With the Super Bowl almost here, there is so much enthusiasm in the air. And if you live in or around Philadelphia, you see T-shirts and signs proclaiming, “It’s a Philly Thing!” If you walk into a store or down the street and are wearing a hat or sweatshirt featuring the Eagles, you get a lot of smiles and “Go Birds!”
You are automatically seen as a member of the Philly community that is connected through their enthusiasm for this remarkable team. You don’t have to know the political or religious beliefs of anyone to share in this sense of connection to the same fan club. This sense of belonging creates excitement, warmth, and a level of safety that those who are fans share similar hopes, dreams and enthusiasm for what the Super Bowl will bring should the Eagles win. And if they lose, we can predict a shared sense of deep disappointment, pain, loss and frustration.
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a memorial service for a dear friend and colleague who had recently passed away. The church was filled with overflowing with people who had come to pay their respects and support the family, including a few dozen people from Lakeside, being a subgroup to this larger group because we all feel like Lakeside is like family and offers us a shared sense of belonging.
The energy during the service was almost palpable. There was such a sense of love and appreciation for the person who had passed and a deep desire to celebrate her life and surround the family with a kind of communal love. It was a moment of belonging to this group who shared so many emotions and sensations. While I knew some of the people who had gathered, there were many I didn’t know and yet for those few hours we were all one group, all connected with each other. The warmth and acceptance for each person’s experience of loss allowed all of us to have our own individual grief and feel the strength that happens during these moments of belonging.
As human beings we are neuro-biologically programmed to want and need to belong to those groups that offer us a sense of safety and connection. Some people describe these groups as our “tribes.” Since the beginning of time people have needed to form tribes to provide safety and protection, to work together to hunt for and gather food, fight off any enemies, share in the collective good that allowed children to be cared for and nurtured as they grew. While we might still call them our tribes, the groups with which we affiliate function in a very similar way.
I think we all would agree that the pandemic has created many challenges for us to nurture our connections with groups to which we belong. It took us a while to get used to the many ways we had to circumvent being able to have in-person meetings. Suddenly social media became a major platform we could use to continue our sense of belonging as did Zoom meetings where we could at least see facial expressions. We knew it wasn’t the same as our in-person connections but provided opportunities to honor and celebrate that sense of connection and spirit of belonging.
There also has been a remarkable movement gathering more and more momentum focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Cornell University shares a definition of belonging, focusing on diversity and inclusion: “Belonging is the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group.”
DEI is, “a conceptual framework that claims to promote the fair treatment and full participation of all people, especially in the workplace, including populations who have historically been under-represented or subject to discrimination because of their background, identity, disability, etc.”
And from Wikipedia; “Applying equity means implementing fair opportunities in a way that accounts for the differences that exist between individuals. Inclusion is a step towards integration, where diverse individuals blend into the environment safely and harmoniously.” This movement has generated an enhanced sense of belonging among Blacks and other people of color. While we can be enthusiastically supportive of this movement, those of us who are white simply cannot belong to this group.
There has been a somewhat similar journey by the LGBTQ community who have become much more public in their sense of connection and desires to be recognized and treated with respect and equity. Being able to publicly embrace an identity with a group of like-thinking and like-feeling people can be very affirming and can provide an increased passion for nurturing the other members of the community in a spirit of belonging and connection.
I think it can be helpful to appreciate how important it is to experience belonging in the various groups with which we affiliate. It is something we can nurture, embrace and celebrate that offers the gift of friendship, safety, inclusion and connection.
And as a member of the Philly’s fan club, I understand what it means when T-shirts say “It’s a Philly Thing.” It is fun and exciting to be a member of this group, to belong, to be accepted and embraced by all the other Philly fans. Fly Eagles Fly!
Invitation for Reflection
- What are some of your experiences with belonging to specific groups? Which of them were founded on a specific moment in time, such as during a funeral service, and which were more long-term such as belonging to a particular ethnic group?
- When you pause to think about and notice this concept of belonging, what feelings and sensations do you experience?
- To what extent can you celebrate the gift of belonging?
- What can you do to enhance your experiences of belonging?
Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute