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Community is Belonging

7 Comments 29 October 2010

There is a great deal of chatting these days, both on and offline about ‘community’ and its value.  But in actuality, what is community?  Do you have it?  Do you experience community in your life?

Some interesting perspective on community and “social capital” comes from these two books.

In Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam states that social capital has been falling in the United States. Putnam found that over the past 25 years, attendance at club meetings has fallen 58 percent, family dinners are down 33 percent, and having friends visit has fallen 45 percent.

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg states in The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community that people need three places: 1) the home, 2) the office, and, 3) the community hangout or gathering place.  With this philosophy in mind, many efforts such are being started to create this “Third Place” in communities. They are taking form in independent bookstores, coffeehouses, local pubs, and through many innovative means to create the social capital needed to foster the sense and spirit of community.

I worked for Starbucks for a while in St. Louis and the big push for us as baristas and supervisors was to indeed create this ‘third place.‘  A place were people felt, to steel the line from Cheers, “everybody knows my name. We worked hard to to this in our store and it bred a strong sense of belonging among our patrons.

But in my BIG LIFE, I am seeing more and more the need for community.  I live in a small village or township of a relatively large city in the South.  Here, it matters who knows your name.  I have come to understand the value of being ‘known’ not just for social gatherings and for the connections with the parents of my children’s friends, but in what it means in a rough economy to try to find a job.  It matters that you belong to a third place.

Belonging, being known is a huge part of being ‘seen’ and ‘heard’.  When others know your story, when they have an understanding of where you’ve come from and how all of your pieces fit together, you have “social capital.”  They feel connected to you and you belong.  Belonging means having people who can empathize with where you are and where you need to be.  Belonging is community!

Where do you belong?  Do you think it is vital?  Do you have a third place?

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7 Comments so far

  1. ridgely says:

    Your post reminds us that we are not alone- we need to reach out to each other.
    outstanding post

    • Jorja says:

      ridgely, how are you dear one? i hope your health has improved and you are back in the swing of things. indeed we need each other, but we often forget this fact! love you

  2. Judy Helfand says:

    I know today you are probably really consumed with Halloween and celebrating with your children. Happy Halloween.
    I wanted to stop by here again today because your thoughts about community are provocative. Putnam’s statistics seem to ring true. I think about my own parents’ involvement in “community” when I was growing up. Let see: they were active members in the Catholic parish, the Catholic Grammar School Mothers’ Guild (don’t ask me where the Dads were in this organization), Fraternal Order of Eageles and the Womens’Auxiliary to same, VFW, American Legion, the American Red Cross. The amazing thing about their involvement is that they really seemed committed to each community’s goal and each of these communities offered us (the whole family) a busy social life – with picnics, dances, bizarres, festivals, rummage sales. The friendships formed were lifelong and supportive, what you refer to as “Social Capital”.
    Oldenburg talks about places, but are his examples real communities? I am not sure. Maybe they are, but with less structure and a more limited purpose.
    It seems lately that alot of people talk about Community Managers…in the social media world. I am wondering if you don’t know how to be part of a community at the most basic level, like eating dinner with your family, joining clubs, or having friends over, then what will qualify one to be the Community Manager at the local, regional, national or international business.

    Well, friend, thanks for making us think.


    • Jorja says:

      it is a very different world that we live in today…considering how much people find their “community” online in the virtual world. while i obviously am not opposed to having a community online, i agree with you that real time, real life community is not only useful, but necessary for healthy people to develop. as far as oldenburg, i simply think that we are “garage closing people” by nature in that we have become much more prone to go into our garages and live very individualistic and even selfish lives. we fail to be neighbors, true neighbors to those around us, starting with our own families. however, our need to belong hasn’t changed and, as a result, we will seek it out anywhere. the examples he gives can be the beginnings of solid community or belonging, but they must be taken to a deeper level than simply sipping a latte with the same people everyday. community comes from being KNOWN and that takes effort and vulnerability. we could probably talk about this all day long. thanks for contributing.

  3. Prasanta says:


    Our neighborhoods do seem to reflect we are “garage closing people” more now than ever before. Our TVs, and now the computers, are the “friends” we have been conversing with lately. It’s safe. We don’t have to learn how to interact with our neighbors, or even our families, and sometimes I wonder who we’re going to be in another 20 years. My 4th grader says most of the conversation at his lunch table with other boys is about video games. Really?? The conversation of 4th graders has the potential to be lively, imaginative, funny, goofy, with childlike observations about the adult world…. To me, it is a sad marker of the times and a warning flag for the future. We are in danger of losing our imaginations, our ability to think creatively, our ability to invent, to think out of the box… again I wonder who we are going to be.

    Yet in some neighborhoods, to take your “garage door” analogy, especially the lower income ones (where I have some good and close friends), they are more of “sitting on the front porch” people. They are OUT and talking with one another. They have a weekly meal together. Does a higher socioeconomic status raise another barrier between us? Does having more money make us more insular? Sometimes looks that way, sad to say.

    “Knowing and being known” is something I think we all deeply desire, and we need, but do not always make the effort, or may not even know how to. There is something to be said of meeting with the same people for latte… we need a group that knows us and where we can be truly ourselves. Yet we can’t stay there. We need to be open, out and available and willing to be “out there”, willing to stretch, to others. I think being part of a community is vital– we need it. But it is the healthy group (starting with healthy individuals) that knows how to reach beyond itself (or herself). Even with all of our barriers today, whether they be socioeconomic, technological, racial, or whatever, belonging to a community is something we want and we do need (whether we recognize it or not). The problem is we don’t do it, and often when we find a group, we become complacent and just stay put in our safe little nest.
    Thanks for posting and starting a dialogue! It’s a worthy topic.

    • Jorja says:

      yes, yes and yes. thanks for taking the time to articulate your wisdom on the topic. it would be lovely to sit around a table with good wine and discuss it! maybe one day!

  4. Prasanta says:

    Would love to do that!! It’s a date. One day in the future.

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“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...” Annie Dillard

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