by Martha Stewart
We are and have been a member of a different community. Every community has members with a high sense of community and some where the sense is low. What is a sense of community? It is when you feel that you are connected to a community that is interdependent. What is interdependent mean? You are dependent on each other and others in your community. Have you ever walked in your neighborhood and found groups of people talking to each other, who you know are neighbors? Of course, you have. We all have. You may have called a neighbor and asked if you can catch a ride to the supermarket because your car is in the shop. That’s interdependent. A neighbor may have stopped you on the side of the road just to ask how you are and if you want to go get coffee. There are some individuals who have never introduced themselves to their neighbors and never have that sense of community. The sad part about this is you never know who you can become friends with and who might be someone you can share things with. If you have taken a walk, in your neighborhood, on a weekend, a saw a neighborhood yard sale taken place, you may have thought to yourself, ‘why didn’t they ask me?’. These neighbors may not even know you exist because you never took the time to introduce yourself. Back in the 60s and 70s, mostly everyone knew who their neighbors were because they were always out and about, never staying in, hiding from the world. Their children played with each other, they got together at someone’s house for coffee to chit chat, and they pretty much knew each other’s business. They were fully connected to their community. Today, there are not that many people who do this anymore. People are afraid to get to know their neighbors because they are not sure of what they might think about who they are, what they do for a living, how they raise their children, whether or not they’re on state assistance and don’t want to be mocked, and any other issues that may arise that may keep them from getting to know them.
A sense of community consists of four elements: ‘membership, influence, reinforcement integration of fulfillment needs, and shared emotional connection’ (Byrne, 2014).
Membership is when you feel you belong to a community, you feel you have the right to belong there, you are part of the community, you have a personal connection, you have a sense of emotional safety, you feel accepted, and you identify with your community. If you have made many friends in the community you feel you have a personal investment, and you feel that you can identify with the people who belong there and feel encroached by people who you know don’t belong there. If we are part of a community, we have all had these feelings. We may or may not identify with all of them but we will have a sense of community. Just like a gym membership, you pay your dues to be there and you know who does and doesn’t belong.
Influence: This includes your making a difference and having an influence on other members of the community and they make a difference to you. Do you conform with what others do and say? As a member of your community you have a right to offer your opinion about what happens in and around your community and you also have a closeness to these people.
Reinforcement integration of fulfillment needs refers to you having something that the community offers and the community has something you want. You may also feel as though you have been rewarded when you participated in something the community has done. You also feel that you were respected for what you have offered and you should respect what others, in your
community, have offered. Do you feel you have some type of similarities to others? There may be more people in your community who feel the same.
Shared emotional connection bring people together. You share a common bond. You spend time together and the quality of this time is greatly appreciated. You also have an emotional connection that is going to build as long as you are in this community. Giving something of value to others, by way of knowledge and experience, just might get you the same. Everyone has different stories and experiences to share that you may come away with, something you can use in your own life.
Don’t just sit back. Get out and socialize with your community. Join a group. Even if it’s reading group at the library or a neighborhood yard sale, someone told you was coming up. You need to open yourself up to get something in return. Enjoy your community.
Martha Stewart is a graduate student in the Community Social Psychology department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Byrne, Shannon, (6/2/2014), 4 Elements to Creating a “Sense of Community” by David McMillan, Retrieved from: http://thecommunitymanager.com/2014/02/06/4-elements-to-creating-a-sense-of-community-by-dr-david-mcmillan/