Do you feel as if you’ve outgrown your circle of friends? Perhaps you do not feel safe or understood any longer. There may be fewer and fewer things you can share with people in your habitual circle, and it leaves you feeling lonely or isolated. If so, you are not alone. Welcome to one of the core dynamics of continuous growth!
As we continue to evolve, many of us struggle with a sense of not quite fitting in with our traditional community or tribe: we may have expanded or changed beyond the borders of tribal norms, and no longer find the same sense of belonging there. Other members may have tightened the tribal rules to foster a sense of security. As a result, we may feel a sense of disconnection or alienation.
In truth, each one of us belongs to many tribes simultaneously: there is your original tribe – the family you were born into – and then there are all the communities of choice you have joined: your work tribe, your social circles, your faith-based community, your neighborhood, and more. These communities are not static; they are in continuous flux because they consist of individuals who are in continuous states of change. When there is a lot of change happening in either the individual or the community, a sense of dissonance results.
How are we to deal with this? First, it is important to recognize that tribal allegiances were historically forged for survival. They were adapted over the course of centuries to ensure the safety and survival of the group. Survival required that individuation be sacrificed for the trade-off of security.
In modern society, the tables are flipped. Whether we enjoy it or not, change is essential for survival at every level of being. The pace of change is driven by technological advances and happens with increasing rapidity: sociologists estimate that more change has taken place in society over the course of the past 100 years, than in the totality of the previous 6,000 years. Individual adaptation now is a requirement for survival, and the pace of individual change does not always match the pace at which our various tribal communities evolve. The resulting dissonance can cause intense friction and pain.
Dissonance also results from confusion between the concepts of ‘connection’ and ‘community.’ We tend to equate one with the other, when they really relate to different qualities. Connection relates to connectivity: the objective physical technology or media that enables us to build community, but which does not represent the quality of that community. Connectivity simply offers the opportunity to connect with others through internet, texting, phone calls, or any other social networking options.
Community is the result of building relationship through meaningful interaction over time. There is no shortcut; it is a process that develops when bonds of trust and intimacy are nurtured and honored.
And here lies a caveat: When we confuse connectivity with community, we depersonalize the sacred nature of true community and start relating to people as objects. Instead of developing intimacy over time, we collect friends on social network sites or try to buy people’s allegiance. Yet friending is simply an act of connecting; it does not create intimacy.
In fact, social experiments indicate that technologically dominated connectivity results in alienation and social collapse over time. In a groundbreaking social experiment conducted by Josh Harris, one of the founders of social networking on the internet, he found that the more people’s private lives were exposed by 24/7 technology, the more their sense of intimacy and relationship deteriorated until the community collapsed in violence and self-destructive behavior.
It is time to revisit our concepts of community so we can create tribes that offer a true sense of intimacy and belonging.
In his 1987 book, The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace, psychologist M. Scott Peck described several core characteristics of true community. Beyond the obvious components of inclusivity, commitment and participatory consensus, Peck pointed out the quality of embracing diversity through realism. When each member contributes their unique viewpoint from a place of humility and goodwill, the community benefits from a broader perspective in which to better grasp the full context of a situation. In other words, mutual tolerance helps members to embrace one another’s different viewpoints as an integral part of the whole, instead of imposing a forced compliance to groupthink or cohesion.
In an environment like this, members experience and express compassion and respect for one another. They allow others to share their vulnerability, to learn and grow, and to express who they truly are. When conflict arises, they learn to resolve it with wisdom and grace. Members listen to and respect each others’ gifts, accept each others’ limitations, celebrate their differences, and commit to find solutions together rather than to fight against each other. Indeed, the true spirit of community is the spirit of peace, love, wisdom and power. The source of this spirit may be seen as an outgrowth of the collective self or as the manifestation of a Higher Will.
Does this description of community sound spiritual to you? It is indeed, because Spirit is the common denominator among all of us, regardless of how separate we feel from others.
As human beings, we often experience a socio-economic sense of separation from others because of different opinions, beliefs, expectations, language, culture, or interests, since each one of us expresses these in a way uniquely different from anyone else. And still, we continue to differentiate! In this ongoing process, we continue to evolve or devolve in response to life. A community that felt like a good fit last year may no longer work today; the places where we felt embraced, now may suffocate us. Over the course of a lifetime, we can expect to outgrow and change allegiances to many of the tribal communities we once belonged to.
And yet, when we transcend the layers of physical appearance, mental beliefs and socio-economic conditioning, we find in the presence of Spirit a common denominator in everyone around us. Perhaps it is time to expand our tribal definitions to embrace a spiritual community that includes all of mankind as children of God.
Mother Teresa admonished her nuns to see Jesus in every leper they encountered, to find His presence as they looked into the eyes of the homeless. When we can look past the issues that divide us to find omnipresent Divinity in each other, we will uncover the foundations of true community.
Spiritual community transcends all socio-economic borders, beliefs and backgrounds. It is inclusive because it operates on voluntary self-responsibility and mutual compassion, and its doors are open to everyone.
Building this type of community takes time: time to listen, to hear, to respond and to participate. Take a few moments to read the description of spiritual community again. Then, make time in your life to foster that type of connection with people who matter to you. You are one of the architects of community in your life, and you can participate in building a tribe where you belong.