The Danger in Belonging

Belonging is important in most cultures; sports teams, alma maters, groups and causes, political affiliations, religious institutions and so on. Belonging is a fundamental human need. When you feel separated from everyone and everything, depression sets in, and sometimes your thoughts turn to suicide. Feeling part of something, believing you are a piece of a greater whole, brings satisfaction and security to many people.

Belonging can give you a sense of purpose. Working alongside people who might be serving an important cause, or being on a championship team, or aligning with others who are working to change things makes a person feel important and useful. No team can “win” with just one individual – it takes everyone working together, and it’s a great feeling when the team succeeds together; also, they can console one another when the result is failure.

Belonging and identifying with your team members can be one of the most fulfilling aspects in life. Sometimes, though, the belonging aspect can translate to a sense of “us versus them”. It can create a situation where you view someone who is not of your tribe, team or group as the enemy and the people to be feared.

This happens all too often in the political realm. Care about the environment? You must be a “libtard”. Interested in saving money on taxes? You must be a “wingnut”. Or you could simply be stupid, moronic, uneducated and ignorant. It happens in religious sects, too. Think of the fighting that has gone on over the ages because people disagree on which religious group has the right answers! And, if you are a person of color, a woman, an immigrant or anyone in a category that doesn’t align with someone else’s group, you know what it is like to be alienated or judged because based solely on your looks, you clearly don’t “belong”.

These are the extreme cases, of course, but there are also subtle things that can happen on a daily basis. You might hear the way someone talks, or look at their dress, or learn where they went to school or grew up, and depending on your alignment to a certain group you might deem them worthy of your attention, or ignore them because they don’t belong where you belong.

The problem with belonging is that sometimes you begin to derive such a sense of purpose from it, that your group is what matters most. In some cases, you may even find ways to separate from others who aren’t in your clique or group. The irony is that fundamentally we all belong to the human race. We all have the same make-up and design underneath, with different packaging around us. People may speak differently, have different educational backgrounds or different beliefs, etc., but at a fundamental level, we are actually all the same. The beating heart, ribs, tendons, blood and all of the elements that make us human also connect us to one another.

When you use belonging to create separation, you are missing out on gifts that other human beings might be able to share. You are assuming, because of where they belong that might be different from you, that you understand and know them at a soul level. It’s one of the most insulting and judgmental things you can do to someone else: Because they don’t align with your group, you dismiss them out of hand.

Become aware of your desire to belong, and try to be objective about your need for it. Belonging can be a powerful experience and it can also serve to separate you. You might believe you want to be separated and distinct from the people in “that group”, but you end up cutting yourself off from potential gifts and support that may be meaningful to you at some point. Having beliefs and supporting noble causes is certainly important, and being aligned with a group in and of itself isn’t a bad thing; just become watchful about whether it translates into a refusal to accept someone who aligns elsewhere.

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