Community in Crisis Pt 2: Q-Anon, BLM, and Your New Zoom Friends

Why A Sense of Belonging Is Important...and Potentially Dangerous

Big news and big moves.

I’ve started as Director of Strategy at McKinney LA, boop!

And my first project is taking part in this Advertising Week panel called, ahem, Welcome to the Shit Show. You’re going to love it. See you there.

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Most Friday mornings, I log on to Zoom to hang out with a group of women I’ve never met IRL. I know their voices, their smiles, and sometimes even their cry-faces. I know whose energy buoys me, who has wisdom to drop beyond their years, and who always knows the right kind words. I’ve joined so much that I’ve been absorbed into the leadership group of this community: Ladies Who Strategize, a quarantine-fueled Slack group and Zoom meet-up where we talk about the personal and professional triumphs, tragedies, and tedium unique to 2020.

In the last six months, I’ve grown close to several communities composed of people I’ve never met in person. We gather on Slack, Discord, and Zoom, share conversation and ideas. I’ve made friends and built connections without leaving my home. There are people I’ve never hugged, never high-fived, and never even spoken to in person, with whom I have profound conversations that span work, love, and ideas. The bright side of this dark year for me are the connections I’ve made, primarily online.

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A bonding session of Zoom karaoke

The pandemic has unearthed for us the profound need for others. There’s a nice truism in here about community--its healing aspects, the way it’s served as a spine for so many of us tucked into homes and behind screens, confused by the twists and turns this year has served us personally, professionally, physically and socially. To feel a sense of belonging is correlated to having a sense of meaning, especially important in a time that challenges us.

Like I teed up in my last newsletter, there are multiple ways of building that sense of connection. In this particular moment, when it’s hard to gather in person and our usual vectors of connection have been derailed, many of us have turned to online communities to supplement that need for belonging.

The thing is, that belonging cuts both ways.

Bonding.

From the time we’re babies to the time we pair off and have babies of our own, we’re driven by the core human need to bond. When we don’t rely on traditional family or kinship structures, we still build spaces for bonding, often based on other similarities, whether it’s age, race, gender, religion, or interests. In sociology, the groups we bond with are called ‘the in-group.’

Belonging is a core human need; yet if we only seek out those like us, those who are different from whatever makes us feel belonging swiftly become the enemy. Those who are different are called the out-group. The tendency to demonize that out-group is swift and unforgiving, and it’s easy to flip the switch on that kind of tribalism. 

Diversity and inclusion trainer Jane Elliot uses in-group and out-group senses to connect people to the sense of compassion for what it’s like to be in the outgroup by focusing on something seemingly trivial: eye color. By creating in and out-groups based on this tiny detail, she demonstrates how swiftly we bond--and how swiftly we exclude. Her hope is with that understanding, we will be aware of out-group experiences.

To feel excluded triggers the same receptors as physical pain, a deep atavistic callback to a time when being excluded from your social group could be a death sentence. 

Cults use the need for belonging to create intense loyalty and cut people off from the ‘outside.’ The Q Anon cult has been exacerbated as people with no outlet gather around digital beacons. Part of Q Anon’s appeal, as it ideologically cleaves people from their loved ones, is this statement: ‘We are your family now,’ turning even family members and those who don’t adhere to the same ideas as out-group members. 

Q-Anon’s “we’re your family now” response trend was pointed out by Twitter user @travis_view

Bridging.

Bridging is another form of connection, one that connects us to those unlike ourselves. I grew up as an immigrant in a tiny mid-western town, and my whole life was spent bridging. I am attracted to difference, as I have yet to find my in-group of Dutch-Indonesian agnostics who grew up in small town America (Mark-Paul Gosselaer is my one role model!). But I’ve found other versions of similarity in difference--the immigrant experience, the Third Culture kid, the model minority myth. Bridging is an interest in difference, a curiosity about an experience not our own.

After years of being an in-group experience, in 2020 the Black Lives Matter protest broke through. Much has been made of the diversity of the protests, and the reckoning that many non-Black people have had about the history of race in America. The ongoing presence of Black activist books in the best sellers demonstrates that in spite of the punishingly fast news cycle, much of non-Black America is still engaged in the bridging activity of trying to understand. 

Bonding and Bridging.

It’s important for us as individuals to have both bonding and bridging as part of our lives. Without bonding, our sense of belonging is thin. Without bridging, our focus becomes too narrow and exclusionary.

In the shadow of a 2020 US election, we’re over-indexing on a form of ideological bonding that excludes people and even information that disagree. Most people know few if any people who disagree with them on a presidential candidate. The new Netflix doc The Social Dilemma goes deep into how social media bubbles and content algorithms radicalize us by driving ideological wedges.

A still from The Social Dilemma

It’s useful to be aware of how we’re connecting, and make sure we have a healthy mix of bonding and bridging. With the pandemic, we’ve circled our wagons and only grown more protective, bonding with those in our immediate proximity. It’s becoming increasingly hard to have conversations that truly bridge, with the barriers of masks and social distance, and the animosity across ideologies. But each opportunity we have to build a tiny bridge, even if it’s as fragile as a matchstick bridge, is worth it.

A small joy: this website of a 2002 high school class’s toothpick bridge projects.

Other good links

  • Sara Wilson’s Digital Campfires download connects with the builders of micro-communities, from brands like Chinese Laundry to podcasts like Forever 35.

  • If you’re a lady who strategizes, join one of the communities that’s sustained me through quarantine; sign up here.

  • I’ve also been privileged to be part a group of brilliant brains who’ve taught me so much over the quarantine via a Slack community of diverse thinkers (think bridging), all by writing about things that interest me for Why Is This Interesting. Read up on what people are digging into here, and reach out if you’re interested in writing and connecting.

2020 has served as a breaking point for so many structures in leadership, health, justice, economy, and equality. I explore how individuals and companies can find lessons out of this year’s challenges to create a better world.

Next week for subscribers, I’ll be talking about how brands can navigate bridging & bonding. If you’re not subscribed, join now.