Monday, July 30, 2018

On what makes a community

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly based on the original book cover of John Donne
Well, before a "community manager" became a thing online, one must reflect on community to begin with. Apparently, "community managers" do not handle communities (yes, shocking I know), which leads us very benignly to the original definition of community which according to the Merriam-Webster is "an interacting population of various kinds of individuals (such as species) in a common location" - do note the existence of various other definitions but for the purposes of this piece this is the most fitting.
If I am reflecting on this, obviously it is stemming from an advertising perspective as with everything on this blog, but also - there is more to it. A very long time ago I wrote an article called "In Minorities of My Own" (that was way back in 2000!) where I tout individuality, and the idea of each celebrating their own differences. The last paragraphs go like this:
"I’ve been thinking, I certainly would like to be the leader of a minority. A minority which would regroup all Christian Maronite, left handed, 5 feet 3 inches tall, 100 lbs heavy; people who are into Formula 1, pop culture, world music and graphic design; and who are formed as agriculture engineers, and subsequently as environmental economists.
We would have our weekly outings at the Chase restaurant - my favorite - and sometimes hike on Sundays, we would march for our rights if we had to, and have an annual convention of our own once a year - twice a year if I am in the mood. We would all have stickers on our cars signaling our membership to that specific minority.
Our flag will be anything containing the yellow color - again my favorite.
What happens if a member of the minority dislikes yellow? Well, he can still find himself another minority who would want to have a genetic mutation who dislikes yellow.
Even better, that member [former member to be more precise], can be the leader of his own minority regrouping all people who are Christian Maronite, left handed, 5 feet 3 inches tall, 100 lbs heavy; people who are into Formula 1, pop culture, world music and graphic design, and who are formed as agriculture engineers, and subsequently as environmental economists… and who dislike yellow.
But what kind of people are these anyway?"
I am not here to take back my previous words but also realize as I progress with age, the benefits of "normalcy". I am not saying people should abide by all social norms and rules - specifically the ones that are against their personal beliefs or value systems - but it is the most basic of adages that prove right as time goes along, I am here remembering our ethics professor at AUB who at the time, towards the end of the course, spoke of the song "The Glory of Love" with the specific line "you've got to give a little, take a little" - again with age, they make perfect sense.
But what astonishes me with real-life communities is that this is not some tit-for-tat thing it simply genuinely flows in acts between people. Recently, some kid was removing chairs from my veranda, there was no permission asked - my reflex should have been to go out and give me a proper piece of my mind. What I did was say "yo kid, there are two more plastic chairs inside, go in and pick them up". 
I knew that there was a small religious ceremony nearby and that the statue of the saint in question is actually in my own land (I offered it as a solution when another place was rejected by a neighbor) only added to the moral aspect of my permissiveness towards the chair lending.
Of course when the ceremony ended, the kid's aunt came and offered petit-fours for mother who was watching the ceremony from the balcony.
That same night and again due to the ceremony, I went out and realized that neighbours (different neighbours than the ones mentionned prior) had used my parking with no permission asked, so again, did I shout and get upset? No, I simply told the car owner in question "pull your car in, that way your husband can park behind you and more places can be liberated for other people to park in the alleyway (which, ironically is also technically part of my land)". 
Do note, I am not writing this to say how generous and permissive I am, because you see, when lately there was a health crisis at my own home, I have been inundated by acts of kindness from people nearby. "Do I need anything from the vegetable-selling ambulant vendor when he comes?", "is there food in the house?", and the list continues. You might say "oh it is simple, you let people use your veranda chairs and they check up on you in return", actually, very simply: No.
This again is not some bargaining system when I do this in exchange for that, it is more like a free flowing system of barter of services where no one is counting or keepin tabs. And in the end, we are all the better for it.
Another simple adage that made sense? "No man is an island unto himself" as John Donne said.
So whereas I still look at "minorities of my own" and smirk, I now also understand that to thrive one needs to come from a place, be anchored somewhere, be part of a "community".