What is my community?
Shared interest? Shared action? Shared space? Shared circumstance? Shared organization: school, religion, or workplace? Shared microsystem: family, friends, team members? Shared macro-system: culture or government? Shared identity of any kind? Shared agenda? Shared oppression? Shared sports team? We know one thing, it is shared.
“Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”
– Clarence, It’s a Wonderful Life
Finding and fostering community is important. I am speaking specifically about intentional communities, social organizations in which you choose to engage. You need community for relevant resources, social progress, to lean on in times of struggle, engaging and wrestling with concepts within the context of shared experience as well as differing backgrounds/needs, and to find solidarity in a cold cruel world.
“I believe my life changed when I found a community that I could connect to. Moving to the Eastside part of Los Angeles was my A-HA moment. I found like-minded families, schools for my children, communities of people where I stopped feeling like I didn’t fit in. This was an inspiration for me at Segray—making the school feel like a community as opposed to a place for only learning.”
– Annette Gladstone, co-founder and director of Segray Eagle Rock
But this four-part article series addresses ways to identify, adjust, communicate your intentions, and ultimately help you leave community, another important part of the community process.
“Everyone suffers at least one bad betrayal in their lifetime. It’s what unites us. The trick is not to let it destroy your trust in others when that happens. Don’t let them take that from you.”
– Sherrilyn Kenyon, author
I am writing this series to fight bad community disengagement, the token heart that accompanies a bad break-up with your community. You may be having trouble in a present community OR finding yourself unable to see next steps in small issues. Go through this series with me over the next few weeks and see where it takes you.
Let’s start with discussing what a community IS and what a community ISN’T.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on community, but I feel a deep understanding having been raised in a positive community church environment. I recognize that mentioning “church” at all can put some people in a defensive position, I completely understand and respect that some churches have operated and still operate as oppressive structures of abuse and control. I will be briefly mentioning my personal experience being raised in my specific church a community-based non-profit organization, no religious propaganda will be mentioned here. I’m hoping you’ll feel safe to continue reading.
A church is not a building, but reference to the people that gather in fellowship or go out into the world. The people are supposed to represent the church. A church, in some cases, supplements the family experience that even after you are separated by distance or even seasons of life, you are still a welcome member.
“Indeed, church is not a building. It’s not an event either. I find too we use the word “church” to mean “that thing that happens on Sunday mornings.” It’s an incomplete definition. This is like saying “family is a house,” or “family is Thanksgiving dinner.” Real community is something far greater than its structures of place and schedule.”
– Kevin Miller, Community Pastor
But how does community different than a club? Facebook group? A place you go once a week where no one is connected throughout the week? Or a four month long class? These are all gatherings of people with something they share and then they go out into the world and represent their people, but these are not communities in and of themselves.
“Liminality creates Communitas; a deep bond formed in people who share a common ordeal, challenge, task, or who together pursue a common mission.”
– Jon Ritner, Pastor at Ecclesia in Hollywood
I have formed my deepest bonds with my actor community in college, my first out-of-state feature film experience, growing up alongside people supporting each other in my home church, and fellow families struggling in the film industry. You may have created deep bonds in the armed forces, in a competitive private boarding school, in a college debate team, in a stressful work environment, in a local bar like CHEERS, your city touch-football league, in your TV writer’s room, or a park gathering of parents. There are many types of communities, but here is a good way to decide between a gathering that fosters community and a membership in a ‘club.’
Is your ________ a community?
-Are you safe to wrestle with life’s complexities among peers?
-Are you welcome to gather with individuals within your community without leadership approval?
-Conversely, are you welcome to gather with groups that are distant in focus to the present community?
-Are you welcome to create smaller bonds and host events to invite community members?
-Are you welcome to speak with leadership about issues that should be addressed for the sake of the entire community or even a small sect of the people?
-Are you able to eventually serve in a leadership capacity depending on your gifting/talents?
-Are you able to feel confident spending time with people who have officially left the community?
Is your _______ a club membership?
-Do you participate and value the group/organization but feel that you receive no direction to become personally connected with other members?
-Are you encouraged (implicitly or explicitly) to leave aspects of your true identity outside the gathering time/place?
-Are you asked to leave if there is an economic disparity and you can no longer pay dues/fees?
-Are resources and perks withheld from newer members or members that aren’t of a powerful social or economic status?
-Are you asked to donate time to your members but unable to ask for help in your personal time of need?
-Are you asked to restrain from relationships with people who have left the group (or even just feel like it isn’t a welcome social choice, would it have consequences)?
Some clubs ARE community and some community is created by a club membership, … but we use those words interchangeably in the world and we need to stop that. Words matter. A community is special.
“Creating a creative community is vital in this industry. And in creating your community, it is important to know who is a part of your community. This can be immediate. There are people whom you know instantly are a part of your community. You share a common work ethic, respect, and creative outlook. And there are creative relationships which take time to develop as you “wait and see” if this person shares your community mindset. And there are relationships which you know are not of your community. Surrounding yourself with those who share your vision, approach to work, are respectful, kind, considerate and only want the best for you, the project, and for all involved are the community members you need. All boats rise when the tide comes in. I want the members of my community to be the boats. And the tide.”
– Mark Landon Smith, author, actor, founder of Actors Casting Agency, executive director of Arts Live Theater
Take a moment and identify 3 clubs in which you are a part and 3 communities in which you feel supported (your list may differ for people who are in those exact organizations, it’s a matter of your personal experience and perspective):
Clubs or Memberships I maintain and LOVE, in no particular order:
-The Producers Guild of America
-The Happen Agency, my acting agency
-Women in Film
-Disneyland Annual Passholder
-The Los Angeles Library
Communities I may call on in my time of need or plenty, in no particular order:
-My Film Peeps (my small production/industry companies, sister companies, and casts/crews with which I have formed deep relationship over a decade of films)
-Ecclesia, my church family in Hollywood
-California State University, Fullerton Alums, my college theater department friends
-Actors Casting Agency, in Fayetteville Arkansas, my AR specific agency
No judgement, just reflection. Take a few moments and notate these for yourself and find places where you want to invest more of your focus to foster what could be a life-changing community. I want to encourage you to put pen to paper for this short activity.
“The most important thing in life is your ‘family.’ There are days you love them, and others you don’t. But, in the end, they’re the people you always come home to. Sometimes it’s the family you’re born into and sometimes it’s the one you make for yourself.”
– Carrie, Sex and the City
There is always time to re-focus and connect deeper and collaborate on small projects to engage that shared experience and shared struggle and strengthen those bonds. Find people in your ‘community’ column and make something hard, scary, weird, small, or overwhelming happen with them this year. You will only gain.
“These people are members of the community that care about where they live. So what I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.”
– Leslie Knope, Parks & Rec
Stay tuned for Part 2 in this “Community” series titled “How do I foster community?”, coming next week!