I first received Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging when I spoke a couple of summers ago at a conference sponsored by the GE Foundation. Upon returning home, I had full intentions of diving into it, but somehow it migrated from my “to read” stack over to my office bookshelf where it sat until the professor in my current Politics in Educational Administration class assigned it as part of our preparatory readings.
While I understand, I’m supposed to be thinking about building community within All-American Public Schools (and for that matter with the greater community at large), some of what I’m reading resonated with me when I think about virtual community building.
If the essence of community is to create structures for belonging, then we are constantly inviting people who are strangers to us, and to one another, into the circle. ~Peter Block
When I read that line, I couldn’t help but think back to late 1995 when I spotted an article in The Houston Chronicle about a group of women expecting babies in August of 1996. They’d signed on to something called a “listserve” and were exchanging emails about their pregnancy experiences. I found the whole thing quite interesting, considering that I too was due the same month.
I quickly sent a subscription email to the address listed in the paper and found myself welcomed into a circle of community by people I’d never laid eyes on before, people stretching from across my own city to across the Pacific ocean. Though my August baby is my second child, I learned things I never imagined I would from my interactions with people who thought a little differently than most of my “real life” friends. And, in recent years–parenting topics aside–they’ve helped keep me sane realizing that I’m not totally alone, living as a “blue” person in a decidedly “red” state.
In the early days of widespread Internet access, I remember the fear that its use would lead to isolation. I still hear that on occasion, but my own experiences prove otherwise. Over the course of the last fourteen years, those strangers I reached out to have morphed into some of my closest friends. The lines between online and real-life blurred further once we began meeting up for annual “reunions”–sharing dinners, shopping trips, museum visits, and hotel rooms. Yes, with people I met online. Even that doesn’t seem as strange these days as it did early on in our list’s history, back when I’d just say I was going to meet a “group of friends” rather than adding in the “online” part.
And, though blogging is at once both a more personal and a more public pursuit, isn’t building community what that’s all about too? I’ve been getting tweets most of the week about the mom2.0 summit in Houston, and, of course, we hear all about Blogher every year. Those ladies are doing, on a larger scale and sometimes for profit, what the August Moms did back in 1995. They’re sharing their experiences as mothers, becoming a unit, though sometimes an amorphous one, known as mommy bloggers.
Though, clearly, I’ve jumped on the blogging bandwagon (as have a number of other August Moms), I haven’t felt a need to label myself a mommy blogger or to seek out participation in those circles. I find myself looking in on many of the blogs, enjoying the bird’s eye view of other moms’ lives. But, I haven’t put myself out there to invite participation. As Block also mentions in his book, reaching out invites not only acceptance but also rejection.
And rejection is hard. So, I think I’ll continue to be content with my little blog, along with its low traffic, knowing that the invitation it’s sending will be unnoticed by most but accepted by some. And that the “some” is the most valuable part.