The Need to Belong  #

At birth, we are alone, but by nature we gradually become integrated with a family, clan, ethnic group, nation, culture, nature and humanity.  As we mature we choose to abandon some groups and seek admittance to others.   We subconsciously choose to belong to groups that share our, interests, aspirations, needs and values and where we are accepted as we are.  As the Proverbial saying goes; Birds of a feather flock together, we too are gregarious and choose to be with like-minded people.

Matthew D. Lieberman asks in “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect.” If people are motivated only by self-interest, any explanation is elusive. But Lieberman, a professor of biobehavioral sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, thinks people are even more motivated by something beyond self-interest: the drive for social connection. 

Calculated self-interest is not as intrinsically rewarding as cooperation and empathy.  “In addition to being self-interested, we are also interested in the welfare of others,” he writes. “This, along with self-­interest, is part of our basic wiring.”

When Lieberman says wiring, he means wiring. It’s neural connections he’s looking for when he describes, for instance, a neuro-imaging study at Emory University in which subjects play the Prisoner’s Dilemma while in a functional M.R.I. machine (which tracks blood flow to different areas of the brain). The scientists found that when a subject’s partner cooperated, activity increased in the ventral striatum, the brain’s primary reward centre — as long as the subject had cooperated, too. “The ventral striatum seemed to be more sensitive to the total amount earned by both players, rather than to one’s personal outcome,” Lieberman writes. He takes this to mean that people get more pleasure from the happiness of others than from their own solipsistic happiness.

Lieberman believes that brain imaging reveals “the neural mechanisms of the social mind.”  When we’re not cognitively engaged in anything specific, the wandering mind activates what he calls the social cognition network. The fact that this is our default setting — the network is active even at rest — suggests to Lieberman that it has a greater adaptive value than any other neural network. “This network comes on like a reflex,” he writes, and it directs us “*to think about other people’s minds — their thoughts, feelings and goals. . . . It promotes understanding and empathy, cooperation and consideration.” ***Robin Marantz Henig   The New York Times Book Review

Facebook’s work force is adapting to working from home, which had been discouraged in the past. The company’s executives have long preached internally that face-to-face meetings and in-person collaboration were central to Facebook’s success. The importance of in-person conversation was so great that employees at offices from Singapore to New York were frequently asked to travel to the company’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., for quarterly meetings.

**                “The champions of digital connection don’t actually believe in it when it comes to their own business.”**

**We’re not wired for “social distancing,” that ugly new oxymoron. We didn’t evolve to be physically separated from the humans at the core of our lives. It’s unnatural. More than that, it’s unhealthy.   The Times’s Mike Isaac and Sheera Frenkel

*“A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.” *

* *

“A friend is someone who thinks you’re a good egg even though you’re slightly cracked!”

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General Aspects of Belonging  #

In any hierarchy of needs, belonging ranks highly in the social and psychological aspect.  As a primordial or primitive need it is fundamental to our development as a social participant for acceptance and security.  However as in most things in life we have to balance the art of being a unique person pursuing individual fulfilment and fitting in with the culture and society we live in.


Scientists today believe in empathic sociability; that by nature we are soft wired to feel vicariously for others because of our fragility, needs and vulnerability.

Perhaps the best illustration of this can be found at:                                   

However as individuals mature and develop independence, self sufficiency and self-interest, the need to belong becomes less significant.  Gregarious young people can turn reclusive later in life.


There are advantages and disadvantages in belonging to a group.  Belonging is motivated by safety and security.  Tribes that stuck together increased their chance of survival.  Primitive people needed to belong to tribes for security against danger of destitution, predators, or marauding invaders.  Tribes evolved into feudal castles and today’s gated communities. 


Even today, belonging provides physical, social, emotional and psychological security.  Political parties recognise the need for solidarity by asserting that, “united we stand, divided we fall” or “*Disunity is Death”. * However, as laws, order and security become established, individuality and independence become more attractive.


The disadvantages of belonging are many including the demand for conformity or compromise of individuality; personal values and needs. It is important that we do not allow influences of events or other people to destroy the essence of who we are.  The collective needs should not always dominate over private needs, desires or identity.


 As we mature we become more and more selective about who or what group we choose to belong to. We begin to assert our true selves – our integrity.


A sense of belonging is felt where there is the perception of acceptance and understanding without compromise, conditions or limitations. …”Belonging is about how the individual experiences their difference – it is not based on sameness or commonality.


Only in the context of acceptance can a person feel they belong – the individual is included or excluded based on their own perceptions of their difference. What promotes a sense of belonging is the willingness to be accepting of others. The more the individual accepts others the more they feel that they belong.


Differences define boundaries. When people become more familiar with difference, they develop a sense of belonging*“…without compromise, conditions or limitations”.* The need to instil conditions, qualifications or limitations before granting acceptance into a group, demonstrates a lack of acceptance towards difference. People who distinguish between us and them or “the other” foster divisiveness and exclusion.

Tough times forge stronger communities as people begin to rely on mutual support.  Modern living tends to isolate or atomise people into bubble worlds.  Here is an excellent article from The Saturday Paper:

Raymond Gaita on Belonging  

People have a sense of belonging to a group (to a family, church, neighbourhood, town, nation, culture and so on) when they can identify with that group in ways that enables them to say that ‘we’ did this or that, even though they may not have done or even taken part in the events they refer to. We need to accept the idea of collective responsibility, I have called the use of that ‘we’ “an expression of fellowship”

 Though his father, an immigrant from Yugoslavia could not become attached to the physical landscape of Australia, he developed a sense of national identification.  Gaita’s German born mother always felt estranged from Australia.


True treasure is found in a humanising community in which we are known, accepted, and valued as flawed-yet-gifted contributors to the welfare of the whole. Such community is rooted in trust, respectful of its traditions, hopeful about its future, and committed to mercy, doing justice and caring for each other. Community of this kind relies on trust, in which we help one another so that we can love our neighbours as ourselves.

Have we lost the art of belonging?

Date  2014    Hugh Mackay

Read more:


Dichotomies at work  (opposite forces – tensions - conflicts)


Belonging                                /detached, non engaged, aloof 

Connected                               /disconnected

Integration (integral)                /alienated

accepted                                  /rejection

Familiarity                                /estranged

seeking to belong                    /longing for solitude and individuality

Inclusive                                  /exclusive/reclusive

accepting difference               /rejecting difference

social barriers to belonging     /personal barriers to belonging

belonging as a limitation          /belonging as an extension or addition

communion                              /isolation/alienation/singlularity


Liminality – an anthropological term referring to a transitional phase we occupy when moving from one rite of passage to another or  following a serious mishap we withdraw from society to recuperate before we are reincorporated into the group.  This is often called a liminal state.