Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Search to Belong III

As we continue to look at Joseph Meyer's book, "The Search to Belong" we see him describing the various spaces in which people make connections. Although he goes through all four spaces in two different ways in two different chapters, I thought I would collate the information and organize it according to the space described. So we start with ...
Public Space
This is where we make connections with strangers and acquaintances (like the grocery store, the gym, ball games, etc.) and where we might recognize someone but not necessarily ever know their full name, where they live and may never meet them outside of that context. These relationships give a sense of belonging in a neighbourhood or community without which we would feel like a stranger or out of place. We should not be surprised that mere acquaintances (site specific and episodic relationships) can hold significance in one’s heart and mind.

Public belonging happens when we connect through outside influences (not shared personal information). It isn’t about connecting person to person; it is about sharing a common experience (like being a fan of a sports team, shopping at the same store, taking the same bus to work, etc.). In fact if these people were to exchange personal information, they by definition move to a different space in one another's life (social space). There is a difference between a public belonger and a stranger. The stranger is not and does not feel connected. Once a stranger connects he becomes a belonger.

Public belongers are not “on the fringe” – they are committed and participate – but on their own terms. It is not necessarily true that they need to be closer to be committed. We need to validate that there is public belonging that is important to people and find ways to affirm their participation. Much of Jesus’ ministry was connecting to people in public space – the Centurion, the rich young ruler, blind Bartimaeus. Too often we treat these as casual relationships and devalue their importance to life. In fact public belonging is a space where we need numerous significant relationships in order to experience a sense of healthy belonging and community. We need to develop more connections in this space than in any of the other three. True community can be experienced in public space – it is not mere togetherness; it is connectedness. It is in many ways family.

An essential key to developing community is the maturing of our competencies for growing significant committed public belonging. Public belonging occurs when people connect through an outside influence. People who have a healthy sense of public belonging possess the following competencies (meaning an understanding of ways of behaviour and an ability to conform in these ways):
+ public belongers are able to share a common experience, team and/or personality without being compelled to pull these relationships “closer”
+ they practice social conformity – they abide by socially accepted rules and practices for public life
+ they develop the skills to welcome strangers as belongers
+ they participate significantly in one-time, episodic and site specific ways
+ they find appropriate visual focus – this visual focus does not convey a social, personal or intimate “touch” (for example: eye contact for more than a glance communicates a desire to be in a space other than public).
+ they develop a sense of humour – this humour offers a degree of detachment.
+ they have developed a peresence that conveys that they are comfortable in public space and that they mean no harm to those around them
+ they are comfortable with little or no physical contact

My response to this description is that these public belonging behaviours are in many ways culturally bound (North American) and will probably vary (and may be more or less enforced) from one culture to another. Some people would call these "competencies "social skills." Many people don't like functioning in this "public" or more distant way and constantly "invade your space" or cross these public boundaries. Street people often have no sense of relating as public belongers and well get into your face to ask for money or favours and often make others on a bus or on the street feel uncomfortable. "Needy" people often cross these behavioural boundaries and make functioning in a small group difficult.

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