How to build a community in four steps
Artur Komoter, University of Birmingham Graduate
We live in disruptive times. Communities can materialise at a click of “Create Group” button, grow by the count of “Going” and “Interested” on an event, but also cease to exist with numerous interactions with “Leave Group” button. More physical communities are not excluded either: student societies, for instance, can be volatile in numbers depending on what social events are being hosted throughout the academic year. Failure to establish a steady attendance leaves everyone with a displeasing aftertaste of “why are people not sticking with us?”.
Let us explore what it takes, and will take, to build a successful community that will stand the test of time during the upcoming twenties.
We’re social animals. Every community is formed by a group of people. They meet each other physically or virtually to communicate, exchange ideas. They must get together. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were united by gatherings around the campfire, discussing the means of survival, reproduction, domination. Fire played a significant role in getting people together. What is today’s fire that gives birth to a community?
Also, a community is meaningless without any interaction among its members. If our fire lacks fuel to keep on burning, it will eventually go out. Engaging the community with thought-provoking discussion, sharing your perspectives on common matters, and organising activities that bring people together is the fuel that is needed to get everyone together. These actions create a sense of identity amongst the members. If we can all identify ourselves through common characteristics and values, we are in this together. We feel a real sense of belonging by being present in this community. We took a stance on matters that are personal and valuable to us. That unique bond is exactly the foundation upon which a community can be built.
Strong communities grow in more than just numbers. Transforming current ideas and activities into something more advanced, focusing on self-improvement of the individuals, researching other potential channels of community engagement; all of these actions require a collective effort from everyone to succeed as a whole [Read more in Michał Tarnowski’s article in the 1st issue]. If the growth of a community is forced to rely on the minority of its members, or the founders alone, stagnation is inevitable.
This curse of inaction is the reason why, for instance, student societies fail to grow into established academic communities. The problem of not working together is not a new one. As Poles, we can relate to one of the founding fathers of interwar Poland, Roman Dmowski, who discussed this issue thoroughly in his literature. In the context of pre-Great War Polish community, he described inaction as the perpetrator of “pessimism, bleakness, lack of faith in oneself and the possibility of living in a better way.” While the topic of loss of sovereignty may have little in common with building a community, they are, in fact, linked by lack of involvement in a common cause kills the momentum of the community and the individual.
How can the community leaders act upon inaction? By inspiring the members to work towards becoming the best version of themselves. If an individual cannot visualise the ideal of the community, they will not know how to work towards it. You cannot force progress – you have to inspire others to progress with you.
Love One Another
Mutual love is an integral part of a community. It is expressed in various ways: religiously—through Jesus’ New Commandment (“Love one another; as I have loved you”)—and also philosophically, as devised by Plato. The Holy Scripture speaks of mutual love as a foundation for a world knit together in the bonds of amity and concord. Platonic love is a sublime relationship that is companionable, selfless, loyal and faithful, without the strong erotic vibes. Members of a community can love one another to establish a special, spiritual relationship: a kind, which allows the community to admire one another because of common interests and similar worldviews.
But love is not simple. We have our fundamental differences beyond the purpose of a community. Our worldviews vary in a political, social, cultural sense. The most controversial sense of today is the former. Building a community can be - and should be - an apolitical process. Community leaders should be trusted not to implement secret agendas and subliminally impose them onto the members. If involving politics in the community is unavoidable, then transparency regarding this must be maintained. Lack of trust in what the community is striving to achieve is a destructive force that has to be reckoned with.
After all, love is about trusting each other. Deep levels of trust among the members of a community is a gift that will keep on giving throughout its lifetime. Trust can be established by being “real”, humble, solitary, and by listening to each other. These are the golden qualities that every community member must stand by.
A group of friends sticks together because they sense a deeper purpose in doing so. Even though no romance may be involved, they have found a place for each other in their hearts. Communities are no different. Strong communities stay together because they sense a deeper purpose in the common cause. The platonic love within the community allows the members to form a personal relationship with it. How can the community leaders be sure that this is the case? By asking the following question: “How would you feel if the community were to be gone tomorrow?”. This question can yield honest responses regards to depth or shallowness, of an individual’s approach to the community.
Apart from deeper meaning to the existence of the community, a central figure—the founder—is often present, possibly “glorified” by the most dedicated members. Role models are important. Members, who may be unsure about their place in the community, have someone to look up to; someone to help them find the way. However, over time, communities must develop autonomy in shaping their collective character. Too much dependence on the founder’s personality and way of thinking endangers the community and its substance by devolving into a straight cult of personality. This is why community leaders must prepare and teach the community to grow on its own. After all, no one sticks around forever. Someone must pass the baton to the next person down the relay of building a strong, and lasting community.