Belonging

I am going to say is something about the way people are. I suspect that other people have said the same thing, or something very close. People do not function well or feel well unless they have a sense of being connected to other people. People are born into social situations. Infants and children survive because adult humans want children and care for children compulsively. Children survive and thrive by learning language and culture. We live bonded by basic but complex basic needs to connect and communicate and to know where we stand in relation to other people, and by needs for intimacy and trust. People need to feel they belong.
People’s sense of belonging in any particular relationship or their status in any particular group or society may be unrealistic or fragile, but they have to have it, or they will be sad, bitter or just plain crazy. The sense of belonging isn’t innocent or sweet, even sugar-coated in the terminology of dignity and respect. People need a sense of safety, status and power. If in real life they are in low status, boring jobs, they may pour their energy into family life, church, political party, community club, sports organization, or any group that will let them in and give them a place and a voice.
People will learn new stories about themselves, life and the nature of reality, to belong to an accepting group. People will accept – indeed embrace – new social and economic arrangements in a group that gives them a sense of authentic belonging. That is what we see when people get religion in a strong way, particularly when their religious group identifies itself as holding to values that set it outside of the general cultural range of values. It also happens in many other social contexts – a heightened awareness of political, social, artistic issues through starting to belong to a group can lead to a radical change of life. People are able to adopt a radically different way of relating to the world to be able to belong to political communes, sect, cults, and their families and friends experience a sense of radical disconnection – a sense that the convert has snapped old social bonds.
The need to belong is a vulnerability, routinely exploited by lovers, parents, teachers, employers, salemen, politicians, priests, and gurus. They teach conformity to their story of the world and subordination to their wishes and needs. They need resources, status, and power. They get what they want and need by controlling a group by manipulating the need to belong. They reward with a sense of belonging – in some relationships a sense of intimate belonging and pure love.

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