The Virtual Community Won't Stock Your Fridge...

First of all, thank you thank you blogger for finally updating your template designer with so many lovely, customize-able blog templates.  Yippee!  Nothing more pleases the esthetic geek in me.  Love love love it.

Secondly, I'm about to head off to the infinitely beautiful island of Bali for a short break.  My favourite luxury of living in this part of the world is my proximity to Bali, and the wonderful community in Ubud that is a haven for yoga, healing and relaxation.  And, not to be outdone, imported CHEESE!!!

While I'm away, I may blog, or not.  But I will be indulging in the delights of a few things I don't have access to at home, including:
  • Yoga classes in a yoga studio! With wooden floors! Where I'm not teaching! Whee!!
  • Vegetarian restaurants... oh my mouth waters
  • Shopping
  • A vibrant arts community
  • Did I mention, about the cheese???
I am also going to see an old friend and meet his 6-month old son, and to top it all off, I'm ending the trip at a wedding with a bunch of people dear to my heart.  Which leads me to my post for today...


I am feeling like the luckiest person on Earth right now, in great part thanks to the amazing community that I have been a part of in the 6 years I've lived here.  We are a tight-knit bunch: all thousands of miles from home, we become like family.  This community and I have shared many good times, and when the bad times roll around they are right there propping you up, the way it should be.  Supporting you, cooking for you, dropping things off at your house without even needing you to acknowledge the individual bearer of the gift.

As part of #315800, Bindu Wiles blogged yesterday about the online community that the event is generating.  She publishes some lovely thoughts on community which are heartfelt and true.  But it got me thinking of the changing nature of community in our modern world.  More and more we are creating these virtual networks, like my own beloved blog community that if you are reading this, you are a part of!

In so many ways this is a lovely thing, and I cannot sing its praises enough.  Closing the gaps of space and time, allowing us to connect with those who are like-minded no matter where in the world they may be, allowing us to pool our thoughts and create spaces where so many people of similar ideas can engage with each other.

But the virtual community is as two dimensional as this computer screen.  Sometimes, that's a good thing - if someone rubs you the wrong way, you don't have to engage with them.  There are blogs that I visit and don't go back to for whatever reason, or comments in forums like ElephantJournal that I would choose not to engage with.  The converse of that is, of course, that it sometimes seems that the virtual interface brings out the worst in people.  People might feel free to say things online that (I hope) they might not say in a face-to-face dialogue.  Because the online world requires an interface, it leaves us free to create a persona that may not be a complete picture of who we are.  We focus on some elements of our personality and not others.  We interact with words instead of faces and bodies and voices.  Or, people might deliberately mis-represent themselves.  Masquerading as someone more successful, more together, younger, taller etc. etc.  In it's worst incarnation, this two-dimensional nature of the online community ends in three-dimensional tragedy in the form of internet stalkers and child predators.

In a virtual community, we are removed from the physical interface that, for me, is the foundation of a connection between two human beings. That physical, instinctual, energetic connection makes up the building block of our real-world relationships.  It's the good-day-bad-day flux of our beings.  It's the good-year-bad-year tide of how we relate to one another.  And that is what I love about a physical community, is that it is diverse, complex, and challenging - it is not always a comfort zone, not always a place where everything is easy and where you can just hang out with people from the same side of the fence as you are.  Because, it's real.  (Now obviously there are some rocking online debate forums and those are real too, but you know what I'm talking about.  That body-to-body, face-to-face kind of real.)

Your physical community are your family, your friends, your work mates, your neighbours.  They are the people you interact with at the shops, the drivers stuck next to you in the traffic, the people you cross paths with without even knowing it, like in those movies where everyone has a different story but they're all connected in some way.  And as we all know, it is often easier to like or love people who agree with us than those who don't.  The real challenge is extending that compassion to everyone around you.

There are many people in my community who I don't necessarily even like.  And there are others who I love beyond words.  But towards all of them, in this moment I feel compassion.  We didn't choose each other - life put us here, in the same place at the same time.  And that's the thing.  I might not have picked them out of a hat - but they are here, and I am here, and somehow, that makes us something together. 

And for that, I feel blessed.  Because more and more I feel like people are living the reality that Gwen Bell expressed when Bindu Wiles (and I can't find the link...anyone?) interviewed her, saying "I don't know my neighbours' names, but I know the handles of thousands of people on Twitter".  Woah.  [Now, this is not personal - I'm sure that Gwen has a fabulous personal community.  It's just the sentiment, expressed so easily like that, kind of triggers me.]  For me, that is not something to be celebrated.  I mean, we are so ready to connect with random strangers online, but we just seem to accept that the people living mere metres away with us are anonymous faces in our landscape? 

Because when it comes down to it and life falls apart, it's your physical community who sit in your living room and cry with you.  Who make tea, keep your fridge stocked and magically produce ready-made meals.  Rescue you from the bathroom of a manky bar and drive you home even when you don't know where you live ( ;) sorry for telling that one honey!).   Lend you money when you can't find your wallet, offer you a lift when you're walking home in the dark, watch your pets, compliment your cooking, fawn over your children/pets/new shoes.

Who, as Melinda so movingly recounts in this post, might one day just save your life.

So here's our homework, kids: find one person in your physical community today and introduce ourselves. Or, find one person you already know and let them know how special they really are.  Cause that's where life is.

Who are your three-dimensional community and what do they do for you?