Each of us is wired to belong so having a community provides comfort and security, in addition to those life enhancing, feel-good endorphins! Finding community and establishing belonging doesn’t just happen; it is created and enhanced by practicing awareness and acceptance, both for ourselves and others.
Our need for community started with our ancestors on the savannah who joined together for their very survival. They hunted together, cooked together, raised their children together and created culture together as they told stories around the bonfire. After being passed down through the generations this need for togetherness became part of our DNA, so we seek the shared experience and that comes with belonging.
Having a community of support provides many mental and emotional benefits. It is gratifying and fulfilling and overcomes feelings of isolation- we don’t feel alone. Belonging increases our resilience, helping us cope better during difficult times. Also, working together on collective goals is motivating. It gives us energy to excel and reach beyond what we thought was possible.
The community could be large, like your city where you join with others to establish something significant such as building a new wing at a hospital or an arena for your sports team. It could be a medium sized community like your workplace where you find commonality with team members to accomplish sales or production targets. A small tight community could be the bonding experience experienced with your family on its annual camping trip. And of course, there are many more communities with groups for knitting, walking, spirituality, cycling etc.
In each of these communities belonging comes from making an effort and trying. For example, by being aware of the woman standing alone at a meeting reception you can cross the room to engage her. From your conversation you may find she has opposing political views so it’s important to accept that her experience is different than yours. You can still find common ground and be part of the same community.
It may be hard at first to step outside your comfort zone and speak to a stranger, but it will get easier with time. In the same way it can be hard to accept that those in your group carry different opinions on topics that are important to you. This too can be overcome by focusing on the goals you wish to achieve together. Despite differences there can still be meaningful connections between you.
There is no better example of finding belonging amongst those that are different than in the 2009 movie ‘E.T.’. When a group of alien’s visit earth one or their members named E.T. is left behind. He is soon befriended by a 10-year-old boy and his group. Their physical differences and past experiences could not have been greater, but they formed a different kind of friendship and shared a mission to return E.T. home.
To be part of a group you must focus on the group. That means more ‘we’ and less ‘me’. Learning that it isn’t all about you is harder for some than others but to establish belonging it’s a reality. Rather than making autonomous decisions about what you want to do, instead cultivate awareness by listening and watching body language to determine what others in the group would like to do. Accept that there is value in going with the flow. While the activity may not be what you wanted, the result may actually turn out better!
Do a self-awareness inventory of your interests and seek an organization comprised of others who share your passion. Volunteer at a pet shelter, food bank, art studio, hospital or music festival and you’ll naturally establish a community with like-minded individuals. Those similarities and shared values will increase the bonding.
True belonging comes from presenting our authentic selves to the world, so our belonging is predicated on our level of self-acceptance. When we accept ourselves, we naturally accept others, and that inclusiveness will make them feel that they belong as well. When they feel the comfort and security of belonging it encourages them to use their voice to effect change and we all benefit.
The 2016 film ‘Lion’ tells the true story of a 5-year-old Indian boy named Saroo who is separated from his birth family and later adopted by an Australian couple. As a young adult he struggles with his identity, feeling a deep desire to reconnect with his authentic self and his Indian family. Ultimately, he travels back to India, solves the jig saw puzzle of where he was born and reconnects with his heritage. Embracing his authentic self allows him to feel he belongs to both families.
For both E.T. and Saroo belonging was tied to coming home. And that really characterizes the feeling. We come home to experience the security and comfort of the collective, the awareness of our true selves, the acceptance of our authentic selves and the sincere acceptance of others. As humans we are wired to belong. When we overcome isolation with connection good things happen.