This time two years ago, I felt the concept of community was somewhat outdated. The word community conjured up visuals of poorly attended village fetes with lukewarm tea and wobbly home baked quiches.
In fact, it was my perspective which was wobbly.
In writing this blog about what community is, I tried to stop myself from listing any premature perceptions. I therefore found myself Googling things like ‘what’s the difference between a community and a network?’ and ‘why is community important?’.
The result of a bit more research and observation? Those quiches may look unstable, but the community that baked them is likely to be supportive and gratifying.
So what is a community? It’s a cliché to say but it does seem that it can take endless forms. A community can be an online hub of Manga fans as much as it can be a local group of Bratwurst enthusiasts.
It appears that what makes a group of people a community, rather than say a network or cluster of people, is some sort of shared interest, characteristic, location or even experience which connects the individuals as a group unified by that thing in common. That ‘thing in common’ can then generate a willingness between members to help each other.
Why is community important? Because that willingness to help each other is incredibly valuable.
Imagine you were diagnosed with a life changing illness. By joining the Patientslikeme community you can receive advice and support from other community members around the world who have learnt to live as best as possible with similar conditions.
The outcomes of such support can in some cases save lives, at the very least it can help someone feel good or better, even if that’s just by making them feel less alone.
Very often support between community members also leads to virtuous cycles of reciprocity and comforting sensations of security.
All in all it is likely that we don’t fully appreciate the value of such interpersonal support until it has been lost, as suggested in this sobering piece on homelessness .
Many people perceive the potential social and even economic benefits of community, but these benefits will not materialise if individuals don’t identify as part of a community and are not motivated to care for each other as a result.
Similarly, a community will fall apart if members don’t trust each other, and aren’t driven to interact on a regular basis. For this reason many people, platforms and even politicians are trying their best to nurture strong communities.
The potential benefit for these stakeholders is that a strong sense of community should lead to regular and reliable engagement between members. The potential benefit for community members is a sense of belonging, empowerment and support, as well as an environment in which to interact with others with similar interests.
Clearly the advantages of community are highly valuable, and in a world in which we feel increasingly isolated despite supposedly being ‘better connected’, these benefits are likely to be increasingly sought by all of us.
Photo credit: Grace Cheetham
Author Lucie Boyle
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