It takes a struggle

the long wait

Originally uploaded by jon.swanson.

In thinking about community development, I’m starting to wonder about the importance of crisis or challenge or struggle. Why is it that when people talk about the groupings that matter to them, they often talk about a common crisis experience that deepened relationships?

A group of people spend a week on a work project in Mississippi. In cthe course of filling a house with drywall, relationships develop. One person decides to go to on a trip alone to a restricted country. Another person gets connected to a church and starts pulling ohter people along. Another person figures out new things about career paths. There are indiviudal benefits from the struggle in community, and the relationships in the group have long-term repercussions. What happened? A week away from the normal flow of life, a shared task, physical, emotional and spiritual challenges.

A couple walks through a difficult time and emerges better able to handle future struggles.

A couple people interested in podcasting decide to create an event against all odds. They recruit a handful of other people and and then just make the thing happen. A shared task, apparently insurmountable obstacles (no sponsors at first, change of venue, a changed-up concept). As a result, the concept has spread around the world in 8 months. And the original crew are still talking.

Countries go through times of religious repression and groups of believers emerge at the end in amazing numbers and with incredible resilience.

How important is struggle for creating community or, as Alan Hirsch says, communitas? As we are wanting to develop deeper relationships between people, do we need to foster struggle?

What would that look like? For real-space clusters of humans that’s easy. We do service projects. We look at the struggles of life as helpful (sickness, accident, job loss) for community by allowing people to bring the struggle into the group (no more silent endurance).

How do we have community-forming struggles for online communities? If we can’t, do they count as communities? Do we just resign ourselves to lonely moments in hotel hallways searching for wifi?


What would happen if we pushed hard for meetups that weren’t just social events but were intended to solve a problem, meet a challenge, make a difference? What if there were a partnership between podcasters and foodbanks or Habitat for Humanity. Everyone in a region showed up at 50 different habitat home projects to work on the home AND to cover the construction in new media? There would be content that mattered, that was common, but with 1000 different perspectives. The project is incredibly local AND national. There is room for audio and video and flickr and everything else. There is little problem with confilicting ideologies. And people end up with houses. People work with people in real space. (And, I suppose, there could be a corresponding village in Second Life).

So, what do you think. Can we create communitas, a deeper level of community?

Does this get us out of the fishbowl?


7 responses to “It takes a struggle

  1. 1. I don’t think we need to “foster” struggle, but acknowledge and embrace it – it’s everywhere. Life, breath, truth, meaning, purpose – it’s all a struggle. And that’s not even counting the tangible, physical struggles.

    2. Does the struggle for truth and soul-deep communication count for online community?

  2. 1. But i’m not sure that we are willing to include struggle as part of what will help us develop and deepen. However, if we let it in, as you say, embrace it, that will be good.

    but i think we need to disambiguate struggle, we have to clearly identify the parameters of the particular challenge.

    2. Does it count? I’m not sure how to answer that question. Can you have communitas kind of community, moving from interaction to interdependence, in online community? I think so…somehow…but that’s exactly what I’m wondering.

  3. Pingback: [] » Blog Archive » Fishbowl Follow-Ons

  4. So Dad forwarded your blog to me and that made me read other posts, and made me look at Rick’s as well. I “dropped out” of the virtual world about 10 days ago. I closed down my xanga and withdrew from my group…because I needed to simplfy. I found myself getting so caught up in the lives of others and using it as a distraction from my own crap…sigh. And i was distracted again…but I suppose, in a good way. I think online communities are amazing. I treasured mine, which is why it was so difficult to give up. I think part of giving them up was also some sort of punishment to myself. Sigh. I’m rambling, but ironically, you understand that…you’re a rambling man too…

  5. 1. I don’t know what you mean about “disambiguate struggle”, but it seems to me that we simply need to be truthful.

    Take your mission/relief work group scenario. one person’s struggle may be that they need to learn how to get along with people better – and close quarters forces the issue. another’s issue may be they are not comfortable praying in a group. Another’s may be the sheer physicality of the work. So i don’t know that you can pick one thing and say – this is the struggle – but if we can encourage each other to be honest, we can lift each other up in meaningful prayer and encourage them as we see steps toward growth.

    2. I don’t know about anyone else, but I am coming to depend on this – this exchange of ideas – this deeper knowing – this way of staying in touch with people when it’s so difficult to find face time.

  6. okay, let’s change the word to “struggle event”. What I meant by disabiguating is that to label life as the struggle means that it is huge, too huge to be helpful. By struggle event, I mean a fire, a tragedy, a crisis, a tornado, a hurricane recovery, a house building, a common week-long experience.

    Historically, for these kinds of struggle events that forge communitas, there are some time-based and geographic-based boundaries. Think through the number of times that we say, “I didn’t really know them until we all were ___ for ___ hourss/days/weeks working on ___.”

    I agree completely that within the struggle event, people are having their own struggles. What happens in a struggle event is that, hopefully, they have interdependance rather than just interaction or worse, ignoring one another.

    Now, translating that to online life, what are the equivalents?

    And, how far can you go without somewhere sometime having face time? Is there a limit to the degree of trust?

  7. and Jill, you raise a good question. Can our online communities become too attention-consuming? Can that happen in the off-line worlds? is there something different about on-line interaction?

    When I took off two weeks, it felt like I was lost for part of my attention. But it was helpful for the space it created. And I went back more simply.