Communities are a fundamental requirement for the human condition; they consist of a group of people with shared interests, similar attitudes – often with aligned social values -resulting in delegated responsibilities. A community is a product of independent actors joining together, operating in a specific habitat, whether a neighbourhood, a gym, a workplace, or a place of worship. The single key tenet is that collective identity enriches the experience of each and every person, the members of that community.
This brings me to touch on the fantastic lives of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – two wonderfully talented individuals and great community builders’ – who a week ago unfortunately succumbed to the inner darkness of their natures. And also to my belief in the importance, for everyone, to build better, fearless, value driven communities. If anything good comes from their deaths, something we might not ever truly understand, it is to reflect on what they meant for their myriad supporters and followers, as well as to think about lives that created significance for those who knew them.
I have been into Kate Spade shops more times than I care to remember; the vibrant eclectic, creative and innovative designs are adored by my wife. They still carry the playful essence present at the brand’s inception, long after Kate the individual had left the organisation her values still very apparent with philanthropic investment into a myriad of community initiatives involving women in technology, arts and entrepreneurship.
Anthony Bourdain is a figure I admire enormously: a rogue natured, adventurous chef with a fearless appreciation for food in context, complete disregard for the bourgeoisie notion that exceptional food is only served with a Michelin Star on the side. His bold, value driven approach to life enabled him to follow principles over superficiality as demonstrated by his Vietnam dinner date in 2016 with Barack Obama for $6 noodles. His fondness for building communities was at the epicentre of his thinking.
‘He taught us about food, but more importantly about its ability to bring us together.’ Barack Obama
The two prominent tragedies in the same week remind us of the frailty of existence and related issues traversing all sectors of society.
Society can be alienating; perceptions are fleeting and social media is often perceived as a primary gauge of ‘happiness’ – as if the superficial, fast paced environment in which we live matters. More important than the “show”, an appearance of reality, is the requirement to foster meaningful human interactions throughout life.
Would you rather a million admirers on the internet that adore the carefully orchestrated idea of you? Or, conversely, a handful of community members, people you are absolutely close to, with full transparency and knowledge of your hopes, fears, dreams, and aspirations?
I do not suggest that community building is an answer to all problems, but as the title of this article suggests, being part of something more than just “you” allows a perspective, the ability to exercise empathy, to make a connection and to work with others to create a better tomorrow.
When the opportunity presents itself to reflect on how you interact with others, what values you want to stand for, and actually do, I challenge you to think about the communities in which you know and feel a part of. This is surely a useful exercise.
‘Without experimentation, a willingness to ask questions and try new things, we shall surely become static, repetitive, moribund.’ Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain touched on a true insight: Food is about interaction, an interlude to a deeper more powerful conversation of discovery. Sharing a meal, making one, the conversation that follows, is a time in modern society where you might prise people away from technology and interact on a cerebral level.
If you choose to join or create a community with good value driven people, they will not object to being asked difficult questions. Challenge perspectives, say what you think, stand by your values then, when we don’t agree, we discuss our ideas anyway, hear them out, respect an alternative, understand another person’s perspective – because you might be enlightened by another way of thinking.
People are inherently interesting and heterogeneous. There has never been one person born who did not have value. Without engaging with them, you may miss the opportunity find that interesting perspective you never thought of. So be curious. It is part of being alive. Life is a game, so playfully engage with others, feed your understanding, and make your interactions more meaningful and sincere. A totally transparent demeanour ensures that you’re not harbouring a hidden agenda, aside from creating lasting relationships.
Get comfortable in the awkwardness that tough questions bring; ultimately a transparent demeanour allows you to convey your motivations as well intentioned. Feel imprisoned by a false idea of yourself, cut yourself off from the communities you belong to, and… it is sad to imagine what follows.
‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition, or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but to each of you to the interests of others.’ Philippians 2:3-16
Once you perceive that you have the inherent responsibility to ensure the well-being of others, and the faith that this will be reciprocated, your perspective changes. No longer selfishly motivated, but as part of that collective responsibility, safe in the knowledge that ensures someone is looking out for you. In this complex and alienating society, in a sea of shifting values, it’s important that you have many ports in a storm. You become a better person; you help make your community all the stronger.
The importance of community is fundamental, not only conducive to self-grow but also self-care. There are a number of sub-sectors of society, where the requirement for community and support is particularly prevalent; life after sport for professional athletes and transitioning military personnel are two that immediately spring to mind.
For professional athletes, sporting success often occurs at a similar stage to personal development and often at the detriment to educational development. So when the final whistle blows on their sporting career they can often be left feeling isolated and lacking direction. The AFL has acknowledged this effect and implemented the MAX360 program, promoting education, learning and community, to have that difficult discussion early and prepare them for life after sport.
This relationship holds true when you compare rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in combat veterans from the US and Israel. The US has roughly 50 percent of veterans that have filed for compensation, yet only 10 percent have seen combat, so combat is not the only catalyst for depression. If compared to Israel’s incidences of depression post military service, the rate is only 1%.
‘We know that if you take a lab rat and traumatise it and put it in a cage by itself, you can maintain its trauma symptoms almost indefinitely. And if you take that same lab rat and put it in a cage with other rats, after a couple of weeks, it’s pretty much OK.’ Sebastien Junger
They key differentiating factor is likely to be the communities they return to; I see the US as fragmented and alienating, with individuals becoming depressed. Whereas modern Israel has conscription and soldiers come back to a community that understands them and acts like a tribe.
The power of community is immense, and it is everyone’s responsibility to strive to make better, inclusive and lasting communities for the benefit of us all.
There are some phenomenal organisations that work to assist in building communities and providing support networks; a few dear to my heart include Team Rubicon, providing a community of communities for veterans, first responders and civilians in disaster relief; and R U OK? Have a meaningful chat with mates and loved ones. You could save lives.
Karl Howard is currently an asset manager with EG Funds Management,working in unlisted Real Estate and focussing on process improvement and creative thinking. Prior to this appointment he was an officer of the British Army providing Strategic and Operational advice In Europe and on operations in the Gulf.