Connection through Isolation: Origins of Community Explained amid Crisis

There’s irony to be found in feeling sharedness and sense of community during isolation. 

Sharing struggle through a rich conversation is a powerful way to service community through engagement. It proves no one suffers alone. As we start to consider what it means to be committed to something – whether that be to a group, cause, religion, ideology, brand, product, or person – we can begin recognizing that the meaning we attach to these objects differ from person to person and is often dependent upon resources.

You might have learned something different about yourself in social distancing. The mass postponement of live events around the world have eliminated the outlets we took for granted.

What are those outlets? Churches. Sporting events. Hiking. Hot yoga. What meaning does symbolic locations hold for members? Wellness. Faith. Freedom. What do those communities stand for? Connection. Affirmation of self-value.

This is the personification of “I’m not the only one.” Now we have no choice, but to use this time of isolation as an opportunity to look into not only what communities we belonged to, but also why. What emotionally do they supply us? Where else can I achieve that emotional fulfillment? Is community an idea or a feeling…or is there even a difference?! If so, what’s the differentiator? Can community be strictly an internal practice or mentality? Like an emotional destination based on our innate yearning for human connection?

I have questions.

We all will have different answers.

But consider the access to resources (or lack thereof) and how this will impact how likeminded people form, behave, and sustain membership in group(s).

Organizational Psychology researchers Allen and Meyer (1991) developed a conceptual framework for understanding the emotional motives behind attitudinal and behavioral commitment. This unsung research discipline lays the groundwork for understanding how loyalty is instilled.

Three components of commitment exist which when all three are achieved and nurtured (through a series of supportive behaviors), a person be considered emotionally invested and committed as an emotional stakeholder.

  1. Affective Attachment
    1. The “Want” factor; emotionally based.
    1. Stems from the psychological connection one has to an organization that s/he identifies with, is involved in, and enjoys membership in.
    1. Ex: “I want to watch the game” or “I feel lost…I want to go to church.”
  2. Continuance
    1. The “Need” factor; FOMO (fear of missing out)
    1. A person will behave consistently because of the perceived emotional costs of missing out and not acting a certain way.
    1. Ex: “It’s game day so I need to wear Dodger blue” or “I need to watch Game 7 because I can’t miss watching who wins the championship. My friends will give me such a hard time.”
  3. Normative
    1. The “Should” factor; reference to obligation
    1. Elevated senses of responsibility that a person has to their affiliated organization, team, sport, etc.
    1. Ex: “I should tailgate to represent all the west coast Philadelphia Eagles fans living in LA” or “I was voted most popular instructor, so I should teach an extra yoga class because I have a responsibility to this community now.”

Start to think about how applicable this is to various corporate, marketing, professional, academic, and personal settings for a second…

  1. ✅ Corporate settings want to retain employees to avoid a turnover human resources nightmare.
  2. ✅ Marketing executives have made “community management” a responsibility, budgeting thousands towards audience growth and retention strategies for both traditional and digital spaces.
  3. ✅ Academia is founded on identity theories, using several psych-based concepts to interpret what sparks collective action and certain behaviors.
  4. ✅ And personally – who hasn’t thought about the first time they got “hooked” to something, or the different ways you showcase your passion for comics, or what you regularly say to your kids trying to pass down your New York Yankees fandom as a generational token.

No matter which hat you wear – work, personal, or otherwise – commitment and community are rooted in the human experience.

There’s no playbook on navigating through a global pandemic or how to emotionally respond as a result of physical, social, and economic shutdowns. Failing to adhere to #StayHome orders can come with grim consequences.

Groups by definition are a means to separate collections of people based on a number of prescribed customs, norms, ideas, etc. A set of unique differentiators must exist to allow individuals to distinguish us from them. Tribalism. Put on your figurative psychology contact lenses and start to interpret the meaning behind various symbols, semiotics, landmarks…flags, chants, hand gestures…what do they mean and how do they make people behave (whether they are a member or the “enemy”…). Sports has kept it real and back to basics with the use colors as a means to differentiate themselves from others.  

In traditional and digital settings, there are spaces full of triggers that can initiate a thought (for the good and the bad). Now – consider how a person can thrive amongst likeminded others — and flip it – how the others/collective group can thrive as well from individual accomplishment, nourishment, and personal growth…

But which groups might be absent of ego enough to see this as an “if you succeed then we succeed” scenario?

Currently in the thick of Covid19, screen time doesn’t seem to be a problem anymore. From a top-down sentiment perspective, technology appears to have become more accepted in households. Many comments in fact have labeled digital communication and social engagement tools as a life saver of sorts in the thick of social distancing.

Point is, you aren’t able to take that Crossfit class. Or watch Wimbledon. Or even help your daughter get ready for her first Prom and take dozens of photos to embarrass her in front of her date.

…But when the smoke clears, and you get to finally exhale all that heavy stale air of stress that’s been growing in your chest – you can come out of this situation wiser, with a stronger self-awareness to recognize the newfound meaning you’ve attached to media, your connections, and the communities (old and new) that you’re emotionally invested it.

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