Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Finding community amidst strangers.....

Jen at One Plus Two wrote this morning about building community, how to form community and I left an extraordinarily long comment because this is something worth examining ~ and I have over a lifetime.

I remember two of my methods that failed repeatedly:

1) One was to find the progressive community. (Enemy of my enemy is my friend.) As long as we were working on a project together, contact was generous. As soon as the election, the cause, the issue, the whatever was complete/resolved, the community disappeared. The phone stopped ringing and the invitations stopped. So... like a lost puppy, I would wander around the alleyways, looking for my next cause or my next project, hoping each time that there would be some sort of permanent community connection.

2) I've always met my significant others through personals ads. Being a quiet, shy-natured person who can not function in a high-powered or competitive environment made it difficult to find potential mates. And... I met my ex-husband that way and we were married three months later. After all, those guys advertising would probably be shy guys, right? Just like C. (Here's where I fall on the floor, laughing.) Most of the men my age who advertise in personals columns are middle-aged adolescents whose wives or girlfriends finally dumped them because they got fed up with their crap.

But still, these are two methods I used for more than twenty years. Like a vinyl record with a skip, I just kept repeating, over and over. And would be shocked and disappointed when the methods failed once again. Each time they failed, I was less inclined to try ~ and ultimately ended up in the previously mentioned "desert".

During that time in the desert, I got a pretty clear sense of who I am. I learned that I am not a trailblazer. I am a follower. Not a mindless one, but a follower. I am sensitive, artistic and very, very intense emotionally. I am peculiar. I'm not conversationally smooth. I'm eccentric. I have the social skills of a toddler. I don't care about most of the things that many others base their lives on. Power, influence, acquisition, materialism or produce-and-consume just bore me stupid. Objectively, I would never fit into dominant culture and if I kept trying, it would only lead to more depression, discouragement and, finally, despair. And I'd remain just as f***ing lonely as I'd been for all those years before.

I began to explore eastern and New Age religions in Tucson. I found some commonality of belief. The principles and beliefs made sense to me without having to shove my being into boxes that didn't fit. Every time I tried to include myself in a western religious community, it would be okay for a while but inevitably parts of me would start falling out the sides. The community would disappear because I couldn't or wouldn't meet their expectations. Even the New Age community came and went because I found the phoney cheeriness of it shallow and unfulfilling. I just couldn't drink that Kool Aid.

Buddhism was a different issue. Its inherent understanding of the nature of life and its cycles made perfect logical sense and I gobbled it up. I'm not here to peddle religion so I'll leave it at that. It was, however, the foundation of my fledgling community. It is where I would find my first acceptance by likeminded others.

Finally, I went to Thailand. That is where all the pieces came together. That is where the many pieces of a very scattered jigsaw puzzle formed a picture. I do have community now, albeit small. Even though every person I meet within the Thai/Asian community isn't an individual fit, there is a common belief and ethical system at the root that creates community.

This culture has a back-assward method of establishing community. That is to build a bridge between two autonomous individuals who are assumed to be separate. So we have job-interview style conversations where we dig and search for similarity. Even more frustrating is the obsession with "clicking". We want the "magic". Hey ho, there ain't no "magic". The way we relate to and treat each other is a chosen behavior.

My method now is to assume connection until it is shown that it doesn't exist but the community remains because of foundational belief and cultural similarity. It does not assume separateness. It assumes oneness.

So.. if I knew then what I know now, would I have experienced "the desert"? No. Probably not. I don't think so. And it seems the two essential elements are geography and self-knowledge. No, we can not grow orchids in the desert. Orchids need fertile soil. They need water. We need to find the right soil where we can grow and blossom.

Peace to all ~ and may we all have the comfort of community ...



Pam said...

Your words draw me to your blog everyday for a number of reasons, the obvious one being that you speak from the heart and express yourself beautifully. Another is that I relate to most of what you say about about the values of life. And then, shy and not great with people myself,I find comfort in a certain familiarity.

Anvilcloud said...

I am not much of a community guy. In all eras of my life, I seemed to have had a few very good friends and that's about it. For quite a long time now, my community has pretty well consisted of my family. I wonder how I would get on without them, how I would build a different community? I'm not sure.

How long did you spend in Thailand? Do you need to go back before the final committment in order to make sure that it is right for you? I ask because I have heard any number of accounts of people who have gone back home only to find that it didn't fit any more. OTOH our move across province seems to have worked out rather well, but I am aware that whervere I go, there I am.

Meno said...

I too am somewhat peculiar. I like that word.
Your writing is not peculiar though. It is eloquent and it is obvious that you are intelligent and thoughful. If that's peculiar, i wish more people were.


Caro said...

I read your entry very early this morning and it has stayed with me all day. As someone who has visited the desert on many an occasion, I can say that knowing there are many just like me, is very comforting...

Potato Print said...

Hi Thailand Gal

Thank you so much for your kind words on my blog.

This question of community is an important one. I try really hard to let go of surface differences and really seek the souls right next to me.

One of my best neighbors is a (gasp) Republican Brigadeer General in the National Guard. We recognize our differences and embrace our similarities. Some of my most discourteous neighbors are Progressives like me. I still try to get along. I sometimes feel like community is just wherever you happen to be.

Keep writing.

jen said...

lovely post...and it should assume oneness, you are right...

and if i may reframe the follower comment - i tend to think it more as you respond well to the communal resonance of others...


Sevenwinds said...

Sometimes it’s good to go backwards in history and time to find answers to our present day issues. After all, haven't billions of people over thousands of years experienced what we are experiencing now?

Looking back, the formation of primitive communities had some basic but common factors throughout the world. First, members of early community members were related in some way, part of the same extended clan. Second, they had to live together for basic survival and common protection. If they didn't work and fight together, they would die. Differences in the community were tolerated over the need for community survival. You can bet there were fights and disagreement within the community, but when the common threat was identified, everyone pulled together.

This is strangely similar to how we are today. When a common treat is identified, then we pull together (i.e. Sept 11). But when things are going well, we let our differences surface and fight like cats and dogs. .

Basically, a community of people must accept each other the way they are - faults, political orientation, and whatever else that is not related to the common survival of the clan during good times and bad. The problem we have today is that there aren’t enough common dangers and problems that can unify the ‘community’

K said...

I think at times we may think we have wandered into the desert but underneath a shallow layer of sand lies fertile ground. Perhaps sometimes we need to dig a little where we are to find the community we are looking for.


Thailand Gal said...


Thank you for so many interesting comments tonight. I intend to answer each one tomorrow. There is so much substance here that I don't want to rush through them.

Khorb koon kaa



dmmgmfm said...

What an insightful post. It brought tears to my eyes and understanding to my soul.

Thank you,

Neasa said...

Hi Chani - I'm here via IndieBloggers, which I just joined. So I'm visiting peoples' blogs, getting acquainted a bit. Nice to meet you!

This post touched me in several ways - as others have commented, I can relate to so much of what you wrote.

I absolutely agree with your opinion that here we go about community-building backwards. I liked what you said about assuming oneness (I hope I'm remembering this correctly) until being shown otherwise. Regarding this: I aspire to more fully integrate Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings that we are one even when we don't feel it or no longer feel it. I'm just a stumbling pagan though & the best I can do is to keep trying.

Just a lovely blog you've got here & your writing style is both calming & thought-provoking. Looking forward to reading more.

Best, Neasa