in praise of community

Yesterday I went to a creative voice event hosted by some friends. Inspired by playback theatre, the four ‘salonistas’ sang improvised harmonies. They layered sounds, words and rhythms spontaneously and in response to stories offered by the audience. It was nourishing, intimate and lovely: a true gift.

At the beginning, one of the salonistas said something that resonated with me. ‘Through this event,’ she said, ‘we want to encourage an experience of community.’

Earlier in the day, a priest I know named community as her inspiration.

In the car on my way home from the singing salon, I was half listening to the radio so I can’t even recall who was speaking. Whoever it was said something else about community that impressed me. ‘A network is not a community!’ He spoke emphatically.

When we network, we are not necessarily building community. We go out and schmooze in order to gain connections that will serve us in some way. Online social networks demonstrate how many ‘friends’ we can collect. Linking in offers us the opportunity to access business buddies.

Community is something different. When we belong to a community, we have found a place where we feel supported and nourished. In community, we are connected not through the number of people who post on our wall or the number of connections that show up on our business links. Instead, we are connected through the heart, through something we love.

It is argued that communities are breaking down but I propose that instead, quirkier communities are arising. There are communities devoted to ukulele playing, knitting and yarn bombing, as well as communities gathering for religious devotion, political exploration and work inspiration. I belong to communities based on sacred poetry, spiritual wisdom and storytelling. Yes, opportunities for all sorts of material and intangible things may arise through these communities, but in community our prime motivation is to enjoy being connected with others who also love something we love and to offer up our sincere, precious and vulnerable selves.