Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A Place to Belong

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to belong. We are social people. Societies are made up of numerous forms of social entities of which we can belong, starting with the family unit. We all want to belong, no matter how young or old. It’s why little boys fight in the playground and little girls have tea parties, why teenagers angle to be in certain peer groups (as if adults are any different) and adults play on sports teams, hang out in pubs, marry, and attend reunions. It’s who we are. It’s how we’re made.

In fact, psychologist Abraham Maslow includes belonging as a complete section of his hierarchy of needs, right after the physical needs (food, shelter, etc.) and safety.

He talks about belonging in terms of friendship, intimacy and having a supportive and communicative family. The need for such belonging is so strong that, in the right circumstances, it can overcome the psychological and safety needs, taking primacy in the lives of individuals.

All that to say that we want to belong. We need to belong.

After being at home for Christmas, a place where I know I belong, I feel like maybe I've got a better handle on it, like I've been reminded what it feels like. To belong. To know that the place you are in and the people you are with are safe. If you belong, you can be yourself. You can say the things that are on your mind and ask the questions you need to ask. You can agree to disagree. You can relax. There is no wondering whether the people that you're with are simply humoring you and your presence but even more so an understanding that you are wanted. There is room for vulnerability and innocence without second-guessing or fear. Shared experiences are exciting, not tentative. There is life in the differences and strength in the similarities. Understanding and grace are a natural part of the equation, as are fun and laughter. That said, the places that one belongs the most are not without their challenges. It is true that the people closest to you are the people that can hurt you the most but they’re also the people that can change you the most, forgive you first and understand your true motives. Those with whom you belong, are the people to which you’d give all of these things and more. It is, as our North American marriage vows promise, for better or for worse.

So if that’s what we long for, how do we find it? How do we make it “last?” How do we create environments for belonging to happen?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great questions (wish I had the answer)!!!