I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of community. What is a community? Why do we seek them out, and upon finding them, merge them so tightly to our identity?
Since the beginning of time, humans have had an innate need to belong. In an uncertain world where danger literally lurked around every corner, being part of a group provided security. You could count on your tribe to protect and care for you. Your tribe was your extended family.
Thousands of years later, we may no longer need a tribe tribe for literal safety and security, but the need for belonging still exists. We forge our identities through our many communities. We take pride, not only in belonging, but in where we stand within the hierarchy of the group.
And, like our prehistoric ancestors, we measure our group against others. In the good old prehistoric days, where life was either conquer or be conquered, ranking mattered. It was a safety thing. Life today isn’t nearly as cut and dry. Unfortunately, our brains haven’t quite caught up to realizing it.
Finding Like Minds
A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with my niece about college. A gifted artist, she left home to attend an elite art school. She told me how fantastic it was, on that first day of class, to hear someone make a joke about Pantone colors and have everyone in the room find it funny. In that moment, she realized she was no longer the artistic kid at school, but rather one of a room full of artists.
I felt the same way in 1995 when I attended my first writer’s meeting. In the days before social media, being creative meant doing so alone. Walking into that that classroom at UMass Framingham, was like stepping inside a warm warm house after a walk in the cold, or slipping on the absolute perfect-fitting outfit after a long day of shopping. Reassuring and exhilarating. I made lifelong friends in that room. And, if our gatherings sometimes shifted from talking business to socializing…well who could blame us? After years scribbling stories alone, we’d finally found like-minded souls. I can’t tell you how many times those friends saved my life.
Time Brings Change
The downside to communities, however, is that they change. The people within the community change. Some grow old. Some grow up. Some leave. New people take their place, and for better or worse, the community’s personality shifts. Through the ups and downs, you stay and weather the changes, because this is still your community and you love it. You’ve earned cache over the years that gives you value within the community, and that fulfills your need to belong.
What you don’t count on, however, if that while the community is changing, you are changing as well. Time and experience has changed how you see the world. While you still belong to the community, it isn’t quite the perfect fitting outfit that it once was. The seams pucker and the waist is too tight. Still, you squeeze yourself in because the community has become part of your identity, and belonging to it matters.
Until one day you wake up and realize the community doesn’t fit at all, no matter how hard you pretend. Time has turned the group into something you no longer recognize. Not wrong. Not bad. Just not a fit for you.
You know what does fit though? The circle of friends you made over the years. Small and mighty, you have grown and changed together. That’s when you realize you don’t need the community anymore. You’ve created your own tiny circle, and that’s enough.