I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between groups, communities, and mobs as well as our collective ability to respect each other - accepting each other for where we are instead of where we would all like to be. I don't quite know the answer but it has something to do with being organized - not necessarily in a hierarchical way. The other thing about communities is that they tend to be managed - again not necessarily by one person or in a direct way but they are definitely mediated. Lastly, people in groups and communities respect each other whereas people in mobs do not.
Respect is a complicated thing - and it is not really the same thing as doing what someone tells you to. Many people follow orders from superiors without respecting them at all - that is power dynamics, not respect. Respect interestingly often means we have more room to disagree and that we can be confrontational in a non-threatening way. True respect allows for honesty - with things that are both pleasant and things that may not be. Respect means taking someone at face value and trying to understand differences rather than judge them.
I was watching the Amazing Race the other night and they were in India - many of the contestants were horrified or upset by the poverty and trash they saw while racing through. I actually found that response a little patronizing because while it may not be our expectation of life, people in India seem to manage just fine. And it is not to say that there is not a lot of improvements that can be made - there is indeed way too much poverty in India - and elsewhere. However, even if you took the poverty away there would still be cows meandering around through traffic (they are sacred after all - you can't just tell them what to do!), traffic would still be chaotic (that's just how they roll), and there would be a lot of people. I actually found the cows quite funny while I was there - one had parallel parked itself in the middle of downtown New Delhi. But the reaction of one of the Amazing Race participants was to condemn how poorly the animals were treated because they were wandering about somewhat aimlessly instead of non-judgmentally wondering why. His intentions were right - to care - but he jumped to a conclusion without really understanding the situation.
Last night I went to Social Media Club Boston where the topic was Change Dot Gov and how government was using new social tools and communications methods. I was a bit surprised how critical people were of government and media because there are a lot of efforts to move more information, data, and access online. Is it perfect? Hell no but who among us is a perfect citizen and ultimately the government is a reflection of what we collectively make it so we have no one to criticize but ourselves. Additionally, government needs to serve everyone and there is a large percentage of everyone that is not hyper-connected - or digitally connected at all for that matter. I am also amazed how people view journalism and that it should absolutely be free. We have certainly gotten used to it being free and I am not naive enough to believe the majority of newspapers can start charging but being an informed citizen is a cornerstone to making democracy work - and isn't that valuable enough to support? And goodness knows there is a lot of information that needs to be curated these days. How we do that needs to be figured out - but I believe that it is vitally important to do so.
A large part of being part of a healthy community is reserving judgment, working to understand each other, giving each other the benefit of the doubt, accepting each other as we are, and then trying to work together on the things we can agree on. That was hard enough as a society when things worked at a slower pace but now that people are overwhelmed with information and things move at lightning speed it is so, so easy to judge quickly. I don't know quite how to solve the problem but one thing that was incredibly useful to me was living abroad as a teenager with a family pretty different from my own. I was surrounded by people who were different and that isolation forced me to understand them rather than thinking that they should understand me. It's useful to experience being in a situation where you are entirely different from everyone else - whether it is politically different, culturally different, technologically different. Try it some time - and don't take your iPhone/Blackberry/etc. with you. It may not be the most comfortable experience but it will make you a better cultural 'listener' and we could use more people like that in the world.