Building Communitas in 2022

2022 has barely begyn and I learned an inspiring new word: Communitas- No, I did not make it up. It’s not “community.” It’s a latin word that means a strong sense of solidarity and bonding that develops among people experiencing a ritual, rite of passage or other transitional state together. 

Let’s back up a bit first.

On every continent there exists initiation rites. There are variations among different Peoples but these rites of passage usually include the individual going through this spends some time alone in nature. There is fasting and sometimes a burial of sorts where the initiate spends time alone in a cave or a big tree where it’s dark. In some of the tribes that lived in North America, the young people would go on a “vision quest.” The initiate may be visited by an animal in a dream or in real life. The idea is to face your inner demons, learn something about yourself, and then return to the tribe to contribute in a bigger way.

Imagine yourself as an initiate. There you are alone in nature in the dark getting ready to face your inner demons, get visions, maybe a visit from an animal in a dream or literally that is supposed to help you realize your life’s path. 

After some time you return to your tribe but you’re changed. You have faced your fears, you see yourself differently, you understand your place in the world. You found some meaning, some purpose.

You return to  the group- the communitas to the others that have been where you’ve been, faced their own demons, they share that strong bond with you.  They understand the significance- what it means to you and to the community to have gone through something like this. 

What if what we’ve been through- this collective pause- has been a type of initiation- one that was imposed on us. As if our collective mother- Mother Nature, said, “Yeah ya’ll are ready to be initiated!” and she sent us away on a quest to find ourselves.  On some level -on a deep soul level we understood that this is part of adulthood, of being a good citizen and we embraced our time in solidarity, away from the noise of typical American life. 

Even if you were working, you probably spent more time alone reflecting on what’s important. You spent time in nature walking on the trails. You thought about life and the people you spent time with. You wondered what your purpose was. You thought about your own mortality.

In our modern world we don’t have the equivalent of what the indiginous people would call a vision quest. When we returned after the collective pause during the pandemic, with our new insights and sense of purpose, and a willingness to reach our full potential, there was a lack of communitas. It could explain at least in part, why we still feel disconnected to our companies and maybe why we’ve left our jobs. 

Imagine, if in the typical American workplace, there was a sense of communitas this year. What would that look like?

Instead of the idea that we can and should get back to being cogs in the corporate wheel, we stopped and tried to integrate what we learned to make our companies stronger. After what we’ve been through we have a stronger sense of being human and a weaker sense of being a robot, anyway, so this approach has its limitations.

Instead of being met with the range of “Thanks for working so hard” to “This will all be over soon and we will get back to normal,” there was a place where there is support and willingness to listen to what has to change in order for the workforce to keep present and engaged. 

Your experience won’t be “over” It cannot be “over” as it’s now a part of who you are. We don’t want it to be over- the initiate didn’t come back to the community after the vision quest and say, “ Wow I am glad that’s over. Let’s forget it ever happened and get back to normal!”

As a leader you can create  communitas both inside and outside of work to support yourself and those you serve. 

Here are two ways to create Communitas:

  1. Find or create a group of your own. 

Find your people- those that have your same values, those that think like you or are in the same place of life you are. Let’s take my friend  Mel Butcher as an example. Mel created a group for women in male dominated professions where they meet online to support each other, offer advice and introductions to others that can further their career. She also has a podcast called LeadtoSoar.  Mel created a communitas. 

  1. Create a sense of communitas a work. 

 I’ll bet there’s someone you work with, maybe one of your techs who recently decided to further their education. As part of their communitas you could be interested and encouraging. You could ask why they chose that course of study? What do they hope to do with it? How can you support them? 

In summary, you’ve been through something significant and important whether your boss or anyone else acknowledges it.  Acknowledge it for yourself and find the others to support you in your next steps. Find ways to create a communitas at your work so that your team feels supported and appreciated. 

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