Scrutinizing the various traps lying in wait for the unwary would-be community builders, I want to point to something John Michael Greer said in last week’s post on The Costs of Community:
I know a fair number of people in activist circles who speak in glowing terms about community; most of them don’t belong to a single community organization. I also know a fair number of people who’ve tried to launch community projects of one kind or another; most of these projects foundered due to a fatal shortage of people willing to commit the time, effort, and emotional energy the project needed to survive. [emphasis mine]
Note the language. The project is assumed to be primary and needs to survive. The humans are resources in short supply that are to work on its behalf. This sort of conceptualizing, I submit to you, is part and parcel of the problem. Turning the argument upside down… what if we actually have a fatal shortage of projects committed to serve the needs of the people who do show up, aiming to help them survive and thrive?! Let’s ask ourselves: do projects need emotional energy, or do humans?
Who wants to be a warm body for some ambitious goal-achiever? Don’t we already get that ad nauseam in the mainstream world? It’s no less unpleasant when it happens on behalf of “green” goals. People intuitively know when they are no longer respected as “ends in themselves” but have merely become somebody’s means to an end. They stop showing up.
If being with a group has become a slog, it’s a good sign that community has fled. As soon as goals take precedence over humans and the flow of their relating, connecting and funning activities, we are right back to same old, same old.
When rural women gather for a canning bee, it’s not that the goal of putting up the peach harvest is unimportant. That goal is vital. But they keep coming together because hanging out, reconnecting, gossiping, laughing, sharing food, giving and getting support, and telling stories is equally important and is energizing, revitalizing, and enjoyable to boot. The event transcends the stated goal… it turns a necessary chore into an opportunity to experience community.
The system has trained us well to chase goals at the expense of living. Enough. No more organizing for some noble cause and then becoming its serfs. Let the intent be a beacon that brings us together. Then let’s leave it in the background, and play with what we’ve got. See what the group can do together while the good times roll.