You Show Me Yours, I’ll Show You Mine

At its most enduring, Facebook is a self-updating address book, ensuring that you’ll never lose anyone again – unless they want to be lost. At its most exploited, it is a self-promotional tool, ensuring audiences access to what we offer. I had great fun with the status updates when I first discovered Facebook imagining that people were actually awaiting the daily dose. One of the people who continues to use the updates well is the stand-up comedian Aqua Marina. You can learn a lot, either about comedy or about self-marketing from a browse through her updates. But I wonder if it is real audience browsing any of our sites or is it an audience peopled with industry types; you watch my show I’ll watch yours?

Philip Stern says that Twitter is the new Google but I wonder if it is more like a new strain of brewers yeast; once it converts all the sweet stuff, you’re still just looking at 14%. It seems that Twitter is all about following people who have something to say, but I have this feeling that it is being over-populated by people with something to sell. We talk and talk and talk about online community but is it all just another sales channel? Is there anything community about it, or just a collision of adaptive sellers and the fabled insatiable consumers?

I heard a brief talk by Mike Nickerson who spoke about an alternative view of human economic activity in terms of having enough, in terms of each of us knowing when enough is enough and I wonder if we can? Would I know when enough is enough? If I knew when enough was enough, would I know when to stop writing? Good grief, when to stop talking? And if I did, would I then be able to say, ‘well, I have enough readers/customers now, I’ll choose to plateau the business here rather than ramp it up some more’? Would I find myself saying I have quite enough people in my life? I have enough ideas, enough love, enough time, enough life?

Clearly, even in the contemplation of enough, I don’t know when to stop…

If we did have a critical mass of the population who could recognize satisfaction when they had it, who embodied moderation not from restraint or lack of resources but from desire, would it not also be reflected online? Would its digital realm be a gated community, off limits to those whose penchant for excess is destructive to self and others? Would the very exclusivity of its nature make us want to join, conform, moderate our behaviour? Is that what they mean by a moderated chat room? No excessive language here please…

And how would we know when enough moderation is enough?


Maslow in your neighbourhood

I’m the new kid on the block on my first time out with a group of community do-gooders and guess what? I can’t shut up. A well-meaning lady is determined that the important thing is to get the families out together. ‘The families’, meaning people with too many mouths and not enough dough, and ‘out’ meaning to the spaghetti dinner. But the part that has me riled is the whole notion of together. I have flash-backs to my own youth, which even still I can only recall in the third person: seven starving children and a basket-case mother and the last thing any of them want is to have to get somewhere together. Nobody has anything to wear ‘out’, nobody is calm enough around food to eat politely, and nobody is adequately socialized to make the impression that the kind-hearted lady is hoping for and they are all vaguely aware of this fact. The mother had earnest dreams about how the kids should be raised but it isn’t happening, and a well-meant chance to parade her sense of failure is hardly a treat. You think I exaggerate. I give you Maslow.

At some point most of us were introduced to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which, to paraphrase, suggests that people have needs of different urgency and that one need can’t be fulfilled, and generally isn’t even desired, until the more urgent ones are met.

Picture stopping to forage or grab a slurpie while running from a lion or a mugger. Picture someone telling you to get a job while you are looking for something to eat. What I see happening is a lot of well-meaning benevolent people trying to force opportunities onto people who just aren’t ready for them, can’t cope with them and don’t want them. A spaghetti dinner and a hard-sell to get families to go out together is many a person’s idea of hell. An invitation to get the whole family dressed in presentable clothes at the same time to go out and be social with strangers is something you’d do anything to avoid when you have collectors at your heels, a house that needs fixing, an inability to keep up with the clothing needs of your kids and a boss who exploits your mutual belief that you will never find another job. It is not a welcome thing.

What if we could invite Maslow to the neighbourhood? What if we had a general understanding that needs need to be met and absorbed in a certain order – a usable order? Could we envision our outreach within this context? Could we envision a united way of helping that makes sure everyone has food, shelter, safety and a few et-ceteras that come after? I’m not talking about political systems, I’m asking if we can embrace some generosity of spirit that allows us to believe that ‘no thank you’ means ‘I can’t use that right now, what else have you got?’ even if it sounds ungrateful?

Now where’s my Self-Actualization badge?

What came first, the bunny or the egg?

