Questions of Belonging

A few days ago I blogged from a state of despair about issues of tribe. It elicited some incredibly helpful comments. Thank you all of you who shared and inspired me. On the same day, I read Naomi’s blog about how we handle difference and exclusion in Paganism. I spent time wondering if I inadvertently exclude anyone, and if so, what to do about it. I realised I probably won’t know unless someone comes back and tells me, at which point I would hope to have opportunity to put it right. All too often, people are excluded because they are asked to fit in with whatever is ‘normal’, and no room is made for difference and quite often, that turns out to be important.

For my entire life, until this week, I have been operating under the mistaken belief that if I did a good enough job of fitting in and being useful, these things would ultimately lead to my having a sense of belonging. I’ve never really managed it on those terms, but the carrot dangling in front of me, out of reach, has kept me trying. If I could do better, ask for less, want less, give more, be more co-operative, be more flexible and generous… I want to be co-operative and useful, these things matter to me and are part of who I am, but when that becomes an exercise in hiding, crushing or cutting off bits of me, ignoring my own feelings and giving in a way that leaves me threadbare and exhausted, it doesn’t really work for me. It can work for the people benefiting from me, so there’s often encouragement to keep going.

I’ve started to see that the more sacrifices are made in order to fit in, the less it works in terms of belonging. What sense of belonging I have flows from the handful of relationships where I feel accepted. Where I am good enough already, and my oddities are allowed for. The places where, if my fragile mind and sore body aren’t working, I can expect care and compromise. The people who expect to negotiate, not to have it on their terms, who expect that what I want and need might not be exactly what they want and need. From there, we can work out something viable for all involved. The more able I am to bring my emotional responses, odd ideas, intensity, and fragility into a space, the more able I am to feel like I belong. The more masking I have to do to fit in, the less I feel like I belong.

I want to be useful. I want to be an asset to the people around me. I want to bring laughter and cake and good ideas, and support good projects and help other people flourish. This is not about belonging, this is about where I choose to stand. I want to pick my ground and my causes, and have the energy to see them through. I am realising that I am a very finite resource, and if I do not deploy carefully, I will burn out on people who want me to fit in, at the expense of doing the things I might have done well, and that’s just silly. I will be co-operative as much as I am able, but from here on in, that has to be a two sided process. I want to co-operate with people, not bend myself into awkward shapes for people who will not even try to meet me part way.

I need to feel cared for. That means if someone comes back and tells me why I shouldn’t have a problem, shouldn’t feel upset, shouldn’t expect any different… that’s a situation to back out of at speed. I don’t expect things to be smooth and easy, I get things wrong all the time and fully expect people in my life will make mistakes too. Getting it wrong is not a measure of anything. I am going to start expecting people to care enough to listen, to try and find, with me, viable ways forward when things go awry. Not an expectation of being accommodated in all ways, that would be equally unreasonable, but conversation, not a lecture about what I should be. ‘Should be’ is about fitting in, not about belonging.

Without willingness to exchange, listen, negotiate, explain and seek mutual understanding, it’s mostly about fitting in. I’ve had a good look at the few places I don’t feel defeated by how people react to me. Those I will be investing in heart and soul. From now, everything else either makes that grade, or doesn’t get much priority.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “Questions of Belonging

  • Alban Artur

    I too have encountered this somewhat recently. I sometimes feel undervalued and unappreciated and feel I give a lot of energy to things. Recently, at a planning meeting, someone else brought up the same idea I had a short time ago. While my idea was almost unilaterally shot down, the other person’s was unilaterally supported. When I tried to explain that I had suggested something similar in the past and the reasons I was given as to why it likely wouldn’t work, I was spoken over and marginalized. The whole affair left me feeling like a second class citizen in an organization I have made many sacrifices for, for many of the reasons you outlined here and on your other post about tribes.

    Meditating on it, I discovered that being in community sometimes means letting go of those things. The capitalist structure of Western Culture lends itself to the concept that the value of something is based on what you can squeeze out of it and once the squeezing is done, thanks for coming out!

    The only answer that comes to mind is to foster community where the value is in presence and holding space rather than “What can you contribute?”. The contribution and output of a person in a community needs to be flexible rather than a static as does their intake. Flexibility allows us honorable relationship rather than a give/take relationship. The edgework becomes a gift exchange instead of a simple exchange of goods and services that we see in capitalism. Capitalism may have it’s place somewhere in that but our culture’s strict adherence to it’s principles has undermined what community means in my opinion.

    • Nimue Brown

      Sorry to hear you’ve had such a dispiriting time of it, but I think you’ve come out of that with some tremendously important insight. Capitalist principles distort community. My feeling is that gift economies can go a long way to changing things, what I’ve explored so far on that score encourages me to think things could be different.

  • angharadlois

    “I’ve had a good look at the few places I don’t feel defeated by how people react to me. Those I will be investing in heart and soul. From now, everything else either makes that grade, or doesn’t get much priority.” <– YEAH!

    This post has so much resonance for me, in so many ways; I need to go off and mull it over. But as a statement of intent, it is amazing and powerful 🙂

  • Naomi J.

    Yes! Resonates for me too 🙂

  • To care, or not to care | Druid Life

    […] in March of this year, I started to realise that any kind of ‘belonging’ based on crushing my own nature was never […]

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