We Need to Talk about Belonging

belonging_graphic-565x333“We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been — a place, half-remembered, and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak without having the words catch in our throats. Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Someplace where we can be free.” – Starhawk

This morning I did a Google search on the word belonging. I was disappointed by the immediate results. Six of the first nine links are definition sites (dictionary, thesaurus, wikipedia, etc.). The third entry is an article on Psychology Today on creating one’s own sense of belonging from March 24, 2014. A year ago. The fifth entry is an article from CNN about one research study done on the highly positive impact of creating belonging for college students through a particular intervention from June 1, 2012. The one brilliant gem is link seven, a pdf booklet called The Importance of Belonging, which was written from a human services perspective about providing belonging for people with disabilities who live in isolation. The same people I am striving to relate to every day at work in order to learn how to create and nurture belonging for all of us.

Belonging is in the middle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Which means that it’s the third most vital need to our health and well-being, the first two being physiological and safety needs. And yet we aren’t really talking about it. We talk endlessly about physical health and safety. Think about it. How much media is about our health and safety? We also talk about esteem and self actualization, the fourth and fifth needs on the hierarchy. Yet we are just starting to research and talk about belonging, particularly because of Brene Brown’s TEDTalk on vulnerability, shame and connection going viral. As a culture we aren’t yet paying attention to its importance in creating a healthy society, where all of the needs of our human family are met.

Much of our conflict, addiction, depression and other mental-emotional human challenges could be solved by creating a place of belonging and connection for everyone. I think this could be the answer to bullying as well. This is why the work I do now is feels vital. We have to recognize that this is just as important as addressing disease and climate change. And that belonging is the foundation of social justice because social justice seeks to repair the impact of exclusion on various populations. We could do so much more long-term good if we were building communities rather than bureaucracies to address our deepest needs and greatest heartaches.

I had hoped when I googled belonging that I would see books, studies, projects, communities, etc. addressing this basic need. The first book that comes up on page two is a romance novel. bell hooks’ book Belonging: A Culture of Place comes in at link thirteen. There are other resources out there, but it says so much that they aren’t on the first two pages of the largest search engine in the world.

I look back on the arc of my first 40 years of life and I see that this has been the point all along. In the shadows of a narcissistic mother, emotionally absent father, and alcoholic stepfather, I was literally starving for a sense of belonging. The sex and relationships that led to my first two children were an attempt at finding belonging with someone, with anyone. Belonging was the basis of The Impropriety Society (I would argue more than sex), as well as all of the other groups I’ve been a part of. All of the people in my life who have suffered deeply could source their challenges in the hunger for belonging. Kids join gangs to belong. People join cults and terrorist organizations to belong. Women stay in violent relationships to belong. Consumers even follow brands to belong. The issues we have with materialism, race, gender, sexuality, religion, and all the other categories we use to divide ourselves, they can all be sourced back to this basic need for belonging.

We just want to belong. Each and everyone of us.

Unfortunately we spend a lot of energy trying to be exclusive with our belonging when its inclusion that brings the greatest reward and deepest satisfaction. If we’re going to improve our society and the lives of our human family, there has to be a cultural conversation about our needs for inclusive belonging and genuine connection.  Being conscious of this basic human need, as well as intentionally nurturing it within our communities, could change everything.

There is so much more I have to say. The muse is on fire and there will be more soon. I have been looking for the “hook” for my book and my new work in the world and now I know I have found it. Belonging. This is where my passion meets the world’s need. I can’t wait to see what we create together.

Thank you for listening. I pray you experience belonging in your life.
Please know you matter and you are loved.

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