Over the past several months I have been discussing “intentional community” with a colleague who shares the same background in community development, but unlike me, has continued to actively promote and participate in an intentional community (a co-housing site). We have been talking about the potential uses of social media to strengthen and extend learnings across the network of these communities as well as into the public sphere.
In the course of our conversations, I realized nearly all of us live in forms of intentional community, in the sense that we are consciously and continually choosing where to live, with whom, and for how long, under the pressures of multiple and often conflicting personal, economic, and social influences, planned and unexpected. We are able today to see with new clarity our own specific family, neighborhood and cultural traditions as simply one strand in a myriad of other, increasingly diverse family, neighborhood and cultural traditions, across a historic journey of awakenings, woundings and transformations.
In this context, formally structured intentional communities such as co-housing units serve as a point of reference, regardless of whether we have ever or will ever live in such settings. We all have much at stake and a shared need to maintain our bearings to determine future directions and next steps. The use of specific technical infrastructures, such as social media, may then make sense and fall into place, as naturally as a pot luck supper or a backyard conversation.
For many, the decision to live in an intentional community is a decision to explore a deeper level of shared responsibility and mutual support in a world in which dislocation from place and fragmentation of essential human relationships are closer to the “norm.”
“Sense of place” is central to the self-identify and cohesiveness of intentional communities. That is, members of intentional communities may see their responsibility and relationships within a given location as a direct expression of their care for the earth and “those who dwell therein.” The place in which one lives then becomes, consciously or unconsciously, a prototype, a declaration, and a promise for future generations.
This physical presence or “sense of place” sets the framework for the relationships within as well as for interactions with the broader network of intentional communities and the wider public sphere.
Next, there is an emerging consciousness of the importance of common story, a repeated retelling of a yet unfolding chronicle of how the community has come together, with its vision of the future, and the trail of challenges and breakthroughs that make each community unique.
These formal and informal tales of origin and destiny provide the “woof” to the “warp” of a sense of place. To participate in an intentional community is to engage in a journey, with all the unexpected
twists and turns, joys and sorrows that the term, “journey,” entails.
At some point, at various levels, there may be a shift in consciousness, a sense of transparency and connection: We are here, in this place and time, because being here is enlivening and somehow makes a difference in our wider concerns for mutual respect, justice, sustainability, and peace.
The emerging communications ecosystem quickened by social media becomes, then, a natural partner to this recognition of the immediate and intimate connection of local and global; for now, as never before, it becomes possible for the most mundane of events to have broader impact and significance, in as few as 140 characters at a time.
That is, regardless of social station or class, anyone may experience a moment of discovery, an insight, a new connection that is worth sharing as another trail marker in the overall journey, a significance that blossoms anew in the act of sharing.
It is now possible to shape a common memory from everyday voices scattered in diverse communities across the globe. It is now possible to gather and draw upon the collective wisdom of a new people, as quickly as new learnings are gained, whenever we choose to seek it.
It is now possible to add to an ever-deepening reservoir of experience in the moment, as part of the eventfulness of the moment.
Just as the settings and occasions of face-to-face conversations vary from place to place and time to time, the rhythm and content of blogging or twittering, for example, may be unique for different communities today. It would not take that many from any given location to begin the process of adding to the reservoir, providing momentum to the strengthening of mutually supportive connections within each community, across the network of communities, and with the broader general public that shares the same fundamental concerns for a just and sustainable society that is continually enriched by its diversity.
There is an opportunity for identifying and engaging people, where they are, in the roles of journey guides, historians, elders, visionaries, stewards or guardians, technicians, journalists, gardeners—whose reflections, stories and experiences give visible, public form to the significance of living in community.
And there are ways for this to happen that objectively enhance both personal and community life, in the midst of the everyday.
That’s the promise and the possibility of a new communications ecosystem for today’s resurgence in community, for our life together, in whatever form or structure such community takes.