We are hardwired to belong. As these hairless, clawless creatures we have developed all kinds of ways to protect ourselves; some generative, some destructive. Our most powerful development is not something uncommon to other animals; we herd together, we find safety in healthy connection.
To feel connected with another person who has our back, on whom we can rely, is a deep need hardwired into us from our earliest days. We could not survive without this connection as infants and children. We are both wired and socialised to need it.
What does belonging look like? The team from the podcast This Jungian Life describe it like this;
“Horses herd, birds flock, whales pod, and people tribe. The need to belong is as intrinsic to human nature as the need for food, touch, clothing, and shelter. We belong to families, communities, ideas, and ideals…”
When we belong we understand that we are accepted and we share certain beliefs, behaviours and values. We might share a place where we live, we might share a religion, we might share an ideological viewpoint or a favourite football team. Sharing something is intrinsic to the sense of belonging.
When we belong we are a part of something.
We understand ourselves, define ourselves in many ways, through belonging.
Belonging gives us comfort and reassurance. Belonging, being able to feel held by the community, takes us out of survival mode; suspicion, alert and sense of danger, and into rest, created, and enjoy mode. No wonder belonging is such an important feature of our lives.
At the moment, in my community, there is an accelerating a rent in the fabric of belonging.
The shift in identity – covid denier/anti vaccination versus covid aware/pro-vaccination has created a break in the sense of community. The potent and alarming rise in feeling tone has meant boundaries around civil discussion are eroded. People are sensing threat everywhere and there is discordance amongst once close knit communities.
What does this have to do with belonging. Well firstly, the sense of community has fractured. There is no longer a sense of belonging to a community in an area. The sense of belonging rests in your “faction” – pro or anti. This means many people have more in common with people who live thousands of miles away than they have with their next door neighbour or even their family members.
Belonging, based as it is on sharing, seems to be bolstered by sharing information that digs you further into your views, ridicules those who don’t think like you and encourages the lobbing of disrespect and ridicule over the dividing line, which is quickly becoming a chasm.
The fears that are driving these rifts are potent. The fear of losing autonomy, the fear of getting sick, the fear of collapse of our healthcare system, the fear of putting something foreign into our systems, the fear of being told what to do.
The more we identify with our faction or the community of shared belief, that is holding us in a sense of safety in this time of our fear and confusion, the less we are able to listen to each other., especially those with opposing views.
In the alarm caused by all these things, we are polarised further from each other, further from the very shared human experience of fear, further from being able to reach and support each other.
This is fertile fields for a deeper kind of harm-making and destabilisation that can be tended to if we are able to relinquish the mirage that we are enemies. If we step out of mouse view with all the conflicting sources and into hawk view. Hawk can soar overhead and look down on us trying to make our way in a world with a new-to-us threat. If we stop seeing ourselves as victorious by embedding in our self-righteousness and find the humble place of one scared human reaching out to another and make connection there, we might have a chance.
There are some who would say there is no virus, who promote the idea that this is a diabolical plot against free thinking humans and that those of us who have had the vaccination are sheep. Although this rises compassion in me for the darkness of their vision and the high alarm state they must be living in to project that out onto the world, I think the vitriol that world view requires must be causing great harm. I would rather build community around our very human fear for our wellbeing, our fears for our family and freedom, which are things we share. I would rather build belonging to the humane and the compassionate than accelerate the rupture.
Is our belonging to these groups of "them and us" actually serving our wellbeing or is it bolstering our fear? Is the belonging that matters to you making you more humane or less? Is it showing engagement in the experience of disadvantaged people, who are demonstrably most at risk from covid or is it every man for himself? Is it supporting you to make mistakes without flaming everything down in its path? Is it serving values of community, kindness, generosity, mutuality, respect and connection or is it fostering distrust, conflict and anger?
Crucially, Is it aligned with the sort of sharing, the basis of community and belonging, that makes us more humane or not?
Reaching out is hard, especially to people who dismiss, shame and belittle. Reaching back is hard too when it requires us to deconstruct that which we thought would keep us safe. We have to be willing to look at what is alive in us and those we are rafting up with. We have to look hard, sometimes underneath the surface to see if this is the kind of human family we want to belong to or not?
To be willing to stay with your own discomfort at what you see there, to wrestle honestly with your own soul matters right now. I hope you will belong to a community of compassion and kindness. We need you.
This podcast excerpt inspired this post - i'd love to hear what you think.