community connectivity

I'm dedicating this piece to the idea of community. A tender word that snuggles into our vocabulary from a young age, a timeless spirit that transcends both age and experience. A concept largely co-opted by the tech community, but with a wingspan that stretches across domains. A desire that we subconsciously yearn for, no matter what our life stage. Three inspirations set the scene for this rabbit hole.

. . .

[A] Yesterday I attended worship at Oasis Church in central Amman, invited by these four amazing missionaries from Michigan. I stumbled upon their group as we scaled the top of Petra's hilly monastery trail together, and we bonded over peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, basking in the sun and feeling wonder-struck at how these magical moments just happen. Without gushing hard about the power of spontaneity and serendipity like I usually do, there's totally no way I could have predicted the narrative of joining strangers in church on a casual weekday. After all, I'm not religious. But even the small act of committing and opening up to the polyphonic choruses sung in honour of Jesus, watching the performative reenactments of The Book of Jonah, and connecting in a 5-minute hybrid prayer-gratitude circle felt sensational. If there's one fundamental learning that sums up my growth in the past 8 months: you can find opportunities for connection and community where you least expect it.

I've realized that I've also spent an extended period of time in Muslim-favoured countries over the years (Tanzania, Malaysia, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi...), observing their Islamic practice underneath the backdrop of awe-inspiring mosques. It hasn't been until recently that I've grown a fond curiosity for the power of faith in establishing and sustaining a greater purpose. You could argue that religion is the ultimate form of community — no matter where you go in the world, you can always find people who share the same beliefs. The plural versions of “God” become the glue, the unchanging North Star and unrelenting renewable power source for these supercharged collectives. I think that's been one of my favourite parts during solo travel so far: meeting locals and foreigners alike who embody their unconditional love for and deep-seated affinity to their cause. Shoutout to Jonah, Bryce, Audrey, and Haley for one-upping Jordanian hospitality and showing me their belief systems in action.

[B] In another 2-week old chapter of Sam's Serendipity Chronicles, I had the pleasure of connecting with another foreign transplant in Barcelona. Kana is a Japanese girl who moved from Kobe to Seville to align her lifestyle with her Spanish ex-partner. She built on 10 years as a Spanish dual major and snagged a position as a flight attendant for Iberian Airlines. Unlike well-charted flight trajectories, her story is far from linear: 30 years of age, 5 years in Spain, and 1 breakup later, she made the bold pivot to Barcelona in hopes of reinvention. I met K first in the "BCN Happiness Tour", my most fulfilling exposure to a new city ever. Two brunch dates later, she illuminated her process in developing organic communities, from both emotional and physical ground zero. As we traversed topics like spirituality and relationships over artisanal lattes, it's clear that K manages a portfolio of communities. With an intentional emphasis on places & spaces, the airports and yoga studios she frequents evolve from transitory containers of action to cozy houses of connection.

I bring up this encounter for two reasons: it speaks to the rocky lifeboat we often find as our main means of transportation in the mid-late 20s, and it sheds light on a hidden skill that becomes more urgent as we age — community building. Technology startups hire for these roles as a way to boost engagement metrics and, in web3, as a new channel to architect contributor-centric experiences. But I think this is an underrated capability in our personal lives. Folks who are naturally magnetic and empathetic, who have a strong command of galvanizing and connecting with/to others, who almost effortlessly find their person-community fit... they have a strong head-start in figuring out where they truly belong. Unlike the faith-driven example, K's independent tale is about seeking community in a cross-cultural context, and how certain permutations of groups (e.g. nomadic souls, spiritual yogis) can supersede how/where you were raised.

A self-referential point: Just because you spent the first 20 years of your life in Canada, living a certain kind of way in a certain kind of community, doesn't mean you're fixed and destined to that way of life forever. It sounds obvious, but from what I've seen, breaking away from the mould is way harder in reality.

[C] Earlier in February, I caught up with my friend Angela in a conversation filled with big adult energy. A is someone in my life who has inspired new experiences and introspective moments — she's critical about her career and life progress in the right ways. At some point during our video call, she describes an archetype that is prevalent in her immediate community: “Waterloo Asian Girls working in software engineering who find themselves in comfortable long-term relationships”. I reacted with both a half-laugh and an open heart. To me, this points to the multi-textured quality of what any community could be. For this “WAG” persona: comfort, security, and stability run their hedonic treadmills. The ambition-laced question of “what's next?" may never cross their minds, because to them they've already reached contentment. Imagine that: you've established your presence in a community that cares for you, as supportive as you can get. On the surface, I think that's a beautiful thing.

But what Angela's perspectives bring to the table are more unanswered forks. At what point does the environment become an echo chamber, where we morph into docile-mannered bats flying back and forth from the same caves? What if someone in this preestablished group starts thinking a bit differently? What happens to the sense of shared values then? In Nassim Taleb's world, how antifragile is the joint dynamic of a community if we humans are constantly rewiring, recalibrating, and refining our sense of self and what we stand for? Adapted from Joan Didion: “Had I known the answer to any of these questions I would never have needed to go through the motions of adulthood”.

. . .

I read a tweet the other day that was such a good articulation of friends vs. community, a sentiment that people don't bring up nearly enough:

"Moving to NYC in your 20s is realizing that having friends or having a partner is not the same as having a community where you feel a deep sense of belonging."

Sometimes you might find yourself in the suffocating space of feeling like you're trapped, devoid of the liberating energy of feeling like you belong. The real peril of the mid-late 20s then, might be constantly rerouting our compasses until we stumble on a place or a space — community — where you can confidently say: “I feel like I belong".

I'm extremely comforted by everything I've shared here, and with the groups of people in my distant orbit who continue to inspire hope. A group of mission-aligned Christ believers has shown me what a best-in-class community experience looks and feels like. A brave Japanese expat in Spain has taught me that integration is fully possible even if your entire life concept gets uprooted. A close-to-home friend has shared her evolving stream of consciousness on these topics, which is a useful reference point for my own shapeshifting philosophies.

The search for community connectivity continues. I suspect this summer is going to put all this thinking & feeling into practice :)

Published by Sam (samwong) 2 months ago on Tuesday the 8th of March 2022.

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