Some thoughts on Belonging
As I mentioned yesterday, I spent the first part of this week at the Othering and Belonging Conference put on by the Haas Institute at UC Berkley. So much happened in that short period of time, and so much information came in that processing it is likely to take a while. There are some initial thoughts that have been percolating that I thought I’d pull together here.
We can’t get there from here
The Rev. Ben McBride of PICO California says, “The wrong first question is what do we need to do; the right first question is who do we need to become?” This was echoed both int he panel that Rev. McBride was on, but also throughout the conference. From key note speaker,l to poets ,to musicians, to panelists, this general idea was woven throughout. And yet.
The conference was structured like just about any other conference. There was a massive room for all 1500+ people to gather and hear amazing stories, to get inspired, to be educated about work being done and work that needs to be done. There were morning breakout sessions that were smaller version (for the most part) of the larger sessions. There was an evening reception. In short, it looks just like what we always do. The thing is, we can’t become who we need to become by doing the things that we always do. We need to do things differently, even if we don’t know how they are going to turn out. We need to engage with each other in new ways, create more space for relationships, idea and knowledge generation, and for collaborations to expand into being.
This, I would say, is the biggest piece of feedback I have for the organizers: create a conference that invites us to step into an unknown that allows for the shifts we see need to happen to begin. This isn’t to say that the organziers didn’t do a good job. They did a phenomenal job. I was blown away. Sure, there were some kinks, but that’s to be expected. It is, after all, a massive event. What I am saying is that the opportunity is before us, and the people are here. They will show up. They want it, I could feel it. It’s time to up-level this thing, and begin to blow the roof off of the “way things are done around here.”
Belonging stars here
We look toward the world, and see a place where not everyone seems to be welcome. We have created systems that ensure this experience for many. Especially the most disenfranchised. There is no doubt about this. The thing is, in order to work to change this, we must find a sense of belonging within. One of the things that john a. powell of the Haas Institute talks about is “Bonding” and “Bridging”. Bonding is connecting within our “groups” — be they racial, religious, sexual orientation, profession, etc. Finding places to bond is important, but next we must Bridge. There’s a lot that could be written about this, but for now I’ll just say that Bridging is about creating the connections between groups (both real and perceived) in order to create connections and create a more welcoming space, a space of belonging.
I think there is another step. Really, a first step. Maybe even a step zero. I’m not sure what I’d name it (would love to find something that fits into the phonetics of bonding, bridging - oh, and don’t forget breaking), but it’s within. This step zero is the essence of finding belonging within. For a nubmer of months now, when I’ve been talking about wanting to deepen my work around race and finding my way into more useful and constructive conversations in this area, I’ve been talking about disarming myself. The need to extract the anger that lives within me, to essentially disarm the triggers. But I’m beginning to think that this is the wron way to think about it. I think that by engaging in inquires around belonging, and how I can find that within myself, that my need to express my anger in ways that creates separation will dissipate. I may be wrong, but this is my current thinking.
I think that’s all I have for the moment. There will be more. In the meantime, may this moment be one of belonging for you.