Today I am going to use the words community or group in a somewhat arbitrary way to make a point about healthy vs. unhealthy dynamics.
This is a topic I think a lot about: do you ever find yourself pulled between desiring more community and feeling like you are losing your independence? Have you ever joined a group, only to be dragged down by its unhealthy dynamics?
I am going to guess that I am not alone in this push and pull between wanting to connect within a community, and feeling uneasy or even really frustrated by unhealthy group dynamics.
As I was reflecting more deeply on my good and bad experiences, something came to me: there is a difference between a group and a community.
I love communities. But I am not a fan of groups.
Within a community, individuals engage with each other from the heart.
When you show up, there is a warm or peaceful feeling, community members might be more or less engaged in each other’s lives, but they genuinely care, at least enough to ask how you are doing when they see you, or to notice if you are missing for a while.
Sometimes a community comes together intentionally and for a very specific goal: for example, Toastmasters members gather locally or online to support each other in becoming better (public) speakers.
On the other hand, sometimes a community just "happens:" you and your neighbors might not have chosen each other, but you share a little corner of the planet. And coming together makes everyone feel a little bit more at home.
Communities are porous and flexible: the borders are not policed and strictly defined. People flow in and out organically, some you like, some you don’t like much, but the heart of the community is big enough to hold space for differences.
Is there some gossiping? A little. But most people are there to feel good, support each other, or at least have some fun together once in a while. There is a feeling of ease, comfort, and authenticity.
A group has a very different feeling: it might even have started as a community but over time the feeling shifted. A certain idea of who is a "good fit" begins to take hold, and an "in-group" forms. Maybe it was set up this way from the start, or maybe no one ever really said it…but when you show up, you feel that it’s very important to fit in and conform to the group in order to be welcomed.
Gossiping increases. Disagreements become more divisive.
The group makes a point of sharing how they are not like some other groups. Rumors about someone’s misbehavior spread through the grapevine. People start to leave and you start to hear stories of behind the scenes power maneuverings.
I don’t like groups, they are just not for me.
Communities, on the other hand…those I love.
As I become more and more aware of these dynamics, the following occurs to me:
- Even when you are part of a community, stay curious: meet people from outside of your community, and keep open minded. Be part of a few different communities.
- Notice and choose carefully: the feeling of a community is different from the feeling of a group. Do not imagine you will change the group's culture if the feeling is not right.
- Be intentional in how you show up: do you gossip? Are you righteous and judgmental? Are you open to and supportive of others? Do you come to the community with an open heart? Everyone in a community contributes to its wellbeing, and it starts with each one of us.
- A workplace can feel like a group or a community: always choose a healthy environment.
I have used the words community and group here quite arbitrarily. The important thing is to really feel for yourself the difference between a healthy space and one that is not serving your wellbeing. Lean into the former, and ditch the latter.