Love, sex and marriage were all covered, as promised in an interview between Helen Fisher, a human behavior researcher, and Krista Tippet, host of the popular On Being podcast, but while those three sensational topics were interesting so was the conversation about community. Specifically the profound changes in the average american’s experience of community.
For thousands of years our community was our tribe, mostly our family, those in immediate vicinity to us. Community was necessary to survival, both physical and social. The community kept everyone fed but also provided support and emotional well being. The community help each of us raise babies, care for the ill and help the elderly.
Today, the structure of community that supported humanity since the beginning is largely destroyed. For the average American community is something different, most families don’t live in geographic proximity. Couples, sometimes singles, are left alone to raise a child or care for a aging parent. In our neighborhoods sometimes neighbors don’t know each other well. Parents and offspring sometimes live hundreds or thousands of miles apart. We are very social beings so we still seek support, relationships and belonging. Community means something different than it did 200 years ago and where we find it is also quite different.
Sometimes communities form in the workplace but with the more transient nature of careers now and with prevalent cutbacks my guess is workplace communities are weakening. Perhaps there’s a community at church, or maybe not. Some of us have a strong community of friends but moves, to other states, work demands, and starting families make it harder to keep in touch. Never the less, humans strive to be part of a community. A community that welcomes us, supports us, helps us, teaches us, and loves us.
Many associations are struggling but at the same time we couldn’t need communities more. Why aren’t associations flourishing and filling our need for community? Maybe because we place all the value of membership on more tangible things like training, resources or advocacy. Maybe because while we know that networking is a key benefit we assume that it is a byproduct of our events, this is something the association staff is not in charge of. I am not sure of the answer.
I do think however, that many associations and their members could benefit from a concerted effort to build communities. Not online communities, although that might be a part of it. Not awards programs, although that might be a part of it. Not receptions, although that might be a part of it. I’m talking about a community or smaller communities with in the association at over a long time and consistently supports, teaches, catches, helps, respects, welcomes, mentors and loves members. How do we turn superficial communities into the kind of communities that we humans desperately need?
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