Community matters because it is the foundation from which inspirational acts, great works of art, language and communication, compassion, innovation, leadership, and deep thinking stems. Our communities inform and empower us, holding us up when things get tough, and celebrating when we most deserve it. I wrote about community in my last blog and newsletter because it is at the heart of why I do what I do.
And I also wrote about community as I began to question my own pontifications in last year’s Network Building post. In that piece, I attacked networking in an attempt to offer a new twist, a re-brand of what networking really means. But I’m not sure I did anything more than re-exhaust the spin that we often give networking to make it more palatable. In organizational development and entrepreneurial endeavors, we’re often eager to discuss and spin networking, because it’s root, connecting with other humans, is most definitely fundamental to our success.
So let’s meditate for a moment on connecting. Most everyone, even incredibly introverted people, have an inherent desire as a human being to connect with other humans. We are eager to share our story, our ideas, and our passions, and most of us are equally as eager to hear the stories and ideas and passions of others. It is this transformative exchange that keeps us from feeling alone in our most challenging moments and at the hour of our greatest accomplishments. It’s why I believe everything from social media to happy hours after work to run clubs to even religion, are so incredibly popular, and needed. At their finest, each of these gives folks ample opportunity to connect with others, to share their stories and their common experiences.
I recently listened to a TED Radio Hour that included a discussion of Dunbar’s Number. Robin Dunbar poses that “the evolutionary structure of social networks limits us to 150 meaningful relationships at a time.” And if we subscribe to this number then I think this is where networking has taken on such momentum. If we are fortunate enough to be managing and enjoying those 150 relationship, anyone we connect with thereafter is outside of our core group (or a potential replacement for someone that’s maybe slipping away). And it’s maybe at that moment that we begin thinking, “what can this person eventually do for me, or for someone I know?” If this new connection is outside of our 150, are we unconsciously immediately evaluating whether or not this is a useful connection?
Regardless of where our Dunbar’s Number stands, what if we just got back to the root of connecting, that magical moment when we get to share stories and ideas and passions with another human, maybe someone we’ve never met before, maybe someone we’ll never see again or form a meaningful relationship with thereafter. Instead, these connections can become a part of our larger community. We don’t always have the opportunity to form meaningful relationships with everyone in our community, but we know those other people beyond our 150 are out there, that we’ve connected with them in someway, that we share a connection that matters. Connection is what forms community. It’s why waving to your neighbor and saying hello on the street matters.
So instead of networking or network building, we are actually engaged in the powerful and beautiful act of creating community when we meet and interact with new people. We connect with others for the simple purpose of connecting with others; we connect with others to understand them; we connect with others so that when things seem insurmountably difficult, our communities are strong and ready to respond.