6.8. Communities Are All About Emotions

Shared, genuine, positive emotions are what bind a community together.

This may sound strange at first. But one of the biggest factors in community-building is the regulation of emotion.

Shared, genuine, positive emotions are what bind a community together.

When people stop feeling positively, when the emotions start to feel forced, and when people turn on each other—that’s what splits communities apart.

We often fall short of that gold standard where everybody feels shared, genuine, positive emotions.

And when we do, we try to cheat our way to that outcome—or to an outcome that at least lets the community remain functional and sustainable, even if it isn’t exactly thriving.

One of the ways we do this is through rituals.

Rituals don’t have to be formal events. A Catholic Mass is a ritual—but so too is getting ready for it, driving there, and socializing with people before and after the main event.

Anything that’s scripted, or takes on a predictable course, or comes to be expected can function as a ritual.

Rituals can be really powerful bonding experiences.

But they can also fail to inspire people. They can become old and stale. People will stop investing meaning into them, and just kind of go through the motions.

Usually, there’s a crackdown that happens next, where the folks who are becoming more distant are shamed. The community insists that it’s those people’s fault, not the ritual’s fault. They need to either suck it up and get with the program, or go find another community.

Needless to say, this doesn’t always go over very well.

But functional communities have ways of dealing with this—ways of either letting people express their negative emotions in ways that don’t threaten the integrity of the group, or of sweeping those emotions under the rug.

As one group of sociologists puts it: “There must be, if not feelings of satisfaction, then feelings of complacency or resignation; there must be fear of change or of being punished for protest; and there must not be too much sympathy for the oppressed or too much anger toward elites.

“Sustaining a system of inequality, one that generates destabilizing feelings of anger, resentment, sympathy, and despair, requires that emotions be managed.”

This is true both of our society at large, as well as the many smaller communities that exist within it.

It’s why we have so many formal and informal rules about what can be said, how it can be said, and who can say what to whom.

It’s why we sometimes talk about things in neutral, abstract, dispassionate language, to minimize the emotions involved—and, at other times, we use the most passionate, emotional language at our disposal, to inflame people’s feelings.

And it’s why when people break these rules—even when they’re expressing totally righteous anger or resentment—they tend to be frowned upon or punished. Because they’re supposed to go through the “official,” sanctioned ways of resolving their grievances…even if they don’t exist, or are biased.

To build a strong community, we need to deal collectively, healthily, and productively with our emotions.

We need to encourage shared, genuine, positive emotions—without resorting to those cheating or oppressive tactics.

And we’ll look at how to do that more closely in the next few videos.


This is the 100th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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