(I talked about this in my last newsletter, which goes out at the start of every month. I treat it as a letter to a friend, so once a month, my subscribers get updates on what I’m working on, what I’m reading, and generally what’s going down in my life. It’s a fun time. You can sub here if that sounds like your thing – I’m very happy to answer responses to the newsletter, too.)
Someone recently asked me if there is such thing as the ‘Writing Community.’
The #WritingCommunity is how many of us got where we are now. We jumped on follow trains, tag games and hashtags to build large follower counts, hoping to build an audience for ourselves. Along the way, we learned that most of those follows are completely useless, because you’ll never interact with them.
The hashtag left behind it a broken trail of accounts with thousands of followers, but no likes on their tweets.
But along the way, we also met people we genuinely connected with. We made friends, especially shut inside after the pandemic hit. The #WritingCommunity became a sanctuary on the internet, a place where we could find friendship and understanding – a group of people from many different backgrounds and countries who were united by the shared experience of scowling at a laptop screen all day and being f*cking terrified of sharing your writing with someone else.
I’m very glad to have found myself here, and I hope I’m able to stay friends with you all when the pandemic is over and we all go back Out There.
When this person asked me if the community existed, I was taken aback. I had no doubt in my mind, but it made me wonder: what actually is a community? So I looked it up.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a community is: “The people living in one particular area or people who are considered as a unit because of their common interests, social group, or nationality.”
I imagine this person was thinking of community in the first sense: people living in one area. I always thought of community as being more like the second part, though; the people who I have shared experiences with – similar backgrounds, struggles or interests – are my community.
And I thought about how closely tied communities are to our identities and how we see ourselves – and how many we can belong to. We identify ourselves as YA readers, gamers, history nerds, hikers, dog-owners, coffee-drinkers, mushroom-haters. There are communities we choose, like our hobbies or, if we’re able to, where we shop and where we live – and there are communities we inherently belong to: whether we were born into wealth or poverty, our gender, our sex, our skin colour. You’ll also notice that when politicians talk about the whole collective, they tend to call it ‘the community.’ “This move doesn’t benefit the community,” for example, or “that harms our reputation in the global community.”
We’re all human, so we all belong to that community.
I tend to see these communities, these identities, as a series of venn diagrams, drawn on tracing paper and placed over each of us. Every single one of us is made up of a different combination of communities, and because of that, we don’t necessarily agree with everything everyone in each of our communities says – because nobody belongs entirely to one community, and their experiences within other communities may affect their opinions.
On the most basic level: two people can both be Democrats, but one could love running, while another might hate it. One could love football – and the other could detest all sports.
The most crucial thing, though, is that despite what communities we belong to, we’re all human. We all have something in common. To me, this means that everyone is always worthy of being treated with respect, and it’s always a good idea to listen to what they have to say and try to understand how or why they came to think that way. You’ll probably find a community you both belong to.
To me, it also means we shouldn’t speak for our communities as though we are the ultimate arbiter of what that community finds acceptable or tolerable, or what that community’s experience of life is. No community is a monolith, because every community is made up of people who belong to countless other communities, and there will be some who don’t think the same as you.
I think in recent times, but especially since 2016, we’ve started to see this communities as less like venn diagrams and more like separate islands. There are walls between them, and if you belong to a certain community, you’ll never understand the life or opinions of another, so you shouldn’t bother trying – and you definitely shouldn’t express an opinion on them. There’s no point engaging with them, we think, they’re too different, and I don’t need that in my life.
It allows us to pretend that only the people in our community matters, and the people outside aren’t worthy of respect or understanding. That could lead down a dark road if it continues.
I’m open to all ideas. This means that, occasionally, I speak to someone whose ideas I just cannot fathom, or I read a book that seems to have an alien perspective. It’s uncomfortable, of course, but instead of rejecting it outright, I find it helps to mull these things over afterwards, too. Usually, you’ll at least be able to see why they think that way, and even if you continue to disagree, at least you’ve maintained that common thread of humanity.
I guarantee, person reading this, that we don’t belong to the same communities. That we probably believe the complete opposite on some things – some of you probably hate potatoes and the smell of rain (you monster). I guarantee we don’t think the same, but I’m still me. We can be friends with people outside our communities, even if we hold our identity as part of that group tight to our chest, and even if that group has very little tolerance for outsiders.