Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Let God sort 'em out

Well, I had a nice neat post prepared to follow up on my post on inclusivity and exclusivity, but Joanna stole most of my thunder. Communities interested in growth and stability should be wide open at the entry-level, but then set and enforce communal standards that make membership ultimately self-selecting.

Another analogy to use (if it doesn't seem to crass in spiritual contexts) is that of sales. (Augie Turak, God bless 'em, is a consummate salesman and the first and last spiritual teacher I've ever found to unabashedly use business language in a spiritual context.) Most businesses try to make it as easy as possible to engage their products; they even come to you to tell you about them, in advertising, phone calls and appointments. At some point, though, potential customers are qualified, and the qualification process usually requires an increased commitment from the prospect (answering more questions, getting on waiting lists, making deposits, undergoing credit checks, etc.) until they finally buy. A community goes through the same process, reaching out widely to new prospective members but eventually going through some kind of qualification process before ultimately demanding a commitment.

Sounds good on paper. But all the art and science of business and culture hangs on where you set those threshholds and standards, and how you communicate and enforce them. You can describe the essential nature of a community by the following factors:
  • How much commitment does it require? Some communities, like a pick-up basketball game, are ephemeral and don't require much commitment at all. Others, like a basketball league, require much more commitment. Usually, greater rewards require greater commitment.
  • How are the standards communicated? Some communities have very explicit standards: written policies, rulebooks, codes of conduct, etc. Others have more implicit expectations: e.g. nobody said you have to bring some food to the party, but it's still expected.
  • How are the standards enforced? Some communities have designated enforcers: authorities that let people in or kick people out, according to explicit or implicit criteria. Others have peer-enforced standards; other members exert pressure to get people to comply. Sometimes standards are enforced explicitly ("Congratulations! You have been admitted to Duke University") or implicitly (you stop getting invitations to the parties.)

Successful communities can be found throughout the spectrums of commitment, communication and enforcement. (If I was more industrious I would give lots more examples, but I will leave it as an exercise for the reader.) But if you're going to try to consciously build a new community, you probably need to figure out where you're going to stand on all these factors.



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