Many Communities 5

Submitted by Paul Born on November 23, 2011 - 1:35pm
five stages explained


I want now to spend some time describing each stage of the community continuum. I will provide an explanation in three ways. The first will be to explain the stage, secondly by describing the feelings associated with the stage and thirdly by illustrating the stage with a series of short examples.

 Being Connected

 The first and most common form of community we experience is when we are connected by association or activity to others. This sense of connection can happen many times a day and in completely unrelated situations. It can happen one on one or in very large groups, it can happen face to face and virtually. The sense of connection occurs because we have something in common with others and when their experience mirrors our own and their values and ideals validate our sense of purpose we have a sense of connection.

We know these moments of community by feeling a simple sense of belonging and the joy associated with this. A sense of Belonging is evoked, because we feel accepted and comfortable in this place or with this group and joy because this connection validates our beliefs or experience.

Being connected can happen in so many different ways and places. When we go to a baseball game or attend a yoga class with people who have chosen to do the same, our individual experience becomes a collective experience and we are connected. Think of this in contrast to watching a baseball game or an opera on T.V. where we are not collectively engaged with others. This is not always the case, I know that during the Olympics, even though I am not in attendance I do experience this sense of being connected to a global community especially when watching the opening or closing ceremonies.

In the virtual world of social networking becoming someone’s friend on Facebook or Myspace, or simply adding someone to your list of friends can evoke a feeling of being connected. These are the people who have something in common with you, who want to connect with you and as such you feel accepted, you belong. There is no commitment here to ongoing connection but rather a recognition of the other in the moment.

The apartment building or neighborhood in which we live is a place of being connected, even if we do not know many of the people who live there. When we do meet them in the hallway or bump into them in a coffee shop, when we know they live where I live there is a connection and though we may not feel an intense sense that we “belong”, we know that we are connected by association – something is evoked inside of us, we are connected.

When I give money to a charity or volunteer as an usher at a theater I am connecting with a cause supported by others. One time acts of individual altruism are a simple expression of belonging, an outward expression of a belief or cause shared with others.

I believe that understanding an experience of community as being connected with others is an important on our own journey to community. As we seek community in our lives I believe it is important to look beyond the idea of the ideal community and seek it in our everyday lives and experiences. For some people being connected is not enough to constitute community, it is too simple a connection and the reciprocal nature of the experience is not sufficient to define it as community. I would suggest that when we see “being connected” as a stage of community in the context of a continuum we can learn so much about where we already experience simple community in our lives. It is precisely these experiences which can become laboratories to helping us understand the kind of community we are seeking and as such possible stepping stones toward finding it.

Getting Involved

The next stage and also the second most common form of community in our lives are those experiences where we have made a commitment to ongoing connection by getting involved. The two critical concepts here are commitment to and ongoing connection. A Commitment to, as in making a promise, dedicated to, being responsible for or having an obligation or sense of duty toward the other.  A deliberate and ongoing connection as in continuing, developing over time as in an association between or in relationship with others.

In addition to feeling a simple sense of belonging and joy, with involvement comes a sense of shared identity through having something or doing something together in relationship with others.  Most often we enter into relationship with those whom we feel safe or a greater sense of safety emerges because we have committed to being involved. Something has drawn us in and as such we have taken a step toward ongoing connection.

When we move from visiting a place of worship to joining a place of worship by committing to attend regularly we have committed to getting involved. At times this might mean just showing up week to week at other times it might be becoming a member.

When we join a group like a sports team or a book club, where ongoing attendance is required and mutual effort is expected, we have committed to being involved and to ongoing connection with those on the team. We commit to the rules of the team or club one of which is regular attendance and by following these we are involved.

Being involved with relatives or occasional friends is another form of getting involved. The commitment is to spending time together as an uncle or cousin, or a brother/sister in law and as such you are in community. We can experience extended family much deeper than getting involved but at it’s most basic level, committing to these relationships is most often an occasional commitment but by their association are community for us. Similarly is the friends we see regularly but only occasionally, the commitment is to be involved in visiting and ongoing relationship, maybe an unwritten rule to attend their funeral (should you be the lucky one) and little else.

Work places are also places where we have made a commitment to ongoing connection with others. Even though workplaces are also monetary commitment’s (you work you get paid) the relationships we are part of in our workplaces are a community with whom we have ongoing connection through our involvement in the projects we are assigned, and the physical space we occupy. We feel more than connected, given that we see each other almost every working day.

