Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Search to Belong IV

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 continue with the second category ...

Social Space
This is the space where we connect with one another at a social level – sharing the “snapshots” of who we are. There is great need for people to connect socially – it creates a profound sense of belonging – even if the conversations are primarily “small talk.” Sometimes we denigrate social belonging as superficial and surmise that nothing significant takes place in social relationships.. Take away social relationships and our community (and even our personal) conversations become flat.

Social belonging is important for three reasons:
1. It provides space for neighbourly relationships. A neighbour is someone you know well enough to ask for small favours (borrow lawnmower, pick up mail, etc.). We meet briefly while “doing other things.” These relationships bring to a neighbourhood safety, comfort and connectedness.
2. This social space provides a safe selection space for us to decide with whom we would like to grow a “deeper” relationship and provide information to help others decide if they want to connect with us.
3. These interactions allow us to display a reality we create of who we are. We tell stories about what we do (about work and marriage and children) and how we got there. This creates the “snapshot.” This interaction is in many ways self-defining – it is an opportunity for us to explain who we are and how we see ourselves.
Sharing an authentic definition of who you are helps make significant social connections. Your definition of who you are helps you and helps the other person to connect, thus nurturing and the experience of belonging for both.

People who have a healthy sense of social belonging have the following competencies (meaning they have an understanding of certain ways to behave and an ability to conform in these ways). Another way of saying it is that people who are not able to grasp these social conventions are not always able to develop comfortable relationships in social settings. So Meyer suggest that the key social belonging competencies are:

+ They can formulate an authentic (and consistent) “snapshot” of who they are and what it may be like to have a relationship with them in personal (or more intimate) space. This “self” matches both who they are and who they are becoming with the surrounding social setting.
+ They can detect when others are presenting an authentic snapshot of themselves.
+ They have developed the ability to help others create their own snapshots by creating a social environment that both permits and promotes healthy self-promotion.
+ They are comfortable with spontaneous and sometimes short interactions.
+ They have harmony between defensive and offensive practices.
+ They are tactful.
+ They have the ability to plan and/or organize purposely engineered social games.
They are able to keep pleasant visual contact with others in social space. Eye contact comes through short glances – long enough not to be rude but brief enough not to stare.
+ They can maintain a “working consensus” with those sharing the social space (i.e. they get along).
+ They are comfortable with physical contact that has little or no meaning.
+ They have developed a skill for “sorting” others into appropriate spaces and can move relationships to those spaces (i.e. more intimate or less intimate) with a natural ease.
+ They have developed the social graces of a neighbour.

My response: These “competencies” seem a bit contrived at first glance, but are helpful for defining (or maybe describing) how people act in certain circumstances. Not everyone acts this way all the time but there is a “knowing” that each of us have when someone is behaving “funny” – it just doesn’t feel right and we can’t always explain why. Some people always want to move into personal conversations (like me) while others don’t want to engage at all. Johnny Carson was always uncomfortable in social group settings (like parties) because he was used to being in front of a crowd (where he was in control). Interacting with a few individuals meant he couldn’t control the questions or necessarily steer the conversation.

When I worked with street youth, there were many instances of inappropriate social interaction. Street youth interrupted sermons at church, stood too close, interrupted conversations, and every touch had too much meaning. One of the main focuses when working with these youth was to teach them social skills so they could interact better with society – a crucial skill for every employee. Parents have significant influence in teaching their children appropriate social interaction skills.

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