Reframing Community

Reframing Community

In early September, I spoke for the first time on a stage. I had 5 minutes to share whatever I wanted, accompanied by 20 timed slides. I spoke of community, my gap year, but said nothing about how I pulled an all nighter to finish the damn presentation.  Here’s the transcript.  

What is community? And what is it capable of?

There’s so much nuance in the word, it doesn’t quite capture the scope of communities that exist—from families to coworkers to local religious groups. Nor does the word it capture the capacity of communities to transform the individuals within them. So, how do you even begin to define that?

I want to share my own experiences of a transformative community—the following slides are photos I’ve taken in that journey.

In 2014, I had just finished high school.  Not wanting to go to University right away, I took a gap year and joined 9 people in an experimental fellowship called The GO Project. We went to Turkey, Myanmar, Panama for a year total, working as in-house consultants. This was my first job. It was a strange circumstance to find myself in after high school and nothing could have prepared me for my growth over the next year.

This is where we stayed in Myanmar. Charming, I know. (the image above!)

It didn’t have a kitchen, the water and electricity would often go out—it was tough, being together 24/7.

Every morning, we’d go to the offices to work, and then go home together in the evenings. Imagine doing that with your coworkers for a year—you get to know each other very quickly.

I clearly remember the first day I arrived to our office space in Istanbul to meet the team for the first time in person, scared out of my mind—but when they saw me standing stiffly near the entrance, one by one, they greeted me with hugs. Their initial openness allowed me to relax and return back their warmth. That was the first lesson I learned with them: that people reciprocate the the feeling you give them. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped learning since.

From then, we had 3 months to organize the first demo day for Startupbootcamp Istanbul. We pulled it off. We each brought our own skill sets and value, that, combined, allowed us to do the same in all the places we went to—from increasing in Myanmar, to building a community of innovators in Panama City; these things were made possible only because of the support we had from each other and the local communities that we worked with.

This year-long experiment turned us into people who not only have the capacity to create diverse change, but people who actually did.

And looking back now, I realized that the transformation sneaked up on us—and it wasn’t in our on-boarding packets or the documented scope of work. It was in the dazed, late night collaboration before a deadline. The spontaneous trips to the the end of a bus line or temples at sunrise. The warmth of the communities that welcomed us in all the cities we went to. The difficult conversations between friends that were coworkers that were family—all the lines blurred. The vulnerability we afforded each other throughout the entire year, and the trust that we built, occasionally broke, and built again.

The entire scope of our experiences—the good, bad, and in-betweens. All of it was learning, and it was something none of us could have had alone.

These stories show pretty extreme examples of transformative communities, but I think there are some common principles that can be extracted from them—the importance of friendship, individual wellbeing as collective wellbeing, and the value of diverse, shared experiences and serendipity.

Figuring out how to make the most of communities doesn’t have to be a formal process, either. Extending yourself fully and sharing who you are, actively practicing the values of the communities you want to create, is something you can do right now. For example, there are many amazing people at this conference, so why not be daring and create something that lasts longer than the lifespan of a business card.

And I want to leave you with a question: what are your communities, and what potential do you see in them?

This went through a lot of iterations to make sure that it fit under the time limit and didn’t sound strange. I’ll be writing about community in fuller detail from now on. 

You Are Not Your Own

You Are Not Your Own

part of 30seconds: a series of personal lessons. After every significant event, I jot down insights on a notepad.

“My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.” – William James

I moved to Berlin 5 days ago. It’s a beautiful, lively city with so many things I’m not used to: cobblestone roads, bicycle lanes, and a strong culture of cafes and bakeries. There’s a world to explore, and my focus is on meeting people and getting into different communities. I’m going to a startup meetup tonight, a dance class tomorrow, and the day after, somewhere rural.

But knowing a city comes with knowing it’s heaviness, the parts of it weighed by history and institutions. I was too busy looking forward to the places I’d go and the people I’d meet to really understand that. I still don’t, not entirely. Privilege is blinding.