Neighborhoods are places where we know each other, to say high regularly, to follow the “rules” of the neighborhood so we can fit in, to attend the occasional barbeque together, or to work together to ensure that a new potentially disruptive development on the edge of our street is not approved. Neighborhoods are more than places we live they are places where people have made a minimum commitment through relationship to creating a quality of place together.

Facebook groups area also a commitment to ongoing connection. Some more so than others but through the act of joining a group you have made intent to a relationship with those in the group to advance the cause, to enter into ongoing relationship with the others in the group.  Consider also those moments when you check in on daily status updates and see what people are doing in their daily lives. Over time it feels like you are getting to know these people.

Ongoing individual altruism as opposed to single acts of giving or volunteerism are also commitments to sustained connection. When you identify yourself as a volunteer with the Cancer society, Diabetes Association or at the Working Centre you are declaring a community to which you have made a commitment to. Similarly when you give regular donation to a charity, you have made a commitment to that cause and the community of people behind it.

Getting involved is a more intense sense of community than being connected. You have made a commitment to ongoing connection. That does not mean that each time you get involved you are in community. You can be involved and not be connected. Conditions do exist where people isolate themselves from others for personal or psychological reasons and get involved for purely monetary purposes or in worse case because they are forced to. Prisons might also be such places but need not be. It would seem to me that in order to for you to experience community the feelings of connection, simple belonging and joy must accompany the experience of getting involved in order for their to be a sense of community.


One of the easiest ways to deepen your experience of community is to move some of your involved experiences of community into committed experiences. Moving them from a personal commitment to ongoing connection to ones where there is reciprocal commitment.

Committed communities are those where a reciprocal commitment emerges and are most often time limited or activity/place defined. The key word here is reciprocal where your commitment is matched or complimented by another or others. These are relationships of mutuality (experiences of common identity and feelings shared by or common to the group), and reciprocity (an exchange between or in return).

Feelings of commitment strengthen the bond between people. A sense that we are together in this and we need to rely on each other to fulfill our purpose intensifies our experience of community. The opportunity to care for others, and be cared for when people are committed is greatly enhanced.

I am for the purposes of this continuum differentiating committed communities from those of “belonging communities” that you will read about next – the defining difference is that committed communities are most often time limited or activity/place defined. As such we commit to these communities most often to achieve a specific task. We will certainly feel a sense of belonging and deepened relationship with others but these type of communities are ones we commit to for a specific purpose and by definition are time limited and most often place specific.

Work teams are great opportunities to experience committed community. These might be work teams you are appointed to at your place of employment or they may be work teams you volunteer to be part of. The relationship between members of a work team is much enhanced by the intensity of purpose and activity.

Friends at your school also provide a wonderful opportunity for committed community. Here you see each other every day, are able to engage in homework assignments with each other, sing in the school choir together, play on the same basketball team , complain about the cafeteria and teachers together a perfect environment for commitment to emerge. School friendship can be very intense for short periods of time (some of course last for many years) and are place specific. Most often when you change schools or graduate these friendships evolve and new friendships emerge in your new school or work environment.

Competitive sports, performing symphonies or choirs are wonderful examples of committed communities though they are seldom talked about as such. When a team bonds (a link that binds people together in a relationship) and works together with mutuality and reciprocity during a game or concert the experience for both the audience and the players can be true magic. A sense of harmony and oneness is experienced by all.

A multi day yoga retreat or other such spiritual retreat is very short term and time specific but requires intense commitment and openness to the experience and those associated with such an experience.

Friends and family that we love dearly but struggle to see once a month is more the norm today than the exception. We are committed -   more than involved in their lives - but limit or are limited to being committed unable to engage in mutual acts of caring – we are often separated by circumstance or geography.

When we are active in our neighborhoods or the larger communities we live in we can be part of work groups and reciprocal relationships that are committed. This is especially true during times of crisis such as floods, fires or medical emergencies. A collective crisis response builds intense time and place specific experiences of community.

 Moving from regular donation or regular volunteering to really taking up a cause with others, I call this, “Getting involved in the cause altruism”, can provide very intense experiences of community and heighten commitment.

Making a commitment to a team, a neighborhood, friends and family provides an opportunity to deepen our sense of community. These relationships and experiences may be place or time specific but in this hectic world we live in committed communities are by far the most practical and source of meaningful community for people.


A sense of belonging, knowing that I belong is the most common desire of those seeking community but the one too seldom realized in these times.

Belonging on the continuum of community is recognized when acts of mutual caring are frequent and when personal Identity is associated with the group.

