If we asked people, where do you feel a sense of belonging? We might hear…
- my church
- my family
- my neighborhood
- my school
- my soccer team
- my gang
If we asked a random group of people, what does “belonging” mean to you? What goes into creating a feeling of belonging? We will most likely hear a wide-ranging cacophony of responses, some of which might be…
- being understood by my peers
- being liked by people
- feeling like I am part of the group
- feeling comfortable in the setting
- fitting in with the crowd
- knowing people care
Our need to belong is a human emotion reflecting our desire to fit in with groups and to be accepted by their members. The emotional connection we crave is an integral part of our humanness. While we can function in an “alone” state, we find meaning in relationship to others, particularly people and groups that align to our center of gravity. Shibu Raman describes a sense of belonging this way.
Sense of belonging is the psychological feeling of belonging or connectedness to a social, spatial, cultural, professional, or other type of group or a community. Shared beliefs or ideals, a supportive environment, self-esteem, and opportunities for interaction can influence the development of sense of belonging in an individual.Raman S. (2014) Sense of Belonging. In: Michalos A.C. (eds) Encyclopedia of Quality of Life and Well-Being Research. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-0753-5_2646
Implied in a sense of belonging is the feeling of security, support, and affirmation. As we explore belonging’s deeper meaning we realize it is a complex feeling that comes from our need for human connection.
And I thought this is the good day you could meet your love, this is the gray day someone close to you could die. This is the day you realize how easily the thread is broken between this world and the next
He reveals to us that belonging is about connections but the connections can be fragile or uncertain unless we nurture them with intentionality, inviting them into the “house of belonging” we build for ourselves. In conclusion, he writes…
the tawny close grained cedar burning round me like fire and all the angels of this housely heaven ascending through the first roof of light the sun has made. This is the bright home in which I live, this is where I ask my friends to come, this is where I want to love all the things it has taken me so long to learn to love. This is the temple of my adult aloneness and I belong to that aloneness as I belong to my life. There is no house like the house of belonging.
Do we find ourselves at a time in history where attaining a sense of belonging is challenged by the isolation created by the pandemic and the separation and opposition created by social, religious, and political discord? We isolate ourselves into encampments, refusing to enter into civil dialogue with one another, instead, seeking to denigrate and divide. The challenge of our time is to overcome the isolation, deepen our sense of belonging, and heal the divisions we have created.
Parker Palmer, in his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, explores his Five Habits of the Heart. The second habit of the heart is an appreciation of the other. We can learn from each other, especially if we challenge ourselves to explore colliding perspectives. We grow when we embrace and listen to the other, even if the other is not a member of the tribe we belong to. In the short video, Palmer says…
It is true that we are all in this together. It is equally true that we spend most of our lives in “tribes” or lifestyle enclaves—and that thinking of the world in terms of “us” and “them” is one of the many limitations of the human mind. The good news is that “us and them” does not need to mean “us versus them.”
A sense of belonging is built through desire and intentionality. We have to be willing to invest our efforts into engaging with others, seeking to understand others, and grappling with our tendency to demonize others. Karyn Hall, author and clinician, wrote a piece in Psychology Today, Creating a Sense of Belonging. She writes…
To build a sense of belonging requires active effort and practice. One way to work on increasing your sense of belonging is to look for ways you are similar with others instead of focusing on ways you are different. Someone is much older than you?
Looking for similarities instead of focusing on differences! Simple enough, right? Yet, we often struggle to find a common purpose and collaborate in spite of our differences. We have to invite others into our “house of belonging,” where we wrestle with our need for aloneness and our desire to belong. Wholeness and happiness come when we reconcile these desires and needs and find a true sense of belonging that sustains us. “There is no house like the house of belonging (David Whyte).”