It Takes an Idiot (and the rest of the Village) – The power of Community.
In the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about communities (IRL and Virtual) and how they are formed, how they are tested, how they react under stress, the good parts, the pretty faces we all put on, and the ugly undersides that we choose to ignore (until we are forced to face them).
I had been thinking a bit on communities in the online world for a few months as a few different things unfolded.
I jumped on and watched Google+ explode, fragment and reform a thousand times a minute in the first few days as people settled into it and realized what it meant to have to have all your communities available through a single persona. (As many of us have multiple online personas and modalities we shift through depending on the community we are participating in).
I also helped to build momentum for another online forum for a group of outdoor travel enthusiasts who are tired of the dynamics of another online community that has seen some growth issues (similar to issues experienced in real communities that grow very fast and whose culture changes as more people are added).
I also found myself revisiting an online community in which I also interacted with some members in real life fairly often a few years ago although I had not been too active on in the last year or so because of my work schedule. I found it had changed dramatically in the year, with many new members that I had never met in meatspace and had not interacted with in the online community. These newcomers had formed their own cliques and had impacted the experience of the community pretty dramatically. After a few days of “hanging out” virtually I found myself disappointed that the community had changed so much. Then a thought occurred to me that yes the community had changed, but also my reasons for being involved in that community and my own experiences had changed me too relative to that community.
I had outgrown it a bit and realized a few things in the process:
- Communities are a composite of the people that are Currently and Actively involved in them.
- Although a few people can influence a community, no one person is a community in and of themselves.
- Communities grow and evolve at a rate relative to the amount of people entering, leaving and actively engaging in that community
- Value derived from communities is measured directly by those in the community and often the more value you provide, the more you get back.
As some of these ideas and thoughts were forming in my head about these online communities, I was forced to think about the real life community in which I live my live most weeks when not travelling for work. You know, that place we call “Home”.
I was sitting at my kitchen table working, as I often do while working from home as I can be around the family and engage more than I can sitting in my office (no matter how much more comfortable my office chair is). While sitting there, I heard a lot of sirens and shortly after a helicopter flying low near my house. The sounds caused one of those background thoughts that happen while you are doing other mundane things, that something doesn’t sound right.
I walked outside my house and saw Care Flight (the regional medical helicopter service) flying towards the local community hospital where it landed and took off a minute later and flew to a point where it disappeared below the trees a not far from my house. A few minutes later it was back in the air headed to the hospital again. At this point I knew something big was happening and ran inside to turn on the news while checking the Facebook page of one of the local channels who has become quite good at updating Facebook faster than their own site when local news happens.
The details at that moment were sketchy, a major street blocked off for about 2 miles and reports of a shooting nearby. As the minutes ticked by I watched the news and checked multiple local news sites, the details started to emerge:
A man with an assault rifle walked into a local IHOP and had shot a number of people before emerging and shooting himself in the parking lot.
The news teams were grasping for info and as a result were talking to anyone who was near the scene or who might have had information. As you can imagine the details changed rapidly, and for a lack of information from official sources, lots of rumor and fragments of truth emerged. People in the community were distraught and wanted information. Another feeling coming from the community was a growing sense of shock that something like this could happen here (Here being Carson City, NV. A small close knit community where many still naively leave their front doors unlocked and where the former mayor riding his bicycle after getting his license suspended is big news). Comments like “These things happen in L.A. and New York, not Carson City” were pretty common that morning.
Once the day was through, 5 People were dead, including the gunman who died at the hospital from his self inflicted wounds and 7 others serious wounded (add to that the 40 or more witnesses who will never again sit quietly over breakfast without thinking of those events). Of the 4 slain, 3 were uniformed members of the Nevada National Guard (2 other Guard members were seriously wounded) and the fourth was a 67 year old retired woman from South Lake Tahoe who was dining with her husband who was injured in the shooting. Our little community was rocked to the core and for the next few days, the world looked in on us the same way every week before I looked at other communities affected by greater and lesser tragedies, there was always fellings of sadness and hope that the community and those affected would recover, but this was different, this was MY community.
Immediately people in the community reached out to each other via phone, text message, web sites, Facebook, Twitter and in person. Checking on each other and trying to make sense of a truly senseless act made all the more senseless because the one person who could answer the question “Why?” took those answers with him.
As the names of the dead and wounded came to light, the real sorrow hit the community friends on Facebook who had been trying to reach out to people they knew to have been there either got good news and in a few cases bad or very bad news. Much of my wife’s family is either in the Nevada National Guard or retired from it. Her sister and her husband knew these people, one of them even made the birthday cake for my nephew’s birthday.
As it was in our community, if you didn’t know one of the people impacted directly odd are you knew someone who knew them.
This IHOP is located on a main thoroughfare less than 2 miles from my house, and it is virtually impossible to drive anywhere in the community you need to go to without driving past it at least once a day. To see the windows boarded up and covered with paper and the crime scene tape still closing off the area in the days since the shooting has a much more real impact than seeing the pictures in the paper or on the news. This was a place many of us in the community including myself had been dined in on similar mornings as that Tuesday morning dining with friends and family alike. It was and is easy to picture ourselves in that same situation, something most of us would have been hard pressed to do a few weeks ago.
