Defending the Commons: Lessons from Robin Hood on Building Community
by Ted Tschopp
Understanding Community through the Lens of Robin Hood: What the Commons Mean to Us
Recently I saw the movie Robin Hood staring Russell Crow. The movie itself isn’t great or grand, but it serves as a wonderful jumping off point for a point I’m trying to make. The movie itself is a story of how Robin Hood became an outlaw and what motivates him to do what he does. Upon returning from the crusades Robin finds himself in a community under attack on all sides. The rightful Lord of Nottingham is dead on the battle fields of France, and his father is a weak old blind man. His wife, now single, turns out to have married him right before he left for the crusades. The church is demanding its tithe and King John is demanding taxes to pay for an army to protect the realm from the French. The old, dying father of Lord of Nottingham asks Robin to protect His son’s community.
What is Robin to do? What is he to protect? It turns out that one of his first tasks to protect the community is to make sure the common fields are planted. Eventually at the end of the movie we find Robin living off the land, an outlaw, still protecting the people of Nottingham by defending the commons of that community. The story of Robin Hood centers on the question of the commons. What makes a member a member of a community? Who has the rights to defend the commons? Who has the rights to tax the commons?
What are the commons in your community? What has brought you together? What is worth defending? What is worth fighting for to protect it from corruption? If you have a hard time answering this question, you probably don’t have a community. Once you have identified this, you are on your first steps to defining your community. With most online communities the commons are a kind or class of information that is specific to your discipline, location, or passion. Spend some time thinking about what this is for your community.
Now that you have thought about this, you need to move to the next step, how will you defend this common ground you have with your fellows? How will you see it grow? How will you nurture it. Think about a garden. You tear up the ground, you fertilize the garden, you plant the garden, you pull weeds in the garden. At some point you enjoy the garden. You might even be the envy of your neighbors and friends about how wonderful your garden is. Remember at some point you harvest your garden and you prepare for next year.
Your Community is your fellow gardeners working on the garden. The commons is the garden itself, and the fruit from the garden is value you provide your larger community. Think about how the fruit, the garden, and the gardeners are not all the same. The fruit is very different than the people working in the garden. The work the gardeners do is till the soil, water, weed, etc… but the fruit and the flowers are very different than then digging in the ground, watering, and weeding. The enjoyment from the garden is very different than the flowers and fruit you get from the garden. But all of this is part of the commons for that community.
In growing your community remember these ideas. They may not make you successful, but they will make you more likely to be.