Over the past several months I have been thinking a great deal about belonging to multiple communities and what that means. Generally, community can be defined as a group of people who are bound by common interests and have a common purpose. Discovering that I am now a member of several communities related solely to the fact that I am a prostate cancer patient, I began to wonder just what that means in terms of membership. Aside from the communities associated with prostate cancer, I am also a member of many other communities that each exert an influential and sometimes conflicting pressure on my membership.
Being a member of any community requires that one adopt a stance that clearly identifies one as a member. This essentially means that in order to join a group one must accept nearly the total spectrum of what the group aspires to, the community purpose. When one first joins a community, it seems to me, that the best tactic is to lay low for a period of time allowing one to absorb that which the community stands for. As a novice member of any community one must learn the rules, understand the rituals (yes, rituals because every group has a set of rituals or practices that distinguish it from all other communities while summarizing the contents of community purpose) and absorbing the taken for granteds that hold the group together over time and space. Being a member of a community that is widespread means that wherever one goes, when meeting with other members, recognition is immediate and favorable.
Looking at the chaos of the image inserted at the top of this post, the lived-experience as it relates to community membership is represented. Membership in groups or communities is overlapping. Sometimes membership includes a powerful attraction and long deep lines while other times membership in a community is nothing more than having something in common with others but not including a deeply felt commitment to service.
Community membership exerts demands on members. Sometimes those demands are explicit while at other times the demands are implied, made clear only through ritualized practice. At their core, however, all of these demands are generally stated as platitudes with little opportunity to examine their veracity. These taken for granteds make up the core belief system that binds a community together. And there is the rub. Taken for granteds are fundamental to sustaining community bias because they establish a normative condition from which there is little room for independence of thought or practice. The only way one can escape from the massive influence exerted by the community standards is to leave the group, to actively bow out, to walk away. In brief, it is difficult to be a member of a community as soon as one begins to deconstruct what it means to be a member of a group.
Over the next few posts I will do just that, deconstruct the normative structures of groups in which I claim membership. I will explore conflicting normative statements and try to reach some reasonable conclusion about what it means to be a member. I will begin with groups to which I have a solid connection and end with groups with which I hold nothing more than a novice status. I am writing these brief essays as a way to clarify for myself the underlying commitments I undertake and, quite possibly, make decisions to alter my status. In the next post I will explore my membership in a community of educators and my role and my responsibility as a retired professor of education.