The word community gets a lot of use these days. There are urban and rural communities, retirement communities, a Walmart community, an Airbnb community and on and on.
Theres a lot of buzz around community and people use it in many different ways. So, I've been asking myself what is community and what do I really mean when I say community?
Talking with Alan Fiske, professor of anthropology at UCLA – he simply responded “community is an english word”. I laughed; it’s not what I expected him to say but he was completely right. It’s important to be clear about what we’re talking about. Words have meanings and the same words can have different meanings depending on context and who's using them. Part of my effort in creating the Close Knit Framework is to create more clarity.
Generally I think there are two types of communities: ones that are circumstantial and others by our choosing. Roughly, we can identify those two forms of communities as follows.
Circumstance can mean you're connected through:
- Place, where you grew up or where you studied.
- Shared history which can be an external event or powerful experience such as success, failure or trauma. This also includes your heritage in the form of a set of shared values or cultural norms.
- Inherent traits such as your age or identifying gender.
Choice can be established through:
- Practice and affinity, that is your profession, your hobbies or interests to learn something from each other or create a change in yourself. Fan communities and sports clubs are some more examples.
- Action, which means you're creating change in your community or in the world. These are often movements, environmental or political for example, that are time or goal based.
- Intentionality through which you select a place and people that you want to be around. Co-living, intentional communities or cooperatives are a few examples.
This is not an exhaustive classification or definition but I hope its a helpful start. To me a community, be it circumstantial or by choice is defined by a sense of belonging, trust and resilience. They help us understand what we have in common, allow us to have deep and meaningful relationships and ensure that we can overcome challenges and stick together.
Community takes on many shapes and forms. It’s a sign of our times – as our society becomes ever more atomized, so do our communities and the way we do things together. This might make our need for a strong sense of belongings and a deep sense of trust even more important. We attach different words and meanings to those communities and so its important to understand and communicate what your community is really about, through words and actions. Simply calling something a community doesn't make it one.