The source of community harmony

How do we create the conditions for community harmony? The three-part model of culture introduced last week (worldview, norms, and overall feeling) provides a helpful framework to understand vital sources of conflict and harmony.

Having clarity and alignment of community vision is essential for harmony, and acts as a binding and unifying force within a community. For the community, the worldview, whether explicit or implicit, provides a sense of identity—who we are as a community and our place in the world. This is passed along to members as a sense of belonging. This feeling of belonging is nurtured by participating in the practices of the community, which express and communicate the worldview.

Lack of clarity in the community vision can be the source of conflict: if people have different ideas about what the community is about, they’ll have different ideas about how the community should act. This is one type of structural conflict: interpersonal conflict that results from conflict within the structure of the group.1 Because the conflict is structural, it can be persistent if it is addressed only on the interpersonal level, and the underlying source is not resolved.

The critical importance of membership process

The primary home of a community’s vision is its members. If new members with conflicting vision join, this can create unworkable structural conflict and conflicted community identity. Consequently, the membership process is critical.

Looking at the three-part model of culture clarifies the membership process. It can be seen as a funnel, which new members move through during the process of cultural integration. Potential new members primarily engage with the general feeling of the community as they feel out the community. Then, being in the community, they pick up the norms and practices of the culture, through immersion or formal orientation. Finally, through living in the norms and practices, the worldview moves from an idea to something in their bones.

To preserve the community’s identity, two things need to be attended to: new members need to be integrated into the culture, and members should be empowered to roles of responsibility or collective decision-making based on their level of alignment with the vision. If too many members join at once, for example, the culture can be overwhelmed, diluted, and lost. And if people who are not aligned with the vision are empowered, the result is structural conflict and conflicted community identity.

Inclusivity and diversity

It is important to acknowledge the tension between inclusivity and maintaining a distinct identity and culture. While different communities will fall in different places along this spectrum, it is important to develop an intentional approach to navigating it, rather than blindly hoping to encompass both poles.

Considering diversity is also essential: how much room does the culture leave for diversity of various kinds? In other words, what are the non-negotiables of the community, the places where everyone needs to be on the same page? Understanding the common ground of the members’ vision allows the community to take harmonious action to fulfill this shared vision. It allows clarity and confidence in empowering people to roles of responsibility: if they share the non-negotiable aspects of the community vision, they can be trusted with freedom and creativity in other aspects of the vision. With the foundation of shared common vision, diversity can be accommodated without creating structural conflict.

Christian, Diana Leafe Creating a Life Together. Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers, 2003.

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