very much. but here is my two cents. in the definition of community, i think that all that was stated applies, but there was something left out, and that is "interdependence". for me, this is crucial for community, and necessary if one is to reach the fourth level. interdependence is an attribute of historic communities, when we all lived in tribes, and then villages. the reason, in my thinking, that they were not surface communities is because everyone relied on each other for survival and basic needs. this is missing today.

    a good friend called me tonight asking if i wanted to go out with him to get something to eat. i declined. i decided that i wanted to stay in, relax, and write. was i a good friend? was i acting in the interest of community? hard to answer, but the key is that i had a choice about it. community, in modern times, requires effort to develop and sustain. i notice that 12 step groups do this successfully because they literally rely on each other for survival (sobriety). it goes beyond the social. in some ways, i envy them. but i do not intend to give up drinking in order to find community--so there is the challenge. it remains so.