cultivating & crashing

an organic collection of notes, observations, and thoughts

Tag: community

Turns out I am still a total hippie

I still believe in communal living, and am excited to find out people are making it work in cities. Here is a story from the Atlantic on a commune in the heart of DC.

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The unbearable maladroitness of being

Thinking about how awkward things were last night at Shabbat. Not a lot, to be sure—positively most of the interactions were warm and pleasant—but now that I think of it it strikes me as strange that despite the efforts, this is how we do at being community, at least at Shabbat, at least in this group. Maybe there’s something to do with the fact that it’s a gathering of a bunch of disaffected Jews who are not entirely comfortable in a religious environment, especially in one that they have a very ambivalent attitude towards—family obligation, rebellion, disenchantedness, or renewal and regeneration. Or it could be the fact that it’s a new community that people are still getting accustomed to. But for whatever the reason, it’s still slightly awkward.

It could also be that my expectations are very high. I imagine that’s likely where my feeling right now is coming from. I imagine a Shabbat where everyone knows each other so well that there is only communicating freely, catching up, true emotions shown and exchanged—my shabbosdik utopia. Instead there are slightly uneasy conversations and glances, lots of checking and doubting whether comments went down the way they were intended, what that length of silence meant about the words that came before.

I’m going to hope that time is all it will take, that Shabbat can still be a place of near total comfort, of familiarity and ease.

Or maybe this is the price we pay for a life that is all choice and no old-school (modernist) authenticity.

Only time will tell.

Third places, et cetera

I’m reading from Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place, whose discussion of third places was part of what Ile Sans Fil was supposed to engender through the use of the Internet at hotspots. I still am struggling to realize how planning things really does shape behaviours—as opposed to behaviours shaping technology/public space/goods with their desires and tendencies—but I think it’s a matter of training myself to see the impact a structural environment can have, regardless of whether it was intended or not.

The concept of the third place seems to be part of a loose group of other ideas that I’ve been exposed to since coming to Montreal that I like quite a bit. Here are some of them.

exhibit at the CCA: install a bench and people will come sit on it
ride a bike, get to know the streets
sit in a cafe, connect with people from your neighbourhood
employ mixed-use zoning in urban planning, have a dense, interconnected city
spend time idly with others, build social capital, strengthen your community
Santropol Roulant, University in the Streets, Jane’s Walks

I suppose this is already becoming trendy, or of the taste of educated folk: once you have wealth, the coveted commodity is social connection. Only it’s not a commodity, nor something to be consumed, but produced. On a more pragmatic level, I’m interested in learning more about the tangible benefits of social capital to individuals and groups. And I wonder what could be done to foster its creation (in what ways, to what specific ends).

The second concept that struck me from the text was the part on conversation. The following rules are attributed to Henry Sedgwick:
1. Remain silent your share of the time (more rather than less).
2. Be attentive while others are talking.
3. Say what you think but be careful not to hurt others’ feelings.
4. Avoid topics not of general interest.
5. Say little or nothing about yourself personally, but talk about others there assembled.
6. Avoid trying to instruct.
7. Speak in as low a voice as will allow others to hear.

I think these guidelines are great. I speak from experience, in that I violate most of them on a regular basis, and know that chatting with people is an activity that often makes me anxious and uncomfortable (though people never suspect it; they just assume I’m an ditz). I can imagine how following some of these cues would change how I interact with people.

Similarly, while reading I was sad to realize that for all the hippie shtick that I embody, my amount of social connection to this city is sort of abysmal. I’m lucky that people like me and put up with me not being a good friend for most months of the year, but it’s not something and I enjoy and would like to change. This is one of the main reasons I’m making such an effort of getting myself out to Shabbat dinners every Friday I can.

Update: Aha! I just realized that Shabbat is my third space!

Project for Public Spaces