Bridging And Bonding
Groups of people are fascinating, and I expect I’ll write a bunch more on the topic here. One interesting attribute of groups and communities is that they have bridging and bonding aspects.
A bonding aspect is when people in a group have attributes or interests in common, often related to the group’s purpose. Bridging aspects are things that set the members of the group apart. A choir, for instance, will usually have the primary bonding aspect of interest in music. Unless it’s a choir at work, it will bridge across different professions, or across class or origin.
You can learn a lot by looking at the bridging and bonding aspects of your communities and groups. Groups usually have unintended bonding aspects, which may be harmful if they are not a conscious choice. A choir may have secondary bonding aspects like locality, or membership in another group (church choirs, uni choirs). But it could also turn out to have an unintended bonding aspect of race, or class.
You can often see this pattern in tech groups, which like to think they are just bonding on the topic of technology, and bridging on everything else. But in practice they’ll also turn out to be bonding on the level of being white, young, male, and/or from at least middle-class origins.
If the unintended secondary aspects are not reflected and managed, they can turn nasty. They will at least put off potential members who don’t fit the characteristic. When the primary bonding aspect puts off people, that’s intentional, of course. The choir is there for people interested in singing, so if you’re not interested, it’s not meant to appeal to you. But if you’re interested in singing and you would be the only person of your origin there, you might the feeling that the choir feels surprised and not equipped to deal with you not fitting in. As a consequence, people often understandably decide not to bother.
This seems like a obvious pattern, but it’s not easy to break out of it. Visible (“legible”) cases like these are comparatively easy to see and to point out. But what if your choir starts out as a group with the bonding aspect of “people who like to sing” and then you unintentionally introduce the insidious secondary bonding aspect of “people who are good at singing”? It’s an easy bait-and-switch, but harder to see.
Once you see unintentional bonding aspects, though, you can work to correct them. Even pointing them out can help, because it shows people that you’re willing to do some work to make them welcome.
The idea of bridging and bonding aspects of communities comes from “Get Together: How to build a community with your people” by Bailey Richardson, Kevin Huynh, and Kai Elmer Sotto. It’s a side note in the book and I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise unless you are currently building a community for a commercial entity.