On Belonging

We go places, we see things, we do stuff – and sometimes we complain about what we did or saw. But are we really engaged?

By Michelle Martin
Published May 29, 2009

Earlier this week, Raise the Hammer editor Ryan McGreal suggested I choose a title under which to file my submissions. I thought about it, ruling out the pretentious Latin names that ubiquitous on blogs, though this meant Ryan's suggestion - Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur * - had to go in the circular file.

I also ruled out any title with the word "mom" in it, after my older kids regaled themselves by coming up with increasingly ridiculous mommyblogger names. The one that made me spit my coffee out the farthest was xoxomommygirl.

While looking at the underlying theme of my columns to date, I heard the word belonging and stole it shamelessly from Jean Vanier because I've been reading his book Becoming Human lately.

The idea of belonging is not just a warm and fuzzy thing (though I do have soft spot for the music of Godspell - admit it, if you watched that video you were smiling by the middle of it, if only at Victor Garber's hair).

It's not just skipping around the park in funky clothes and holding hands. It is difficult, it takes effort, it can be very messy and discouraging at times. It involves personal responsibility. But this is the grit of everyday life that polishes all of us into gems.

Belonging, Not Tourism

Belonging moves beyond mere participation. It moves from the material to the personal. In my line of work (supporting intellectually handicapped adults), this is crucial.

I was reading an article the other day about how important it is for support workers to avoid treating the individuals they support as tourists in their own community or visitors in their own home, and instead to encourage the development of meaningful activity and relationships.

It occurred to me that parents can fall into the same trap with their children, and we can all fall into the same trap with our city.

We go places, we see things, we do stuff - and sometimes we complain about what we did or saw. But are we really engaged? Do we see ourselves as responsible for each other? Do we work on relationships and not just projects, even with people of opposing opinions?

Are we aiming for the appearance of genuineness, rather than being genuine?

Belonging Needs Respect

This applies, of course, to family life as well as the community at large. It also holds for online communities and the need for respect there. Do we treat others as something to gawk at and laugh about, or as someone to care about (which may in some instances mean simply reporting offensive behaviour or voting down a comment, then moving on without being drawn in), even if their online behaviour indicates a lack of respect for themselves?

At Raise the Hammer, I think it is clear these efforts are being made - one has only to look at the general calibre of the combox conversations.

Even the most heated arguments never deteriorate like they do on the Globe and Mail site (though they, too, have introduced comment voting, so things should improve).

And if you look at the First Principles page of this website, I think you'll agree that the word belonging belongs here.

* "Anything said in Latin sounds profound" (go back)

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton. The opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own.


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By digger (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2009 at 17:15:07

A good dose of perspective that everyone should heed. Being provocative about an issue is different than provoking on a personal level; the first contributes something worthwhile and the second just distracts.

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By pamela (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2009 at 11:53:07

Michelle - great find on the name - Vanier's book is fanastic I agree and no doubt he'd be happy that you chose it.
10 kids?? wow. are you super-human? : )

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