A few nights ago I went out with a few friends. I haven’t experienced European nightlight in a long time, not since I was in Istanbul a couple years ago. We walked through the streets, one to two to three in the morning, and the entire city seemed to be awake, brimming with clusters of young people dressed all in black and loud men. We stopped by a few places and settled at a place to dance, but not without some wandering.

That night, I was reminded again and again that I was a woman. As we were walking in brightly lit areas with huge crowds of people looking for a good evening, men would leer and mumble things at us. At an intersection, a group of young men approached us, clicking their tongues and saying things in German I couldn’t understand. They stuck to our sides as we crossed the street, and we looked away, ignoring their laughter and taunting eyes and looming figures. Soon after, we saw a stranger grope a woman’s ass while passing her in a busy sidewalk—she jumped out of her skin—and we veered out of his direction. On the way back home in a packed subway, a group of drunken young men loudly chanted “we will, we will fuck you,” to no one in particular, while the women stood stiff and close to their friends. I thought of college fraternities, about how mob mentality could elicit dangerous group behavior, and wondered how, hypothetically, I could escape a moving train. My friends were thinking along the same lines. After that, someone may have approached me, but I ignored him and he looked affronted, as if I was obligated to stop and accommodate; I felt a little bad—maybe he wanted directions, maybe not—but I really didn’t fell like talking to anyone. The entire night, we heard voices, felt stares, and were told: you are not your own.

For the most part, I can ignore the weird catcalls and leers, but at when it happens over and over and over again, I can’t help but doubt myself. Is this actually happening? Am I safe? Should I have stayed in? Am I a person? Or just a collection of inferior things (vagina, feminine clothing, small frame)? How long until I believe that this is just how the world works? Until I submit? Until I internalize that I deserve to be treated this way?

This shit is heavy and bountiful. It’s a goddamn harvest.

And it’s not even about me—it’s about everyone who goes through this shit all the time, and the system that perpetuates it. So many people learn to ignore this type of behavior the best they can, because at some point, it doesn’t feel worth it to fight every single time. It’s like punching a infinite brick wall; your knuckles will bleed and you might even knock out a piece, but the wall still stands stronger and taller than a single person will ever be.

Perhaps a brick wall isn’t the best analogy; walls are typically obvious to anyone who’s in front of one, but so many people can’t see this one.

What were the lessons here? That sometimes, I’ll be made to feel like I’m not my own, my wellbeing depending on the judgements of other people. That this type of shit can happen anywhere there are human beings. That helplessness is a dark feeling, and no one deserves to feel like that. That ghosts can exist, whether or not you can see them.

I think it was important that I experienced that reality. I gained perspective and learned a little bit about the realness of intangible things. There’s still so much to discover about the world, and in approaching a more accurate truth, I hope I can better be equipped to do something about it, brick by brick.

The photo is the view of an old fort renovated into a museum, nearby Dusseldorf.  

You Teach People How to Treat You

part of 30seconds: a series of personal lessons. After every significant event, I jot down insights on a notepad.

“My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.” – William James

“You teach people how to treat you.”

I don’t remember when I wrote this one–a few weeks ago? It’s one of the first ideas I scribbled on this notepad, but it’s something I’ve wrangled with for a long time.

I grew up with a lot of deference to authority and was always nervous around older people. I let them take the lead in our interactions, which meant a lot of dragging conversations and awkward silences.   If I didn’t set an expectation for them to treat me in a certain way then the default reigned: whatever we learned to think was “acceptable”, whether it was small talk or caustic humor or submissive behavior.

If you don’t take part in establishing the baseline of your social interactions, someone else will.

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Signifiers and Red Flags

Signifiers and Red Flags

What do you pay attention to? How can you choose the experiec

A signifier is a flag staked in the ground above buried treasure, waving proudly and obviously. By attaching significance to something—an emotion, behavior, anything—signifiers lets you know that it needs your attention. They force you to pay attention to certain things and being more conscious of your choices.  You have to recognize your behavioral patterns to change bad habits.

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