Monday, July 11, 2011

Communities – Unpretentious or Narcissistic

“Unpretentious” has been distilled by experts as one of Durham, North Carolina’s core traits and values as a community and scientifically confirmed among both internal and external audiences.

Far more than any physical attributes, personality traits such as these are by far the most emblematic of a community’s distinctive character.

Some outsiders have trouble rationalizing Durham’s unpretentiousness with its unheard of 17 to 1 community pride ratio among residents, or the fact that among non-residents it scores the highest positive image compared to similarly sized or larger communities in North Carolina based on scientific surveys.humility_series_slide

They probably mistake unpretentiousness as weakness just as many people do humility, and just as they may also mistake the boosterish façade of some communities as a reflection of pride or image.

The following description of humility is useful for two reasons.  It comes from another blog by David Brooks and paraphrases comments made by Dr. June Tangney of George Mason University during a panel discussion at the recent convention of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Humility is better seen as the opposite of narcissism. The narcissist has a damaged sense of self and is consequently self-centered a great deal of the time, reacting in defensive ways to ego threat.

The humble person has an accurate and durable sense of self and can see the relationship between the self and the larger world."

Not only does that summary provide a good understanding of humility but it describes why so many narcissistic communities can be so over-reaching and then when unmasked, so defensive, dismissive and condescending.

Just as Durham is unpretentious by nature, other communities can also be narcissistic by nature.  The role of community/destination marketing executives as stewards for protecting and defending a community’s identity against the overreaching and condescension of others is made all the more difficult especially if the news media based in those communities are complicit in this narcissism.

It takes “grit: the perseverance and passion for long-term goals” to stand up for a community in the face of these reactions from another and still nurture and sustain inter-community working relationships and partnerships.  But just remember that any true partnership is founded on mutual respect.

It is also extremely important in the face of a narcissistic reactions by other communities to resist, without fail, any temptation to retaliate in a way that is zero-sum or win-lose. It helps to keep in mind that a narcissistic community reacts with dismissiveness and hostility because deep down it has an almost temporal insecurity.

There will always be individuals in otherwise narcissistic communities who, while they may not know how to overcome that overall trait there, have a more realistic, durable and humble sense of their community and are willing to work together to counterbalance its narcissism.

If you live and work in a community that is inherently unpretentious and humble, not just a “wannabe”, then these explanations are resonating.  If you read this far but are dismissive, then you’re probably part of the problem…and so is your community.

If you didn’t realize that defending and protecting a community’s identity is the most basic and elemental aspect of community marketing, now you do.

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