The theme for October is “belonging” – an affinity for a place or situation. Both intuition and research show that people need to feel a sense of social connectedness, and that belonging comes with feeling that one is an accepted member of a group.
Considering that humans evolved for tens of thousands of years living in small tribes, it is not surprising that belongingness and social connectedness are an integral part of the normal human psyche. Tribe membership increased a human’s chances of survival from starvation, predation, and violence by neighboring tribes. Selection pressures for connectedness and belongingness were probably intense.
Abraham Maslow’s influential theory on the hierarchy of needs identified our physiological needs for food, water, and warmth as superseding our psychological needs. But subsequent research has shown just how fundamental our need for social connection and belonging are, and how important the fulfillment is to healthy human psychology and functioning. One of the most influential was the belongingness hypothesis introduced about a quarter century ago by Roy Baumeister. According to Wikipedia, this theory proposed that,
human beings have a fundamental drive to form lasting relationships, to belong. He provided substantial evidence that indeed, the need to belong and form close bonds with others is itself a motivating force in human behavior. ….He also contends that our emotions are so deeply linked to our relationships that one of the primary functions of emotion may be to form and maintain social bonds, and that both partial and complete deprivation of relationships leads to not only painful but pathological consequences.
We can’t help but notice that descriptions of perpetrators of mass shootings are nearly always described as “loners” or “isolated”. Whether the lack of social connection causes psychopathy or psychopathy causes lack of social connection, the integral relationship between belonging and a healthy psyche cannot be denied.
We can feel proud that social connection is a core function of the UU church. Have you ever noticed that the UUA’s home page says, “Live your values aloud, not alone.”? I see in this statement two meanings: one is an invitation to join, as the home page continues, “with our open-minded, open-hearted spiritual communities….” and the other is a call to action to, “…. help people lead lives of justice, love, learning and hope.” It is an invitation into the group, but also a responsibility to look reach outward to improve the lives of others.
As October’s Soul Matters curriculum notes, “….our question this month is different than one we might expect. Instead of “Where can I find belonging?” maybe it’s “How can I become belonging for others?” In my opinion, this is perhaps the greatest strength of our faith. We seek belonging not only for ourselves, but for all people of good will. Thus, we are invited to belong and enjoined to extend the invitation to others.
— Melissa Martinson
Vice President, UUCM Board of Trustees