Group Of PeopleBlack, white, Gay, straight, man, woman, transgender, old, young, rich, poor, native, immigrant, religious, atheist or agnostic. Each of these is a designation by which we measure our sense of belonging.

There is a sociological concept known as Othering in which individuals identify themselves by their gender, class, religion, ability status or ethnicity. People outside those groups are perceived as different. A human-made construct, it can either unify or separate individuals or groups. It can also lead to extremes of violence when viewed as a threat to the survival of the collective.

What Are the Benefits of Belonging?

Per social psychologist Abraham Maslow, Ph.D., there are five basic needs that human beings have. Among them is the need to belong. It can be met by being part of a family, tribe, team, cohort or gang. When utilized in pro-social ways, it can lead to satisfaction and bonding with others.

One example is a woman who was raised in a large extended family with parents, a sibling, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Knowing that these people could be counted on for support allowed taught her to be inclusive. She created her own family with her husband and two children, but also a family of choice that included dear friends who were added to the mix and viewed as aunts and uncles to her daughters. She knew how to welcome people into her life, regardless of religion or culture. Their holiday tables were filled with those of various backgrounds. As a result, her children embraced a multi-cultural approach and count among their circles of friends, those of other sociological groups. They are each outspoken advocates of diversity. Both of these women married outside their religion and raised families with an interfaith perspective. The son of one of these women has a bi-racial best friend and in high school, his closest friend was Gay. He is marrying a woman raised in a religion different from his. In this lineage, the sphere of influence and inclusivity are expansive. For them family is defined in non-traditional ways.

Family Values Matter

Another family consists of a child whose grandmother is caring for him and his cousins since their respective parents are in jail for committing various crimes. She is loving and encouraging and meets their needs. Their family values include loyalty, defending each other, and seeing the unit as the most important thing in their lives. All well and good. Their family values also involve lying, cheating, stealing, and swindling those who are outside the circle. Since they are not family, they are ‘marks’ to be taken advantage of.

When You’re A Jet

There is a scene in the classic film West Side Story in which the Jets wax poetic about the benefits of being part of their gang. It is a telling example of the ways in which the sense of belonging can lead to dangerous interactions in the name of one-up-manship. The racist sensibilities in the storyline were not just of their time, but unfortunately, exist to this day,

RIFF
When you’re a Jet,
You’re a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin’ day.
When you’re a Jet,
Let them do what they can,
You got brothers around,
You’re a family man!
You’re never alone,
You’re never disconnected!
You’re home with your own–
When company’s expected,
You’re well protected!
Then you are set
With a capital J,
Which you’ll never forget
Till they cart you away.
When you’re a Jet,
You stay
A Jet!

SNOWBOY
When you’re a Jet,
You’re the top cat in town,
You’re the gold-medal kid
With the heavyweight crown!

ICE
When you’re a Jet,
You’re the swingin’est thing.
Little boy, you’re a man;
Little man, you’re a king!

ALL
The Jets are in gear,
Our cylinders are clickin’!
The Sharks’ll steer clear
‘Cause every Puerto Rican’s
A lousy chicken!

ALL
Here come the Jets
Like a bat out of hell–
Someone gets in our way
Someone don’t feel so well!
Here come the Jets:
Little world, step aside!
Better go underground,
Better run, better hide!

We’re drawin’ the line,
So keep your noses hidden!
We’re hangin’ a sign
Says “Visitors forbidden”–
And we ain’t kiddin!
Here come the Jets,
Yeah! And we’re gonna beat
Every last buggin’ gang
On the whole buggin’ street!

One the whole!
Buggin’–!
Ever –!
Lovin’–!
Street!!

Music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
© 1956, 1957 Amberson Holdings LLC and Stephen Sondheim. Copyright renewed.
Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company LLC, Publisher.

Love Has No Labels

As is clearly stated in the song, ‘other’ translates to ‘enemy,’ to be defeated by force. The reason? Seeing the incoming group as infringing on territory. It isn’t until the end of the story that their shared humanity and grief bring them together. It doesn’t have to be that way.

What if being part of the human family was enough to satisfy the desire to belong? A campaign from the Ad Council called Love Has No Labels was created to highlight the concept that beyond our perceived differences, we are the same. Various pairs are hidden behind a screen and appear to be skeletons. When they step out front, the audience sees that diversity and not exclusionary dogma prevails.

When We Becomes They

In 1948, the United Nations recognized that they had an obligation to erase hatred against minorities and so declared. “the promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities contribute to political and social stability and peace and enrich the cultural diversity and heritage of society.”

In the face of a monumental shift in attitude since the recent election, this becomes even more pertinent. When we see those of different hues, belief systems, and lifestyles, perhaps an impulsive reaction is to make immediate judgments about the kind of person they are. What if we were all blindfolded and could only determine if we wanted to join with their group or have them merge with ours by speaking and getting to know more about them?

Values Clarification

Consider this exercise. When you read a word, say the first thing that comes to mind for you, perhaps even writing the association down.

  • Muslim
  • Jew
  • Christian
  • Buddhist
  • Hindu
  • Immigrant
  • Liberal
  • Conservative
  • Single parent
  • Black
  • White
  • Asian
  • Able bodied
  • Differently abled
  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Libertarian
  • Married
  • Single
  • Gay
  • Straight
  • Transgender
  • Mentally ill
  • Aged
  • Pro-choice
  • Pro-life

Our beliefs about others are viewed through the lenses we wear when comparing them to the prevailing culture…ours.

The election polarized people into camps and invoked name calling. ‘Deporables’. ‘Libtards’. ‘Snowflakes’. These were invectives that were hurled about. How about just people? People with various mindsets and paradigms in which they live. We don’t all have to agree about the route to the happiness we seek. Violence occurs when the perpetrator otherizes/demonizes someone whose values are different as if somehow, they will infect them so they need to fend off the disease.

We have to live together on this big blue marble/third rock from the sun where if we consider the truth, we are all Us.