We crave community. It is rare to find the person who truly wants to be alone. But finding a way to be with “others” is the subject of psychology, sociology and anthropology. Why is it so complex? And how does our need for community effect learning?

I was fortunate to participate in an early morning Kitchen Table session entitled, The Role of Community in Business: How is it Changing? Why does it Matter?, facilitated by Rick Wolfe from PostStone. Brent Wagner, from BMO Nesbitt Burns provided the space on the stratospheric 68th floor of the BMO tower on Toronto’s Bay Street. Whether it was the rarefied air or the unfamiliarity of the setting, I found myself tongue-tied in the company of a dozen or so successful men and women engaged in the financial community. The challenge was to get these people to speak. About what? Themselves? What they wanted?

Each did reflect on community as it effected them. One person managed a chain of health clinics and sought to find ways to allow individual community identity while creating a common community among all of the clinics. One person sought to create an association for the financial receivables industry. Another was concerned with making her association of financial planners relevant and essential to its members. An enterprising young man had formed a virtual real estate community online, about which he extolled the virtues.

The conversation did turn to sales. How do dollars and cents fit with warm and fuzzy? How does community help the bottom line? Well, it does. In the The Science of Persuasion, research is cited that demonstrates more deals are closed if you have something in common with your client. And I don’t mean the deal itself. “Common” means dogs, children, and birthdays. We want to work with people like us. This is how we define neighbourhood in a  world without borders.

What does this mean for learning? We learn better together – when we interact, engage in dialogues and model behaviours for one another. Why does personal contact help us learn? There is research about the importance of “the experience of learning.” We learn and retain better when we have a pleasant memory of the learning. So our emotional intelligence, how we feel when we learn, actually rules us and our learning.

To gain a pleasant memory of the learning, we need community – good community – to feel comfortable enough to learn and be validated as human beings. The fact that we use the internet to connect shows that we crave community even when technology creates separations. Who doesn’t text a friend instead picking up the phone? Or e-mail a colleague in the next cubical instead of rolling out your chair and saying, “Hey!”

Technology is creating a fear of communicating in person.  We are beginning to fear community as much as we crave it. And so we begin to fear learning, just as much as we want to learn. Facing our fears means facing our community – in person, and being open to learning in person. This is a key challenge to moving our businesses, our personal lives and our society forward in the second decade of the 21st century.

Community has to be based on real experience, so that we have an emotional connection with it, and the people in it. Everything is personal – our businesses, our deals, our work and relationships at home and away. When it is personal, we have no issue with ethics. The Golden Rule applies. It has to. We are relating to ourselves, which is really what community is – a reflection of us.

This was my challenge at the Kitchen Table. I froze. The community wasn’t there for me. Not yet. Only my fear. So I learned less than I could have. Which left me wondering, “Is that all there is?” I know there is more, and I know I have to be open to more. Perhaps this is the prerequisite to enjoying the fruits of community – the conscious desire to create community.