One Day You’re In… and the Next, You’re Out!
Of course, community-making also has a less inclusive side. In addition to defining who belongs, we also have to decide who doesn’t belong. You can’t just let anybody in, or the whole point of belonging would be moot. Not everybody can be Amish; there are guidelines for joining – and staying in – the community. You can’t just decide one day, you’re no longer Catholic… but Jewish; you have to go through proper channels to make that transition. And you can’t just waltz into a new job and take over the place; you have to find where you fit in the pecking order.
Setting boundaries allows us to protect the existential safety of existing members. It maintains the integrity of the group, as well as fosters a sense of belonging for those who are admitted. Not just anybody can join, because those anybodies may not share the core values and attributes that connect the group. Keeping people out “quality controls” the integrity of the social container and lets members know they can keep their guard down and relax, because they know what to expect from others.
We are constantly clarifying who belongs, and who doesn’t… continuously separating the proverbial wheat from the chaff. We create informal tests to see who belongs in our social circle, and we administer them regularly. Are you married? Do you have kids? Do you have pets? Where do you work? Where do you worship? We read the news and go on social media to see who is with us, and who is against us. We watch t.v. to find out how the authorities are ritually culling the herd – Who’s getting laid off? Who’s going to jail? – as well as remind ourselves how important it is to know who is friend and who is foe. We try out for sports teams and choirs. We take quizzes online to determine our Myers-Briggs personality type, and then we seek out other INTJs and ENFPs online. We interview for coveted jobs. We sit before panels and must pass muster before joining a town board. The ultimate modern rite of passage – attending university – involves an extended application process (with multiple significant barriers) to attend the school of our choice. The higher the stakes or prestige of membership, the higher the barriers. The groups with the greatest “social currency” are seldom easy to join, and that increases their perceived value.