Friday, April 26, 2013

On Belonging

Humans as a species have an overwhelming need for belonging.

We need to know where we fit. Where do we Belong.

In a loving family the first place you find your belonging is at home. This is my family. I belong here.A solid sense of belonging ideally begins at home.

This isn't enough though. It doesn't matter how good we do with fulfilling their need with a strong sense of belonging at home. Children go out into the world and then they want to know, where do I belong out here? Belonging to one group, like a family, is not enough.

I was really surprised to observe in the girls at school, as early as kindergarten, already forming clear clicks. I don't know that I could label them like they do in later grades - you know the jocks, the nerds, the bad kids, the popular kids etc etc. Those labels don't seem to apply to the kindergarten groups and yet already at the tender age of 5 the girls have play groups and a definite preference for the set of friends to which they belong.

This desperate need to belong in and of itself is not bad. Relationships are a key part of our existence. We need family and friends. We need more than just food and shelter and clothes. We need companionship and understanding.We need love. We need a sense of purpose. We need to know we're not alone. We need to belong.

The problem with our need to belong is how easily it can be corrupted.

This need for belonging can so quickly disintegrate into an us/them type of war. The labels don't apply at kindergarten but they will soon enough and certainly by the middle school years you can clearly see the lines. The jocks, the nerds and so on. Each group defining their criteria for belonging and in so doing, defining their perceived superiority over the other groups. The jocks have their athletic prowess to feel superior about. The nerds have their grades. The popular kids have their appearance. Each group defining itself on a ridiculously narrow scale. I meet these criteria. I fit in this group. I belong.

If a person can't find a positive type of belonging they are still left trying to fill that void with something and that can soon turn to anything. Accepting anything to fill the void leads to people joining cults or gangs or terrorist cells. I can belong to your group cause I fit the mold. Thank God I found some place to belong.

Oh by the way, we hate that group over there. Cool. I belong. We are us. They are they.I can hate them if that is what it takes to belong.

And now something simple and necessary and not at all wrong or evil has been corrupted by evil for something wrong. Now it is not enough to belong. To know that I am accepted and I am loved. Now to continue to belong I must show how much I hate them. In school you can see this in the bullying and the taunting. In adults, it is much more dire. In adults, with our life experience and access to dangerous tools, we have wars and bombings and murders and other disasters.

All of this for a greater sense of belonging.

But we are missing the greatest sense of belonging of all.

Those people over there. Oh yeah them. You know the ones you hate? Cause they aren't like you?

Wait a second. They are JUST LIKE YOU.

They have hopes just like you. Dreams just like you. They have families like yours that love them and sometimes disappoint them. They have ups and downs just like you. They get hurt both physically and emotionally by the hate created by this us and them reality JUST LIKE YOU.

There is nothing wrong with belonging when it helps build our self esteem and fill the need in our souls, but when it comes at the cost of cutting someone else down, then it is corrputed and we all need to be watching out for this We need to keep ourselves and others away from this corruption. We need to remember that no matter how many other levels at which you belong.

  • I belong in my nuclear family
  • I belong in my extended family
  • I belong in my group of friends from highschool
    • and college
    • and gradschool
  • I belong in my church choir
  • I belong in my church congregation
  • I am a Lutheran in the global Lutheran Community
  • I am an American of European descent
  • I am an American
Above any and all the levels you can possibly think of at which you belong is the one final level that unites us all

I am Human

And in spite of all our differences, we are more the same. We belong together. We are part of one community. The whole community of people on this planet.

We all belong together when we get to the top.

My third grader learned the following song for her music concert this year which I think we all need to carry with us and continuously refer back to:

Cause we got Lots in common where it really counts
Where it really counts, we've got large amounts
What we look like doesn't count an ounce
We've got lots in common where it really counts

 When it comes right down to it, all the myriad of ways that we can find to separate and define ourselves as different.

  • Different skin colors
  • Different hair colors
  • Different eye colors
  • Different heights
  • Different weights
  • Different religions
  • Different places of residence
  • Different places of ancestry
  • Different pet preferences
  • Different numbers of children
  • Different favorite sports teams
  • Different favortie authors
  • Different favorite subjects
  • Different favorite bands
  • Different alma maters
  • Different color shoes
  • Different color socks
  • Different color nail polish
We’ll have no more nonsense.  We’ll take no more gupp from you Yooks who eat bread with the butter side up!
-Dr Suess 

I could go on and on. But in the end, all these differences don't count an ounce. 

We all belong to the human race. 

We all belong together. 

We've got lots in common where it really counts.

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