I was asked a few weeks back to write an article for Wild Women Press, in the form of a Wild Women thread for their Web of wonderful spinsters – as they say on their opening page,
“Think of this as a conversation around the cauldron, a gathering space for women to spin together our stories, songs, howls, and hopes. Each thread that is spun becomes part of a world wild web, connecting wild women around the globe.”
I was honoured and excited to write a piece that reflected me, and as I was allowed to write about ANYTHING, the opportunities flashed across my mind, each one brilliantly lit until the flame died. Nothing was becoming writing, until I thought about Belonging, and my feelings around it…
Boom, it turned into my favourite article that I have written to date!
Here it is on their site: wildwomenpress.com/WildWomanWeb21.html
Hope you enjoy!
Like any word, the more I say it, turning the letters around in my head constantly and depositing them in various jumbles of ineloquence, the less this becomes an actual word, and the more it trails off into nothingness. The strange thing is the same can be said about the meaning. The more I think about it, the less it becomes clear what It actually is.
What does it mean to belong?
Where must one belong?
Must you belong?
Can you ever truly belong?
Why do we want it so badly?
I feel as if I’ve been running around a maypole my entire life, and the central post is this word. Belong. Everything I’ve done, and indeed everything most people do in their lives, sits parallel in some form or fashion to this feeling. I call it a feeling because it is very much an emotional package. We wish for it, we crave it, we are attached to the unquenchable thirst of partnership, and the want of relatability.
It all started when I was very young.
That’s how most tales begin isn’t it? Romances. Glorified war memorials. Desperados. Thrillers. Comedies. They all start at the beginning. We learn everything we are as we grow, but the tools we are given to hack out an existence are first discovered when we are soft-shelled things, just beginning to have some colour applied to our fresh, white (or in my case, brown) canvas.
I was a rather strange little thing. And I say that in a completely positive sense. Long hair down below my shoulders, small oval glasses forever pushed up the bridge of my nose, as I explained it is PERFECTLY normal to devour the Wikipedia page on Australia’s wildlife at the breakfast table. I wore clothes I can confidently suggest now deserve the title of “home-spun, overall chic”, and I spent many an hour goggling over a tweed suit, or a silken bow tie.
Many of you who know me will read this and react with a simple, “well, you didn’t change that much then did you!”.
Ok, fine. A lot is the same. But I did change. Mindset mainly, but we’ll come to that later. The point is, I didn’t belong. At least, I didn’t belong many places I was SUPPOSED to belong. There weren’t a lot of aisles that had the correct labelling to put me on a shelf there, and I dare say there are even less now.
We are taught with quite a terrible, cut throatedness, that in order to thrive, we simply MUST belong. We are taught where to belong, and how. There are manuals dedicated to it. Movements upholding rituals and laws pertaining to it. People are killed over it, and some are hounded down until they surrender to its dull sheen. Some would say it controls how we live. That constant reminder of “the movement”, of “purpose”, “goals” — are they not all connected in some form or fashion to the idea of Belonging?
But what does it mean to belong?
I can attest first-hand: it’s got quite a kick to it. You can talk about the highs of life till the cows come home; food, money, drugs, sex, whatever — but you will never beat security. The euphoria that accompanies the comfort of security rises so high above the rest, it is often forgotten in our great scramble for the others. Everyone on this planet craves security — whether it be basic human rights, financial, emotional, social — it fundamentally undercuts every other feeling and thing on earth, because it gives you choice, and choice equals freedom. And my god, do we become addicted to the concept of freedom.
Belonging is a form of security. Human beings have, since the beginning of their existence, found security in numbers and in the idea that we are social animals. Societies are born out of a group of organisms sharing a common goal and realising the accomplishment of this common goal, or set of common goals, relies upon the ability of all of those involved to work together, and to relate to one another in the process, because through relatability comes friendship, and through friendship comes reliance (and like I’ve been nattering on about for about a million words, reliance is security, the cornerstone of loyalty and of social interaction, and thus is born, as a supernova of brilliant light…Belonging).
I’ll try not to talk in badly structured riddles for the entirety of this. We’ve established that we crave belonging, because it is essentially a suit of armour in the form of security: in order to belong, we must find a group of like-minded individuals, and together realise a common goal/goals, which we will then accomplish together via (preferably) friendship and loyalty, or (perhaps less preferably) desperation, and/or force. We are now all needed, or at least feel as if we are needed. The machine cannot function without all its cogs, and your society will protect you, if not out of love, then out of a simple need of your services.
You feel wanted. Needed. Essential.
Once security has been established, time can now be dedicated to other exploits; you can learn to sky-dive, or perhaps become quite adept at dismantling and repurposing petrol lawnmowers. I’m sugar-coating the whole affair, but you get the gist; freedom is delicious, and it would seem that it is the aftertaste of a quick swig of Belonging.
So, we want to belong but it only really works if we are told where, and how to belong…right? You can’t have a machine with cogs jumping around willy-nilly, talking about what they want, wearing what they want, and generally acting as if they’re the lead-cog. The machine would collapse, the security would be no more, and the flowers would all die. No, no, no! We need some efficiency around here. Uniforms, speech lessons, laws: Conformity.
Conformity doesn’t have the same, comfortable, hot chocolate-tinged zeal to it as Belonging, does it? Yet, they’re of a very similar origin. Conformity is to Belong, but it is to belong at a price. A quick google, and we have,
“Conformity, the process whereby people change their beliefs, attitudes, actions, or perceptions to more closely match those held by groups to which they belong or want to belong or by groups whose approval they desire”.
So Conformity is to Belong, via Change — but surely that can’t be right? Belonging is security, it’s nice, it’s warm, it’s a way to be able to follow your petrol engine tinkering exploits. Surely, the whole point of Belonging is to find somewhere you fit in, not to rip the face off your personality, and crudely sew on a guise, in order to be seen as a more manageable entity?. Unfortunately, this is the most common way we are taught to Belong.
This society is born of smooth efficiency. We are taught to subscribe to that efficiency in order to climb the ladder, and ultimately, by Conforming, and forcing ourselves to Belong, we are carved into the cogs of a machine that cares not for the real face beneath the cleverly sewed-on joker mask…
Whew. Had to stop for a minute.
We want to belong because we want to feel safe, and from a young age we are taught there are only certain ways to belong, so that we may be allowed to feel safe.
I’m trying not to rant, I promise. Or write a manifesto. But, it’s hard because what I’m essentially trying to tell you, is that the Art Of Belonging is a façade.
The sooner we understand that our happiness and wellbeing is dependant not on the ability we have to belong, or the ability to serve, but instead on our ability to love who we are, however weird and wonderful that inner-self may be, the sooner you can stop listening to me ramble, and get on with raising spiders or whatever (that’s a personal one).
Conformity is an aide to efficiency, and frankly, humanity is far too complex and beautiful to need to be reduced to efficient machines.
Trust me. I went the long way round. I was a weird child. I grew up learning how to conform in order to thrive. I went through countless changes. I came out. I wore weird clothes. I had to unlearn everything, and relearn some things. I lost people, and gained a whole lot more. I got angry, sad, happy, tired, anxious. And I’m only 22.
Your safety and security shouldn’t have anything to do with the ability you have to mask who you really are, and subscribe to a system you have never even had a hand in cultivating. The ability to understand what makes you happy, in a healthy and tender fashion, that’s a real means to safety and security.
You Belong when You Choose to Belong.