Resonance and Communities

The popular view of matter is atomic. In other words, everything in the universe (including us) are a collection of indivisble units we call atoms.

We know now that this isn’t true. Some things in the universe behave like atoms (particles is the technical term) in some cases, and waves in other cases. And we know that the physics of particles is very different from the physics of waves. So different, in fact, that whole syllabi are dedicated to understanding the differences between particles and waves.

But this blog isn’t about physics. It’s about you and me.

Individuals

Growing up I think I had a fairly atomic view of myself. In the same way that atoms are indivisible, I was an individual.

Various institutions serve to re-inforce this idea. If you are in the U.S. you are given a Social Security Number at birth, which is a unique identifier that no one else can hold. And systems are put in place to make sure that you have access to resources that only you should have access to – no one else.

There is also the grand narrative of an “American Dream.” That in this meritocracy, anyone can make a better life for themselves through their own individual effort.

I’ve grown to find all of this a bit strange. Perhaps it’s partly driven by the fact that I’m Vietnamese and eastern cultures are more collectivist in nature.

I recognize that much of anything I have in my life now is a result of support and work from people around me. From my community. And that this idea of an individual makes little sense, especially in the context of meritocratic rewards.

Are there really self-made men? Would I achieve the same level of success I have now if I didn’t have the support and attention of my parents, teachers, and friends?

I think not.

Resonance

I like to use the phrase that “everyone is oscillating at their own frequencies.”

It’s the nerdy, physics version of the idea that everyone is a special snowflake. As cliche as it sounds, it’s true. But it’s true in a more important way than the idea that human beings are unique.

What the phrase strikes at is the idea that we are not always atoms, floating around in the universe as individuals. That in some cases, we are like waves.


Waves exhibit a lot of interesting behaviour. And the one I’ve noticed most in my life is resonance.

You see, all objects have a “natural frequency.” When an object is disturbed (plucked, struck, smacked, etc) it will begin to vibrate. And the frequency it vibrates after it is disturbed is known as its natural frequency.

When something that is vibrating at its natural frequency is brought close to another object that has the same natural frequency, the still object will begin to vibrate too. You can see (and hear) what I’m talking about in this physics demo.

Communities

I hope you see the analogy that I’m making – that people resonate too.

In a truly deep way, when I am around people who are operating in similar frequencies as myself, I am motivated to take action. It becomes easier to give myself permission to do the things that make me afraid. And just like a wave, I feel amplified by the supporting frequencies around me.

This is the essence of community. It’s the people around us who encourage us to be better versions of ourselves. They make us aim for more good and great days, and to have fewer bad days.

Community is also hard to find.

I wish you more than luck in finding yours.