Creating Community Through Language and Stories #39 #cong19


The glue that holds a community together is our ability to connect with each other on a social level. That social connection depends on our capacity to communicate with each other through language. Language allowed us as a species to form close knit communities, but it’s our imagination and ability to tell stories that grew these small communities to the global communities of millions and even billions that exist today. We can build and strengthen community with the language we choose to use and the stories we choose to tell.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. We all need to feel we belong
  2. Our ability to form close social ties is the basis for all community building
  3. Language and stories are powerful tools to build (or destroy) community
  4.  Let’s choose to use language and tell stories that create community

About Anne Tannam:

Anne Tannam is the author of two collections of poetry ‘Take This Life’ (Wordonthestreet 2011) and ‘Tides Shifting Across My Sitting Room Floor’, (Salmon Poetry 2017). Her third collection is forthcoming in summer 2020. Also a spoken word poet, she has performed her work at Electric Picnic, Bloom, Lingo, The Craw Festival (Berlin) and the Kosovo International Poetry Festival.

An accredited coach (ACC) with the International Coaching Federation, Anne set up her business ‘Creative Coaching’ in 2017, and works with individuals and organisations to successfully harness the power of creativity across all areas of life.

Keeping it in the family, Anne also works part-time with her brother Gerard Tannam in his business ‘Islandbridge Brand Development’, in her role as brand researcher where she gathers the stories and key insights that sit behind every great brand.

Contacting Anne Tannam:

You can connect follow Anne on Twitter, connect with her on LinkedIn or see her work in Creative Coaching

By Anne Tannam

‘Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
‘Pooh’ he whispered.
‘Yes Piglet?’
‘Nothing’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw,’ I just wanted to be sure of you.’

To feel alone in the world is unbearable. We all need to feel we belong. Our survival as a species depends on our ability to form connection within a tribe or community that accepts us and shares, or at least accepts, our values and beliefs. Being exiled from a community may no longer mean death, as it did for our ancient ancestors who could not physically survive outside the warmth of the campfire, but it can feel that way. Remember back to those moments in childhood when we were left out of a game, either by siblings or classmates, and that feeling of being invisible, of being on the outside looking in. Think of poor Romeo who, when forced into exile by the Prince exclaimed Ha, banishment! Be merciful say ‘death’.

The glue that holds a community together is our ability to connect with each other on a social level. That social connection depends on our capacity to communicate with each other through language. According to one theory, homo sapiens, just one of the many branches of the human race, survived as a species because we developed a language so complex and supple we could inform each other in detailed ways about our surrounding environment and where food could be found or what dangers might lie in store for us. Vital information, shared amongst those in a particular tribe, meant the difference between life and death. A second theory is we developed language sophisticated enough to allow us to gossip effectively, thus tracking the ever-changing relationships within our tribe which facilitates social co-operation. You can just imagine us back then, standing around the water hole during our morning break from hunting and gathering, spilling the beans on what was overheard at the back of the cave the night before.

Whichever theory we go with, our survival has always depended on how well we can communicate and how effectively we build those essential social ties that bind us together as a unified group.

Language allowed us as a species to form close knit communities, but it’s our imagination and ability to tell stories that grew those communities from small tribes of up to one hundred and fifty people (the number of people that can co-exisit without a unifying story to bond them together), to the global communities of millions and even billions that exist today.

Hardwired to make sense of the world through story, humans have evolved and sometimes have been destroyed on the basis of the stories they tell. Every civilization began with an origin myth that bound that particular community together; stories of how the universe came into existence, of the pantheon of gods that protect and punish, and the laws handed down that set them apart from other tribes. With the advent of written language stories could pass more accurately from generation to generation. The printing press was a quantum leap in how quickly stories and ideas could spread and the advent of the internet means a community can spring up, or be destroyed, almost overnight. Our methods of storytelling may have become more sophisticated as the millennia or centuries have passed, but the power of story to influence how we live as communities has stayed the same.

In the past few years we’ve seen language and stories used as weapons to break down communities. It’s always been so but the level and speed it’s happening today is mind blowing. Whether it’s fake news, dehumanizing, polarising language spreading across print and online media, or the stories that Cambridge Analytica were paid to spread across Facebook to create a narrative of ‘them’ and ‘us, communities are under attack from all sides.

Fight fire with fire. Share stories of belonging. We might need to look harder for them, but they’re there. ‘Humans of New York’ springs to mind, a project that perfectly illustrates how the telling of individual stories told through the lens of respect and inclusivity, creates community. Closer to home, tell and share stories of what it means to belong to an Ireland that seeks to embrace and celebrate our diverse population. If we don’t tell these stories, those that seek to divide will continue to shout theirs.

