What I Learned From Ten Conversations About Community
November 01, 2021
Conversation circle


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Action inspires me.

The epiphany strikes me as I Iie in bed, nursing a sore back and wobbly legs that have decided that I need to rest, regardless of my tantrums and refusal to admit that I am burned out. There is no doubt that I need rejuvenation. Not through massage and manicures, but the rare kind that is born from stillness.

Action is life.

Another followup epiphany comes on the heels of the first one. Action and life may be synonymous yet action does not always mean visible physical movement. In the delicate trembling of a bird’s wings and in the upward swing of a giant tsunami there is movement, displacement, and action. One is subtle enough to miss while the other is impossible to ignore. Whether we sense them or not, the sun and planets move, as does the earth. We know it because we see the days and nights slipping into each other without a murmur just as the grey quietly slips into the dark strands of our hair when we’re not looking.

Action can change the world.

Words can only go so far. Actions truly speak louder than words. I have said this before – it is one of my foundational beliefs. 

There’s movement and there’s action. Whether we notice it or not, there is always movement. But action is voluntary. We need to choose to act. And in that choice, there is power.

Talking about things that matter

When I began my series of Conversations About Community a couple of weeks ago, I set out to connect with people I had come to know during my writing journey. Many of them were authors, but in addition to writing books they were also exploring other avenues. Building on their interests in reading and writing they had ventured outside their familiar realm of activities and were trying to create micro and mini communities. Although they were clearly outside their comfort zone, they were enjoying the process of creating new ways for people to connect. 

I was curious about their motivation and their experience with their newfound adventures. Here is what I learned from ten interviews.

1.Genuine action stems from a genuine interestArchana Sarat, a thriller writer, started an online Classics Book Club that meets monthly to read a book and discuss over a Zoom call. Even if I don’t read the book, I join the call because I find it interesting and informative. There is lively discussion about the author, the book and the opinions of readers of various ages and backgrounds. There is no doubt what connects this group, a genuine interest and regard for literature and each other.

Mariyam Haider, a young outspoken Muslim woman from India lives in Singapore. Distressed by the startling developments in India that seek to divide a secular country along religious lines, she launched a podcast, Main Bhi Muslim that fosters an environment in which a sensible conversation can be had around the subject of identity which is a complex concept at the best of times and has become even more important today for the Indian diaspora.

2. Learning is a big motivation – Published Singaporean author Jayanthi Sankar founded LOL – Love Of Literature podcast along with an aspiring writer, Sredhanea Ramkrishnan, in order to have a public platform for other writers to understand the ups and downs of the publishing journey. While she prefers to work alone quietly whether at writing or drawing, she learned the ropes of podcasting to indulge her love for lifelong learning.

Surabhi Kaushik, a fountain of energy who has won awards for her volunteering efforts at her local library in North Carolina initiated a writing group with the welcoming name of Writers Beyond Borders during the pandemic. Bringing together writers at various points in their creative journeys and published authors, she ensures that everyone learns something.

3. The initiative fills both an intrinsic and extrinsic need – Melissa Gouty wrote a memoir about her father, The Magic of Ordinary, that I absolutely loved. As a fellow author on Medium, we met through her publication, Literature Lust that she edits along with her other responsibilities. It creates more work but it fills her need to engage in bookish talk with a kindred group while providing a platform to writers for sharing interesting articles and trivia about literature.

Nandini Patwardhan, author of a biography titled Radical Spirits: India’s First Woman Doctor and Her American Champions, did considerable research to unearth and piece together a long correspondence between Anandibai Joshee, the subject of her biography and Theodocia Carpenter, the American housewife who was her biggest supporter. Nandini’s Letters Project connects young women in India with mature American women to recreate a relationship based on trust and friendship that had existed over a hundred years ago between two women separated by age, culture and distance. Doing this work fills a need to do more than recount a story.

4. Starting something makes you vulnerable – In her twenties, Rohini S Rajagopal wondered about the purpose of her life. Later when she underwent painful infertility treatment for five years to finally achieve her goal of motherhood, she found it while being extremely vulnerable while sharing extremely sensitive details about her body, about society’s disdain and her own inadequacies in her memoir, What’s a Lemon Squeezer Doing In My Vagina.

Mallika Chandrashekhar writes lovely musings and poetry but I found her as an early reader willing to read my memoir. What I didn’t know was that she was a child from a divorced family and that my book allowed her to change her mind about the stigma and the sting held in the word ‘divorce’. Her openness to sharing her own pain about her painful childhood as a result of reading my book totally blew my mind.

5. You don’t know where your initiative will lead you – Anne-Laure Le Cunff, wrote a weekly newsletter, Maker Mind, that she shared with her friends while studying neuroscience to understand her academic concepts better. After growing it to 30,000 readers, she was approached to start a community during the pandemic as people struggled with isolation and loneliness. Without knowing much about it, she founded Ness Labs, a superbly generous and kind online community that I absolutely love.

Hsin Min, a young woman in Singapore, who found herself with a chunk of extra time between graduating from college and getting into the workforce launched Women Unbounded, a volunteer-based community of women across the globe who seek to advance the cause of intersectional feminism. From writing articles to organising events to exploring collaborations, this dynamic group is full of enthusiastic members eager to make a meaningful difference in the world.

Wonderful things happen when you decide to act. It is not necessary to know all the answers when you first begin. It’s OK to tweak your plan and change your course if needed. The important thing is to decide to act.

I have always believed that action begins at the level of the self and expand outward. It is up to us to choose what action we want to take. The ripples will follow.

Photo credit: Photo by Beth Macdonald on Unsplash

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