SMALL ANTHROPOLOGY, BIG COMMUNITIES
What is a community? Is it a place you can talk to people with shared interests? Is it where you feel a sense of belonging? Is it a home? In the realm of social sciences, the word ‘community’ is distinguished by two major aspects.
The first is geographical – a neighbourhood, town or city. The second is relational, which concerns the quality of character of human relationships. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive but, as the famous classical sociologist Emile Durkheim observed, communities are more likely to be developed around interests and skills rather than locality.
There are four elements of what defines a community: Belonging, Mattering, Fulfilment and Connection.
EVERYTHING STARTS WITH THE FIRST, BELONGING. As humans, it is instinctive for us to find a purpose and a home; may that be a place or a group. A sense of belonging is the feeling of membership or personal connection. For instance, the Lego Mini-Figurines Brunei Group and the Brunei Plamo Group are connected through the love of collecting and building plastic models. These enthusiasts would spend years finding rare pieces to add to their specific collection.
Lego hunters will go to the ends of the earth to find elusive and rare Legos, such as the New York Yoda Lego from the Star Wars franchise, while Gundam fanatics from the Brunei Plamo Group spend hours perfecting their robot models as much as possible to fit the eternal Gundam theme of an ongoing space battle involving man and machine.
THE SECOND ELEMENT IS MATTERING which means making a difference to a group and its members. The Brunei Cosplayers are good examples of this. They always dress to impress by creating elaborate costumes to imitate their favourite superheroes. In doing so, they create a lineup of larger than life characters that show up to events and conventions. As a group, they make a difference in their lives and the lives of others.
THE THIRD ELEMENT IS FULFILMENT where the needs of the members are met by the resources received through their membership in the community. For the Brunei-Japan Friendship Association (BJFA) from Universiti Brunei Darussalam, the members have a keen interest in Japan and Japanese culture. Due to the long-standing relationship between the group and the Japanese Embassy, they’ve been able to introduce and re-create Japanese traditions and cuisines with the assistance of the Japanese government. This both reinforces and better integrates the members of the group.
THE LAST ELEMENT IS CONNECTION which is the emotional bond, history, experience and commitment shared collectively by members of the community. This feeling is the most important element, and you see this in examples of studies done on rural farmers that often talk about their home place, their land, and their families — in other words, a sense of family from the connection. The connection is what enables community members to have a sense of belonging when they are with each other.
According to Rikki Soligard, founder of The Department of Enthusiasm in Denmark, every dedicated and happy community starts with (yes, you may already have guessed it) enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is one of the strongest forces in the universe, a powerful, unstoppable energy that makes us work hard for the things that bring meaning to our lives. Happy communities are filled with enthusiastic people who inspire others to be involved in various events, issues and activities. When you are part of a community, it creates a sense of belonging — the feeling that says, “Hey I’m a part of this, and I belong here!” It always starts with us to look for enthusiasm within ourselves or in others. For the individuals who volunteer at Pusat Ehsan Al-Ameerah Al-Hajjah Maryam, they find it in the children. To be a part of a group of people who spend time and effort bringing joy and laughter to the children, bringing meaning, fulfilment, and happiness to their lives.
Sometimes we can find enthusiasm in people who are passionate about the environment. Green Brunei is one of the most active NGOs in Brunei who carry out community-based activities and programs such as beach and environmental clean ups. With 33 volunteers and 90 bags of garbage collected from their ‘Kg. Sungai Kebun Clean Up’ in December 2017, it not only fostered volunteerism but also promoted collaborations between individuals, organisations and institutions.
In line with Rikki Soligard’s philosophy, this is the fundamental benefit of being in a community. When you connect with enthusiastic people, you will be bound to them. In a community, you’ll find yourself. In a community, you’ll find your mission. And in a community, you’ll find your family.
WHERE TO START?
Here’s three P’s to find your potential community!
First things first, you need to ask yourself the big question: what are you passionate about? This can be a life principle, something you advocate or even just a hobby or sport!
Community starts with meeting like-minded individuals. It doesn’t have to start with a group from the get go! It can start by finding one or two people who are into the same thing you’re into.
You know what you love doing, and you’ve found the people who love doing the same thing. The next step is simple but it’s going to take some courage. Get in touch with that community and change the world. Time to spread your wings!
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“The way to change the world is through individual responsibility and taking local action in your own community.”
As a young and learning anthropologist, what I’ve realised is that connection is why we are all here. It is what gives purpose and meaning in our lives. I’m keen to write about the community because of the people I interact with every day; they’re ordinary people who have an extraordinary passion to participate in their larger community.
When you get to connect with them — these people who create writing workshops to help budding writers, take Muay Thai classes every night to achieve their sporting goals with their peers, volunteer on the weekends to clean up our beaches — you will find that their enthusiasm is infectious. I’m keen to show that there’s a need to feel connected: it’s because of how we’re wired. Being in a community gives you that strong sense of connection and belonging.
“The purpose of life is to contribute in some way to making things better.”
Robert F. Kennedy.
To achieve this, you need to let yourself be seen. You need to offer friendship to new people even if there’s no guarantee. You need to share your hopes and fears to strangers. You need to practice gratitude and joy even when you are unsure. You are required to do this when you are in a community. When you allow yourself to bond, to find that human connection, I promise, you’ll learn a lot of things from a happy community.
Whichever community we decide to join, it’s clear that a sense of community is a powerful force in our culture that can either bring people together or segregate others, which means that it is important to find the right communities that are built on tolerance and inclusivity rather than polarisation.
You might be asking what an ideal community looks like. For starters, we have an online quiz that can help guide you to finding the right people you can vibe with.