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You Will Not Succeed by Building Community

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“WOW, buddy! Who do you think you are!? Thems is fightin’ words!”

Chill out for a minute and let me explain.

Let’s start by talking about gift culture in the US. It’s pretty widely recognized that you ought to give a person a gift or pay them some respect on their birthday or Christmas (if you’re Christian; I’m not necessarily, but for some reason we all did it anyway) or whatever holiday you grew up giving gifts on. Whatever religion or culture you belong to, there is probably a gift culture built around certain days or times in one’s life. Baby showers, weddings, divorces, and all sorts of other things. And this isn’t just the US, but all around the world there are cultures about giving gifts out of tradition.

I’m going to say something upsetting to many of you now.

I don’t give gifts for birthdays. I don’t even send cards. Out of respect for the people I care about I do a courtesy call, but that’s about it.

“Well, you’re an asshole,” you probably are thinking. Suspend judgment for a second.

The reason I don’t give gifts on these days is because it’s highly insincere in my book. If the only reason I’m giving you a gift is because the calendar tells me to (and because you expect it), it’s not really a gift, it’s an obligation which I’m fulfilling to you. It’s a debt. I’m not doing it because I care, I’m doing it because it’s expected. And just so you understand I’m not a hypocrite, I repeatedly tell my parents to not get me anything for my birthday or Christmas, even though they do it anyways.

The best gift is seemingly random. It’s from the heart. It comes at a time when nobody expects. It doesn’t need to be big, it just needs to be thoughtful. It doesn’t need to cost money, it just needs to make the other person smile (or cry) and feel connected to you in some way.

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For a similar reason, community building is a terrible term.

Community building implies that community is something you’re manufacturing. My only guess as to why you’d manufacture it is because you don’t have it and have no idea what it is, and in many cases are wanting to build it as a selling point or feature instead of for it’s own sake. This is a huge mistake.

Community isn’t something you make. It’s a byproduct. It’s a natural reflection of the meaningful human interactions that go on between a group of people on a regular basis. You don’t build community, it grows naturally. You cannot manufacture authentic human interactions.

Community cultivation is the only way forward, so let’s talk about it. Cultivating a community (like a plant or something) implies that you recognize the community has it’s own agenda. It’s going places without you, whether you want it to or not. You can shape or mold it, but you can’t dictate it’s direction or destination. You’re only hope is to find a community you want to be a part of and be a positive force for that community.

Community cultivation requires a few things:

  • A suitable environment (safety, communication, comfort). Note that this doesn’t have to be physical at all.
  • Energy (for plants this is light, for people this is chatting, good vibes, inspiration, fun times).
  • Nourishment (generosity, leadership, learning, and purpose).

Community building is just like a birthday gift. It can be nice, but at the end of the day I still don’t know if you really care or not. Community cultivation, on the other hand, is showing up to reinforce what’s already happening; it’s bringing flowers and champagne home and cooking dinner for your partner because you want to turn their good day into a fucking amazing day.


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