In the days following the shooting, our community grieved for and with the families affected and as if the tragedy itself wasn’t enough, as plans for memorials for being made, rumors that the Westboro Baptist Church planned to protest the funerals emerged.
I am going to pause here and say a few words directly to the Westboro Baptist Church and those who support their agenda and tactics:
I don’t consider myself a deeply religious person and what beliefs I have, I keep to myself because they are very personal to me and I don’t feel the need to share them with others or convert them to my way of thinking.
I can respect that people have the same freedom I do to have different beliefs. Where I get angry is when people take those beliefs as a charter to impact the lives of others who do not hold the same beliefs. In the case of the Westboro Baptist Church, those beliefs have no place being shared outside the walls of their closed minded hate filled brains. To bring the kind of hate to communities and families that are already devastated is beyond reprehensible. Very few things in this world drive me to the desire to physically harm another human being, these people come very close to testing that boundary.
Keep your hate and your signs and your brainwashed children at home.
You believe that your God will judge all men? Then leave it to him.
Be real men and women of whatever God you see fit to follow and make a positive impact on the world.
An interesting thing began to happen as the word spread, our small, sad, grieving community got angry.
Very Very angry…
A few Facebook groups popped up within the day and thousands of people voiced their anger and organized a plan to show support to the families and to counter any attention the Westboro people would try to garner.
On Saturday and Sunday during the memorial for the slain Nevada Guard Members hundreds of members of the community and hundreds of Bikers (both in the rugged traditional biker sense and the I have a bike and want to do something to help sense). I also had been pretty affected by the shooting and felt the need to be there to support the families, so I picked up one of the tools I feel comfortable with (a camera) and went down to document what I saw. I arrived to the NV Guard Armory just as the Funeral procession arrived. I photographed the procession as I felt the need to document it, but have not and will not publish those photos or give them out to anyone but the family or the NV Guard should they want them.
I then witnessed hundreds of motorcycles with flags flying behind them following the procession. At the same time, members of the community were arriving in vehicles and on foot all seemingly driven by the same sense of “wanting to do something” that drove me their camera in hand.
I am a firm believer that a Picture is worth a thousand words and a video is worth as much or more (although at this point in the entry I am over 1800 words…)
So I will let the images I captured that day and a video I put together speak for what I saw.
I am someone who believes that it is very easy to jump across the line between pride and jingoism, in this case having been there, this truly was a show of support and pride in community all the way. The flags there became a symbol of the greater community that we were all a part of and a show of support for those who were slain (some ironically after surviving tours in war zones).
Our community was tested in those days and grew stronger as a result, whether that strength endures remains to be seen, but I am hopeful.
What I learned about communities from this event:
- People are more emotionally attached to our communities during times of crisis.
- When a member of a community hurts others in the community tend to want to help, even if there are few tangible ways to help
.- People as a whole are inherently “Good” and are relatively shocked when others in the community are not.
- Even members of the community who are not often seen contribute in small ways behind the scenes, but tend to step up in big ways when needed.
- When bullied or tested, a group can be far greater than the sum of it’s parts.
Just as the community was beginning to feel a little more normal and mere week and a half after the shooting, another tragedy occurred nearby during what is normally a fun-filled family event.
The Reno Air Races have been going on for 47 years and attract thousands of aircraft enthusiasts, fans and visitors each year. It is a truly a community event, local companies buy VIP boxes and tickets for their employees, families who have been going for generations use it as way to get together and continue family traditions formed around the races over the years.
On Friday Sept 16th during the final race of the day a heavily modified P-51 Mustang capable of travelling up to 500MPH lost control and crashed near the VIP boxes. As with the week before, chaos ensued and normal people were pressed into the roles usually reserved for heros in movies, helping the more than 60 People injured by flying debris from the planes impact. Hundred of additional people within a few hundred feet of the impact were knocked from their seats and all of the crowd of close to 2,000 or more witnessed the impact and resulting injuries. Of those nearby jumping to action, were some of the same Nevada National Guardsmen who less than a week before were mourning the loss of their fellow guardsmen and happened to be their as guests of the Air Races.
The scene from what I have been told and seen in clips and images was truly horrific, 10 people perished on the scene and another died in the hospital over the weekend.
That very night what started as a simple plea on Facebook turned into a fairly large vigil for those affected. Again a community coming together to comfort one another seeking solace from strangers sharing a bond forged by adversity.
It’s too soon to tell how the events of the past few weeks will affect our communities in the long term and their are still a lot of unanswered questions out there.
What I think learned about communities from all of this and how we can apply it to other communities (the ITSM Community included):
- You don’t have to wait for a tragedy to build your community.
- You often get more out of a community if you give more into it.
- No one is going to declare you a member of a community, you must declare yourself.
- Sometimes listening provides more value to others than talking.
-Sometimes people don’t know they need a hug.
As for ITSM, our community is coming together in person in a week at itSMf Fusion in a week to gather in person and meet new friends and old. We often overlook the opportunity we have at these gathering to give to our community. We also in many cases forget to praise members of our community for the value they bring.
I for one won’t be taking the opportunities for granted this year.
Because the biggest thing I learned from all this is that without people, there is no community.