Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Social networking, tolerance and empowering the larger community

Posted in social networking and the arts by Timothy Platt on June 6, 2010

My wife and I went to celebrate the sixtieth birthday today of a very dear friend. We found ourselves attending services with our friend and her husband at their synagogue and I found this experience deeply moving, and for a reason I wish to attempt to share here.

The word community can be and often is used in two diametrically opposed ways. One conception of community focuses on an Us versus Them mentality with a cutting off of Others not of our own group, and the other view is an opening out to include into a larger group with a larger range of values – think of this as community writ small and community writ large. The congregation of this synagogue and our friends, active members there, actively seek to bridge the gaps that divide and that distinction and this was an underlying message throughout the room and for all who were there in it.

My wife and I were strangers yet we were welcomed in and accepted – and for who we are and as we are. I look around at the world we live in and at the news and I seen way too many barriers and too much divisiveness and over too many issues and distinctions for the good of any of us.

Competition can be good, and it can bring out the best of us, but cooperation has to be there too, and a positive coming together as community – as larger community and in celebration of our differences as well as of our similarities.

I live in a democracy, a society founded on the dreams of democratic principles and yet I see the values that brought my country together with religious and social tolerance as an ideal, coming under fire. Compromise is, or at least should be about finding a shared basis in values and priorities that our differences can be approached and resolved from. It is about finding answers that may not be ideal for any one of us but that are fair and acceptable for all of us. Compromise is not capitulation or a failure to support or honor community, but rather an opening up to possibilities that would address the needs and priorities of all. I look around and I see too much of the closing off and denying of Other that comes when we limit our vision to that of community writ small. We can and we need to do better than that.

One of the threads running through this service my wife and I attended was that of being grateful. I hold this in stark contrast to the cynicism that all too often divides us and state that when we strike out at or seek to isolate Other, we only harm ourselves. For ultimately We are Other and the Other we would deny is Us.

Social networking is all about building bridges and creating and sharing value. Good social networking is inclusive and it helps us to find value and opportunity – mutual value and opportunity that goes beyond our immediate social circles in connecting us to this larger community.

So we face pressures to divide and to declare anyone outside of our limited circle Other. And yet at the same time we see opportunities and pressures to open out and include as Us. And the pressures to divide and to cut off and to restrict ourselves to community small come from a sense of unmet need in the face of competition for limited resources. In times and places of stress and limitation, we build walls. The pressures to open out into community large are our opportunities to do better and actually live up to our professed ideals.

Social networking is one of the core themes and topics running through all of my blog, and for all of its various series. There is real synergy in good networking and in the sharing of created value it enables and causes. This expands the pie we have to divide and it holds the potential for opening the way to larger community. But this cannot start with someone else. It must begin with us as individuals and with as many of us as possible. That is what my wife and I were invited to share in earlier today. There are many groups that also seek to do this, just as there are voices and groups that would seek to divide and deny and to decry Other.

Reach out to a stranger and offer value. Participate in a social network as a paying-it-forward, and show your appreciation where others share this way with you. And Happy Birthday, my good and special friend, and thank you for being you.

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  1. Social Computing Platforms said, on June 6, 2010 at 1:03 pm

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