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Development of belonging; meta-belonging


I recently 2024-03-22 wrote on the personally significant topic of belonging. Then I thought to myself, in line with my general interest with adult development including people like Robert Kegan, does a sense of belonging develop with different stages of more general development? Or, as some people prefer, leaving aside any linear ideas of development, are there different aspects of belonging that belong to different aspects or phases of life?


To state the obvious, between conception and birth we belong inside our mother's womb. Obviously also psychologically significant, if you think about it, not just physiologically.

As we grow up, we belong less and less to parental and family figures. Kahlil Gibran reminds parents not to be possessive, but children can also feel abandoned as well as smothered, lacking healthy stable connection. If that connection was somehow lacking, how can the gap of belonging be restored? Or does that kind of trauma mean that someone can never feel that full sense of belonging? People try to restore it, for sure, but too often in hopeless ways.


There can be hope in traditional societies. If we are comfortable playing traditional roles, then we can without much difficulty achieve a sense of belonging from playing the roles that are prescribed for us and expected of us. If we play a traditional role well in a traditional culture, the people around us are likely to reinforce our role-play with approval or praise. We will be accepted and valued. Our belonging will be assured, provided we keep playing our parts. Think: filial piety; respect for elders and society-wide (including indigenous) traditions. However, traditionalism has itself progressively been abandoned in the Age of Enlightenment and the recent centuries of modernism, or modernity.


I'm not at all so clear about how we are meant to achieve a sense of belonging in the modernism of an individualistic culture. This kind of culture gives us no fixed roles in life, and we have self-authorship (a term used by Robert Kegan). Belonging seems rather more hazardous — perhaps we have to base it on something more abstract: our ideology or personal values? We can seek out those who hold similar values, and live according to similar ideology. The locus of our belonging will therefore less likely to be the family, the village and the tribe, and more likely to be groups based on shared interests or ideology. Think of the variety and popularity of churches in the USA. Elsewhere: think of clubs, societies, associations, voluntary work, political groups, environmental groups — wildlife and nature are common. Or, even, particularly in younger generations, groups that gather around particular games. Games on computers, like Minecraft? Role-playing games, which may include live action? (LARP)? Or being a spectator and a fan of some sports club. Every individual has their own interest, and they belong with others who share their interests, values, and sometimes, ideology.

It's all rather hit-and-miss. People can be left out, marginalised, devalued, in the ideological competition. This would be one explanation of the noted rise in loneliness. Not an easy place to belong deeply and securely. What is beyond the “modern”?


Progressing to postmodernism means questioning grand narratives or metanarrative. How do you belong to something that is always being questioned? Unless, of course, you identify as a nihilist…? I wouldn't be at all satisfied with that kind of belonging. So there's a potential issue with belonging here as well. That joins up with the problem of belonging for people who are not able to identify with traditional roles, as well as those who do not find their eclectic tribe-substitute in the modernist ideological struggles. For me, the remedy is not to go back, but to go forward. My healing narrative for this problem, such as it is, is collective.


It seems mostly beyond the power of any one individual to reconstitute or otherwise provide a missing sense of belonging for another individual. But collectively, it is a different matter. The emergent potential of the collective goes beyond than that of an individual — I would say many of us understand or recognise that, in our own ways. Thus it is my sense that a collective, acting collectively, can provide the ground of belonging to each individual in that collective, if the collective is acting in that special, connected way, connected in the mode of the brain's right hemisphere (RH).1) When we connect deeply (in empathy, love, trust, understanding, which use our full faculties including the RH) with each other, we all co-constitute a higher-order collective being that is capable and worthy of the trust that allows the healing and restoration of a true sense of belonging. Except that the belonging that emerges from this fertile ground has – lo and behold – much more potential than the belonging that is present in the family or the tribe — the family and tribe are traditionally oriented towards survival, reproduction and safety; while belonging to a community “of the spirit” invokes an unbounded potential, not in any way tied to the reproduction of the species.


So there is still something meta going on in me here and now. I want to belong to a bunch of people who are supporting and enabling people's deeper connection and more meaningful and purposeful belonging. OK, how? I'll take that at two levels: first, what the job is, and second, who could I join with in doing it.

The outcome we are looking for – I've described it from one angle just above – is where people all get to find, sooner rather than later, the collective in which they belong in a co-creative, healing way. Which can change. Which is unfathomably varied. And from which they can be “moving / Into another intensity / For a further union, a deeper communion”, possibly moving on to another collective.

But, at present, collectively we are barely scratching the surface of our ability to reach this outcome. “There are so many possible links between us” (Theodore Zeldin) Thus, the wider group of people I want to belong to already have their work, their mission, cut out for them. It is, as I see it, to reconnect humanity with itself and with the rest of nature; and through that regenerative connection, to find belonging, in many shared identities, each described in their own way, in line with their own diverse regenerative healing narratives. The metanarrative here is properly complex, and not the kind of metanarrative that is rejected out of hand by postmodernism.

My own part in this is with technology, in my case with something built around CHOICE or ReGenMatch or whatever we end up calling it, not Wallace's Mind Manipulation-o-Matic! Because of my (albeit fluid) identity, the belonging I am longing for is to belong to a collective that is playing a vital role in developing that very technology — that enables people to connect regeneratively and find meaningful and purposeful belonging.

And even if I never make it, at least I want to see it on its way. I will belong to the invisible throng of those who pray (in whatever way that word makes sense) for these collectives to emerge, to exist, to thrive, and to do their calling, our job, ”our duty and our joy”.

I'm using “right hemisphere” in the same sense as does Iain McGilchrist.
d/2024-03-24.txt · Last modified: 2024-04-23 14:13 by simongrant