June 2, 2008

Do You Belong...Do You Even Want To?

Most of us want to belong. We want to have that sense of community, of being part of a group.

On one hand, I want to be an individual. I've been taught my entire life to be an individual, yet being an individual isn't always enough. Is this a character flaw? At times it would feel as if it is. I should be strong enough to do things on my own. I don't want to have to rely on others. I'll do it myself! Yet, I still seek out community in my life. I want to be part of a group.

According to Sarason (Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Yale University), sense of community is “the perception of similarity to others, an acknowledged interdependence with others, a willingness to maintain this interdependence by giving to or doing for others what one expects from them, and the feeling that one is part of a larger dependable and stable structure.” Others have defined sense of community as “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.”

A problem can arise when you don't have a perception of similarity. It's us vs them, but what about when feel like you're neither an us or a them? What if you feel like both.

Can you really be both?

Some days I'm not sure where I am. I feel pulled in many different directions. You see me one way, she sees me another way, and I don't see myself either way. None of these things are negatives, they are just opportunities to look outside of ourselves and open up to the greater world. If you don't feel the need to belong, good for you, I guess. If you do, maybe you want to think about the different groups and how you belong to each. What strengths do you see in your various groups? What are they sharing with and teaching to you? What are you providing in return? Each of us has talents and strengths that we share with those around us. Many times we don't even realize what those talents or strengths might be. Sit down with an honest friend some time and ask them what they see as your strengths or talents. It might just surprise you!

Maybe you belong more than you think and matter to those in your community! And, others are committed to you and you to them, even if you think you have to be an individual and don't yet know how to ask for those things you need.


jennconspiracy said...

This is something I think about a lot -- an undergrad and grad degree in sociology will ruin you for life.

For me, there are a lot of factors that play into this "sense of community" -- including social class (present perceived and actual from your upbringing), economic class and experiences. Given my bizarre background, I usually feel like I am very different from most people I know and with whom I interact on a day-to-day basis.

I've always been independent and wanted to be independent -- was encouraged as a child by my parents. And yet - so much of society revolves around group membership and participation.

In the last 5-6 years, I have done some experiments with groups, coinciding with the rise of social network applications. I have peripherally joined several (often overlapping) groups which call themselves communities but are really just big social cliques. There are a lot of issues and a lot of dysfunction -- true, these are Bay Area folks who consider themselves artists, intellectuals and "freaks" in some way (no small percentage are burningman afficionados) but the kinds of behavior exhibited and tolerated doesn't always stay consistent with a supportive community.

Then there's the whole "Tipping Point" (the book by Malcolm Gladwell, not the buzzword) -- how big can your group get before it is no longer a group and breaks apart into cliques or subgroups?

I think that most people who really think they are in a community which is not religious (ie, a church), tied to a specific shared activity (like a chorus group) or related to a specific place (like a neighborhood, co-housing or very small town) are working too hard and not really achieving it.

Setting an intention that "this is our community" also creates expectations about how people should participate, interact and relate. Then it becomes some weird, uneven bundle of things like parties, brunches, helping people move or whatnot...

I belong to a swim team - I swim on certain days of the week at a certain time and may never meet people who swim at other times. We are a "team" in a loose sense of shared interest and paying dues, and even will share a level of trust (ie, putting together our shade canopies, ground covers and shared dishes at a swim at a lake last weekend). It doesn't really make us a "community."

That said - I think that the word "community" is often abused and has so many different levels as to be nearly useless in most contexts.

I get along well with my neighbors - I'm always the first to offer my name and phone on a scrap of paper and usually collect theirs in return. But I wouldn't rely on them for anything - basically. They have parties and wave over the fence but don't invite me -- so, are we a community?

Like you, sometimes I wish I 'belonged' but when I see inside most groups, it just seems so dysfunctional that I run away. I'd rather make lots of friends, introduce them to each other and if they like each other, great, but wouldn't squish them all together to make them into a "community."

Anonymous said...

Look! It's Newmie! Oh, were you saying something? ;)

jennconspiracy said...

katr makes a very good point -- if you have cats, you have your own community.

I now live with 3 cats - it's a lot of work. It's fun to watch their society and community patterns. They get bored - shift alliances - antagonize. Food and sleep are the great equalizers (unless George and Carmine both want Dobs food or Dobs wants to play and the rest of us are sleeping).


Not up to my ears in credit card debt. said...

jennconspiracy - Thank you for your thoughts on community. You put into words somethings I've been thinking about as well as some new things to ponder. And, yes cat's can be interesting to watch but they too don't let you in except on their own terms!

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