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:
- We all need to feel we belong
- Our ability to form close social ties is the basis for all community building
- Language and stories are powerful tools to build (or destroy) community
- 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:
By Anne Tannam
‘Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
‘Pooh’ he whispered.
‘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.