The 'C' word: community and your place in it - Kristen Kalp

The ‘C’ word: community and your place in it

For a while, it was all about the food.  Bear and I didn’t want to cook breakfast and we needed some eating establishment close by to remedy the problem. That’s how we ended up at Rich’s.

The first few times we went, we wondered how the place stays in business: paper plates, really? Ads on the tables, really? Color-coded booths and Good Morning America on the TV, really? We judged the crap out of the place, but as we still found ourselves hungry for breakfast each morning, we kept going.

The waitresses learned our daily order. They started bringing our drinks without asking. The hostess learned about what we do. The twin sisters who work there asked if we wanted to hang out sometime. The owner learned our faces and started making inappropriate jokes when he saw us.

At some point, the shift from ‘this is the place where we eat breakfast’ to ‘this is the place where we see people’ took place. As we found out, the restaurant stays in business because people feel as if they belong when they walk through the doors. It isn’t about the home fries or the toast. It’s about gathering together at the start of another day to say, simply by being present, that we are all in this together.

‘Community’ is the latest buzzword in business. Whether it’s called a tribe or a sisterhood; whether it’s a Facebook group or a breakfast club; whether it’s a one-time thing or an ongoing commitment — it’s cool to be a part of community at the moment.

I am ALL FOR community that’s built of mutual trust and love and respect and people coming together in amazing new ways.

I am, however, staunchly opposed to throwing thousands of people into a Facebook group and calling it a community. That’s…a clusterfuck.

Likewise, gathering everyone who has taken a class into a space — whether virtually or in person — doesn’t make a community. It takes a masterful teacher to create a space where everyone feels seen, loved, and safe. Keeping that space open, loving, and safe requires sustained energy. Online, it often takes more energy than in person, even though it’s easy to add ‘online community’ as a line item in your latest product offering.

Community takes time. It takes cultivation. And it takes trust.

I have to trust that you’re going to show up. I have to trust that you’ll contribute. I’ll wonder about you when you’re gone. I’ll think about you when you’re not around. That takes energy, and I have to trust that you’re worth it.

We don’t forge communities by virtue of simply being in the same place, whether in person or online. There’s a customer that the staff at Rich’s calls The Crypt Keeper. She speaks to no one, except to complain about the temperature of her food. She stares straight ahead and she doesn’t engage with another living soul. She couldn’t give two shits about all the other humans present.

That’s fine. Community is also consensual. It’s a contract we enter into: I’ll participate if you will. I’ll show up if you will. I’ll take care of you if you take care of me. We’ll make each other laugh. We’ll tell our stories. We’ll remind each other that we’re here for another day, even if this day happens to suck. We’ll spend our energies on one another.

That’s not at all the same as heaving people into a Facebook group and walking away. It’s not as simple as opening up a forum or a chat and letting people have at it.

Making community is a process, and often a sacred freaking journey.

Community isn’t a line item in a product’s list of features and benefits. It’s a sustained way of being with your fellow humans. Whether you facilitate community or simply participate in it, I urge you to quit those groups in which you can’t be fully present.

Take note of the places where you’re participating and the places where you’re leaning back to be sure you don’t miss anything, finger on the ‘Leave group’ button. If you can’t give yourself completely to the group, get out. You’ll do everyone a favor, and you’ll have more energy for the people you actually want to support as they do their work in the world.

P.S. What do you want to want?