As i’ve been thinking about communities, and the forces that bind them, i’ve reached what feels like an inescapable truth: that for any unity, there must be opposition, for any membership, there must be exclusion. I don’t mean active disenfranchisement or aggression, but at the most basic level, if we are connected in some way, it leaves open the fact that others are not, or that there is always the potential for disconnection. Joining some communities inevitably means leaving others. For me, this reinforces one aspect of the Social Age that feels important: that we are not striving for uniformity, globally unified identity, and conformity, but rather that we may seek a respectful and humble difference.
Communities are not just unified with shared purpose and shared values: they can be unified in opposition to a third force. It’s the opposition that unifies them, not any shared sense of an alternative. Some will graduate to find shared purpose, but some are simply communities of protest or dissent, and will never, nor will ever seek, to achieve conformity.
This brings to the fore the role of Social Leadership: not to drive towards a consensus in stories, but rather to help understand those stories of difference.
Stories of difference involve charting our shared differences: co-creating a narrative of dissonance, a story of unconformity. Those stories may be challenging, but can still be founded upon respect, even if only a respect for the process of difference. If we use our self assurance as a power to conquer, we only reinforce opposition, whilst if we can use our humility as a power to connect, we can help build a common path.
We exist in complex webs of opinion and doubt: we will never be unified, nor should we seek to be. Being perpetually opposed, at least in some aspects, gives us our richness and diversity, whilst also holding the potential for inequality and persecution.
Large organisational systems are complex and fragmented, an entity like the NHS will never be united in one shared view, but we can work towards being less divided in enmity and acrimony.
We may achieve this if we can be more interconnected: if we, individually, can broaden our network, not simply in our own image, but in a more reflective and considered way. If we can include communities of difference within our sphere, spaces where we can respectfully listen and learn. Again, not to engage with dissent, but with respect.
Social systems will never be perfect, that is not their purpose, but we do hold the potential to be perpetually opposed, but united in respect.