LET US ALL BE / ARCHITECTS OF BELONGING – From Guest Blogger Christopher Arthur Celeste

We live in an age of exaggerated individualism and aggressive tribalism – too often escaping the natural chaos of our lives by seeking comfort in what we already know, or think we know. People who look and sound like us. Neighborhoods with more of us than them. Belief systems that reinforce our rightness while directly or indirectly vilifying the other.

This default way of living isn’t necessarily intentional; often, it is simply the result of unconsciously using personal comfort as a primary filter for our everyday decision-making. Regardless of intention, the result is a way of living that divides us from one another and confines us to smaller and smaller boxes. As our own comfort becomes a kind of incremental cowardice, we become trapped in a false sense of security and sameness.

In his powerful book Community: The Structure of Belonging, author and citizen activist Peter Block, an Ohio native, describes how belonging serves as the bedrock of community-building, writing: “We’re in community each time we find a place where we belong,” in this way, “community becomes the container in which our longing to be is fulfilled.”

He goes on to point out the twin meaning of belonging – both membership and ownership. To be a member means belonging to something bigger than ourselves; a family, a neighborhood, a company, a country. To be an owner means something belongs to us; our property, our possessions, even our family pets. In both cases – whether we belong to something, or something belongs to us – belonging comes with both rights and responsibilities. And being good members or owners demands that we consciously consider how we exercise these rights and responsibilities.

In the world of built space, the best architects design not for their own egos, but to maximize the experience of the people using those spaces. In this way, they recognize these spaces, though designed by them, belong to the end user. And yet, we’ve all experienced the opposite – hospitals, airports, schools, offices, and even whole neighborhoods that seem designed specifically to make us feel uncomfortable or out of place. These places feel foreign or exclusive, and as a result, we feel somehow smaller or unimportant when we’re in them.

At an individual level, we each act as architects of our own personal spaces, especially the invisible, emotional spaces that connect us to other people in our lives – spouses, children, co-workers, neighbors, strangers on the street. If we were to approach those relationships with the intention of making others feel like they belong, what would we do differently? How would we act if we saw each other as members of the same human community vs competitors in an ongoing struggle over who is the smartest, strongest, prettiest, wittiest, most deserving among us?

In answering that question, let us remember the words of the outspoken feminist author Anais Nin, who declared “Life shrinks or expands in direct proportion to one’s courage.” And armed with courage, and its natural twin, curiosity; let us lean into life and each other, taking the risks and asking the questions necessary to intentionally build communities of belonging in every arena of our lives.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, the plain truth is we belong to each other, to a shared experience called life, to a shared natural world whose air we breathe, and water we drink, and whose fields and seas feed us.

If we pull back from our own instinctual self-centeredness and open our aperture wide enough, we will see we all belong to one world, and it belongs to us. In that understanding lives the hope that we can create communities for ourselves and each other that create a sense of belonging in all of us.