In the new connection economy, community is an invaluable asset. When people identify with a particular set of motivating ideas, those inclinations can easily be targeted to encourage behavior with either honest or nefarious intent. Too often, calls to rally the “yoga community” fail because they inadvertently become veiled attempts to follow a model of coercion rather than camaraderie.
When I think about what communities I might be a part of, I have to sort through a whole bunch of ingrained notions. I am a white man. I was born to a Jewish mother. I make my living as a professional yoga teacher. So I guess that would make me part of the white, male, Jewish yoga community. Right? Chances are there are probably a lot of white Jewish men who are into yoga around the world. Maybe I should start a Facebook page and a hashtag – #whitejewishguysintoyoga. If I garner enough likes and followers then I can launch a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new book I want to write about white Jewish guys who are into yoga. But does that have anything to do with community? Just because I share some characteristics with another person doesn’t mean that there is any community between us.
There is a difference between community as an identifier or demographic, as in: we are both into yoga so we are part of a yoga community, and as a consequence of shared time and experiences.
I get a lot of emails from people who are doing all sorts of great things. They send me these emails because I have a popular blog and a center and they are hoping that I will join a cause and promote their project through my email lists and social media platforms. Many times I find the work these folks are doing admirable and I am genuinely supportive. However, I almost never join in, because I cannot escape a subtle feeling of resentment. Truth is, there exists no real relationship between us outside of their seeing me as a possible way to help promote their project, which would be fine if it were not being sold as community.
It seems as if the whole notion of community has become distorted and co-opted on the internet. If real community is more than just common identifiers and demographics then the idea of a virtual community is an oxymoron. Don’t get me wrong, I think the internet is awesome. I have most certainly been able to connect with people outside of my immediate sphere in ways that would never have been dreamt possible even ten years ago. There are many valuable applications for all this new technology that we are blessed to have been born into. But these online connections, while sometimes very meaningful and rewarding, never constitute a true community.
Community cannot be created through an email blast. Nor is community born through causes or abstract ideas. Community only occurs through the mutual affection that exists between people who come together in actual spaces.
When I am sitting at the front desk doing admin work and someone stops in because they want to introduce me to their mother who is visiting, that feels like community to me. When I see people who have never met before hanging around talking and laughing together for as long as possible after class because they are enjoying themselves so much that they don't want to leave, that feels like community to me. When a senior teacher decides to have all the Italian ladies from her chair class be bridesmaids at her wedding, that feels like community to me.
Over the last year, I have had the good fortune of being able to travel and see first-hand how small pockets of yoga community are happening in other parts of the world. What I have discovered is that, essentially, it is the same everywhere. Someone has the guts to secure a space and does their best to keep pace with the rents for as long as they can so that earnest people can get together with sincere intent to help themselves and each other – and as a natural course of events this becomes a community.
Supporting causes and projects that speak to us via Indiegogo or GoFundMe is an admirable thing. There is a lot that we can do for each other through these mediums. But let us not kid ourselves into believing that this constitutes any sort of community. Altruism maybe. Fundraising for sure. But only when participation springs unconditional and unsolicited through the natural congruence of circumstance and friendship does community become something real.