All people belong to specific groups or communities: to a family or a flat-share, to the female or the male gender, to kindergarten groups or school classes, to cliques, to linguistic or cultural communities, to a local, regional or national political group, a religion, leisure and sports groups, a work team or a company, a neighborhood or a household, a minority group, and much more.
Belonging is not identical with membership though. While membership—for example in an association or a party—is established through a contract in which the future member gives her or his consent to a program or to statutes, belonging is generated from a shared history of relationships that can already have been established by previous generations (see matrix).
However, the fact of belonging to a group is not sufficient to feel this belonging. This requires yea-saying to a shared history of relationships, expressed through speech and action. Belonging is most intensely felt through common actions such as playing together, dancing, demonstrating or writing a text together.
Some people complain that they feel lonely and unloved in a community. They thereby overlook the fact that they may have excluded themselves by way of demonstrative retreat. In some communities individuals are denied participation, they are excluded or „bullied.” Thus, in order to feel connected, the factual affiliation must be confirmed not only by oneself, but by others as well.
Belonging is experienced as more permanent and stable when people commit themselves and share strong ties with one another. As belonging is based on a history of relationships, it allows differences to be perceived and conflicts to be addressed. Commonality is not defined through actual consent in terms of dogmas, contents, and programs. A stable affiliation cannot easily be lost, for example because of a single argument. Even the proverbial „black sheep” still belongs to the family.
The Internet facilitates confirmation of belonging even over long distances. In particular, the social networks are helpful, as often the pressing of the „like” button is enough to give one a sense of belonging. Especially when people have fallen out of their communities, through retirement, unemployment, relocation, illness, or accident, they can find their way back to communities by experiencing belonging via social media.
The yearning for affiliation can, however, also lead people to join groups that ensure a feeling of belonging by denigrating others, excluding, or even violently acting against them. In such contexts, sometimes also in working relationships, in religious or political groups, the strong desire for belonging can lead people to harm themselves and others by acting against their own interests and convictions for fear of losing their connectedness. However, this is actually a sign that an affiliation is pretended or fantasized only and has no real basis in concrete relationships.
Fortunately, the wish to connect and to belong can lead humans to join and engage in groups that are committed to a good life for all. Belonging can foster a capacity for active resistance and is thus an important factor in the effort for a good life for all.