How to Create a Community

The gift is to the giver… it cannot fail. -Walt Whitman

Lewis Hyde’s book The Gift has taught me a lot; for one thing, it explains how gifts are the currency of community. The lesson: if you want to make someone a part of your community, be generous to them. If they accept your kindness (and especially if they are generous in return) they are signalling to you that they want to be in your group as well. In this way gift-giving binds us together. We become increasingly in each others’ debt. 

Early European settlers to Pacific North America noticed a lot of the native people applying this idea through rituals:

When someone in one of these tribes was mistakenly insulted, his response, rather than turning to a libel lawyer, was to give a gift to the man who had insulted him; if indeed the insult was mistaken, the man would make a return gift, adding a little extra to demonstrate his good will, a sequence that has the same structure (back and forth with increase) as the potlatch itself. When a gift passes from hand to hand in this spirit, it becomes the binder of many wills (Page 36).

Hyde explains that this kind of response would do far more than make for a healthy, happy community, it would create a spiritus mundi (a unanimous heart) within the tribe. They were showing that they considered their strength to be in each other, rather than in their own material gain.

Applying this idea

We all like to feel we have strong, supportive relationships. But how, in these rushed times, with friends

around the world and so many demands on our time, can we apply this kind of wisdom? Here are a few ideas you can try:

  1. Say it with art. We all appreciate getting a handmade card with a poem in it. Any kind of artistry forces us to be considerate and original and people always love it when you make that kind of effort –whether you’re a natural artist or not. It’s a bit like trying to speak to a local in their own language –they’ll love you for trying.
  2. Don’t let them pay. The Gift tells a story of a daugher in Minnesapolis who agreed to donate a life-saving kidney to her mother, but only if her mother would buy her an expensive fur coat. The mom felt betrayed and held-hostage. The daughter saw the gift as a transaction, so traded what could have been a stronger bond with her mother, for a coat.
  3. Just as with birthday presents, it’s not so much what is given, but the meaning behind it that matters most. So…
  4. Say something sappy. Don’t just give a present and leave it at that. Say something nice to add meaning to the gift, to let them know WHY you’re giving it.
  5. Be on the look-out. Do you have a coworker who stops by your desk every day just to say hi?  If you look for the signs, you might be surprised to find that a lot of people around you are trying to create bonds with you as well.
  6. And finally (the most obvious of all) look for ways to give your time.

Want more?

If this interests you, you might enjoy reading:

  • Guy Kowasaki’s The Art of Creating a Community (a blog post) offers some practical advice for using technology and ideas to grow a community. Or,
  • Seth Godin’s book on “Tribes,” which totally applies here. In fact, one of the reasons I’m writing this blog (besides trying to give something meaningful to the people I care about: a gift :-) is because I want to create a group of people who collaborate to help each other improve their quality of life. I want to develop a strong Quality of Life Tribe. I want to belong to a group of people who generously support each other in their efforts to improve their qualituy of life. Here are some tips on developing a tribe.
  • A great new post from Liz Strauss The Only Way to Attract a Vibrant, High-Trust Community online. An online community isn’t built or befriended, it’s connected by offering and accepting. Community is affinity, identity, and kinship that make room for ideas, thoughts, and solutions.

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10 Responses to How to Create a Community

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  2. I feel that, say it with art and don't let them pay are the best idea which you provided. You described very well. Nice article.

  3. Tim Woods says:

    Thank you for saying that. I agree completely. This idea has really transformed how I think about things, in ways you wouldn't expect. If someone, on the other hand, doesn't smile at me I think, “Okay, that's fine. That guy has just let me know he's not interested in being part of my community.'' I just go on and look for people who are more willing to connect. It's hard to explain, but thinking this way has made me feel less rejected when people don't reciprocate. Also sometimes I'm not that interested in being in other people's community, so I figure there's no point sending them the wrong message. 🙂

  4. Tim Woods says:

    Thank you!

    That's interesting, that Deepak Chopra saying you mentioned. Sometimes I wish, during Christmas time, that we could avoid the whole gift-giving routine –because it so often seems (or feels) more of an obligation than a genuine show of generosity. That's what convinced me to do Kiva gift certificates at Christmas time, so people know I'm thinking of them, but the gift goes to someone who really needs it. Then, during the year, if I find something that's perfect for the person I can give them that as well.

    I haven't found the Napoleon Hill quote you mention, but I found another good one on his website, that relates:

    “Give to those whom you love; give to those who love you; give to the fortunate; give to the unfortunate; yes—give especially to those to whom you don’t want to give.

    Your most precious, valued possessions and your greatest powers are invisible and intangible. No one can take them. You, and you alone, can give them. You will receive abundance for your giving. The more you give—the more you will have!” (W. Clement Stone)

  5. danielchristadoss says:

    Tim,
    Your article touched me. I agree it is wonderful to be able to give. Giving gives the giver happiness and joy.
    We meet so many people during our day to day exchange. It doe not take much to have a genuine appreciation for others and give in the form of gifts, appreciation and even a genuine smile.
    I will continue to read the interesting blogs you have.
    Take care
    Daniel

  6. danielchristadoss says:

    Tim,
    Your article touched me. I agree it is wonderful to be able to give. Giving gives the giver happiness and joy.
    We meet so many people during our day to day exchange. It doe not take much to have a genuine appreciation for others and give in the form of gifts, appreciation and even a genuine smile.
    I will continue to read the interesting blogs you have.
    Take care
    Daniel

    • timwoods says:

      Thank you for saying that. I agree completely. This idea has really transformed how I think about things, in ways you wouldn't expect. If someone, on the other hand, doesn't smile at me I think, “Okay, that's fine. That guy has just let me know he's not interested in being part of my community.'' I just go on and look for people who are more willing to connect. It's hard to explain, but thinking this way has made me feel less rejected when people don't reciprocate. Also sometimes I'm not that interested in being in other people's community, so I figure there's no point sending them the wrong message. 🙂

  7. Bibliopet says:

    I love this post, thank you Tim. I also love what Deepak Chopra has to say about a gift not being a gift at all if given with an expectation of some kind of return. Also, Napoleon Hill talks a lot about giving to people what you would like to receive, but puts the notion in a more interesting way than I just did!
    Love,
    Peta

    • timwoods says:

      Thank you!

      That's interesting, that Deepak Chopra saying you mentioned. Sometimes I wish, during Christmas time, that we could avoid the whole gift-giving routine –because it so often seems (or feels) more of an obligation than a genuine show of generosity. That's what convinced me to do Kiva gift certificates at Christmas time, so people know I'm thinking of them, but the gift goes to someone who really needs it. Then, during the year, if I find something that's perfect for the person I can give them that as well.

      I haven't found the Napoleon Hill quote you mention, but I found another good one on his website, that relates:

      “Give to those whom you love; give to those who love you; give to the fortunate; give to the unfortunate; yes—give especially to those to whom you don’t want to give.

      Your most precious, valued possessions and your greatest powers are invisible and intangible. No one can take them. You, and you alone, can give them. You will receive abundance for your giving. The more you give—the more you will have!” (W. Clement Stone)

  8. Excellent post. This has been a critical dynamic in the inner city neighbourhood we live in. Generosity is a powerful expression, especially among the poor.

    As an interesting side note, in Greenland, instead of the birthday celebrant receiving gifts, they give them to their guests. As a result, gift-giving & receiving is a significant part of the daily culture.

    Peace,
    Jamie

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