By: Giselle General
With all the conversation about social isolation, mental health, and disconnectedness these days, I have been thinking more about the concept of belonging.
My explorations range from simply thinking things trough, mulling through my head various things I read or hear about and reading books on the matter. I read a few books by Brene Brown on vulnerability, shame, and the idea of ‘daring greatly’ and ‘braving the wilderness’ which on the surface sounds really isolating.
As someone who immigrated to a different country, the concept of belonging gets a bit more muddled. One challenge is the labels we use to identify ourselves can mean not belonging to other groups. Or that more effort or clarification is needed to make the broad connection.
Perhaps it is just a sign of getting older, that I am faced with more paradoxes in life, it’s making my head spin. Assertiveness and collaboration, boundaries and openness, vulnerability and courage, sharing and preserving.
It wasn’t until a few years in university that I discovered a term that resonated with me: introvert. It is a part of who I am that I have learned to embrace and even let shine. I laugh whenever my colleagues and volunteers claim that they don’t believe me since I seem to be so social and cheerful when I interact with them at work. But most of my work is done well within the confines of my closed office door. And that at the end of the day I crave isolation while writing a blog, reading a book, or browsing online. I have attended a ‘Paint Nite’ event with a friend, where we were in a bar following instructions from an instructor on how to make a certain painting. That is fine and neat, but I felt greater satisfaction and artistic expression by doing arts and crafts in isolation, making a mess in our dining table all by myself.
There are times when I feel unease – not as intensely as guilt though – over the fact that I have not really spent time socializing with my relatives. I feel conflicted on who, when and how should we really hang out. Should I ask first? Should I wait for them to reach out? I feel that those gatherings are not as fun as they used to, or was that because I haven’t seen them for a long time? Is the fact that we are related by blood, enough reason to find time to meet up, despite differences in schedule, preferences and values?
Then there is technology. There are now plenty of online communities to connect with like-minded people, even over just that one thing you may have in common. In my opinion, these types of connections are still under-valued. The great benefit of these online forums is how specific they can be, and that specificity of common interest is what makes it difficult to find in real life sometimes. Currently, I am a member of online groups for bullet journaling (essentially a DIY planner/ diary/ scrapbook/ notebook hybrid), sex education and positivity, and being childfree by choice.
One thing I am trying to remind myself is that there is no such thing as feeling like you belong 100% in every single location or setting. And that IS okay! It seems like the excessive pressure to hang out with people is the very reason why social interactions can be unpleasant or not satisfying. Being present, and mindful, and curious are a few things I’m trying to integrate in my life. On in other words, rolling with the punches.
The last thing I am trying to remind myself in the quest of belonging, is that its imperfections and impermanence is not something to be afraid of. It is okay to have a childhood friend for a decade, be disconnected during the adult years, and perhaps, rediscover the kinship upon retirement age. It is okay to take a break or unflollow online groups if it seems like the right thing to do. It is okay to formally break a friendship or let it fade away by not corresponding. It is okay to mumble and be awkward and focus on your group’s activity, taking extra time before disclosing personal details.
The two statements I heard not too long ago that resonated with me is “I feel complete in an empty room” and “You are amazing, just the way you are”. I think that convincing myself of the first statement, and viewing other using the second statement, will be valuable guides in navigating the colourful, unpredictable, messy, journey of connecting with fellow humans.