Community – The Essence of the matter! #52 #cong19


I wanted to look at community beyond its governance and architecture. The rational constructs we put around the word focus on things like shared values, shared goals, all rooted in some kind of commonality.  But actually, I think its difference that separates “community” from tribes and families.  I thought about how I experienced it growing up in a smaller rural town.  Yes, there were committees and action groups but they were just the actions and manifestations of a deeper invisible force that unleashes itself when it is needed.  Most of us aren’t actively aware of our ‘community’ until the shit hits the fan or there are jobs to be done.   I referenced the John Donne poem at the end.   No man is an island… All the people make up the community whether we are actively engaged or not.  Small towns are often accused of being gossiping and small minded but I think that’s unfair.  Yes, people do talk about people but its through these stories that we find understanding and compassion.  The alternative is not to know, not to understand, not to care.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Community is an invisible energy force that is the ‘essence’ of the matter from which it is derived – that matter is people.It is activated and unleashed when there is something to be done.
  2. Where Community is strong, everyone matters.Some are more active agents than others but through stories, no one even those at the fringes, is invisible.  Through stories, there is understanding, forgiveness, compassion and inclusion.
  3. All places have ‘community’ but not all places have great community.I think the gap is in the silence.  Community and communication are intrinsically linked.  Where communication of is weak, the essence of community is faint.

About Joan Mulvihill:

Joan Mulvihill – long time member of the Congregation.  Blow-in member of Mullingar community. Sometime joiner of the artist community.  Recent member of Siemens Ireland having joined as Digitalisation Lead in February 2019.   She is as likely to talk to you about poetry and art as she is to talk about technology and society.  She is annoyingly happy right now so you’ve been warned!  For someone who says she’s not a joiner, she seems to find herself in a lot of things!!!

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can follow Joan on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Joan Muvihill

Community exists in places but is not a place.  It manifests itself in actions but is not an action.  It can  come from a tribe of ‘same’ but more often is strengthened by difference.  Community is channelled through friends as well as sometimes enemies.  It is the invisible force that awakens and unleashes itself when it is needed, when something happens, in the face of adversity, when there are jobs to be done.  Is it maybe, the most pure essence of a place?  An essence is the resonant characteristics of the matter from which it is made, the resonance of the emotional, physical and spiritual attributes of that matter. The matter from which the essence ‘community’ is drawn is the people of that place.

People are to others, their stories – the narrated emotional, physical or spiritual attributes of those people as seen and told by others.  The deeper the stories, the stronger the essence.  Stories allow us to see and understand others.

How do I narrate the stories of the ‘different’ people from where I grew up – because some of them were most decidedly ‘different’.

One rode through the town on his bicycle carrying a horse whip.  One endlessly walked the back roads carrying plastic bags of heaven knows what and another dyed her hair with brown shoe polish that made it matted and mauve.  Just in one town, with one street – the one where I grew up.   Yes, they were strange but they weren’t strangers.  Some were not loved by everyone but each was loved by someone once.  In that small town, everyone knew their back story or at least some version of it.  Some sad and tragic, some funny, some dramatic but mostly ending in a compassionate “Shur, God love them..”   I have chosen these three because their stories were as much the source of matter for the essence of our community as anyone else’s and more than that, it made them matter.  Strong ‘community’ includes everyone, even those on the fringes of it.  You see, my earliest experience of community is not of how we were bound together by ‘same’ but rather how our community embraced difference and came from understanding, compassion and inclusivity.

Small town community is commonly portrayed as gossiping stories where small minds talk about people.  Stopping in the shop or nursing pints on the bar; whispering voices talking blow-ins, begrudgers and bullshitters, notions and nonsense. And that’s on a good day! Not much community there you’d say.  But you’d be so wrong because you should see them on a bad day…

On a bad day, high-vis jackets over funeral overcoats stand in the rain directing traffic.  Floating plates of funeral sandwiches, endless pots of tea on china cups are passed rattling on saucers to old and shaking hands.   Strangers wonder where the tea towels are kept and if there is more milk for the jug and sugar for the bowl as they take turns washing up and all the while moving from small talk to great stories. They don’t come for the stories but they are there because of them – the same stories they traded in the shop and over the bar yes, but they are the stories that bind us.

Where stories are strong, community is strong and when the essence of community is unleashed and thickens the air and you can’t help but take it in.  It gives energy to efforts. It soothes old wounds long enough to get jobs done.  It puts old differences into soft focus when you rub it into tired eyes to keep going.   Community has tidied its towns, cleared its roads, shared its fodder, buried its dead, saved hay and saved lives.

No man is an island,

Entire of Itself

Everyman is a piece of the continent

A part of the main,

If a clod be washed away by the sea

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were

As well as if a manor of thy friends;

Or if thine own were,

Any man’s death diminishes me

Because I am involved in Mankind

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls

It tolls for thee.

John Donne, 1624 from Meditation 17.  

We are the matter that from which the essence of a place is derived.  Simply being alive is to be involved in mankind. Some people have just short lives, some spend their lives at the fringes, but community is drawn from everyone of a place and indeed it is often those at the fringes that can need it and feel it most acutely.  I am sure that one day I will find myself on the fringe ‘of the main’ too, inhaling deeply on the last of the essence before the bell tolls….


“If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less”.   Was John Donne talking about Brexit in 1624 too?

