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Sunday, January 9, 2011

A small, small world.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; as big as the poly community feels sometimes, it is actually pretty small.

Let's face it, polyamory is still a minority lifestyle. The Poly community is growing and becoming more vocal. There is more of a presence in media of all types, legal battles are being fought, and blogs like this one are springing up every day. Yet I'd venture a guess that most of the average people out there walking around still don't know exactly what Polyamory is about. That is why it is important for us to continue to build the community.

Some things happening in my area lately got me to thinking about the poly community. There have been some poly groups having issues, others doing so well they have become cumbersome, and even others that are starting over with new direction.

One of the first things I noticed about one of these groups was their self-proclamation of being a "community leader". That sounds wonderful but in reality you can't just say it, you have to do it. Having a group, no matter the size, that is exclusive rather than inclusive either by design or default negates the ability of that group to be a community leader. We all know, actions speak louder than words. To truly be a community leader you have to be prepared to respond to the needs of the community. If the group has grown to a cumbersome level the reasonable response would be to add more meeting times in the hopes of spreading attendance. A negative response would be to try and find a way to limit participation back to a manageable number, or creating independent offshoot groups with no relation to the parent group.

One of the questions I think any group should ask itself, particularly one self-labeling as a "community leader" is; who is our community?
Does community just mean those who are members of the group or does it include those who aren't members yet? Is community defined by geography? If you don't know and define your community it is difficult to serve that community.

The next question I would recommend asking the group is; what is/are our goal(s)? Are we spreading awareness or goodwill? Will we be a physically active group, such as sponsoring highway cleanup and activities, or will we be an intellectual group focusing on advertising and marketing?

What I've seen recently are groups claiming to be community leaders but not exhibiting that behavior. Groups with problems have withdrawn into themselves in an attempt to protect their members and image. Instead maybe they should have drawn on their community for support and help. Other groups have taken a defensive stance when the idea of new groups in their area have been suggested rather than seeing it as an opportunity to build community and lending their expertise. In the case of new groups in an established area the first word often heard is "competition" which is probably the exact wrong direction to take. "Cooperation" should probably be the word used.

Another piece of the puzzle is people. If people in a group, whatever form that group takes, act simply as participants without interest in actively supporting the group or the community outside the group things will stagnate. That isn't to say participants aren't needed because they are. Simply that if the entire group, or even the majority, are only participants the idea of community may be lost on the group.

So how do you not just be a participant in your community? Join a group and take an active role. Help run the group, organize things, market the group, or just take a supportive role lending a hand as needed. In the case of groups that host events such as festivals there is almost always a need for someone to help at whatever level they feel comfortable. If you aren't part of a formal group, join an informal group such as an online group or even online forums related to your interest but be active in the group by joining discussions. However you feel comfortable contributing there is probably a way for you to do so within your comfort level. The important part is that you do participate and contribute in whatever form that takes.

This article is a bit disjointed as I review it for posting. I think that is because the concept of community can be so big and there are such a large number of ways to be involved with community. There are probably many more ways than I can even imagine to foster community! My goal here was to get you thinking about the poly community and your role in that community. Will you be a participant just watching from the sidelines, will you be a supporter working behind the scenes, or will you be a leader braving the way for others?

I'm also interested in hearing your ideas about community. What would be your plan for helping polyamory become a larger, more recognized and socially accepted community? Have you, or a group you are in, done something that worked particularly well to create a sense of community or help others in what you define as 'community'?

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