How Do I Foster Community?
Engage. By any means. Get involved, text, respond, call, email, meet/greet, serve, welcome, host, or just be present in it. Every organization is different and it can be hard to figure out how to engage.
First, is your community a bounded set or centered set?
From Jon Ritner,
“Picture a bounded set as a shepherd in a field constructing a large, square fence to keep the sheep in the same pasture while also keeping out other animals that do not belong. Bounded organizations clearly indicate who are insiders and who are outsiders. They have a standard of accepted behavior and a set of shared beliefs or values that must be met for a person to fully sense that they belong. Bounded sets include country clubs, fraternities and sororities, and the military, to name a few.
The opposite is a centered set organization, which is soft at the edges, allowing anyone to pass in and out, but firm at the center to preserve an essential DNA. Here belonging is offered before a person may decide to even show interest in the behaviors or beliefs of the core. Picture a centered set as a shepherd digging a single well in a large field and then allowing his or her sheep to wander as they choose, knowing that at some point their own thirst will lead them back to the well to drink. The job of the shepherd is to orient the sheep towards the well so that when they are ready to drink they know where to find water. In a centered set, rather than saying to outsiders “You belong here,” the core community seeks to belong to the life of others by going out to their spaces and asking, “May we join you?”
A centered set has a firm center, often a small leadership team who affirms common beliefs and values and seeks to embody a shared lifestyle, but they do so in a way that does not communicate second-class status to the others around them.”
Does this perspective change how you feel about your community? Meditate on whether or not your organization is structured to make it more difficult to engage.
Now, let’s break down what Jon Ritner said in the first part of this community series:
“Liminality creates Communitas; a deep bond formed in people who share a common ordeal, challenge, task, or who together pursue a common mission”
Liminality (latin: threshold) is the space between the known and what’s next, it is venturing into the unknown. It is a fabulous disorienting space to find a community that can naturally form INTO what’s next for everyone involved. That’s why college is SUCH a great community generator, everyone is lost and everything is new and there are common activities, trials, and classes that leave you searching for help in the people in your immediate surroundings – your peers equally transitioning between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and their new normal.
From Victor Turner’s 1974 essay, “Liminal to liminoid in play, flow, and ritual: An essay in comparative symbology”:
“During the inter-vening phase of transition, called by van Gennep “margin” or “limen” (meaning “threshold” in Latin), the ritual subjects pass through a period and area of ambiguity, a sort of social limbo which has few (though some- times these are most crucial) of the attributes of either the preceding or subsequent profane social statuses or cultural states….”
(I encourage you to learn more by googling Arnold van Gennep’s introduction to preliminal rites, liminal rites, and postliminal rites from his 1909 work “Rites de Passage”)
Pursuing a common mission is the positive reaction to experiencing oppression, creating a means to fulfill a vision/dream/innovation/or expectation, or the logical response to injustice paired with healthy empathy.
When you are in a liminal season of life and find a common mission, you will experience the potential to foster a community. It is a living thing, active. Remember when I said in the first part of this community series that community is a people? It is. It is not a building or a place at all. A community is a people living messy, spontaneous, unpredictable lives that become something more together. The answer is to ACTIVELY move forward.
“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
– Rick, Casablanca
One of my favorite shifts in the film industry is the focus on content creation from all types of artists in front of and behind the camera. Moving from a performer to a producer or a cinematographer to a producer, and continuing to straddle both roles successfully has never been more respected and encouraged. If you want to showcase your craft and the ‘right’ work isn’t available, make your ‘right’ work happen. With the technological revolution, crowdsourcing, and other types of accessible innovations in media, many people with gifting and talents that extend into other parts of their industry are able to puzzle together a smaller crew than usual. A smaller, tightly-knit, feisty crew makes for a Summer Camp ‘Mountain Top’ experience like no other.
These underfunded content creators have found the ‘filmmaking family-unit’ that I explore at length in my book, “Movie Baking: The Indie Work-At-Home-parent Filmmaker.” I use community and family interchangeably here:
“Things previously considered to be constraints or barriers to an artist’s work, I’m declaring powerful. This growing segment of millennial artists in a struggling economy with life commitments are the future of the film industry. We are banding together in filmmaking collectives, otherwise referred to as filmmaker family-units. In this, I emphasize the importance of proper goal setting, communication, and fostering community. I rely on a team while maintaining an attitude of ownership and finding peace in the infrequency of well-paid work.”
There are more filmmaking collectives than EVER. You may not see them, but they are out there stirring things up and demanding our broken film industry become more community focused. Because on these smaller projects, a deep bond is formed in people who share a common ordeal, challenge, task, or who together pursue a common mission.
“We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.”
– Andrew, The Breakfast Club
Are you feeling like this isn’t true for you? I encourage you to examine all of this and really meditate on what is happening in your life, where you are right now, and where you want to be. It’s healthy to want to be in community, but the right kind of community that will become an important part of your life.
“One of the most shocking discoveries I found while working with doctors at Harvard Medical School on the most effective methods to live better is that our feeling of community (or lack thereof) can have a stronger impact on the quality of our lives than diet and exercise combined!”
– Jonathan Bailor, New York Times Bestselling Author and Founder of SANESolution
Step by step checklist for fostering community:
(yeah, I know you want a cheat sheet!)
This is a pen to paper activity, a work book exercise, just try it.
- Identify your community: Name, type of structure, when did you ‘join.’ When did you know this was your community, do you know the exact moment? How did you know it?
- Who? Who connected you to this organization/group/people/place? Who made you feel welcome to stay? Find the circumstances that led you here, looking back will help you look forward.
- What? What do you have in common or what is your common mission? Is it explicit? Is it implicit? Seek out others in your community to really nail this down accurately.
- When? When do you get together? Do you have a gathering place/time? Are you always there? Then when do you feel is the best time to engage? At events? Online at your leisure? When a subject sparks your interest? D you work with these people every day? Define your frequency, time of day/year you engage, and when those gatherings are most meaningful for you.
- Where? Not what you think – Where are you going this year? Are you going on a retreat? Are you inching towards sanity/solidarity for the day-to-day? Are you just trying to get together at least once this year? Are you helping raise funds for an ongoing service? This is where you identify the short term ‘missions’ even if your group doesn’t actively define your mission, you should be able to see short term goals. Seek out others in your community to really nail this down accurately.
- Why? Why do you stay? Is this group a part of your identity? Is this group doing things that are meaningful in the world? Do you value these people? Do you value their input? Do you add value to their lives or, most importantly, do you feel WELCOME as you are in their lives? If you are not totally unabashedly YOU at all times, identify the other aspects of the community that keep you there. There is no judgement, community adjusts and grows and not every community is perfect in its present state.
- GREAT! The last step! Read your list above and identify areas where you wish things were different, areas of tension, areas that need improvement, and ideas of how you can spark that change. Identify barriers. Put pen to paper. And find an accountability partner within the community with which to share and discuss your thoughts WITH LOVE and patience.
“Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating.”
– Joel, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
In everything, always communicate with love and patience. Community is made up of people after all, regular messy, misbehaving, easily hurt humans. So be truthful with yourselves and others, but through the lens of love and patience.
Stay tuned for Part 3 next week: Is it time to leave my community? And catch up on Part 1.