In psychological terms, thanks to Carl Jung and others, we sometimes speak of introverts and extroverts. I understand extroverts to be those who are energized by being around large groups of people and introverts those who are energized by being alone or with only one or two people. It remains, though, that we all benefit from some quiet, alone time. And, we all need community.
What I observe about myself and others, is that there seems to be a naturally occurring and innate yearning in each of us to belong. I think that this yearning to belong is as much a part of being human as hunger for food, as the necessity of oxygen, as important to growing, living and loving and making sense of life as the five senses which allow us to take in information for navigating our lives.
This yearning to belong is elusive to describe. I cannot point to some part of my body and say–this is where my yearning to belong comes from, but when I feel accepted into a group, there is something in my chest and stomach that relaxes, and it feels like my body temperature goes up. I don’t have a body action associated with the yearning to belong, but if belonging to a group is important to me, it feels like my eyes and heart are on alert–for some sign. When I am accepted by a group, I often feel like I am smiling even if only on the inside.
I have compared the yearning to belong to hunger, breathing and the five senses. I am convinced that without belonging, human beings do not thrive and we likely don’t live as long, all other things being equal. Do you know how uncomfortable you become, very quickly, if you hold your breath or for some reason cannot get a good breath? I think we have that kind of sensitive sense of belonging and not belonging, and not belonging is deeply painful. Just as the five senses allow us to take in information that helps us think better and navigate the world better, so does belonging to community. When we belong, we immediately benefit from the collective wisdom of the community.
I think we can be assured of this. When the new person (new to us) appears, anywhere in our lives, they do hold within them this yearning to belong. They hunger for it. They cannot live without it. The quality of their living and loving depends on it. We who see the new person (new to us) hold a very real power–the power to welcome that person into our community and the power to invite that person to create new community with us. That is a bright and life changing power.
There is a dark side to this power, however. We each have received subtle messages from our communities about who we should and who we should not welcome into community. The quality, then, of our human loving depends on examining those messages and deciding what we are going to do with them because you and I have never met another person who does not yearn to belong.