by Lincoln Sayger
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The way people deal with belonging appears strange, at first glance.
We often see people placing labels on themselves to point out how distinct they are from the group, as if to say, "I'm not like everyone else, because I am this type of person. I belong to this group, not to yours." And we take pride in our labels. We claim heritages that set us apart. We willingly separate ourselves from the average, from the whole, from the norm. We say, "I'm not just an ordinary person, because I am this."
And yet... And yet, we all strive to have a sense of belonging. We want to be part of something. We want to fit in, even while we set ourselves apart. We form groups, because we don't want to be the only one like us. So, there is this tug-of-war between wanting to belong and wanting not to be the same as most people.
I think, perhaps, what we're really trying to do with all of this banding together and taking on labels that set us apart is not to find belonging. Belonging is easy to find. You just have to look around you and realize that that person, over there, the one who looks so different from you, is just like you. That person wants to be happy. That person wants to be able to give good things to his loved ones. That person has desires. That person gets hungry. That person feels the same emotions you do, from time to time. That person doesn't want to be hurt. So, there's no difference between you and him. But you don't want to be just like him, because you don't really want belonging. Or, not just belonging.
What we are trying to do is find intimacy. It isn't enough to be like other people. We want them to care about us. And we think that people who are like us are more likely to care about us. And that's where this separation becomes problematic. Labeling ourselves and setting ourselves apart from those who are different cuts us off from those who are both different and caring. That person who looks so different from you might care about you more deeply than someone who looks just like you.
Think about that, the next time you look at someone and think, "You don't know my struggles as the label I claim, because I don't apply that label to you." This non-label-matching person may understand better than you think. Because they have their own struggles, and even if those struggles are not the same as yours, there may be intimate similarities in how those struggles affect them.
Look around you, and try to find people who aren't what you are, and say to them, "I want to see how we're alike, not how we're different. Maybe then, we can belong to each other."
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