The importance of belonging to a community
When you hear the word community you might think of small towns and villages, perhaps neighbours living in the same street popping over for a cuppa, or local events like fairs and festivals that physically bring people living in an area together.
You might even think of communities like this as being idyllic, outdated, perhaps even non-existent in what feels like an every-person-for-themselves world. If this is truly the case, and there is no “community by default” any longer, how do you find a sense of belonging?
I’ve lived in Brighton & Hove for over a decade, and belonging to various communities throughout that time has been a huge part of why I love this city so much. Before moving here, I’d become used to feeling disconnected and alone. Perhaps that’s the natural condition of being a teenager, but often I felt like there weren’t any people around me who enjoyed the things I did, who had the same thoughts, or who valued the same things.
Like many people, I’ve battled with anxiety and depression on and off, in various manifestations and severity, for the last 17 years. For most of my first year living in Brighton, while I was studying at university, I was suffering with ill health both mentally and physically. I felt more alone than I can ever remember feeling.
Then I found my first true community. I’d always loved radio and, struggling against every fear I had of not fitting in and being rejected, I went along to a meeting and joined the student radio station committee. The next two years were the best two years I’d ever had. We worked hard. We won awards. We created shows we loved. We redecorated the studio. We got excited about everything we did together. We partied hard. We laughed harder. And that’s the first time I ever felt like I was wholeheartedly part of something. Whenever I felt down, there was always a space to go and someone to hang out with. I belonged.
While community is commonly thought of as a group of people living in the same place, in the wider world communities are also formed by shared experiences, interests, passions, humour, and goals. I know that when I’m around people who think like I do, who love the things I love, and who share my values, beliefs, and interests it brings me indescribable joy. I am at ease, conversations flow, and I feel free to be myself. I belong.
Since leaving university nine years ago, I’ve had the privilege of being part of some phenomenal communities. Without fail, they have lifted me up when I’m down and brought me back into the world when I’ve isolated myself in the midst of depression. Right now, I belong to several different communities built around fitness, business, personal development, common causes, and shared passions.
I interact with people from at least one of these communities every single day – whether that’s in person, on the phone, or on social media. Even though there are times when I feel down and frustrated and anxious like everyone else, I genuinely cannot remember the last time I felt like I was alone. Being part of a community saves my life every day.
A few months ago, during a personal development course, I was asked what mattered to me most in the world. Eventually, I realised that I couldn’t stand the thought of a single person waking up in the morning and feeling like life wasn’t worth living because there wasn’t anyone who cared. I wanted to help people find their tribe, to find their belonging. That’s why I created The Belong Conversation – or BelongCon for short. This is a series of events, meet-ups, social media discussions, and a soon-to-be podcast that are designed to bring people together and empower them to find their belonging, purpose, and passion.
For me, belonging has always been a feeling of being confident, grounded, sure of myself, and supported. If you ask the dictionary what “belong” means it says: “to have an affinity for a specified place or situation” and “to have the right personal or social qualities to be a member of a particular group”. Belonging is about finding the people who have your back, who feel your pain, who feel your joy, and who help you to be the best person you can be. Affinity arises out of many shared things: experiences, passions, goals, humour, causes, attractions, understanding. Belonging can be found anywhere you seek it out.
There’s no reason that belonging can’t be accessible to everyone. If you’d told me that before I found my first community, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. I was too isolated, and my fears of rejection and feelings of not being good enough stopped me making connections with people.
We need to actively help each other overcome those fears. We must stop judging ourselves and others harshly, break down barriers between each other, seek to understand instead of ignoring or dismissing, and we must move closer together instead of further apart. We must cultivate community. Even simply having someone smile at me and say hello in the morning can make the biggest difference to my day.
BelongCon, I hope, will be a catalyst for a world in which helping each other find their belonging is incredibly important. By championing the importance of community for our own wellbeing, by highlighting the many wonderful and diverse communities that exist, and by exploring new ways for people to belong, I believe we can create a world in which nobody feels disconnected and alone.
Written by Alice.