Which Comes First the Person or the Community?

Contacts by Striatic – Courtesy of CreativeCommonsI was just reading a post by John Haydon entitled. ‘Why Community Kinda Doesn’t Matter’. While the title is meant to grab attention in the social media space, where the word “community” is being used so frequently, it doesn’t (IMHO) accurately express the point of and the beauty of interaction in the social media space.

John begins his point by declaring the value of the individual, something I agree with. As individuals our contributions have the ability to change the world through an endless array of actions. Our actions don’t need to be huge sweeping gestures, but each action, great or small, harsh or kind has the capacity to create ripples through the world. In fact, the thrust of his post is that each individual has value and should be sought out and treated in a distinct and unique manner. A valid point, and one that is fundamental to human interaction both online and off.

Where I start to disagree is when Haydon makes this point;

What I’m getting at is that right now, you are reading this blog post, of which I am the author. And I’m just a single human being on this big blue marble – just like you. I’m not a community. And neither is the person you replied to on Twitter five minutes ago.

It’s true that everyone is an individual, and our best communication efforts are those that reach out from one individual to another, but that in no way diminishes the impact or importance of community. The post boldly states there is no “we”;

…like Mayberry, the concept of “community” is just that – a concept. It’s a speck the size of a pin that occupies your frontal lobe.

The concept of community is not “just” a concept, it is an amazing concept. One where the collective interaction of the individuals comprises both the community and its actions. As John states so eloquently:

Buddhism teaches that our world (macrocosm) is really a mirror of a the individual (microcosm) and visa-versa. Both community and the individual are interdependent reflections of each other.

In other words (if I may paraphrase): each of us is the world and the world is each of us. John invokes Buddhism to make his point, but let me go Old Testament on him with the Song of Solomon, which says, “I am my Beloved and My Beloved is Me” or for the purpose of this post, perhaps we can say ” I am my Community and My Community is Me”.

There just is no community without individuals but where there is more than one individual, there is a community, so all of us are part of some community. And that is where John and I agree and circle back to his initial point. If you want to communicate effectively with a community, you do so by engaging the members of the community, not some theoretical entity created by a common thread of its members. To do otherwise would be like trying to communicate with the inhabitants of an apartment complex by standing at the entrance to its parking lot and shouting at the conglomeration of buildings.

When you engage a member of a community (and every individual belongs to lots of communities) the reaction of that individual impacts the community. If you are a charity and you engage an individual, convincing them of the importance of your cause, they may become evangelists for you. They’ll carry your message to the other individuals they interact with in their communities and align others with your cause, possibly with no further effort on your part. Your engagement might also cause them to change a behavior of theirs, leading again to interactions with other individuals, impacting the community as a whole.


In sales and management organizations, there is an old cliché : “There is no I in TEAM”,  which stresses the importance of putting the organization before the individual. In this instance, perhaps we can coin a new cliché “Without ‘U’ and ‘I’ we can’t build ‘COMMUNITY’ – ” There is no coherent group to reach if we neglect the individuals that comprise it. We are most effective therefore in addressing a community by addressing the members of the community as individuals – showing them the respect that we would wish to have shown to ourselves. Respect for our experience, our challenges and our achievements. I agree with John Haydon that the choice of communicating with people or communities is an important one, and that the term communities is used to often and perhaps too glibly. But I cannot disagree that the best communication occurs between people. He ends his post with two questions that state the issue so eloquently that I want to use them here – and I hope that your answer to them satisfies you –

What about you? How have your efforts with an individual affected an entire community?