Friday, December 28, 2007

The Indispensability of Communitas

For me, 2007 may well go down as the year Lynnette and I finally found community. The great group of folks that gather and call themselves the story every Sunday night has become a welcome part of our week. We're allowed to vent, to laugh, to think, to ask and to dream. In short, we're allowed to be ourselves.

I had a conversation last week with two people trying to figure out what their group of 20-somethings needs and is looking for. That's an easy answer: they're looking for community. The trick is figuring out how to show them where it is.

I went to listen to some songwriters perform a few weeks ago. In Nashville, events like these are easy to find. What I like most about these events is listening to the stories behind the songs. Usually, you'll hear something like, "When I wrote this song with Joe and Tom…" or "As Jane and Wanda and I wrote this…" Go to enough of these and listen to enough of these stories and you'll realize that no one writes songs alone. Look at the liner notes to any CD in your collection and you'll see.

And, in Bill Gates' recent piece for the BBC, he wrote:
Communication skills and the ability to work well with different types of people are very important too.
A lot of people assume that creating software is purely a solitary activity where you sit in an office with the door closed all day and write lots of code.
This isn't true at all.
Software innovation, like almost every other kind of innovation, requires the ability to collaborate and share ideas with other people, and to sit down and talk with customers and get their feedback and understand their needs.
In other words, we're not alone. We can't be our best alone. We need community like we need air, shoes and wi-fi.

There's a difference, however, between community and communitas. Community can simply mean some sort of loose grouping, without any kind of real connection. Our neighborhood, our city, or our classmates can be considered our community. But we can still not know anything about another person in this community.

What we need then, is communitas. This is a Latin word that describes a more intense type of community - one that usually undergoes some sort of bonding experience or rite of passage together. Fraternities and sororities are a shallow form of this, sharing a common initiation ritual. Guys who stormed the beach at Normandy and firefighters are a more intense version.

A lot of us settle for community without taking the deeper step into the wonderful mystery of communitas. We stop at the comfort of Facebook friendships instead taking the risk that comes with meeting face-to-face. We think we're connected if we have a long list of virtual buddies, but we've got wonder who will be there for us when we turn the computer off and must face the reality that is our first life.

As Rebecca Thorman says,
There's an acceptance that [changing the world] will all get done. And social media will help us do it. This idea that we can bring groups together over the Internet through blogging and Facebooking, and that it will all create change is ridiculous. It's hiring a gardener for the privilege of missing the sensation of earth between your fingers.
We've created social media for the privilege of missing looking across the table at someone, face to face, secret to secret, ambition to ambition.
We create online communities that secure our quasi-anonymous lives, and moan about not being able to connect with someone.
When all we really have to do is simply say, "Hello."
If you want to make resolutions for 2008, let this be one:
This year, I'll ditch my community and risk it all for the sake of communitas so that I may deeply know someone else as I long to be deeply known.

Comments (3)

I think these words hold more truth than so many of the opinion-driven blogs that try to speak loudly about something that only we can determine for ourselves. The communitas that is spoken of moves beyond the cell phone confrontations right into face-to-face oppositions or the email "I love you" right to an in-person embrace.

So many times we struggle with the intimacy that comes with direct communication with people. We have virtual offices where we rarely have contact with or fellow workers; we have more cell phone conversations and email correspondence than one-on-one lunches with people.

"Cat's in the Cradle" talks of no time for our kids and realizing when we do have time that they are long gone - inevitably we have trained them to be the same way. I want to learn to live the essence of communitas and not fear closeness that comes with it - the imminence of letting others in - because although I may get hurt, there is a much greater chance that I may have a deeper relationship than I ever could have imagined.

Sam, thank you for your thoughts and words! This really gives me something more to think about for myself.

Sam, I really enjoyed this post. I'll be mulling all morning, I think. Thanks for that. I feel inspired, challenged, and renewed. Looking forward to more stuff like this.


8:18 PM