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  • journeyswithann

On belonging

Just the other day, I leashed up my dog, popped in my AirPods, grabbed my

phone, and set out for a morning walk. I love morning walks with my dog; by this time, I’ve already gone for a run, had my coffee, gotten the kids off to school, cleaned up after breakfast, and checked emails, so my walk feels like a healthy reward.

On this particular morning, I decided to listen to “Invisibilia,” a podcast from NPR that explores the invisible forces that shape human behavior.

The episode I took in was called “Therapy Ghostbusters,” and it highlights a community of Cambodian immigrants – and their trauma – living in San Jose, California. I was mesmerized by this episode, reported and recorded by acclaimed journalist Stephanie Foo. This episode reinforced three thoughts for me:

  1. Trauma is all around us, and we don’t know the first thing about what somebody might be dealing with.

  2. In places and spaces where care and compassion are lacking, there will always be othering.

  3. To counter othering, we must build places and spaces that encourage and embrace belonging.

At the end of the day, after our basic human needs (food, water, shelter) are met, I firmly believe that we have a need for belonging, a feeling of being respected and accepted and wanted and safe. This need to belong is deeply human.

And yet, we are living amid extensive polarization. We are living in a world of othering, not belonging. When we “other,” we marginalize and exclude. To what end?

In addition to being a fan of “Invisibilia,” I am also a fan of Father Gregory Boyle, the Jesuit priest and founder of Homeboy Industries, the world’s largest gang-intervention and rehabilitation program.

I absolutely love hearing Father Greg say: “Go to the margins.” He also says,

“The essential principle around here is that we belong to each other, and every single person is unshakably good.” Father Greg talks about the ‘community of kinship,’ ‘the circle of compassion,’ and about giving and showing tenderness.

What beautiful language, what beautiful reminders to fold ourselves around belonging.

If we could promote care and compassion, wouldn’t that go a long way toward building belonging? And if we seek belonging, couldn’t we work toward collectively healing our trauma?

If you’re reading this post, I urge you to think about your own unique tool for change. Is it your creativity? Your voice? Your passion for advocacy? Your empathy? Your lived experience?

Sarah Vagley Middleton is President and CEO at Mission Up

Belonging can and will counter othering, and building belonging depends on us.

I turn to the words of American novelist Toni Morrison:

“What’s the world for you if you can’t make it up the way you want it?”

Let’s go make a world where every single one of us belongs.


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