The longing for community or the transformation from ME to WE

Being in community is the central moment for participation in self-organized groups in addition to the activities – the commitment against climate change, for the integration of refugees, for a decentralized, citizen-organized energy transition. People are looking for jointly created spaces that enable individual development and at the same time a compassionate community.

Science is also thinking of a successful togetherness. Hartmut Rosa’s “Sociology of World Relations” („Soziologie der Weltbeziehungen“) should be mentioned here as an example. It tries to generalize a supposedly “private question” about the “good life”. The successful togetherness also becomes understandable when you look at its counterpart – alienation: it is the cold, rigid and isolated being of the subject, which feels separated from the world. Silent pain, depression, numbness or cold are the results. This alienation is a characteristic of late modern society – it is a “relationship of unrelatedness” (Rahel Jaeggi). Alienation is a state in which one has relationships (at work, in a club), but these have become largely meaningless. “They tell us nothing more, they are mute and/or threatening towards us: in extreme cases (…) also towards their own body and feelings (…)” (Rosa 2016: 305). The feeling of deafness and the non-resonant response ratio as in an echo chamber is then covered up with consumption (of a new mobile phone, a piece of clothing, cosmetics…). The happiness experience does not last long and we are again referred to alienated conditions or to the next shopping experience. The longing for being in community is great.

Community has historically experienced a fundamental change in meaning. In late modernism, the intertemporal uniting and meaningful, ideologically and empathically strongly charged community concept has dissolved into post-traditional forms of community (Rosa 2010: 61ff.). What is community now? In community we distinguish ourselves from a “non-us”. There is a sense of togetherness, common interests, intersubjectively recognized values and access to common periods of interaction (Rosa et al. 2010: 62).

A good life according to Hartmut Rosa is a resonant, living and responding relationship between subjects and worlds that touch and are touched on both sides and on all sides. In “being with one another”, the other answers by speaking with his or her own voice and being open enough to be affected or reached. A good life is a response or resonance relationship defined by a specific resonant relationship mode, which is expressed in a mutual, subjectively and intersubjectively shared touch, touching and being touched (Rosa 2016: 284). It is no coincidence that Hartmut Rosa takes a conceptual borrowing from physics and technology: resonance here is the increased resonance of an oscillating system. The system can deflect many times more than when the excitation is constant at its maximum strength. The system absorbs and stores energy again with each oscillation.

According to Hehl (2017), the success of living together is demonstrated in the “art of togetherness” of the individual group members and the group as a whole. The art of togetherness means being unconditionally with that which is without getting lost in it. This means in equal measure to enter into a responsible relationship with oneself and the group or “world” (Hehl 2017: 36). The art of being together must be learned. In common spaces of experience people find the possibility for themselves and at the same time as a group to learn “what it means to be with what is here and now in them, around them, through them and between them, regardless of whether they have judged it to be pleasant or unpleasant. It is no longer the attempt to control, ignore, stigmatize, numb or heal the existing, but to accept and “let it be so”. Through this assumption, what is experienced and shared becomes the material that unites the group” (Hehl 2017: 37).

This also makes it clear that successful self-organized togetherness needs time. Jonas Hehl (2017) identifies four phases: the pseudophase: here, community building is usually faked – by kindness, by avoiding dissent. However, it never works and is replaced by the phase of chaos in which the group often destroys itself. Differences and dissonances become open here. Through emptiness with a willingness to take risks into the unknown makes possible (Hehl 2017: 30ff).

In a successful togetherness, in a resonant relationship, different levels work together according to Hehl: 1) the “I” in self-love and independence; 2) the “Other” – as a living counterpart, mirror, friend and companion ti the „I“; 3) the common “We”, which arises through a common feeling and exchange and temporarily dissolves the isolation of the subject as a transsubjective emergence phenomenon. The question here is whether we as the ego are mature enough to become a we. “There is an inviting, benevolent, appreciative, respectful, interested, attentive, relaxed and peaceful group atmosphere in the ideal space of experience. It is an unconditional being and togetherness. Everything can be seen here. It may be experienced in you, in me and in us. From this reciprocal resonance amplification, a transcendent emergence phenomenon can arise, which lets the self and the group experience, as a new unity, a more, a we. This does not dissolve the „I“/Subject, but expands it” (Hehl 2017: 50). Here we learn how we become from the I to the we. 4) The fourth level is a more mystical-spiritual level that can be described as the totality of all being.


Further Information

If you want to learn more about this topic, we recommend Jonas Hehl’s bachelor thesis: “Als Wir fühlen – eine Grounded Theory des selbstorganisierten Zusammensein in gemeinschaftsbildenden Erfahrungsräume“. Bayreuth 2017. It is in German.

Rosa, Hartmut: Resonanz. Eine Soziologie der Weltbeziehung. Suhrkamp: Berlin 2016.

Rosa, Hartmut; Gertenbach, Lars; Laux, Henning & Streck, David: Theorien der Gemeinschaft zur Einführung. Junis: Hamburg 2010.