Four insights into ‘Social Togetherness’​ I learnt in Social Isolation

Written by Dee Duffy

It is 4 months to the day since I faced down my fear and competed at the IBJJF European Jiu Jitsu Championships. I previously documented that experience here.

 Afterwards, I was irritated that I emerged injured with a torn MCL ligament. I had set myself competition goals for 2020, and this was a significant setback. I was already thinking forward to this May weekend when the IBJJF Ireland Nationals were to take place in Dublin. Would I be fit to compete?

Yet here we are, with all international IBJJF tournaments postponed for 2020. It’s no longer a personal setback. Everyone in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community is now forced to postpone their competition ambitions until next year.

Still, I’ve realised the forfeit of my own agenda is not the real loss in this story. But actually, being forced to stay isolated from my team members has made me aware just how important community is in human everyday life. And that’s coming from an introvert.

 I miss the social learning space that our club provided.

 A definition of Community of Practice tells us it is a‘group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly’.

I hadn’t thought much about what drove me to turn up 3 or 4 times a week to train in the same venue, with the same people, week in, week out. That is before I was told it was now forbidden. Now, I see these training partners were so much more than ‘bodies to roll with’, as we would casually say.

Aristotle is (wrongly or rightly) attributed with coining the phrase, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

Certainly, in our Community of Practice at Team KF, this principle proves to be true. We have team members turning pro with their eye on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Meanwhile, we have members juggling conventional nine-to-five jobs with young families while fitting in their training as often as possible.

We are not all at the same performance level. We are not all at the same stage in life. We all have different motivations and training goals. Yet none of us can achieve these individual targets without the presence of the other. 

‘Being apart’ enabled me to consider the importance of ‘being together’. Here are 4 things I miss while separated from my Community of Practice:

1.    Camaraderie

When you spend numerous days a week putting your body on the line with others, it is necessary that a sense of trust and respect evolves between teammates. With the intensity of the weekly grind, a unique connection subtly but undeniably develops. 

You reach a point when you realise you see your training partners more than you see various family members or friends. Inadvertently, these ‘strangers’ become a large part of your everyday life. And in this way, a deep sense of unity and belonging fosters.  

2.    Peer-to-Peer Learning

 We have amazing coaches at our club. Arguably among the best mixed martial arts instructors in Ireland. We are incredibly lucky to learn from their experience and skillset. Yet there is learning that goes deeper than one-to-many instructional learning. It’s why online videos don’t quite cut the mustard as a substitute to the gym.

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The deeper learning comes through“thinking together”about the knowledge deployed by instructors. We become more competent practitioners when we intensively learn together. No coach can impose their knowledge on any student. The martial arts gym is the space where students take the knowledge and redevelop it with their peers until it becomes known to themselves. In this interaction we can create new knowledge and practices.

3.    Routine

Many of us at the gym had successfully conditioned ourselves, like little lab rats, to attend certain classes on fixed days. We had mostly committed it to our diaries and boxed it off with our significant others. “This is what I do on a Monday and Friday evening”. Not up for negotiation. Easy to turn down invitations right off the bat, “Sorry I train that night”. No thinking involved. Skinner’s glorious Mischief of Rats!

Now there’s an emptiness in the calendar. There’s nowhere to shoot off to. I don’t miss the hectic racing out the door with a child hanging out of my leg and a smoothie “dinner” in hand, desperately trying to make class almost on time. But my habitual brainis detecting a gaping hole in the daily routine. And it is becoming increasingly discomforting as the weeks go by.   

4.    Fun

 Coming together allows the spontaneity of banter and chats, messing and laughs. It is such a crucial element of life to have fun, yet it so often gets overlooked in the seriousness of adulting. Being part of a social community creates a dynamic space where people of all ages can come together and have a laugh over shared experiences.

William Glasser, psychiatrist and creator of Choice Theory Psychology, asserts we are genetically driven to satisfy five basic needs. Initially, I was surprised to learn one of these needs is the need for fun. Yet it is a very clever inclusion. The benefits of play not only create joy and energy in our lives but is deeply entwined with human development and intelligence.

The necessity of fun in life is captured in George Bernard Shaw’s wonderful quote; ‘We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing’.

I don’t think you can ‘plan’ to have fun. It is a spur-of-the-moment occurrence that happens organically at a moment and space in time. I miss the impromptu laughs. I miss our grown-ups playtime.

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I am so grateful I took the opportunity to compete in January 2020. I achieved a personal goal and I learnt a shed-load about myself. But fast forward four months and my learnings have expanded. This imposed hiatus on public spaces is teaching me the value of my social communities.

These are intangible facets of life that cannot be replicated or forced. They just emerge through the social interactions of members within their Communities of Practice.

Zoom meetings, amusing memes and remote fitness challenges are helpful. They are serving as temporary distractions. But they won’t fill the very human void that social isolation is slowly wreaking upon fundamentally social beings

Team kf, november 2019

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Posted here with permission from the author.

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