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The Community Saviour Complex

Richard Millington
Richard Millington

Founder of FeverBee

If you think you’re going to save a community, you probably won’t. 

There is a term for this. It’s called the messiah complex (or saviour complex).

It’s typically when an outsider spots a problem they think they can resolve. They believe they have have access to unique skills, knowledge, or resources which will solve a community problem. 

However, the problem is usually too complex for the solution. Once you begin trying to solve a group problem, you learn about this complexity. You learn about internal politics, member apathy, fear of change, and distrust of outsiders. 

You might provide the audience with the perfect solution to a problem and they won’t embrace it because others haven’t (or, frustratingly, others have). 

Too many communities are saviour projects. Outsiders (or nominal insiders) spot a problem they can solve and think “the community really needs this!”

It’s just not going to happen. 

To build and help a community you have to be accepted as one of them. You have to withhold your judgement, your beliefs, and even your values as you progress through the social layers of the group. 

It’s only once you’ve been a highly active member of the group that you can really connecting people to make small, incremental, progress. You can throw your time, effort, and resources behind the direction that the group wants to move towards. 

But don’t get to set the direction. 

Note: Relevant article on Everyday Sociology. 

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