With which group of people do you feel the deepest sense of belonging? Take a moment and ponder. It might be one particular group, and it might be more than one group. Group might mean just 2 other people, and it might mean 20 or 200. I have come to see that the feelings and experiences with belonging may be matched by no other. The opposite is equally true. As vigorous as we are about individual rights, and they are deeply important, we cannot really be healthy, whole individuals without a sense of belonging.
There are gestures, words, actions and activities that come with the experience of belonging. Sometimes there are initiations, formal and informal. Through all of these things, we experience a deep sense, one that may defy words, that we belong. We are included. We are one of the group, one of the community. We have a people, a tribe, and they have us.
Nothing demarcates the privilege of belonging quite like not belonging. While most of us can identify some group to which we feel a belonging, I suppose “not belonging” almost a universal experience. The experiences of not belonging may be temporary, but they may also be very long–perhaps even nearly life long. Not belonging demarcates boundaries: the edges of the group that we long to belong to and from which we have no access. Belonging to a group grants privilege–the rights that the group enjoy many of which qualify as security, strength and protection.
This is the distinct promise and problem of belonging. Belonging grants the members of the group a security, a sense of both personal and communal strength, and an experience of protection against (fill in the blank given the context of the group). Not belonging incurs the opposite which we might call insecurity, weakness and violence.
Belonging brings with it these basic privileges, but when we consider the importance of security, strength and protection it becomes clear: these privileges are things without which human beings do not survive.
Let’s return to those groups to which we belong. Now, consider the securities we have from them. The strength we enjoy through them. The protections that they afford us. If we find that we belong, we must then know that we enjoy a deep and magnificent privilege.