So Getnet comes for Easter Brunch and after a while says ‘What is the significance of bunnies and eggs?’ Being Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, this is his first exposure to Canadian Easter traditions. I had taken pains to point out that ours was probably not a typical Easter, involving as it does a crepes brunch, followed by two birthday cakes, an Easter egg hunt and finally a pinata filled with goodies. By the time we get to the gigantic chocolate egg that I have brought from Montreal, the diabetic comas prevail and most of us abstain.

I have a big family. There is a lot of blah blah blah that goes on at any family gathering and as far as I know we all look forward to it. We also all look forward to fresh ears – people who haven’t heard the best of the stories yet. There’s a lull in the usual loquaciousness as we briefly glance around to see if anyone actually knows the answer to Getnet’s question, and then the stories start to fly. One answer starts with Pagan traditions, another with Jesus and a third with Timothy Eaton.

I doubt if Getnet was any closer to the real story by the end, but it did make me realize that the unifying themes in all of our family celebrations are food and festivities with family and friends. There are correlations between the intuitive family dynamics and the community-building wisdom that I am reading about and seeing develop at CSI and in the ‘hood. Though we give them different names, I suppose a family is a small community, interacting with others to form a neighbourhood, growing to a municipality, a society… you get the picture. It’s not hard then to find answers when you wonder what causes all the strife between cultures or societies; one only has to look to the family to see conflict in all its variation.

I considered our strange aggregate family Easter and I couldn’t help but wonder if this is how traditions usually start; a shared desire, an assessment of needs and resources, and a call to action. Perhaps the key to lasting traditions and to community-building is fluidity – and a short memory! ‘Haven’t we always done it like this?’ Keeping good things that come along, losing stale things along the way.

Does the reason matter? Fertility? Resurrection? Chocolate? Who cares what the excuse for the gathering is if the point is to get together and be a part of what’s important. Like family and friends and food and festivities.

“Reminds me of home,”  says Getnet. Turns out he has a big family too.

Can I play too?

The Centre for Social Innovation is a strange new beast in the corporate landscape. A shared work environment for mission-driven entrepreneurs and organizations, it is one part sanctuary, one part launching pad and two parts home.

As an invisible minority of the Viking-Canadian variety, a group characterized by an absence of the cooperation gene, I find the environment both thrilling and challenging. I had always imagined that the way to improve things, to save forests for instance, was to get rich, buy up acres of land and sit on them. It turns out this is the long way around. While I come up with one new business plan after another, groups like those at the CSI have saved vast tracts of the Canadian landscape through partnerships with government, industry and the private sector.

As I poke around and learn who’s who I see that these groups are made of individuals who are smart, nice and sincere and I begin to feel like I missed out on being part of it, like I’d been wanting to, but just didn’t see it going on all around me. I feel like all the forests are saved already (editors note: they aren’t) and as I wonder why I wasn’t invited to the party, I realize that the unifying characteristic of all these people is a decided tendency towards cooperation.

With six siblings, a family history that worships rugged individualism and a personal leadership strategy called ‘shut up and do it’ you may understand when I tell you that as soon as conversations turn toward the cooperative, my skin crawls and I want to pull my hair out. “Just stick a damn painting on the wall!” I want to scream as an impromptu hallway discussion moves into the realm of striking an art committee to form a collective to decide on a structure to resource the walls as a gallery to showcase the talent of the members. ‘And what about insurance?’ Arrrh!

People keep asking me why I am putting myself into situations where I am forced to cooperate if it makes me crazy and I wonder if other times in history favoured swift decision-making and bold action? I wonder if we are now heading into a time that favours long-term planning and equity? “They” have sometimes said that cooperation is the reason that humanity has survived the various disasters in our short history and may well be key to saving ourselves from ourselves. Survival? Self or genetic preservation? Could it be that simple?

I decided to throw my lot in with the winning team and get myself a Hot Desk at the Centre for Social Innovation. Cooperation here I come!


Rebecca is the Founder of Bestseller Bootcamp located within the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto. She lives downtown Hamilton and is active with the South Sherman Hub and the South Stipeley Neighbourhood Association. As a result of this recent immersion into a vibrant residential neighbourhood, a thriving professional community and her daily trek around the golden horseshoe, Rebecca is exploring new ideas like cooperation and collaboration. Rebecca has a lot of first-hand experience being herself but is new to the whole community thing. Unless you count family.
This blog is dedicated to all the hard-working community-builders; though you be unsung, your music will resonate for generations.