Choose language that seeks to engage respectfully with others that do not always share our views. Choose language that points towards what we have in common, not what sets us apart. Choose language that daily builds community, whether that community is sitting around the kitchen table, or in huddles across a West of Ireland village, or scattered across five continents. Choose to belong. Choose to take another’s hand. Choose what story defines us.

Note: “Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari and ‘The Written World’ by Martin Puchner gave me some of the background information for this blog.

The Effects Technology has on People and Communities #19 #cong19

#cong19 speaker


Max explores the effects technology and especially social media has on people and communities and link the shifting landscape of social interaction to the shift from agricultural to industrial/urban in the 19th century and the social problems that arose.

4 Key Takeaways:

  1. We are currently living through the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  2. Studies are beginning to link  social media to depression
  3. Former members of Google and Facebook are starting to question the ethics involved in todays social media market
  4. Psychology and its place within social media use

About Max Hastings:

Max Hastings is a music producer, music teacher and creative director at Code Switch his tech start up which develops creative applications. Earlier this year they launched the K2S-VR, a Kinect 2 interactive synthesizer. Code Switch is also focused on developing educational applications harnessing emerging interactive technologies. With unique positioning between the music industry and the education sector Code Switch deliver forward thinking musical solutions that are easily transferrable within an educational framework.

Contacting Max Hastings:

You can follow Max on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or send him an email.

By Max Hastings

Ever since man adopted rudimentary stone tools and weapons, like the epic opening to Kubricks space odyssey 2001, technologies have been shaping and changing the way we congregate, interact socially and live as communities. The relationship between technology and community took drastic steps forward during the industrial revolution of the 18thand 19thcenturies, when mass movements of rural agricultural communities flocked towards developing urban areas and the steam and coal powered technologies that drove the new seismic shift  of work forces moving from fields to factories.

That was deemed as the first industrial revolution. We are now experiencing the fourth industrial revolution. Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum,  describes this in a 2016 article “Now a fourth industrial revolution is building on the third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” The evolution and diversification of technology and its near all encompassing influence on our everyday lives is changing the very nature of how we live and how we treat each other.

The blurring of the lines that Schwab describes is evident on multiple social levels since the proliferation of smartphone technologies. The emergence of social networks and the platforms that we now describe as social mediahave moulded this digital social revolution. The mass engagement of people utilising social media as their sole method of interaction and communication. Then later replacing traditional news outlets as their source for world news and political discourse has been such a change that we now think of the world as pre and post internet. In essence social media is the congregation and connection of minds within a particular digital platform. A place to share ideas, beliefs, memories and opinions.  A new method in which we can interact with the world, connect with people on the other side of the planet and build a new sense of community. Well in theory anyway, the realities, as research is demonstrating, are not so simple.

In the inner cities of the first industrial revolution diseases plighted communities. According to historian Robert Wilde “There was also a range of common diseases: tuberculosis, typhus, and after 1831, cholera. The terrible working environments created new occupational hazards, such as lung disease and bone deformities.” Where in the 1800’s people suffered due to overcrowding and the physical pressures that arise from these conditions, we now are beginning to see the psychological negatives produced by living in close proximity to other peoples digital  personnas and the mob mentalities that exist when humans gather in groups in real life and within the digital realm.  The diseases of today are of the mind.

When one zooms out and looks at the effects of social media, especially on young people from a macro social perspective, studies are beginning to show correlations between social media and depression, suicide and feelings of isolation and loneliness.  The psychology behind everyday social media platform practices such as “scroll to refresh” display a darker level to what companies are willing to delve into to engage with their users, tapping into addictive patterns of behaviour and gambling. Trisitan Harris former Google design ethicist and  cofounder of Centre for Humane Technology says “Each time you’re swiping down, it’s like a slot machine, you don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes it’s a beautiful photo. Sometimes it’s just an ad.”

The idea is also forming that social media plays into various negative aspects of the human personality spectrum. Psychology Today  says “Research is beginning to suggest a correlation between the heavy use of social media platforms and the Dark Triad—a cluster of personality traits that includes psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcisssism.”This area of studyis showing alarmingly, how social media is demonstrating that people are becoming increasingly self obsessed. Heightened self obsession and the aggressive seeking of approval from others are fundamentally the enemies of community.

Ironically the internet, a revolutionary tool that started out as a limitless realm of freedom of expression and community growth and sharing has become a divisive mechanism of monetised social interaction that is causing users to feel isolated, depressed, severely self conscious and inadequate, at the same time playing into deep seated harmful human personality traits. How we treat each other fundamentally reflects the society in which we inhabit. How we interact with and educate successive generations is the basis of the communities we build and leave behind. The honeymoon period for social media and the masses is  drawing to a close, how we inform and educate people to its uses, its benefits and its pitfalls, will be the next phase. Pause for thought.