Believing in Community

Tuesday night was a fantastic class.  My mind has been marinating in Rick’s thoughts on the power of online communities.  On the impact of face-to-face community, I needed no convincing.  I have been a part of a handful of meaningful, life-shaping communities.  However, I have been hesitant to recognize and accept the potential of an online community to have such an impact on my life and practice as a teacher.  Here are some of the thoughts that are sticking with me this week:

On Authenticity…

Rick mentioned authenticity as a defining strand in a community.  I think part of my hesitancy, (or skepticism) about the transformative nature about online communities stems from doubt about the integrity of a person’s online presence.  My experience in EC831 is (thankfully) breaking down some of my uncertainties, as I can’t help but sense a group of people willing to be open, accepting and excited about learning together.   I still wonder, though, about how much more selective we are when presenting ourselves in an online community.  So far, I think it is easier to accomplish authenticity in a group such as EC831 because we are all focused on learning, rather than for social purposes.  But within spaces such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter…it seems most are quick to filter (literally on Instagram) ourselves until we have established the projection we are hoping for.  Profile pictures that highlight the happiest moments, hide the muffin top, or give the appearance that have a much better vertical than we really do (yes, I officially cite myself as Exhibit A!).  Perhaps this is more of an observation on everyday life experience (how often do we offer our true selves to others rather than the self that exists on the surface?), but the temptation towards “image management” seems greater in an online space.   I often find it quite difficult to write without overthinking my audience.  I have so many thoughts bouncing around in my mind, but rarely “wriggle myself free” enough to share them openly, as I recently wrote about on Traveling Delights.

On Forgiveness…

Some of my most vivid memories come from moments where forgiveness has flowed freely from person to another.  It isn’t a word that I previously associated with online communities.  I guess I have doubted that this type of community could achieve the depth of relationship I associate with the giving and receiving of forgiveness.  It excites me that this is a trait commonly found in vibrant online communities, and I look forward to reporting on the depth of intimacy I experience in EC831.  Creating a space where people feel free (and encouraged) to explore, try new things and make mistakes is something to be desired in both face to face and online communities.

I, too, choose to believe in community.  I anticipate tasting more of the online version in the months to come!


5 thoughts on “Believing in Community

  1. Harmony, the authenticity thing is something that I have thought about before. I’ve been chatting with people on the internet for about 15 years now and I definitely have met a lot of people who are not as they projected themselves to be. At the same time, there is an amazing opportunity for authenticity that I think is really inspiring, if you take it within bounds.

    When I think about it, I am always a little fragmented. My oldest friends know me one way, my husband knows me another way, my colleagues know me in a different way. My students only see so much of who I am. It is hard to be all of who you are. So even in the day-to-day world, we are always only partially authentic. We just often do not think of it that way.

    For me, on the internet, who we are is far more important than the shell be build for ourselves. Maybe this comes from a blend of online gaming which involves choosing a character and online chatting where your image is your “avatar.” In both situations, there is no requirement that what is seen is “authentic” in the way that it is how you look. I am not a night elf or a troll. I have used slogans and cartoons for an avatar. That is not how I look. But the person I am? I can be free to be as much of myself as I choose.

    I have multiple personalities on the internet. I fully admit that I have situations where I do not use my real name. Not because I am less authentic, but because I choose to be authentic another way.

    The visual side of the internet often becomes an expression of how we want to be, the person or persona we choose. It can be freeing to be able to just share. I may not have brushed my hair, you’d never know that. But I can still be articulate and taken seriously if I so chose.

    The semi-anonymity of the internet lets some people be more authentic. They are able to be less worried about being judged. Instagram is, obviously, going to be more focused on appearance. But what if you feel like that is who you are, it is how you see yourself? Does that make it less valid?

    I know some teachers have found that students who would never be authentic in the classroom suddenly are authentic online. It’s a new situation where authenticity can be freeing rather than being stuck with the labels day to day. So it’s worth considering how authentic you want to be and to what part of yourself. I know I will be who I am, or who I see myself as being, who I WANT to be. I won’t pretend to be a 17 year old football star. I may not show you parts of myself that I dislike, but in acting like who I want to be, I think sometimes we become more that.

    • Thanks for such an indepth and thoughtful reply, Kirsten. I definitely appreciate your thoughts. Yes, I completely agree with you that authenticity in our day to day lives is something not always experienced. In fact, I would say it is rare, but beautiful! It was said recently of one of my mentor’s (the namesake of our school), that “he has no side”…that he has such consistency in his character and the way he treats others. I think it’s something to strive for, online or not.

      I like your thoughts about the value of semi-anonymity. I hadn’t previously considered some of the freedoms that the online environment creates, especially for introverts and for students wanting the space to express themselves freely. That is how I started easing myself back into the blogging world- anonymously. Definite value to be found in that!

      Again, really appreciate your feedback!

      • Very welcome! I agree, being authentic is really valuable and wonderful when you feel like the person you’re dealing with is real. And that’s how I try to be, even when I’m purposefully only being a part of me.

        Anonymity is a really neat thing about the internet. It can allow people to be really vulnerable and real, and it can allow people to be the worst possible version of themselves. I’ve seen both but I value the people who can be vulnerable, and if they need to be anonymous to do it, I can hardly blame them. Doesn’t make that authenticity any less real.

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