A manifesto for micro–communities
Where do you look for community?
Where do you go for emotional suppot, unconditional friendship, and experiential wisdom from your peers? What non-judgmental arena works best to help you create a more meaningful life? While family, church or friends can provide some value, each has its own specific agenda that isn’t necessarily tailored to your requirements.
If you are like most of us, you really don’t have a place that truly serves you. You need a community whose sole purpose is to serve its members. Every other organization we belong to has other purposes—even our families.
We are community deficient. The tribe has vanished—that organic group of people who lived together, provided for and protected each other, raised everyone’s kids together, healed each other and celebrated the stages of life. The tribe no longer exists. Yet, buried in our genes, is the instinctual need to be a part of a tribe, to connect, nurture, share life’s lessons, and become our best possible versions of us.
Something is missing
For many years we looked at bigger organizations and social movements to address an indescribable urge we felt. We volunteered for (hell, I even started) organizations in part to create connections with others. We did some good; we learned a lot and enjoyed making connections with people. Ultimately, however, something critical was still missing. We thought if we worked harder at this that we’d get it. What we got instead was burnout.
But we didn’t know, and we couldn’t have known, what was missing. No one ever spoke about the benefits of a community. We didn’t know anyone who was part of one.
Deep not broad
Our ancestral roots guide us back to small communities, villages where everyone knows his or her community personally. This is where you can trust unconditionally that the group will provide for you.
Much of our appetite for social media derives from making connections with other people in a new, but deeply flawed manner. In spite of being a huge fan of social media, we view it as the sugar for our community hunger, and just as the body eschews sugar as real food, our psyches reject social media as a real way to feed our souls. We get on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ to connect. It’s fun. We remain virtually connected to a large network of friends and acquaintances.
As good as someone becomes at virtual connecting, he or she is still missing out on simply being with a person for no other purpose. I’m as guilty as the next person at telling myself I don’t have time to do that. I have to get that chapter done, respond to emails…. Still I have this need for more – not just connecting with more people, but also being with people face-to-face.
I moved to a small town in North Idaho in the belief I’d find what was missing in my life. Sandpoint did give me one of the most beautiful environs I’ve ever seen. It didn’t automatically give me a community, though. I am originally from a small Vermont town, so I remembered what a small town felt like. My young childhood activated my epigenetics for a community. While I was running my business in Phoenix, AZ, in the 1980s and early 1990s, I once sobbed with joy and longing for my Vermont community after reading the small-town feature stories in Vermont Life.
One story was about a family whose barn that burned down. The next weekend, the entire town showed up to build the family a new barn. The men worked from dawn to dusk, the women tended the kids and the food, and the kids had a two-day party. Beam by beam, the men worked at erecting the frame, then the roof, then the walls. As they worked, they told jokes, teased each other, and loved each other in authentic ways men do.
By Sunday night, the family had a new barn and the community had deepened its bonds. It demonstrated that the community’s interpersonal connectivity was tantamount to its long-term viability. Every single community member voluntarily contributed to the project, and the barn was built.
I well up with tears as I remember reading this article. I believe this need for community is as primal as our need for a mate. We need to belong to something that draws out the best in us and rewards us for taking that risk. We know how difficult it can be to ask for this community connection. We all fear rejection.
But we function best as a pack, and we need that pack for our survival. The young, rebellious stallion will be expelled from the herd if he doesn’t behave. And once outside the herd, he quickly realizes what he’s missing.
A slow community
The slow food movement is teaching us the pleasures of being with our food and people. It’s not only giving us permission to slowly cooking and eating our food – it’s showing us how to do it. As ridiculous as it seems, we need to be told to eat slow because we didn’t know anything else!
A micro-community is slowed-down group where nothing need be produced. You are primarily together to be with each other. Like the barn raising story, you might show up to perform a task, but unlike the barn raising, your group’s intent is not outward performance related.
The product you are producing is instinctive to the group. You are producing the pleasure of being together. You are waking up in each person the ancestral need – then feeding it. You are perfecting your art of being.
In doing that, the group members frequently re-parent each other; in other words, unlearning past limiting beliefs and behaviors, and learning what was never taught. When the group trust is present, it’s easy for men and women to open into just being. As that occurs, the gaps in our maturation present themselves. In the experience of these gaps we get to naturally learn what we didn’t get to learn in our families. It’s simple; the group’s natural feedback becomes the lesson.
For example, a common lesson is men being told not to show or express emotions. A new man might join one of our groups. He sees men he respects being emotional, and suddenly his old model shatters. Next he goes through his watching, modeling, practicing, failing, succeeding and being acknowledged as he learns to be emotionally intelligent in his own way.
The new Occupy Movement
The Occupy Movement woke us up to how we were asleep around our institutions. Over the years we slowly gave away our awareness and power to large corporations.
In his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block describes how we need a culture of accountability. Now with the Occupy Movement revealing what’s not working, accountability is returning. Block explains that our social fabric needs repair. One way he suggests to do this is to shift from blame to ownership.
It is difficult to own something you are not a part of. He states that the key lies in small groups where there is full participation. Even though his is a political model, it is applicable to creating micro-communities of people serving each other. As members risk fully participating, they leave behind the cultural malaise of entitlement and start to experience what it’s like to truly occupy a community. The medium of exchange is authenticity. When it is given, in return a member gets to share in the pleasures of belonging to their group and their own experience.
American Dream 2.0
This country was founded upon interdependent villages. People met regularly in town hall meetings to discuss how to collectively solve problems and create what was needed next. Everyone was invested in the outcome.
After generations living in urban settings, we’ve lost the concept of communities, let alone the realities. Many of the most successful movements of the last few decades lead us back to what we had in these villages. The organic, natural health, slow food, and Occupy movements show us the way our ancestors lived on a daily basis.
You don’t need to move to a small, rural town to find it. The beauty of all these movements, including the micro-community movement, is that you can benefit from them in even the largest of our cities. I know men in L.A. and New York who sit in weekly men’s groups and feel they have their own identified community in the midst of cities of millions.
Help us create micro-communities. Share the concept of micro-communities. If you can’t find one, start one. Download our protocol as your starting point.
It’s difficult to imagine the power and relevance of these groups. You will find that what is missing in your life can be experienced, taught and filled—either by a person in the group, or the collective wisdom of the entire group.
Create your small tribe. Go from virtual communities to your own face-to-face micro-community of amazing people. Find the friends and champions you’ve always wanted in your own town, supporting you and your dreams.
Go tribal… start a micro.