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Group vs Community

Unlike a group, a community will integrate diversity into its composition – accept the contributions, opinions, and companionship of various peoples. Note that diversity is not necessarily defined by traditional measures of diversity, for example, Asian Students Association and Mary Lou Center for Black Culture are two communities on campus that are based on their common race, but they diversify themselves in other factors, such as geographical location, hobbies, and ethical values. A good community will integrate these various backgrounds into common activities that will serve to unite its members, while giving them a place to take ownership of their individuality.

Membership vs Belonging

Now, when it comes to membership vs belonging, three main differences come to mind. First, when you belong to a group or community, you feel a higher sense of connection because you base your identity on that group. Just like I did in high school, you could join as many honor societies out of desperation to get Southern Harvard to notice you, but rarely will they represent what you truly stand for. In other words, belonging indicates that the core values of a group or community resonate with yourself. Second, when you belong to a group, your interactions with them will become more natural as a result. You can invite people to a group, but it’ll take time before they truly belong. They will feel comfortable integrating themselves into a group because that group acts as an expression of themselves.

For example, if you joined one of those honor societies in high school, say a math honor society because you’ve done math competitions in the past and you’ve wanted to continue that into high school, that would be an example of belonging rather than member. Finally, when you belong to a community, its activities should involve active sharing of ideas. I am a tutor on campus, and while I base my identity on being a tutor, I wouldn’t say I necessarily fully belong to a group of tutors, because I rarely interact with anyone else in the process (Not to say that I haven’t enjoyed the experience, it’s just more individualistic than I’ve expected it to be).

Role in Change

Groups don’t inspire change because members don’t feel compelled enough to act upon their group’s ideals, at least by their own accord. Generally, groups are created for temporary purposes – hell, last time I checked my GroupMe and messenger groups, 97% of all the groups I’ve ever been part of haven’t been active in months or even years. The first thing I thought of when I heard the term “group” was the Writing 101 group that I was forced to make as part of the course. I was active with them for the two months I was(n’t) writing my final paper for the course, but never talked to them outside this period. The point is that groups are good for short-term missions, but not long-term connections.

Now, the above isn’t to criticize groups – they’re necessary to begin with. Every community starts off as a group, after all. But when a person’s identity aligns with a community’s common values and that community provides outlets and other members for them to explore their role with said values, that’s when people are compelled to change as a result, because the community is designed a model of change in mind. Agreement on core principles is established – primarily respect, and then the following meetings/messages elevate those core principles into valuable discussions. There’s an article from DukeEngage Week 1 describing the Nazareth Manifesto from Rev. Sam Wells, describing the acts of working for, working with, and being with. Being with is the hardest because it not only requires basing your contributions on the community’s needs, but because it requires you to feel their pain. Suffering becomes a common collective. When one feels hurt, we all feel that hurt. But when you belong to a group, that suffering becomes natural in our lives. And we begin the process of healing together as a result.