We human beings have an intense -- an inherent -- need to belong to a group. In our “cave days,” it was important for the survival of our species to be connected and work together.
As we've evolved, physically, emotionally and societally, belonging has been equally important to our survival. Our community provides acceptance, support, and values.
It’s the “something bigger than ourselves” that provides meaning to our lives.
Belonging and connection means having a sense of purpose, which allows for happiness. We are meant to be in groups. No one is an island. No. One. We are wired for community.
To which communities do you belong?
The opposite of belonging is alienation -- we are isolated from others.
Alienation may take emotional or physical form. Sometimes it’s being shunned by family, friends, peers. Or it’s being made to feel wrong, demeaned or subhuman, with a threat of exile. It feels like loneliness, depression and anxiety.
And when alienation occurs in children, it is nearly impossible to become a contributing member of society as an adult. Alienation from one community will make us vulnerable to radical ideology -- because we would rather belong to a gang or violent group than be isolated.
Extremist groups are more than willing to provide a purpose -- promising a meaningful life.
From which communities are you alienated?
One of the challenges we experience in the United States is the appearance of belonging while feeling alienated. Let’s call this “fake belonging.”
Think about what you do in your spare time -- it’s likely in-home entertainment, social media, and video games. Or social gatherings with like minds -- so we can “keep the peace” and not be irritated.
We’ve indulged ourselves with confirmation bias and instant gratification. We feel like we deserve to have things our own way -- and end up lonely for authentic belonging.
The values still exist, but we don’t often tend to them or talk about them. We settle for fake belonging where we are not truly known to others in our lives.
Fake belonging is a pandemic.
Recovery will require a mix of patience and impatience. Patience for each other and for ourselves. Impatience to begin the work of real connection and real belonging.
People who belong - who already feel connected -- know they are worthy of love and belonging. This is the secret. Our impatience should be focused on any feeling of unworthiness that comes up.
Unworthiness is what disconnects us from one another -- which leads to hiding who we are, which leads to fake belonging. See the cycle?
In Brené Brown’s iconic Ted Talk on the "Power of Vulnerability," she recounts her search for a happy life through science. She wanted to develop a happiness formula, that once followed, would produce the happiness result.
What she discovered, was that happiness is about real belonging.
Belonging is based on our ability to connect. And connecting to others is based on our ability to be fully seen -- to be vulnerable, without knowing any result is certain.
In other words, we have to be willing to risk ourselves in order to feel real belonging. Anything less is fake belonging. And our hearts know the difference.
In our world today, we have many ways to pretend we belong. We use our devices to communicate. We revel in the number of “friends” or “followers” we have on social media. We indulge ourselves with food, alcohol and drugs to numb out and eliminate the empty sense that we are alone.
We long to be part of a community. But we have very few places where we can connect at a deeper, personal and yes, vulnerable level. These are the opportunities we need to seek out -- using our impatience.
Once there, we can be patient with ourselves and others.
In this moment, I invite you to throw out fake belonging and seek your heart’s desire. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Every morning, notice what you reach for first -- a loved one? A device;
- Notice your breathing and count your breaths;
- Practice “I am enough” as a mantra or feeling;
- Spend some time in nature - the more the better;
- Commit to being authentic and present with others (hint: it helps to leave your device at home on a regular basis -- or turn it off and take a break.);
- Take a walk with a friend; or
- Have a dinner party or potluck with good food and good conversation where it is explicitly ok to disagree with each other--and enjoy it!
We deserve to be loved and belong.
Together, we can end this pandemic of fake belonging. We can offer ourselves to be truly seen, accepted, and loved. If there are other ways to experience belonging, they have yet to be exposed.
Until then, let’s belong with each other, as Americans, and continue our journey as fellow human beings.