Thursday, November 20, 2003

Chapter Three of the search to belong (in my haste i jumped from chaps 2 to 4 w/o 3, so here it is.)


Based out of Edward Hall’s identification of the four spaces of human interaction, Joe broadens Hall’s schematic to include not only questions of culture and communication, but of community and belonging. We experience belonging in all four spaces of human interaction: public, social, personal, intimate.

Unlike animals, our conception of space is all a matter of perspective. Being physically close to someone doesn’t mean that person is in intimate “space” as a crowded elevator would reveal. So the spaces referred to from now on are the spaces intersecting physical and mental.


Because public space is the least understood/appreciated Joe spends the most time here. “Public belonging happens when we connect through outside influences. It isn’t about connecting person to person; it is about sharing a common experience”(p.41). A common experience might be a sporting event, a concert, political rally, or worship service. The key to understanding public space is to see that it is an extrinsic motivating or organizing principle to people’s belonging. While they may not know each others names, they are there for a similar reason focused on a similar event. So when the crowd starts cheering during the great play and you high five everyone around you, you are belonging and making connections in public space. This connection and belong happens during the daily routine- you wake up, get your coffee, say “hi” to your neighbors, the clerk, or the guard at your office, etc.

Public space however is not necessarily a place for strangers. Strangers are ones who don’t connect; those who connect are “public belongers” (p. 42). So there is a difference b/w anonymity and being a stranger. People don’t want to be strangers when they come into church, even if they want to be anonymous. And it doesn’t mean that people are disconnected or on the fringes if they only belong in the public space, nor do we need to feel like we must move people into a different space. As long as our worship service/church life doesn’t make people feel like strangers, but moves them into a space of belonging, then that connection should be counted a success and celebrated.

Social“In many ways, social belonging is the ‘small talk’ of our relationships”(p.45). Just because a small group never goes beyond casual dialogue, or a bible study’s most valuable time is the conversation before and after (instead of the “compelling” teaching) we should not judge them failures. People need to make connections on the social level. We connect through sharing “snapshots” of who we are.

This space is important for three reasons. First, it is where we make neighbor relationships. This type of relationships is where you can ask for small favors and exchange “small talk.” This used to happen with actual neighbors, but even if they aren’t your actual neighbors, we all still need these relationships which create a “neighborhood” of belonging. Second, this is a safe selection space to decide whether to move people into a different space. This selection process happens b/c, thirdly, in this space we offer context specific “snapshots” of who we are and who we are becoming. This space is not merely a bridge b/w public space and personal space, but a space where we are continually discovering ourselves and others, nurturing neighborly relationships.

Personal“Personal space is where we connect through sharing private- though not “naked”- experiences, feeling, and thought”(p.47). Those that we connect with in this space are “close friends.” There is, however, much confusion in this space b/c many time we think of it as intimate space, but really it isn’t because we aren’t sharing our inner most, naked thoughts, feelings, ideas. And when we then want to talk about those relationships where we do share our naked selves, we don’t have a category for it.

This is where we share our “naked” thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Too often we make this the “mecca” of belonging, community, and relationships, but this is too over-value intimate space. How would life be if every person we knew we knew intimately? It would be awful and over whelming.

Healthy Community
To achieve healthy community Joe points out that we must have “harmonious connections within all four spaces. Harmony means more public belonging than social. More social than personal. And very few intimate…A healthy strategy for those working to build community entails allowing people to make significant relationships in all four spaces—all four. It means permitting people to belong in the space they want or need to belong. Insisting that real, authentic, true community happens only when people get “close” is a synthetic view of reality and may actually be harmful”(p.51-52). Our goal should be to invite strangers in so that they are no longer strangers. Our goal is not to invite them in to be ‘intimate’. We should invite people into the family, allowing them to belong, connect, and enter community the way they need to. (For how this is accomplished see my summary of chapter four on Monday, Nov 17.)

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