It’s time to ‘belong’, not just ‘fit in’

Belonging, experts stress, is a human emotional need for being accepted, be it within a family, among friends and colleagues, within a religion, and most importantly, in the state and nation as a whole.
Representative Image
Representative ImageExpress Illustration

It is not hard to notice that Karnataka is the microcosm of India. The diversity in terms of religions, castes (and sub-castes), languages and the racial mix gives the state a character which reflects that of the whole country.

But such a diversity poses a challenge to make some segments ‘belong’ to the whole rather than merely ‘fit in’ to display that diversity. Throw in a hefty dose of political agenda-linked hollow narratives — as we are witnessing with the ongoing electoral process — and that very diversity threatens to be compromised. Deep fissures appear in society. Each segment in this diverse mix seems to be merely ‘fitting in’ to make the whole rather than ‘belong’ within the society. Terms like ‘minority’, ‘majority’, ‘upper caste’, ‘lower caste’ and such — which are potential vote banks for the politicos — become words spelling division, bringing the proud “unity in diversity” tag line under a cloud. This goes against the human need to ‘belong’. The ‘othering’ and the “us-and-them” narratives are seeded in these.

Erich Fromm, the German-American social psychologist, psychoanalyst and sociologist, in his famous work Escape From Freedom, writes, “Religion and nationalism, as well as any custom and any belief, however absurd and degrading, if it only connects the individual with others, are refuges from what man most dreads: isolation.”

The 19th century French novelist and playwright, Honore de Balzac, states in The Inventor’s Suffering: “…man has a horror for aloneness. And of all kinds of aloneness, moral aloneness is the most terrible….The first thought of man, be he a leper or a prisoner, a sinner or an invalid, is to have a companion (or companions) of his fate. In order to satisfy this drive…he applies all his strength, all his power, the energy of his whole life...”

One might instantly point out that whatsoever the divisions, we do belong to some segment or the other. But belonging has various levels, mainly categorised into intimate, personal, social and public. As no human is completely isolated by society, like a marooned creature, it is assumed that the intimate and the personal side of ‘belonging’ is a given. It is the latter two (social and public belonging) that gain importance for groups and communities. They can’t just exhibit a sense of belonging by only ‘fitting in’ to display a whole, they actually must get that sense of ‘belonging’ to the society, the state and the nation.

Brené Brown, researcher and storyteller who studied courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy, accurately explains the difference between ‘fitting in’ and ‘belonging’. In her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, she explains, “…fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is one of the greatest barriers to belonging. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”

Belonging, experts stress, is a human emotional need for being accepted, be it within a family, among friends and colleagues, within a religion, and most importantly, in the state and nation as a whole — without the insecure feeling of being the ‘other’.

The “us” and “them” narratives force a feeling of just ‘fitting in’, ejecting the sense of ‘belonging’. The more we fall to such narratives, the more alienated a victimised segment would feel, the more we get divided, while “unity in diversity” increasingly becomes a mirage.

The urge to belong to the state or nation should be so strong that individuals, groups, and communities should get a feeling expressed by Jewel the unicorn in CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle: “I have come home at last! This is my real country!

I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life….”

Nirad Mudur

Deputy Resident Editor, Karnataka

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