By: Ignatius Manana and Rachel Lastinger, Guest BloggersSeptember 7, 2016
Belonging to me, Ignatius, is feeling at home and being yourself. You can belong in many ways. You can belong in a certain group, culture, family or community. Belonging is a big thing for all of us. Even though some of us can forget its meaning for a moment, eventually we get ourselves in line again.
We constantly confuse belonging with fitting in, though, and these are two different things. Fitting in comes with certain standards to match, meaning you will have to change qualities about yourself or adapt to some kind of behaviour because you want to fit in. Whereas with belonging, you feel at peace and feel appreciated and loved the way you are. Belonging in a certain group or family allows you to be you and to not feel weird about it because there are no requirements that you need to live up to. You are accepted as you are.
In my community in South Africa, belonging is difficult which is why most of us end up fitting in instead of belonging. I, for instance, live in a community of mixed cultures where everyone has their own beliefs that they believe in. This doesn't only make it difficult for a person to feel like they belong but it is also a test to your identity. Being in this multicultural community, exposes you to many things such as cultural practices and how others discriminate against people just because they feel they don't belong in the community. You shouldn’t stop being you are to belong. You shouldn’t have to try to fit in to belong.
Belonging is very important but what really matters is how you get to that point.
Once you stand firm, everything else happens automatically. For example, my identity is largely in my faith and part of my belonging is in my church. I stand firm knowing that my identity is that I’m a Christian and that I have a belonging within the church. It’s important to know which culture or community you belong to so you don't get lost and confused trying to find yourself.
I, Rachel, have had the privilege of spending 10 weeks with Ignatius in South Africa and I have learned about belonging from her and her community. I worked at a child and youth center that Ignatius was a part of. The first few weeks were slow; I was scared and hesitant. What if the youth didn’t like me? Would they approve of me? Do I need to act cool to fit in? I slowly figured out that what they desired was for me to just be myself. Myself, just as I am, was enough. Soon I was a part of their family at the center and they truly made me feel as if I belonged. I belonged and that meant “there were no requirements that I needed to live up to”, I was “accepted as I am”, as Ignatius said earlier. I was far from home, 8500 miles to be exact, yet I felt at home with Ignatius and the others at the center. I could be me, I was unquestioningly loved, I was allowed to make mistakes, and I felt fully accepted. It took some time; we had our cultural and communicative barriers at first. But, I believe that love can break through any barrier.
Love, acceptance, grace, and some laughter create an atmosphere where everyone feels they truly belong and doesn’t feel they have to try to fit in.
It was once I felt like I belonged to the group that I was able to flourish. I have experienced this at multiple times in life. When I feel fully accepted by a group of people, I flourish. Yet, it is being myself that allows me to be fully accepted by a group. The underlying message of both my experience and Ignatius’s is to just ‘be yourself’ and encourage others to do the same. Practice inclusivity daily; include others. Celebrate who they are as a unique individual. Celebrate who you are as a unique individual. To belong is to feel safe, to be fully you. Let’s create that safe space together where everyone is allowed to belong and to flourish.
What do you think is the difference between "fitting in" and truly belonging?
Rachel is a graduate of Oklahoma State University where she studied Political Science/ International Studies. After living in Ethiopia for 2 years, empowering and mentoring young university women, she is now attending Emory University in Atlanta,GA where she is obtaining her Masters degree in Development Practices. She is a strong advocate for her faith in Jesus Christ, empowering the next generation of women and fighting for their rights, traveling, dance parties, reading, a good cup of tea, and Parks and Recreation
Ignatius is a 12th grade student living in Mpumalanga, South Africa. She aspires to start University this next year (a January start in South Africa) and study forensic science or law. Ignatius is passionate about raising up the voices of young women in her community, South Africa, and beyond. She loves reading, listening to music, going to church, spending time with her friends, and brinning joy and laughter to everyone she’s around.