We often talk about how much we want to belong. There is a clear desire in all of us to feel included, a part of things. It is a huge part of feeling purposeful in this communal world.
We enter institutions and relationships with a deep hope. We hope to find belonging. We hope the people and the places we find ourselves in will accept us and include us.
But belonging is a two-way street. And what we rarely think about is the part we have to play in cultivating belonging. We rarely consider how we might help others belong.
The reason for this is that we generally view ourselves as a victim of the world around us. We are the consumer and people either give or withhold what we desire. That is the narrative we choose.
In today’s world, we are cocked and ready to go off if we do not feel included. If belonging is withheld from us, we are ready with all kinds of sundry labels for those evil people who hold us at arm’s length.
Sometimes this is justified. But not as much as we use it. We adopt victim mentality in traffic and in lines at the store. At home with a loving spouse and at our workplace.
We hold people responsible for our belonging. Sometimes we even give them little tests to see if their approval of us is up to snuff.
Ownership and Responsibility
We try to make belonging a one-way street. You must accept me.
But there is another side to belonging. One that is equally (neither more or less) important.
If we truly want to experience belonging, we have to do our part in creating a culture of belonging. We can’t be bigoted toward others while ranting about their bigotry toward us. We can’t belittle others “in good fun” and then complain when we’re ousted by another group.
We hold others to a standard we are not willing to live up to ourselves. What’s worse, we don’t even think we need to live by a standard. We assume everything about us is good and justified.
Belonging is about community. It is not about personal affirmation. It is about unity and togetherness. It is not about promoting one’s self-esteem.
We run into this pandemic in all areas of our lives. We want to be loved but give no real thought to how we are loving others. We want to be celebrated but do the bare minimum to reward others (or even to consider them). Belonging only happens if we are working at it together. It is not something “they” give to ME. It is something the community pursues in truth and love. It is a culture thing. And if we demand it works for our benefit without any of our effort, we are foolish and shortsighted. Belonging is a two-way street.