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Come for the cause – stay for the people

This entry was cross-posted to The Network Buzz

We come for the cause… but stay for the people.

I felt immediately awkward after saying it.  What was that implying about my motivations?  What was I assuming about others’?  But the nods coming from the people around me were reassuring, they told me that I was onto something.  So I continued.

We come for the cause… but stay for the people.  And while that cause doesn’t go away – it’s what brought us together, and part of our shared values – we’ve also built a community to support each other.  We’re not alone in this.

This was two years ago, as we closed the Ontario Retreat.  We were gathered in a circle, all 100-odd participants, sharing closing thoughts and reflections on the weekend.  I have many memories from that weekend, but this one is the most vivid.

I’ve replayed that quote in my mind many times since… most recently in a prep meeting for this weekend’s 2013 Ontario Retreat.  We were talking about our goals and intentions, and I was fixed on this idea of retreats as community-building above all.

And the mixed feelings all came washing back.  There’s something about the quote that just feels right – and yet feels uncomfortable at the same time.

We come for the cause, but stay for the people.

Does that mean we lose our connection to the cause over time?  Is it fair to talk about the very real issues of poverty and development and social change, to claim that as our purpose, when our connection is just as much to the community we’ve built?  Or, to take an extreme view – are we merely using these issues in order to build a club in which we feel like we belong?  As a person who spends considerable time thinking about online community-building and organization culture, this is not a comfortable question to be asking.

But there’s no denying the power of a strongly-connected network either.  I can trace much of our success to the energy that the group creates… the collective impact of many small, coordinated actions, and the strong trust and relationships that are needed to enable it.  The mutual accountability and support that gets us through the tough times, the benefit of other peoples’ experiences and learning, and the shared celebration of our successes.

Both matter, but which matters more …  what we do – or who we do it with?  How do we balance those two, if they can be balanced at all?

This is something that I will be paying close attention to this coming weekend, as we go into another retreat (at the same venue as our retreat two years ago, in fact).  I’m curious to see what kind of group identity emerges.  I’m looking forward to that sense of shared purpose, and to taking a weekend out of our day-to-day lives where we can build a new context and a different way of being.  And through that, I will be trying to ensure we remain rooted in both our community and our cause.