You must have often heard the word ‘community’ thrown around in conversations, sometimes callously, by people who don’t understand its true meaning; or realize the impact it has. A simple google search can tell you what the word ‘community’ means, in fact, here, I will save you the effort of looking it up on the internet:
According to Webster, a community is “a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society”.
Except, the word ‘society’ is also interchangeably used with the word ‘community’ in varying contexts, even though the two mean entirely different things.
According to Webster, a society is “a community or group of people having common traditions, institutions, and interests”.
Similar definitions, are they not? While society can be loosely referred to as something that forms a social structure, I don’t think a community can be confined within the words of a standard textbook definition. Which is why I am not here to talk about what defines a community; rather what makes a community.
In my opinion, a community must be able to do justice to the following criteria:
- It should be able to account for all the communities that identify as a community. For example, it should be able to explain the shared sense of togetherness one experiences as a community of place, or something more widespread like “the academic community” or “the Christian community”.
- It should be able to account for the positive feeling that is often associated with being a part of a community, a driving force for doing good in the world; but not disregard the fact it can also have a negative impact (after all, a mafia is also a community), or be both of those things at once. A community is not morally praiseworthy in itself. It just is.
- It should be able to explain the sense of identity and the feeling of belongingness that comes with being a part of a community. It must account for our joyous reaction or defensive behaviour that we exhibit when a community which we are a part of gets applauded or attacked. And it should also explain the in group/out group nature of this identity- meaning why one is a part of a particular community and others are not.
- It must explain why this one single word holds so much power. That how, this one single word, can act as our moral compass and shape our understanding of what is good and bad. For example, our community builds our perspective on what it means to be a good neighbor; the mutual understanding of how we should treat people around us.
- It ought to explain how a ‘community’ is different from other social groups like ‘society’ or ‘family’, or simply a bunch of people.
- It must account for the fact that an individual can have varied interests and be a part of various communities simultaneously.
Keeping these pointers in mind, I would say that a community is shaped by a shared sense of identity-forming perspective. Meaning, that a group of people who share the same viewpoints and feelings about something that is so important to them that are intricately woven into their personality; and often dictate how these people lead their lives as distinguished individuals.