To belong can mean so many things and are often associated with an experience of community. What does it mean to belong? (Encarta)

Belonging can mean to be linked to somebody or a group or a place or time by relationship such as birth, affection or membership. Such as being “born” into the family, or the community of faith.

It might also be something that you classify yourself as or you are classified as part of something by others– a class or a group – “I belong in this club, these are my kind of people”. I am Jewish, Mennonite, Muslim or Canadian, French, American.

To feel like you are in the right place. To be accepted somewhere - to be made to feel welcome in a place or a group. To be cared for and you desire to reciprocate that caring.

A willingness to “lend”, or give your identity to a people or experience.

A feeling or a sense that, “I belong”, there is a flow between “the us” in this place, a common knowing and as such a feeling of security – “I am home”.

Family is the most common source of belonging, not for everyone of course. But family, extended family, has a common bond, history and is a natural place for mutual acts of caring occur. Identity often forged during childhood, is strongly influenced by family. Family provides less a sense of belonging today as people often live a long way away from each other. Family is less important for some people than for others. 

When you are a part of a trusting community over time, often a long time like a church/service club/community centre, this can provide an environment of belonging that evokes mutual acts of caring. Helping each other when you are sick, supporting each other through celebrations and tragedies, knowing what is going on in each others lives and caring and acting collectively.

In certain work places and especially when a groups work and sense of purpose of it’s members merges – as in working for a cause together a type of mutuality and belonging  can be achieved. In the early days of groups like Greenpeace or religious charities like the social catholic movement or Mennonite Central committee this typed of merged purpose continued deep acts and feeling of community and belonging amongst the members.

Close friends and neighbors, who over time and through many experiences form a bond of belonging. These are the type of bonds that are not easily broken by a change in circumstance, or a move to another city.

 The cultural bonding amongst Immigrants who have integrated into a new country and are reasonably settled provides a sense of common identity and promotes acts of mutual caring, this is especially true refugees settled together in a new country.

The experience of belonging is a deeply held desire of humans but one that is far to infrequent in the chaotic times we live in. 

I am

I am communities are far less frequent today than they once were. That said there are still many. On the community continuum engaged communities are those where Individual and collective identity frequently merge. Feelings of selflessness toward the cause or group, a sense of the collective experience is in part associated with a deep sense of common identity. Many people in engaged communities have made a deliberate choice to merge their identity with that of the group – it is essentially their main and for some their complete sense of identity.

Intentional communities as described earlier can be places where individual and collective identity is deeply connected. Those communities where everything is in common including finances and most major life decisions require such a complete commitment.

Religious orders like Monasteries and Ashrams also require a high degree of conformity and often require the surrender of individual identity for the good of the whole.

Early stage cultural bonding between immigrants, especially between refugees settling together into a new country can provide another experience of merged identity. As part of the healing, survival process immigrants may bridge the shock of their new experience with that of their previous one, which often had much pain the strength of that experience causes deep sense of together. As if others would not understand, language, culture and food become sources of common identity. Strongest in first generation.

Collective altruism by a bonded group can also create a deep sense of the collective and can become an expression of. Like Larche, M.C.C. ,Working Centre.

I am  community requires the deepest level of commitment.



Thanks Paul, for 'releasing'' your thinking on community, (quite like that concept - obviously you've been thinking about this for a long time, so the idea of 'releasing' helps to make that clear).   I'm still sorting out my thinking on what 'community' would best be described as, and offer these comments in that same spirit.  A couple of things strike me:One is the term 'committed'.  your description of it as time limited makes me realize that I've always used that term as a much more whole person and long term. Perhaps your descripion is more appropriate when, as you say, the relationship is cause related rather than about a 'whole community' perspective - a human relationship perspective that's about a person's general life outside of work, cause or agenda.  I'd probably use it where you have used "i am", for a reason that I'll explain.

Two - any human activity has both a dark side and a light side - they are interrelated and the interplay is sort of like a harmonic.   Seems to me that you've priviledged the light side in your descriptions. One aspect of that is when a strength becomes a weakness because the entity, the living system, has become unbalanced.   Your description in 'I am' creates a closed system - which isn't vibrant or particularly resilient.  The descriptor 'Committed' strikes me as one where the members of the community retain their own character and free will, and yet commit to the relationship fully.  Strong bonds among a diverse membership is a helpful concept for today's multicultural society. 

Thanks again Paul.  As I said, your words have helped me clarify my own thinking and thanks for that. Hopefully mine serve you too.