Philosophy  •  April 21, 2002

Sense of Belonging

In my 20’s, I was always craving to “hang out”. After work, I would go straight to my friend Nadav’s apartment and spend a whole evening hanging out with other friends who commuted to Nadav’s every night. We would watch TV or play video games while bingeing on beers. Nothing productive. Nothing constructive. We just sat around watching the clock go around and around. Now I think back, it seems wasteful, but I don’t regret it. Our 20’s are, in many ways, about a sense of belonging. Part of the process of defining who you are, is to find where you belong. It is ironic that after spending a whole decade trying to find your identity by struggling to belong somewhere, you find that to know who you truly are, is to know that you don’t really belong anywhere. That is, you are you; any differences or similarities that you see are only in your head. Anyone can be similar to you or different from you depending on which aspects you focus on.

A sense of belonging is a cause of many problems in the world. Some people spend their whole lives struggling to find a place to belong to, whether it is religion, nation, culture, or race. In many cases, the things that create the sense of belonging are negative aspects of being human, such as drug addictions, alcoholism, racism, and mental/physical afflictions. They tend to strengthen the sense of belonging. In a way, they have recourse in the very thing that they criticize.

Belonging is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you want to belong because you feel lonely, so you seek out others who share certain similarities, but on the other, you don’t want to be categorized and generalized. You conveniently switch your position depending on a merit. You want to eat your cake and have it too.

When I say I’m neither American nor Japanese, people commonly respond to this by saying that I’m a real American now, and therefore should not feel lonely. Some people go as far as to tell me that what makes this country great is its willingness to accept people like me. Be that as it may, they are assuming that I want to belong, especially to America since it is where I live now, but I don’t care to belong to any particular country. This is not to say that I never feel lonely. Loneliness is a natural feeling. We all feel it from time to time, but that does not mean that it needs to be fixed. We have a mechanical tendency to try to fix everything negative, but not every negative thing needs to be fixed. Science and technology have blew up our egos so much to the point that we feel there is a solution for everything negative, that we have no reason to feel anything negative, that we can do away with every negative feeling. When I see these people who are constantly running around trying to fix their negative feelings, I feel like telling them to calm down, that it is only on TV and in Hollywood movies that people attain the eternal bliss, that it is perfectly normal to be feeling what they are feeling, and that they should stop fixing everything. Ironically most of these people are busy fixing unfixable problems, and don’t even try to fix fixable problems.

Life has a funny way of teaching us its essences. Often it is our own struggles that make us struggle. Eventually we realize that the footprints of the crook that we were chasing were our own. Only by stepping back and examining our own behaviors, can we see the big circle that we were going around and around. In my 20’s, that is all I did. Around and around, until I realized that the pursuit of the sense of belonging was what was making me feel lonelier.