This ongoing series is a way of explaining the focus of this blog. In previous posts I’ve discussed Douglas Adams on metaphor and Borges and embodied cognition whilst below I discuss symbolic action and the importance of stories.
Yet for all this, our world is still shaped by stories. Through television, film, novels and video games, we may be more thoroughly bombarded with narrative material than any people that ever lived. What is peculiar, however, is the carelessness with which these stories are channelled at us — as entertainment, a distraction from daily life, something to hold our attention to the other side of the ad break. There is little sense that these things make up the equipment by which we navigate reality. On the other hand, there are the serious stories told by economists, politicians, geneticists and corporate leaders. These are not presented as stories at all, but as direct accounts of how the world is. Choose between competing versions, then fight with those who chose differently. (The Dark Mountain Project manifesto, p.13)
Everything we say and do has at least two elements: the connotative and the denotative. That is to say, there is a symbolic element to everything we see, say and do. The problem is that the interpretation of those symbols can be tricky.
- A film you watch with a friend may have had religious and positive undertones for you, but meanwhile reinforced your friend’s belief in the futility of life.
- What one person sees as ‘sharing good practice’ is someone else’s definition of self-promotion.
- A look across a crowded bar is a search for a friend to the looker but a flirtatious advance to another.
Open up Heat magazine (or any other low-budget weekly) and what do you find? The surface (denotative level) celebrity gossip could also easily be interpreted on a connotative level as telling a story to keep the herd in line. This diet is good, this skirt is bad, this is how you should treat others, and so on. For celebrity (and other) magazines they’re cultivating a tribe for the sake of advertising and profit. Organizations such as Purpos/ed do so for the sake of social change.
That’s why it’s all about the story – both the story you witness and interpret, and the one you tell. They don’t have to be one and the same. And remember, you tell yourself a story when you say you can and cannot do this or that. Don’t internalise other people’s stories; tell your own.
Image CC BY visualpanic
The most fertile time of my week, ideas-wise? Sitting listening to sermons in church every Sunday. For whatever reason – perhaps because I can think at least twice as quickly people talk – I end up scrawling ideas for blog posts and reminders of things to look-up on the back of my service sheet. Other members of the congregation no doubt think I’m making notes on the talk.*
Today’s sermon was on The Gospel and Witness, which made me think about relationships within communities. I consider the following a work-in-progress, but share my thoughts in a quest for rejection-or-reinforcement – and perhaps even examples/counter-examples.
Types of relationship
At the lowest level are fleeting relationships, those in which we expend very little energy. We offer politeness but no access to our ‘inner world’. This kind of relationship is transactional and, indeed, is perhaps best illustrated by purchases made in shops.
Next up comes networks. Acquaintances, perhaps friends of friends, people you follow and rarely interact with on Twitter. This sort of relationship is give-and-take. I give some small part of myself and in return get something back of use. An example might be indicating that I’m looking for a new car or music recommendations and in return gain some generic feedback.
Further up the chain are groups. These are defined either implicitly or explicitly and exist for customised advice and support. These too can exist via social networks, but – online at least – are perhaps best facilitated through forums. Examples include getting constructive criticism of a new document you’ve drafted, advice about a particular situation encountered, and so on.
After groups come communities of practice, as defined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger:
A community of practice (CoP) is… a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession. The group can evolve naturally because of the members’ common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally. CoPs can exist online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or in real life, such as in a lunchroom at work, in a field setting, on a factory floor, or elsewhere in the environment. (Wikipedia)
Whilst informal, communities of practice are focused on a particular end and have pre-determined boundaries. Their focus means that communities of practice are likely to be more successful than groups. Relationships are likely to be predicated upon either informal or formal entry requirements (e.g. job, ownership of an item, previous experience)
The final type of relationships are within a community of ought. This is a term I’ve invented to describe those organizations that have the power to tell individuals (or at least strongly advise them) how to behave. This, of course, includes most religious organizations, but really any organization where an individual defers in some way to authority. Such deference does not have to be formal in nature, but must include adherence to some kind of code or set of rules. Others in the organization must be able to tell whether an individual is ‘doing as he/she ought’.
Although some may feel my description of ‘communities of ought’ sounds somewhat controlling and scary, people do in fact, in some areas of their life (he says, making a huge generalisation), prefer to defer to authority. And, if so, it’s much better to defer to an authority within a community than an individual earthly authority.
This post is more an observation of my own thinking than a statement as to whether such communities of ought should or should not exist. I’m currently thinking that communities of ought are more likely to get things done. I’d be interested in your thoughts, however.
* Before you castigate me for my irreverance, I’m fully able to have a debate about the theological implications of the sermon afterwards as well, thank you very much. :-p
A couple of years ago I was going to set up my own business. I got my website sorted out, business cards printed, but then… nothing happened. I’d concentrated on style over substance.
It’s not bricks that hold a house together, it’s the mortar.* Otherwise, it’s a pile of bricks. There seems to be an assumption that if you’re given a bunch of money or are part of a new organization, then you need to create something from scratch. Instead of focusing on connecting people and adding value, there’s thrashing about creating a new community, a new website, new artefacts. Let’s create more bricks!
Right now, more than ever, it’s mortar time. It’s time to stick the bricks together to build something.
Image CC BY-NC-SA lovestruck.
* Granted, there’s lots of examples of dry stone walls in Northumberland (where I live). But that takes a lot of organization, co-ordination and centralised re-shaping of existing organizations. Work with me… :-p