Art, Ideas and the Creative Flow #95 #cong18


The creative process of idea generation involves hyper alertness, embracing fear and evolution.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Ideas come from everyday observation
  2. Styles evolve
  3. Fear can be a blocker
  4. Trust your gut

About Joan Mulvihill:

Joan is the centre director of IC4 – the Irish Centre for Cloud Computing and Commerce.  Previously she was the CEO of the Irish Internet Association..

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can contact Joan on Twitter, on LinkedIn and via email.



By Joan Mulvihill

Kick starting #cong18 in Ashford Castle Joan discussed her discovery journey as an artist, how the creative process works, how ideas evolve and sharing your idea.

See Joan’s presentation below.

See Joan’s slides below.

Ode to a Cracked Pot Idea. #28 #cong18


Inspired by Keats who wrote the refined and beautiful “Ode to Grecian Urn”, I’ve called this blunt and less beautiful post “Ode to Cracked Pot (Idea)”.   Keats spoke of his urgent need to commit his ideas to paper before he died.   In this post I’ve tried to capture the limitations and frustrations through which ideas are stymied – ideas that aren’t realised because their originator has not the time, or the money, or the skills, or the confidence to take them forward.   In particular, I’ve focused on how confidence in our ideas can be quelled by over-zealous critique.  If we can think of sharing our ideas as sharing a talent/a gift then in return we stay open to receiving them with appreciation and kindness.   Also, the post questions the selfish motivations of keeping ideas to ourselves.  If we cannot realise our own ideas maybe we should just give them away to those who can even if it means we won’t get the recognition or reward for them ourselves.  Ideas only realise their potential when they are shared.


4 Key Takeaways:

  1. Ideas are born from frustration but they can die by frustration too.  Frustrated by a lack of resources (time, skill, money, confidence) means an idea can remain unrealised.  If we do not have these resources ourselves should we not simply consider giving our ideas to those who do?
  2. Think of an idea as someone’s gift to you. Even if it is not the one you wanted, the originator of the idea has put thought and heart into it so we need to treat people’s ideas with greater appreciation and kindness.
  3. Beautiful ideas can last forever. They may not be appreciated at the time and the originator may never live to see their potential realised but that is no reason to keep them bottled up.   Be generous with your talents and share your ideas.

About Joan Mulvihill:

Joan is the centre director of IC4 – the Irish Centre for Cloud Computing and Commerce.  Previously she was the CEO of the Irish Internet Association.

Contacting Joan Mulvihill:

You can contact Joan on Twitter, on LinkedIn and via email.

By Joan Mulvihill.

“Fears that I may cease to be before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain” – Keats

That quote is scribbled on the cover of one of my teenage sketchpads.   If I hadn’t committed to writing it down maybe I’d have forgotten it by now but one way or another it’s lodged itself firmly in my brain.  I like the thought of Keats racing his pen along the page trying to keep pace with tumbling thoughts tripping out over ideas for fear that he might die before he had set them free.   Did he know at the time of its writing that he was to die young?

Keats died of tuberculosis at only 25 years of age, in 1821.   And here we are almost 200 years later and when asked to write about Ideas, it is my scribbled quote in 1990 that first came to mind – Keats’ urgency and determination to get his thoughts to paper, that they might find their way into the world and make it more beautiful.

Keats’ sense of urgency is spurred by his ill health and likely short life so while Ideas are often borne of frustrations they also die of frustrations, a lack of money, time, confidence, skills.  The realisation of our ideas is frustrated by each of these (and sometimes by all of these) limitations.   But, just because WE cannot do it, does this mean that we should keep the idea to ourselves?

When I have  a ‘great idea’ (for we all think our ideas are great in the moment of having them), I am excited.  In that moment, I have that satisfying feeling of being clever, of being creative and the idea is then elevated to ‘sheer genius’ by a heady shot of confidence.   I blurt it out, eagerly anticipating the audience gasping awe.  Except its not a gasp of awe at all.  It is that deep inhale before venting their  ‘constructive’ criticism so that in that moment they feel clever too. They have spotted the flaws, picked at the holes and shot me down.  Where to now?  Cowed to silence.   Fear of failure and foolishness dam my ideas with my teeming brain drowning in its own repressed flow.

Keats feared that he might cease to be.   Some fear being made look foolish, some fear theft of ideas and loss of recognition and reward.

And so I am brought to the Parable of the Talents.  The Master gave 5 talents to one of his servants, 3 talents to another and one talent to the final servant.   Years later on returning from his travels, the Master called to each of his servants and asked them what they had done with the talents they had been given.   The first two servants told the master how they had put their talents to use and in doing so had doubled their worth.  The final servant however told his master that he had been afraid of losing the talent so he had buried it deep in the ground to keep it safe.  The Master was angry with his ‘fearful and lazy servant’.     He had been given the talent to use, to make the world better, to make it more beautiful and instead he had kept it to himself and had not shared that gift with anyone.

The point is that our ideas are like our talents.  It is in sharing them that we increase their worth. Likewise, when someone shares something as special as their talent or their idea with us then should we not accept it with greater grace and appreciation? It may not be the perfect idea but to that person, in that moment, it is.  When someone shares their ideas with us maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to respond with our own ‘cleverness’ or worse grab to take it as our own.

Keats shared his ideas through poetry with generosity, courage and urgency in the face of death and has inspired my thoughts these 200 years later.  So long life to his beautiful ideas: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know” (the final lines from “Ode to a Grecian Urn”, Keats).