What Does Belonging Mean

There is a crisis of loneliness going on in the developed world. For example, in Canada and the USA, reports show that as many of 50% of the population experiences loneliness. Loneliness leads to all kinds of other problems including mental, physical and social problems.

The opposite of loneliness is belonging. But what is belonging?

Research over several decades (e.g. MacMillan & Chavis, 1986 and see an updated version at https://www.drdavidmcmillan.com/sense-of-community/sense-of-community) has concluded there are elements needed to build a “sense of community”: Membership, Influence, Satisfaction of needs, and emotional connection.

But we are not academics in a theoretical world. We are real people living amongst other people. So we asked people, what does it mean to belong.

The answers we got were Trust, Friendly, Caring and Mutual Support.

In our everyday world, we have to feel safe (Trust and Friendly), we have to feel connected (Mutual Caring) and we have to get something out of the relationship ( Mutual Support when needed). That is what people have told us.

So why do so many people feel lonely which is the same as not belonging?

My speculation is that we have been taught to mistrust each other. If we see a stranger, than we have been taught they could be dangerous.

And the cure for mistrust is knowing. When we actually have the experience of knowing someone, then we can make a better judgement as to whether we can trust them. We may learn through knowing that we can trust them in some contexts and not others. For example ,we can trust they won’t steal our stuff but we can’t trust they will show up on time.  And based on the trust we develop, we can take the first step to belonging and build on the other steps of caring and mutual support.

Who in your neighbourhood do you not know? What can you do to get to know them so you can know what you can trust and what you can’t. This is the first step to building a community of neighbourhood belonging.

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