History and Community

Submitted by Derek Alton on February 22, 2011 - 8:12pm
The common narrative

One of the amazing things about community is the role that history plays in shaping and defining it. Ben’s blog on his experience with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission made me think about this.

For community to exist there has to be a common narrative to serve as the glue that holds it together. History creates a sense of identity that is essential helping a community grow and prosper.

This can be a narrative of pain, like in the case of residential schooling, or one of joy like in the case of a group of childhood friends.

In sports they talk about the importance of building chemistry on a team, a lot of what they mean by this though is building a sense of community. It is essential for a team to have a strong sense of community of shared identity to have the resilience to withstand the challenges that will come. The coach will try to work with the history of the team to build this community.

I think it is important though for this history to be dynamic and changing. If this does not happen, the community will become defined by one moment or history and become stagnant. I see this all over the place, when a group has had a really negative experience, they will become defined and consumed by it. I call this the victim paradox (it likely has a better name). The same can be true of a really positive event. In either case I think it is important that we let history come and go, let it flow.

I think this is one of the goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

We are all on this forum because we care about community and see it important for humanity. How often though do we think about history though when we talk about community? If history is so essential to building community maybe we should think more about it.

What do people think? How can we create this common history? How can we make sure it is free flowing and dynamic?


finding flow in the past - and future


You've struck upon something so key here, finding openness so we can flow, not grip too tightly on what was (the past) as well as what might be (the future), but opening ourselves - and our communities - to be more receptive to what is.

I see similarities in your thoughts and questions here to Vanessa Reid's recent post on Working with the Unknown. Her focus is on letting go of needing to know so that we can move forward more flexibly and responsively into the future, which is interwoven of course with how we view the past. And allowing ourselves to not know about the future will also include finding that flow about our past.

Thanks so much for excellent inspiration and thoughts to mull on. I don't have answers or suggestions to offer yet, but so many ideas to ponder.


p.s. I hope you don't mind that I put in a hyperlink to Ben's blog post so that anyone who hasn't yet seen it can find this inspiration you mention.

Going with the flow

Hi Nola, thank you for adding the hyperlink to Ben's blog.  I just checked out Vanessa's post you mentioned it is really powerful and gave me a lot to mull over.  I think there is a lot to letting life flow and just going with the flow.  Maybe I am just thinking this way because I have been reading into Taoism recently and that is the central thinking to Taoism but it just makes sense.

I love to see these common threads all over the place.  Thank you.

Some ideas

You raise a good point, about not allowing ourselves to be defined by one moment in time, whether it is good or bad. Life has a flow to it, as does history. It would be, I think, sad to hold on to tightly to one limited definition of oneself, when the world is moving on, and new things are happening every day.

I think the best way to create a common history is to share our stories. The give and take of such conversations help people to discover new ways of relating to each other. There are always things we find in common with another when we look deeply enough, and the act of sharing is, in itself, something we then have in common as well.

How to make it free flowing and dynamic? I think I would start by encouraging some form of active listening, accompanied by sincere, non-judgemental questioning. If people don't feel listened to, or if they feel judged, the flow will be stopped. If we reach a point where we lose our curiosity about others, the sharing will stop.

Thanks for asking these questions. I enjoyed the challenge of considering how I could answer them.

the flow of oral story telling

Thanks Jen for your response.  I really like the idea of active listening and then sincere questioning.  It reminds me of oral story telling and how in this tradition over time the stories that are told change.  THey change as the story teller changes and as life changes.  Maybe this is the great gift of oral story telling that we have lost as we started typing stories into books.  Maybe we have lost the flow. 

How do we get that back in a world that is so tied to written stories?

More thoughts

One short answer is: talk and listen.

In other words, make a personal commitment to oral communication. Say hi to people (strangers, too, as well as friends), ask them questions, give them compliments. Create a space around you that encourages open communication.

I know there are people out there who are storytellers. I even know at least one of them. I don't know much about what they do, though. I bet they would have some interesting answers to your question.

What we're doing here is also an important part of it. Sharing ideas, asking thought-provoking questions, struggling to answer them.

Community for the shy

Hi Jen, this sounds great.  I would be interested in a story tellers view on this as well.  One question I have though is this.  All of these idea's are based on people being social, which is great for extroverts like myself.  What about people though who are uncomfortable in social settings, where do they fit in with this picture?  How do they share idea's and build community?