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A Sense of Belonging – what is the impact of social distancing?

Yesterday, our Toastmaster’s club held an extra Zoom meeting, for a completely different reason, a philosophical debate on the topic of belonging. Several members shared concerns about missing out on a sense of belonging, especially during this lockdown period.

We explored the meaning of belonging as the felt sense of connection, welcome and acceptance, at both a fundamental, universal level and at a more psychological, personal level. I’m making the distinction that the former is a deep feeling that never goes away, although we can lose sight of it from time to time, and the other is transient and affects our individual behaviours in the moment – whether we feel we belong or not.

We talked about groups we belonged to, what it was that gave us a sense of belonging and the importance of shared values as a measure of belonging. We even talk about it in relation to Maslow’s hierarchy of motivational needs. We explored generational differences and the implications of social networking. There was shared concern about the potentially superficial nature of friendships over social media. We even talked about the negative connotations of belonging to a race, a country or a tribe.

It was a fascinating debate, particularly against the backdrop of the current global pandemic and enforced social distancing.

On reflection I think there was a difference of meaning emerging which I think is useful to explore. Is belonging the same as connection? Or does connection need to come first? Is it because of a deep sense of connection to who I really am that I now feel free and safe to belong in whichever group shows up?

I recently started an online daily Yoga practice. The teacher invited us to identify a feeling at the end of one session and the word that came up for me was openness. I recognised it as a familiar feeling when I’m feeling grounded and connected. I realise that it is this openness and connection that is the platform which enables a sense of belonging. It is irrespective of others, irrespective of circumstance and irrespective of social distancing. It happens naturally when I’m not thinking it doesn’t!

In her lovely book ‘Becoming’, Michelle Obama says “There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This for me is how we become.” By stepping away from the clutches of our personal thinking, we naturally emerge and connect freely and openly, which leads to a sense of belonging that can’t be broken and is never lost.

Human connection doesn’t require face-to-face presence – we can feel goodwill and connection no matter the physical circumstances.

If you would like to find out more about connecting to this space within you, then why don’t you take a look at my recently published book on Kindle – “More than You Think”

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