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The Power of Ritual

What does it feel like to belong? What defines that moment when you cease to be a tentative newcomer and start to feel that you’re part of a community? In your neighborhood, that moment might come when you first ask for “the usual” at the local tavern (and get it), or when you’re invited to join an ongoing book club or card game. In a Web community, it might be when a leader remembers your name, or when you’re invited to join a private message board or mailing list.

We Are Gathered Here

Each of these “moments of belonging” is a type of community ritual—a stylized and meaningful sequence of actions that binds people more closely together. Whenever we say grace at meal-times, stop by the pub after work, gather around the table for Thanksgiving, or attend a wedding, graduation, or funeral, we’re participating in a timeless and universal event that reminds us of who we are and where we belong. Rituals are similar to events (see sidebar: What Is a Ritual?)—but while some events take place only once, a ritual occurs repeatedly; for example, the WELL’s first potluck dinner party was an event, but now these monthly gatherings are a well-established ritual. And unlike events, rituals can also be private, such as when I log into my favorite online gathering place every morning to kick-start my day.


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