Belonging is the most compelling question of the 21st century.
Just look at the data. We have a record number of expats and immigrants across the world and those numbers are increasing every year. We also have the largest number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people since World War II.
As we all know, you don’t need to board a plane or risk a boat journey across turbulent seas to feel like an outsider. You could be living in your hometown and still feel out of step. What about those who are marginalized or stigmatized? Those people with physical or mental differences outside of what we see as the norm? What about the poor, the disadvantaged, the vulnerable?
Western society glamorizes independence and self-sufficiency and yet, paradoxically, we’re all supposed to conform. As a society, we look down on the weak, the different, the vulnerable even though study after study has shown we are not independent and we cannot be self-sufficient. Sure, we need a certain amount of independence and self-sufficiency and who doesn’t admire an entrepreneurial spirit? But it’s not all we need. We need other people. We thrive with other people. And we’re at our best as human beings when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, as social researcher Brené Brown has shown.
But there’s more. Bryan Stevenson, professor, lawyer and modern-day warrior for justice reminds us that ”our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity.”
When I look around, it seems many of us are searching to fill a void that we don’t quite understand. Obesity is at record levels, a third of the population feels lonely or isolated, and the latest car, television, handbag or phone is purchased on credit to satiate a hunger that is more psychological than physical.
Philosophers and writers have been contemplating belonging for centuries, yet it’s now, in an age of individualism, exclusion and materialism that belonging is making a comeback.
There is great magic in our world. Every day we witness spectacular beauty and share in the strength of gentle humanity. Every day people are working towards building a better world, a more inclusive world, a just world, a peaceful world.
This isn’t a quick fix. Belonging is a life-long journey. It’s elusive and temporary like the fluttering wings of a monarch butterfly. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all. What you need to belong is much different to what I need. Your belonging is unique and powerful to you. It’s one of the things that makes you special.
I started this collection in January 2014 after living as a foreigner for two decades and pondering not-belonging for much longer. It was, and still is, my own quiet questioning about the nature of belonging in our changing mobile world. Like all significant projects it has changed me and it has grown and developed as well.
I’ve become passionate about understanding the vicissitudes and variations of true belonging and so I forage, gather and create a kaleidoscope of writings: original interviews with the famous, the thinkers, the creators and the rest of us, as well as thoughts, and book reviews. I’m even working on a creative writing program for refugee and migrant children.
Slow down. Take 10 minutes for yourself. Walk with me through the contemplative colours of belonging.