A Sense of Belonging

The need to belong refers to the idea that humans have a fundamental motivation to be accepted into relation-ships with others and to be a part of social groups.

The author Peter Block discusses the topic of belonging in the introduction of his book, "Community, The Structure of Belonging."The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole."

It is often said that "one cannot fight city hall." This expression has referred to the difficulty of getting your local government to address inequities in the law that adversley affect its residents.  Frustrated neighbors, unified members of a church or parents concerned about the quality of education at their local school, often form groups that approach the issue from all sides.

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

Thankfully, civil society associations usually provide their members 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 

Weaknesses of Civil Society groups

Civil society associations are not without their contradictions 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.  The officers are elected by the members or not,  and have been known to have their own prejudices, lack of leadership abilities, tendencies toward nepotism and mixed experiences when it comes to avoiding "conflicts of interest. 

One of the worst failings in organizations occurs in their desire to have greater political influence which inevitably leads to them be co-opted by corporations.  Such was the case of the farmer centered National Grange when it received many thousands of dollars of support from global Pharmaceutical and Telecom corporations in exchange for their lobbying efforts in Congress.  One adverse outcome for rural residents in Humboldt County, CA became the reduced funding for maintaining "land lines" --the wired telephone lines that came to residendial customers.  The Telecom's argument was that "everyone has cell phones now."  What the companies alread knew that their cell signals do not reach through the widening canyons of much of mountainous California.  So getting them to repair lines after storms is difficult.

Like all groups, it takes the diligence of the members to maintain the attention to the ever evolving mission.