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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Community or Cluster?


"I often wonder if New York is really a diverse environment. It is diverse in the sense that it hosts a vast number of diverse circles, but these circles tend to be disconnected from one another. I would even say that people within each circle are a lot more similar ideologically, intellectually and educationally than any "non-diverse" environment of a small town, where different people have to learn how to live together. In a big city, one can pick who you're going to spend time with, so one doesn't have to adapt. Without this, people grow apart, perhaps even stop understanding or feeling for the "other" group of people. With sufficient geographic clustering over the span of several generations, one again ends up with borders, civil wars and similar. And with the internet, one can grow apart without even moving, meaning that we can see this clustering at a faster and faster rate and the consequent conflict even sooner."

A fellow community curious blogger recently wrote these words. They echo what I had said a few months ago in regards to community clusters. Lately I have heard these clusters called "echo chambers". I find that name to be helpful. When you are in a cluster your words, your style, and your language all echo back to you. You find that those you spend time lack patience for the same things that frustrate you. The same people you hate are hated by those in your cluster. Your opinion about politics, genetics, therapy…they are all echoed back to you.

That does not sound like diversity. That sounds like high school cliques. It sounds like cowardly relationship.

Here is a portion of my previous post:

As the world continues to globalize, ironically, there are increasing numbers of specialized communities. In other words, as the world gets smaller, a gay basket weaving African American can find hundreds of other gay basket weaving African Americans. You can get on MySpace and you can find others who are exactly like you. I can get online and find a married, Cubs fan, who is over six feet tall, who's name is Jarrod (or jared, or jarod, or jarred) and we could start our own facebook group.

As this happens the world does get smaller yet it creates further division. If I embrace these specialized communities I could avoid other races all together. I could never talk to a White Sox fan. I could avoid everyone that voted for Al Gore. I could never speak to a homosexual. I can do that if I choose. Why? Because I can stay within my niche communities.

This lack of diversity kills true community.

Whether a family, a city, a church, or a country…community will continue to be misinterpreted as it becomes easier to find "your kind".

We must find ways to welcome diversity. We must fight the temptation to only associate with those who define themselves in similar ways. We must not just sit at the jock table in the cafeteria…we need to make our way over the "too smart for honors classes" table. We must leave our "bedroom communities" and enter into the family room where we can mingle with many.

Only as we do these things will we find connection…and only here will we begin to care. I believe that that connection and care, mixed with creativity, will lead to world changing, positive influence.


So what is the deal? How have you seen diverse community worked out in your life? Do you find yourself in "echo chambers"? Do you find that those you interact with differ little in opinion? Do you often find your relationships guilty of "group think"? How can we move towards community while honoring the uniqueness of every individual?

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