January 28, 2021

Traits of Belonging

     The term “community” is used to refer to many kinds of connections, from shared ethnic origin to geographical proximity.  Let us look more specifically at the feelings and behaviors that demonstrate unity of people in a group.  Unity exists when certain conditions exist between people.

  • Identify with each other as members of a group.

     Groups use a variety of ways to signal belonging: rituals, behavior, patterns of interacting, clothing, body appearance, habits. Compliance with the external signs can be important in maintaining membership.

     A sense of belonging can be based on a shared ethnic or cultural heritage.  It can occur when we believe that we share a similar plight or significant experi­ences. 

     Understanding and empathy grow out of common experiences.  We find our own feeling of well-being linked to what is happening to other members of our group.  There is a mutual sense of we-ness.  The longer the in-group is together, the more experiences we accumulate to reinforce our sense of belonging. 

  • Show special concern toward one another.

     Genuine belonging requires that we have willingness to come to the aid of others in the group.  This kind of concern is beyond doing our moral duty; it is acting because of our sense of we-ness.  We may do what is morally or ethically required for those who are outside our group, but by choice we go much further than is required with the in-group.

  • Jointly committed to cer­tain values or goals.

     Shared values may be ideals, such as the equal worth of each person, or the inherent right to be treated with dignity.  The common values may be rituals or practices that bind us together in familiar behaviors.  They may be contained in a body of knowledge that we trust as the accurate story of truth.

  • Loyal to the group and its ideals.

     Belonging requires group loyalty.  We are the in-group and the rest are part of the out-group.  This sometimes creates tension, even controversy.  People of good will may like to think that creating in-groups is unnecessary. However, communities are defined by characteristics that cannot be shared by everyone, even if all people were willing.  Divisions are inevitable.  Loyalty to our own group is part of what includes us in the community.

  • Trust each other.

     In belonging, we feel that the others will not let us down.  We believe that others will stand with us in being faithful to our shared values, and they will not exploit or cheat us.  We believe that when we turn to them, they will be there for us in the same measure that we are there for them.

Thought-Starter Questions for Sharing

  1. To whom do you belong?
  2. What traits are strongest in your belonging connections?
  3. What traits are weakest in your belonging connections?
  4. Where else could you belong if you chose?
  5. What traits seem more difficult than you are willing to do?
  6. How does aging affect your sense of belonging?

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