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I might be a little late arriving at this recognition; not that I haven’t been bombarded with clues since before you-know-who outgrew his diapers. I was always related, but couldn’t relate. I competed instead, seeking superiority. Who would settle for parity when the possibility of dominion begins batting those long eyelashes?

I tell a passable, but unconvincing story. Everyone says we’re all about community, but we have yet to develop a convincing dialect to support that assertion. Most often, community serves as code for .community, abbreviated to .com, which means I want to sell you something. If you buy, you belong. If you buy again, you belong more. If you buy early and often, you’re a best customer, qualified to receive special attention.

The result seems just another lop-sided hierarchy with tops, middles, bottoms, and outs, indistinguishable from any organization from the pre-everything’s-a-community era. Somehow, The Muse’s email started posting her return address as .con, which routes my replies to the Fatal Error queue, though most .com addresses would seem more truthfully configured as .con.

I seem more skilled at gamifying than relating. Everything’s engaged in as if it were a competition. I can save a lot if I identify myself as a member of the grocery store’s so-called loyalty program where they accumulate points for me for purchasing. The receipt shows just how much they’ve saved me year-to-date, impersonally thanking me for my coerced loyalty. They’ll even send me email notifications so I can be the first to know about special deals denied those not as privileged as I. This feels more indenture-y than community-y.

I could never become the best without designating someone else the worst; not a dandy way to relate. In relationships, competition might be the most reliable strategy for becoming a loser. The urge to be best undermines the premise, yet we’ve even turned education into a cut-throat competition, when it might be a great opportunity to instill the skills of cooperation. If judging encouraged relationships, as Peter Block noted, why don’t I give My Muse performance appraisals?

I warmly acknowledge the intent. I might be moving closer to understanding that we always have been more equal than even our creed insists, inexorably tied together by intricate networks of common interest and need, and have been feeding each other’s successes and failures even when—maybe especially when—we failed to acknowledge these relationships. Competition never guarantees anyone success, but insists upon somebody failing, which renders the whole game rather primitive. We’re better than that.

I’m watching my language more closely, and catching myself using words that utterly undermine my intentions. ‘Best’, perhaps the most reliable indicator that I haven’t quite caught up with my better intentions yet.

I attended a salon earlier this week where the Executive Director of a prominent progressive think tank explained how she was hiring the best and brightest to determine how to leverage networks to build cross-network communities. Of course there might be nobody less prepared to build community than those who qualified by scratching and crawling to the top of any competitive heap. We’re learning to re-late, though we’re late to the game.

©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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