Communities are Born out of Thin Air #13 #cong19


The concept of communities lives in our imagination so they can be anything we want them to be. We can choose to connect to communities, create them, leave them. In this article I consider the role community plays in our lives and what we get out of it.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Community is a fictional construct
  2. By introducing more diversity into our local and urban communities, Ireland is a more open-minded, tolerant and accepting society.
  3. We’re getting so exposed to newsfeeds supporting our worldview that we have very little tolerance for those who oppose it.
  4. The more connected we feel to a community, the greater its power and influence.

About Zanya Dahl:

Zanya is founder of Artizan, an award-winning branding and design consultancy, based in Dublin. She’s also invested in her role as a mother which keeps her heart very much on its toes. A former hockey player with a dodgy right knee, she has recently reinvested her passion in painting and comedy improvisation which nurtures her creative spirit.

Contacting Zanya Dahl:

You can connect with Zanya by email, LinkedIn or visit her website.

By Zanya Dahl

I’m kickstarting this article with an interesting observation made by Yuval Noah Harari in his bestselling book “Sapiens”:
“An imagined community is a community that contains millions of strangers […] a community of people who don’t really know each other but imagine they do. Kingdoms, empires and churches functioned for millennia as imagined communities.”
It’s strange to think that long-standing religious institutions, nations and brands can wield such incredible power over us and yet their entire existence is dependent on our imaginative capabilities. Millions of people can successfully unite through a shared belief system. The concept of community fulfils a primal need to belong which in turn encourages us to find commonalities that we can collectively relate to.
Whether we like it or not, we are frequently claimed by multiple communities as one of their own.
Geographical communities, be they urban, suburban or rural, will always embody an eclectic consortium of individuals with varying interests and attitudes. These individuals are not necessarily united by a common belief system. Nor might their engagement with the community be particularly strong. However, when a community member or group is recognised for an achievement by the world outside, it elevates the community and instils a sense of pride. It’s nice to bask in the glow of success regardless of how tenuous the connection is. Look at sport for example. Bray residents took great pride in the Olympic success of Katie Taylor as did the people of Kenmare for the O’Donovan brothers from a small rural community in the southwest corner of Ireland. Ireland came alive when our soccer team (largely made up of UK players) got to the quarter finals in 1994 and more recently when our Women’s hockey team became the first national team in the history of Ireland to get to the finals of a world cup. Note I’ve said “our” – already I am claiming my connection to the team through our country of birth. Sport is a great uniter of community – it bypasses attitudes, personality, age – it sweeps us all up in a collective desire to achieve something bigger than ourselves. Teams and individuals representing a community, county, province and country arouse a deep sense of camaraderie as we will them to victory.
Outside of sport and living in an urban town within a capital city, I don’t experience a strong sense of “local community”. The people I know who come to live in Dublin are happy to get away from it. To temporarily visit a local community is charming but to live there can be claustrophobic. Everyone is known and their comings and goings rarely escape notice. Listening to the news, it is often reported how “the local community” has stayed tight-lipped about a tragedy, were devastated by the unexpected loss of a member or has come together to fight a cause.
Previously in Ireland, communities were tightly controlled by the church – it dominated outlooks and behaviour with a single-minded worldview. Cracked open by scandals, the church lost its grip and communities were no longer under its control. With the rise of freedom and choice, individuals have more access to new experiences and perspectives than ever before. By opening our doors to more diversity, our local and urban communities have greatly benefitted, and we are now a more open-minded, tolerant and accepting society than ever before. Our country has proven to be capable of significant positive change in a very short space of time. Recent amendments to our constitution reflect the power of Ireland’s community voice.
Speaking of community voice, it can be even stronger online. With a click or a tap, we can follow, subscribe and join groups that share our attitudes and interests. It’s nice to feel connected to like-minded people and have our personal views supported, validated and celebrated. This is a problem. We’re getting so exposed to newsfeeds reinforcing our worldview that we have very little tolerance for those who oppose it. It’s leading to polarised thinking and the middle ground is becoming harder to find.
Developing an emotional connection with another person is difficult to replicate through technology. On screen, we read words, not faces or emotions. We post comments with less empathy or consideration than we might if we we’re talking to someone face to face. Anonymity is much easier to achieve online. To choose anonymity in real life requires keeping a low and silent profile. Being anonymous online allows us to be as vocal, nasty and opinionated as we wish.
In conclusion, community is a fictional construct that can represent us however we choose it to. The more connected we feel to a community, the greater its power and influence. If we can harness the feelings of belonging and connectivity that community offers while ensuring it remains as eclectic as possible, we are far more likely to live more enriched and fulfilling lives.


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