A Sense of Belonging
Humans have a fundamental motivation to be accepted into relationships with others and to be a part of social groups. Inclusion is a behavior while belonging is the emotional outcome. Author Peter Block discusses the topic of belonging in the introduction of his book, "Community, The Structure of Belonging. He says, "The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole."
Within civil society, the great variety of associations have interested individuals to join their associations through their mission, atmosphere of comradship or community service . People's strong desire to belong to a group has been the primary motivation to join organizations like:
- Artistan Craft Guilds
- Fraternal lodges like the Masons
- Youth groups like the Boy Scouts of America
- Parent groups like the Parent Teacher Association
- Recreational clubs like Humboldt Bicyclist
- Advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union
- Farmer groups like the National Grange
- Trade Unions like the Service Employees International Union
- Environmental groups like the Salmon Restoration Council
Civil society associations provide members with a variety of "benefits." For example, the Patrons of Husbandry, otherwise known as the National Grange began in 1867 as a fraternal mutual benefit society. Since it began it has been associated with:
- Creating a fraternal lodge whose ceremonies celebrated the importance of farmers.
- Structuring a somewhat flattened organization whose members could move up the ranks to become officers.
- Spaghetti feeds, bingo parties and dances.
- The contruction of over 2,000 Grange Halls in rural communities all over the country.
- Granger Laws
- Expanding Rural Mail Delivery
- Advocating for the Direct Election of Senators
- Breaking up the monopoly of railroad companies
Civil society associations are not without their inconsistencies and controveries. Because the members of these diverse groups come from a wide swath of society they reflect a broad set of values as well as a wide level of educational attainment. In many organizations the officers are elected by the members. When the members are reluctant to hold each other to high standards of civility; disrespect fractures the sense of belonging. This leads to privilege, preferential treatment, harassment, a lack of leadership, nepotism and "conflicts of interest."
One of the worst weaknesses of civil society organizations occurs in their desire to have greater political influence which inevitably leads to them being co-opted by corporations. Such was the case of the farmer centered National Grange when it received thousands of dollars of support from global Telecom corporations including AT &T and Verizon. Corporations regularly use civil society organizations to pursuade their members to lobby elected representatives to reduce regulations and expand business opportunities. In this particular situation, global telecommunication companies gain greater market share and wealth for their investors by offering expanded services for their customers.
The corporations tried to convince rural customers that it was too expensive to maintain land lines. They paid civil society organizations like the Grange to support expanding cell phone services and in so doing receive greater access to digital technologies. Unfortunately, they chose not to reveal the difficulty that cell signals do not reach through the widening canyons of mountainous California.
There are many paths to fostering and achieving a greater sense of belonging in civil society organizations. Individuals that make up the group were motivated to join for a variety of reasons. Whether one joins to pursue allyship, friendship or to feel useful, deciding whether to remain, depends on whether you feel your individuality is recognized.
Every participant has a responsibility to reinforce a culture of respect and caring. This can only be achieved by establishing some norms. One tool that is used by community organizers is called the Basic Agreements and is used whenever the group members gather.
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People combat their own isolation and self-esteem, self-care. Meet with others with similar values.