Monday, October 01, 2012

Sense of Belonging

A couple of weeks ago I was the headline act at Wembley Stadium. Before you think “never heard of you”, I was part of a 1000 strong Choir at the Saracens Leicester rugby game. It was a wonderful, proud experience, singing alongside like-minded people who love to sing and it got me thinking about a sense of belonging and community.

In his 1943 paper, "A Theory of Human Motivation" American psychologist Abraham Maslow cited belonging as the third most important human need on his hierarchy of needs, after only physiological and safety needs. In a culture that values independence, we sometimes forget that our survival and ability to thrive depend on interrelationships.

It is a reality that we define ourselves by gender, race, creed, nationality, occupation, religion, abilities, hobbies, skills, etc. There are many ways to define ourselves and if you think about it, it mostly has to do with grouping. As much as some of us hate being categorised or stereotyped we do it all the time!  When asked what we do we answer our occupation. In that instance we are defining ourselves by our job.

Even if you see yourself as ‘a loner’, you are still a member of one group or another – family, friends, social media, organizational departments, the gym, your football club, your children’s class at school, etc. Some we enjoy and others less so, some we feel included in and welcomed into and others excluded from – which, as most of us know, is not a good feeling.

Community can help bring meaning and support into our lives but it can be a double edged sword. In some cases, the things that create the sense of belonging are negative aspects of being human; such as drug addictions, alcoholism and racism. Indeed, you can argue that much of what is wrong with this world revolves around either lack of belonging or the reverse - toxic groups and communities.

What is interesting and provides food for thought for all of us is scientific evidence that people with more social support and a sense of belonging in their support networks are less likely to experience depression (University of Michigan).

So spend a few minutes thinking about the groups you belong to. What do they give you? What do you get out of the group? And of course, what do you give to the group? Remember relationships are all about give and take.

I feel genuinely connected to my choir, not just because I enjoy singing or go with good friends, but also because we share a sense of pride and belonging. For me, community is important because a community supports the people in it. And to read in the sports pages of the Sunday Times the day after our Wembley Stadium appearance that “the choir looked great and sounded great” was just magic.

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