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The basic outline for mass human interaction is the large group setting. Many people gather together, either physically or figuratively, to work toward some common goal or simply to interact with others sharing some common feature of the group. A group is just this: many people stuck together. Think of your orientation groups, your awkward family parties with relatives you don’t quite know, that group project that you had to do last year. While you all belong together in some type of way, that defining characteristic is usually something more concrete: a college you go to, a relative you share, a class you’re in. Community, on the other hand, is everything in a group, plus more of the intangibles. People in a community are connected not only by the characteristic or purpose they share, but also by the invisible threads of emotional connections, familiar personalities, and interpersonal interactions. When a class becomes a community, its members are bonded by more than just the fact that they are studying renaissance history together. They learn more about the others than just their study habits or test scores,and for that, their class works together more closely.
The difference between membership and belonging is rooted in this same sense of a greater force of bonding. Membership is something that can be written on paper. “I’m a member of this club!” it says. “I volunteered for this organization!” Belonging, on the other hand, is something greater, and it requires more from both yourself and the others in your organization. It cannot be forced, but hard work toward organizational bonding can help to facilitate it. “I know these people, and they know me. We work together,” it says. “But more than that- we know each other. We understand each other. We just vibe.” Belonging is evident that first time when you settle down between two others at a group meeting and have a conversation that isn’t forced. The difference can be explained by an analogy of a new softball mitt. At first, when you stick your hand inside, it fits- uncomfortably so, but it will do most of the job. You might miss a couple of touchy ground balls on account of the glove’s stiffness, but your hand is in there, so technically it fits. Belonging is when that glove starts to work: when it molds to your hand, and it becomes a second part of your. You can field the tricky ground balls and catch the pop-ups, and you know that even after months of lack of use, if you put your hand back inside of that glove, it’ll fold right up to your skin like it used to. In this manner, belonging is something that may take more time, but in the end, feels significantly more personal, more YOU.
I’d argue that community and belonging are as important to human health as are shelter and clothing; in a way, they cater to the same needs. Your house keeps you safe physically, and gives you somewhere to come home to. Your community does the same; a good community will both support you and push you to thrive, all while embracing you and your strengths. Moreover, a quality community is composed of people who will bring out the best in you, simply by being around you. Belonging is like your clothing- it’s a second skin that makes you feel covered and unexposed to the discomforts brought by solitude of both purpose and companionship. When you belong to a group, you seem to gel with the others in the group, and your interests typically align with theirs. This environment facilitates cooperation and hard work, and is a place wherein you can succeed.