Thursday, October 1, 2009

Community Defined

Someone I am partnering with on a project recently described a familiar scenario: Several people were involved in a discussion, and they had reached an apparent agreement. Then one person simply restated what had been agreed, only to find that people had different understandings of their agreement. What had seemed clear was revealed to be subject to varying interpretations.

Sometimes language can be used to communicate with precision and clarity, and sometimes words can obfuscate. This might be intentional in some cases, especially in the realm of marketing and advertising, but in most circumstances, I think that people typically want to be understood when they choose to communicate. It's a huge assumption on my part, but I'm going to run with it.

As I have been considering many ways in which I can partner with others, communication has been rather important. And since I am a part of several different communities, I have been looking at many different possibilities for building on the relationships that already exist for me. I thought at first that a community's purpose would play a part in how communication and partnership could play out among its members, but I am finding that people often have different definitions for some of those purposes.

Even the word community is a bit muddy. I am a part of a community of people where I live, a community of different people where I work, and several other communities of people because of various interests. My definition of a community has been a group of individuals who have a common purpose, but I admit that I don't really know the purpose of many of the folks who live in my neighborhood. For some, community may have to do first and foremost with proximity, and for others it may have to do more with attitude than anything else. I have seen people who claim to have common purposes treat one another with suspicion and even malice. By my perception, that would make it difficult to develop a sense of community, but others might see no connection at all.

So, how can a sense of community be developed unless the word itself is well-defined by its members? Communication might be a start, and it couldn't hurt for that communication to be honest and connecting. Personally, I am considering some alternative words that might be less ambiguous. Partnership is certainly one of them.

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