Krista Tippett interviewed Brene Brown on On Being in a fascinating piece, Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart, dealing with the question: how can we find our way into truly belonging in our communities? She makes the case that the need to belong is a uniquely human experience, referencing the work of John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago.
That need to belong and be a part of something greater than us is who we are in our DNA.
Ms. Brown describes the qualities of truly belonging through the lens of spirituality.
And I think the first thing that was surprising to me is that at the very heart of belonging is spirituality
And by “spirituality” I mean the deeply held belief that we’re inextricably connected to each other by something greater than us. And that thing that is greater than us is rooted in love and compassion.
So true belonging has at its roots this idea that we are all connected, a connection that cannot be dismissed, but that we also have a need to “stand alone,” believing in who we are and what we stand for separate from others. So in true belonging, there is a tension between wanting to be connected and needing to be alone. Ms. Brown writes:
And so, to me, this idea of true belonging is a type of belonging that never requires us to be inauthentic or change who we are, but a type of belonging that demands who we are — that we be who we are — even when we jeopardize connection with other people, even when we have to say, “I disagree. That’s not funny. I’m not on board.”
In school, this would be manifested by a student who understood the value of being connected to friends or to a group, but who also was able to “stand alone” in the face of the group, or members of the group, acting counter to the person’s core values. In her view, truly belonging requires being authentic to one’s self and one’s values.
“Yes, I want to belong, I want to be a part of something bigger than me” — and, “I’m willing to stand alone when I need to.”
It can be lonely to “stand alone.” I wonder if that’s why it’s so difficult for adolescents, and even many adults, to truly feel a sense of belonging to a group because in the end it is hard to be “brave and stand by yourself.”
One only has to look at our current political climate to see how hard it is for adults to “stand alone,” being authentic and moving away from a position that runs counter to one’s values.
As we navigate through these ideas in schools, setting up a culture in which students express a feeling of true belonging when they arrive on our campus, we need to consider how we help them find their authentic voice. Ms. Brown eloquently expressed what our goal should be to get closer to true belonging:
“People are hard to hate close up. Move in.” When you are really struggling with someone, and it’s someone you’re supposed to hate because of ideology or belief, move in. Get curious. Get closer. Ask questions. Try to connect. Remind yourself of that spiritual belief of inextricable connection: How am I connected to you in a way that is bigger and more primal than our politics?
What if all students and adults in school communities could live and act in this manner? Get closer. Get curious. Ask questions. Try to connect. I think our schools would become safe places to belong.