There are no perfect human beings! Persons can be found who are good, very good indeed, in fact, great. There do in fact exist creators, seers, sages, saints, shakers, and movers…even if they are uncommon and do not come by the dozen. And yet these very same people can at times be boring, irritating, petulant, selfish, angry, or depressed. To avoid disillusionment with human nature, we must first give up our illusions about it.
Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970)
At least once a month for several years, my late husband would express disappointment and/or anger over the behaviors of members of an online gardening community. What the members had in common was their affinity for growing roses, but they regularly and often fought over race, sexism, sexuality, and class. They attacked one another and people in the media. Their fights were deeply personal. The forum was shut down a couple of times in one year in hopes of gaining ground through a cooling off period. Arguments frequently resulted in people leaving the community or urging others to do so.
During the less frequent periods of relative calm, rose forum members exchanged photos of roses, wrote about infestations or successes, awards, and pesticides. They shared personal health problems, losses, anniversaries, deaths, graduations, births, and job changes. Many years ago, Paul joined me in San Francisco for a psychologists’ meeting so that we could both visit three rose forum members who lived there. A few years after that, two of them visited Wisconsin, one to celebrate Paul’s birthday. When one died, and then another, Paul and I mourned the loss just as if they were emotionally close and nearby friends. Even in his last days, my husband cherished a garden species he had been given by a forum member.
In the words of Maslow, the rose forum membership included creators, sages, shakers, and movers — maybe even one or two saints. At times, these same people and others in the online community were highly irritating, petulant, selfish, and angry. These circumstances prompted many people to have tenuous and brief participation in the community. Others stayed and stayed and stayed.
Among both the long-term and short-term members were people who expected little to no community. Among both there were also others who expected community. But as someone not actually in the group – someone more accurately described as having one-degree of separation – I found the most common expression from both types of members, the long- and short-term ones, was disillusionment. I suspect that many of the disillusioned would argue that their experiences in the group prompted those feelings. I often wondered, however, if they brought those feelings of shattered illusions with them, finding yet again proof of their loss of innocence about community.
Moreover, I question if Maslow is correct in his assessment that “we must first give up our illusions” about community. Is it possible that we could also benefit from daring to hold illusive goals for community and work to bring them to life? Could we dare to dream? Might we learn to weather the risk of disappointment along the way?