We walk so many of the darkest paths in life in solitude. We are right to honor the virtue of self reliance but we forget how loneliness eats away at the heart of our humanity. When we are alone, we are impoverished and weak. Dorothy Day, the great social activist of the early 20th century wrote that “[w]e have all known the long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love, and that love comes with community.”
The love that Dorothy discovered is not unique to her adopted community, the Catholic church. It can be found wherever people of like mind come together in good faith to help and support one another. I found it in the community that has come together around PHP.
I spent the first half of my career isolated in the long loneliness. It almost broke me, but I learned in time to not be afraid of letting other people into my life. I learned that I had a lot to gain from building relationships with other people. More importantly, I learned how much I had to offer.
Discovering the PHP Community
My first exposure to the larger PHP community was php[tek] in 2013. Michelangelo van Dam had offered up a free ticket to my local user group and I just happened to win it. At the time, I had no idea of how my life was about to change.
The technology conferences I’d attended in past were all about vendors pushing products, trying to make sales. Everyone was there to take something from someone else. Giving was not on the program.
When I arrived in Chicago, though, I discovered a community the likes of which I had never even imagined. A community whose conferences are about teaching and sharing, about reconnecting and reuniting. The sessions I attended didn’t push me to buy, they offered to teach. The people I met in the hallways saw me not as a potential client, but as a potential friend.
A community is nothing more than a group of people who commit to one another’s well being. When you are part of a community, you are never truly alone. I’ve seen this community of ours live up to that commitment time and time again. We have supported our own in financial need. We have grieved for those lost too soon, and worked console those they left behind. A community is nothing less than a family that you choose.
By the time I left Chicago, I knew I had found a new home. For the first time in my career I knew a group of people who challenged and inspired me. Not just to be a better engineer, but to be a better person. I found a place to belong.
Joining the Family
The magical thing is that it’s so easy to join this family. Every time you blog about a problem you solve, or answer a question on a mailing list, you are choosing to be part of the community. When you attend your local user group or fix a typo in an open-source package’s documentation, you are choosing to be part of the community. When you speak at a meetup or share a helpful library on github, you are choosing to be part of the community.
That’s all it takes!
Together We Are Strong
The playwright Tony Kushner wrote that “one is a fiction,” and that human life springs from networks. The destitution and fragility that come with isolation melt away when we open ourselves up to love and fellowship. By embracing community we become part of a greater whole and learn to push each other forward towards a better future for us all.