Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Belonging in our changing world

“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are." Brené Brown
Before I headed south to hear Brené Brown, I got into a discussion with a friend about belonging and its relevance to Company of Women.
Belonging to me was an integral part of what we do. Everyone, I felt, needs and wants to belong, to be part of something larger than themselves. So reading Brené’s new book Braving the Wilderness, confirmed what I had recognized intuitively.
Brené Brown grew up in a large family but outside of her family, she often struggled to fit in. Because of her father’s work, they were always on the move, making it hard to settle down, make friends and fit in. Feeling that she never belonged was one of her greatest pains.
She shares a story of how she was speaking at a conference, all dressed up and feeling distinctly uncomfortable, to the point where she got up, grabbed her suitcase and changed into her more casual clothing. As she said, how could she talk about being authentic, when she felt disconnected with herself.
Being yourself, she warns, means sometimes we have to stand alone. We have to brave the wilderness of uncertainty, vulnerability, and criticism. We have to belong to ourselves first.
And Brené is definitely brave as she tackles and labels what is happening in the world today. Right now, she says the only thing that binds us is fear, disdain, and rejection, not humanity, shared trust and love. We’ve become afraid to speak up, to reveal our innermost thoughts or opinions.
Partly because we treat everything as black or white, whereas grey might be a more accurate description. We are either for something or against it. No middle road here. She challenges us to be prepared to stand alone with our integrity.
Braving the wilderness, she cautions, means that you’re not going to like all the terrain. It means sitting with people, listening and having hard conversations. It means being curious, not defensive.
She talks about the spiritual crisis we find ourselves in. We are so busy stereotyping people, slotting them into our comfortable files, without realizing that they are people, people with pain.  Pain, she feels, that leads to anger and hate.  Pain that can only subside when we acknowledge it and care. But she argues, people are hard to close up. Move in, she suggests.
She goes on to say that we are dehumanizing people. It is much easier if we create an enemy image, one that depicts people as inferior or even dangerous. It starts with language. Abusive words should not be tolerated at any level or “either side.” The names tossed at Hilary Clinton, she suggests, are just as deplorable as those aimed at the President. We need to challenge ourselves to live by higher standards.
It is, she observes, those precious moments of joy – like going to your band’s concert, watching children play or spending time with old friends – that will fuel our lives. We need more joy. But it is also about being prepared to feel the pain. Funerals, for example, are not just for the people grieving, but for everyone who is there. However, not enough of us know how to sit in pain with others.
The way we engage with social media is like a fire – you can use it to keep warm and nourish or you can burn down the barn. Much depends on your intentions, expectations and reality checking skills. That said, face to face connection is imperative in our true belonging practice. 
And that brings me back to why Company of Women exists. While connecting online enables you to “meet” globally, it is through the in-person, face-to-face connections that we can build a community; a community where we all belong; a community that cares.
What can you do to speak out and belong? It takes all of us to make a difference. Together we have strength.

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