Culture | What does it mean to have ‘community’?

The word came up, ‘community.’ In handfuls of conversations. Online and offline.

What does it mean, though? I once co-hosted a conversation party in Seattle at Kornerhaus, which was DK’s office at that time. The talk was called ‘Gather: What does it mean to have community?’ I used to love to get people together in real life, from a wide mix of backgrounds and walks of life, to get some conversations going. Dialogue was the point of it, in those days. Getting practice at facilitating came of it, as a result. This wasn’t planned, making space for people to relax and talk was, but the skills in getting this to work artfully are still with me, and I put them into practice every day. It was a time for me of blogging way more than I do now, of inviting people to come around and have a conversation with me much more often. And being ready. Open and relaxed and inclusive.


What is the value of a community? What is social support?

Things have changed now. Pandemic.

For me, a community is something that feels really comfortable, in theory. I like the idea of it because it would mean that I am known, and we have a history. However, I am starting to revise my rosy picture of this. What if you’ve changed, but others haven’t? What if you’ve grown, and they can’t relate?

I read something today that reminded me of why ‘community’ means something to me, personally, especially having been outside of the country where I was born for almost a decade now. It is weird not to have the old traditions, but it is welcoming, too, to have the freedom from having to feel obligated to enjoy them. What is community, anyway, though? What is it in 2023?

According to Stanford Social Innovation Review, at this article, ‘Adding precision to our understanding of community can help funders and evaluators identify, understand, and strengthen the communities they work with. There has been a great deal of research in the social sciences about what a human community is.’

Some snippets of the article:

‘Community is not a place, a building, or an organization; nor is it an exchange of information over the Internet. Community is both a feeling and a set of relationships among people. People form and maintain communities to meet common needs.

‘Members of a community have a sense of trust, belonging, safety, and caring for each other.

‘They have an individual and collective sense that they can, as part of that community, influence their environments and each other. That treasured feeling of community comes from shared experiences and a sense of—not necessarily the actual experience of—shared history. As a result, people know who is and isn’t part of their community. This feeling is fundamental to human existence.

‘Neighborhoods, companies, schools, and places of faith are context and environments for these communities, but they are not communities themselves… Most of us participate in multiple communities within a given day. The residential neighborhood remains especially important for single mothers, families living in poverty, and the elderly because their sense of community and relationships to people living near them are the basis for the support they need. But for many, community lies beyond. Technology and transportation have made community possible in ways that were unimaginable just a few decades ago.’


Updated: July 2023
Originally published: 
Jan 17, 2023