Belonging and Human Connection

It was morning recess in the 2nd grade in Magnet Cove, Arkansas and the “BMOC” of our class of 32 announced to the boys, “Alright, everyone with high top boots come with me and let’s chase girls!” Oh I was so proud as I was sporting a brand new pair of high top boots and could join the chase in this customary recess activity in the fall of 1960. It was delightful to realize that I “met criteria” and belonged and I’ll never forget that moment, certainly revealing that “belonging” issues have always been present with me.

Making connection with fellow humankind and “belonging” is a basic human need and we are hardwired to do so, allowing us to form tribes that are the basic unit of human culture. And to establish “belongingness” various “criteria” are always announced, sometimes overtly by decree but more importantly in subtle manners as it is the “subtleties” that really constitute the bedrock of tribal unity. These “subtleties” are the premises which are not questioned, and for the sake of tribal coherence should not be. But the converse of this group dynamic is also present—someone must be excluded as otherwise the group identity would not have any meaning, its “identity” would be tenuous at best. This group dynamic is not “bad” it is just how we function, it is just being “human.” And the same process of identity formation takes place on the individual level, with certain things being accepted as part of our identity and others excluded and often projected “out there.”

But focusing now on group dynamics, the goal for a group is that it will be composed of individuals mature enough to recognize that in the passing of time some of its defining parameters can be relaxed and some persons who have been excluded can then be included. At least the focus of the group’s psychic energy will not be merely on boundaries that constitute its self-definition but on some purpose beyond itself which reflects respect of and value for the world at large. If the focus is merely on what sets a group apart, the group will eventually become a self-enclosed fortress whose only purpose is to perpetuate its mythology. When this happens, the group will find itself at odds with the world “out there” and will often be quite proud of this. This is often found in sectarian religion.

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