I started studying belonging in earnest as part of upstream suicide prevention. I discovered that though all the research says belonging is critical, two things are lacking in most studies: what it is and how to get it. There is a common assumption that we know these things - but we don’t. I think we misunderstand the concept and its importance, we don’t really know how it works, and we are hesitant to try too hard to figure out both. We worry that trying too hard exposes our vulnerability and takes on the desperate tone of the awkward kid asking “You want to be friends?”
I believe our hesitance is part of what turns church into a facade of connection rather than a genuine and truly generative collaboration. The same is true for marriage. The early excitement and fascination of hopeful infatuation turn into difficult and vulnerable work after the showing off is over. It is part of the reason for the separation of personal and professional in workspaces. Building belonging is a painstakingly slow and counterintuitive endeavor in a hyper-individualistic, hyper-independent culture. So we look for a readymade framework that claims to provide it for us. Religion, marriage, work, fandoms, political parties, and other organizations tempt us with membership that includes built-in belonging.
With rare (if any) exceptions, belonging does not get built without intentional personal investment and risk. It is a structure - a created and cultivated condition that has to be fought for and protected. If left alone it deteriorates and becomes toxic. Accepting the implications of this truth is the first crucial step towards experiencing the belonging we are desperate for. I’ll share what I’ve discovered about what it is and how to get it over the next few days.
I write in a geeky, sciency, hopefully poetic way about belonging, storytelling, community building, deconstruction and construction,