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How do we belong? Where do we belong? To what do we belong? And in what way?

What is the longing behind that belonging? How do we recognise it for what it is?

Or, equally, how do we not belong? From where do we get the sense that we don’t fit, that it may be time to move on?

The need to belong, to be part of something greater than ourselves, is one of the deepest human drives: it’s part of what makes us who we are. So for a community, or for a business, these aren’t abstract questions: they reach right to the heart of what it is to be a community, whether in a social sense, or a more commercial form.

And these questions are often just as important for a family too – especially so if we’re researching family-history, looking for the drivers and reasons that brought people together or apart over the generations.

So how do we find out more? How do we find out what’s going on there?

The answer: a story.

It’s the same principles as we’ve seen before with story, and similar to the kind of sensemaking in use in action-learning:

  • what’s the place, the context, the community?
  • who are the players, and their roles in relation to each other and within that community?
  • what are the ‘notable events’ within that sequence of ‘what happened next’?
  • what are the feelings and interpretations that drive those events?

What we especially look for in those stories or anecdotes are phrases about a feeling of ‘belonging’ or ‘not-belonging’; of being an ‘insider’, or an ‘outsider’. What are those feelings? What are the transitions there?

What are the trigger-events that seem to confirm that change in status relative to the community? Sometimes it’s an external action, a ‘rite of passage’; sometimes it’s entirely internal to the person. And sometimes there’s no explicit event at all, just gradual or sudden dawning of awareness that the feeling of relatedness to that community has changed.

It’s usually more about feelings than facts; and often there are many layers within layers, a lot of ‘backstory’, in each story about belonging and community. A lot to explore.

Within Zahmoo, use tags and other links between stories to help you keep track of key events or types of trigger that mark such transitions. Use comments to help you keep track of key-phrases that describe those feelings of belonging or not-belonging. They matter.

For a community of any kind, there could hardly be anything more important than those stories – because a community exists in and because of that belonging. Guard it well!

Image credit: This is where we belong by H.L.I.T. under a Creative Commons BY-2.0 licence.

March 5th, 2012 by Zahmoo
Filed in: For Business, For Community, For Family
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Zahmoo is a story bank for collecting and sharing your family and business stories.