Belongingness

What Is It?

Belongingness is an emotional need that humans have to be accepted by those around them. It makes us feel safe, strong and confident. Just what every successful, tribe/society needs not only to survive, but to grow stronger. The sense of belonging comes from fulfilling this emotional need.

Man in solitude looking at a glacial lake surrounded by snow and pine clad mountains
Where Do I Belong?

Searching For A Sense Of Belonging

During adulthood I defined myself by either what I did or my status as a female. I was a teacher, nurse, mother, farmer’s wife, single or married. Not all of them gave me a sense of belonging but in the era when I was making my life decisions females generally followed prescriptive pathways. Searching for acceptance and belongingness didn’t feature large in my thinking!

Do you recognize my definitions of “self”? Or, were you born before the “girls can do anything” movement? You can leave a comment below and we may be able to see the differences by age!

As a life time learner I have acquired a lot of information and knowledge. Not all of it was useful (the periodic table comes to mind) nor has it all been retained. However, as 90 of my education was geared towards advancing my career choices I have no one to blame but myself.

There was one instance when I distinctly remember going through the motions of learning only to find myself gaining an understanding far greater than I had ever anticipated. It happened during my teacher training under the heading of “cultural understanding” .

Women sitting alone on bench.
Absence of Belongingness

Finding Belongingness

I was in the process of changing careers from nursing to teaching and my task as a student teacher was to make a speech of mihimihi while we were guests at the local Maori meeting place. Public speaking at any time is not without it’s challenges and knowing you are being graded by your tutors certainly adds to the challenge!

I should explain that a “Mihimihi” is a formal speech given by visitors when visiting a Maori meeting place. The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand and from my first day at school, in 1955, this child of a “Ten Pound Pom, was introduced to Maori culture. Sitting by myself among the empty desks I watched as the girls performed a Maori stick game and the boys performed a Haka.

My children also experienced Maori culture and custom throughout their school years and beyond. My somewhat tokenistic introduction to Maori culture has now been replaced with more understanding with genuine participation and acceptance. But hey, you have to start somewhere! Today our National Anthem is sung in both Maori and English. The whole world (well, those who like rugby) admire our National Rugby team when they perform the Haka. Kiwis (New Zealanders) have been know to predict the outcome of the game based solely on the quality of the Haka!

I’m not saying this is viewed as positively by all Maori but I admit to a sense of pride that we have grown towards an understanding that can only get better.

I hope you notice that my writing has slipped seamlessly into the “we” perspective. It wasn’t always the case. As a child my accent was my Archilles heel. Some children had obviously picked up the idea from their parents that immigrants were a good target for Pommie bashing. Obviously pragmatism was ingrained in my DNA and my accent quickly disappeared to be replaced with the local idiom.    

As the formal welcoming ended we waited nervously for our turn to speak. One by one we stood and stumbled our way through our limited, mispronounced Maori vocabulary. We spoke of our mountain, our river and our waka (canoe). We spoke of ancestry and family. Our words searched for the place where we belonged.

Acknowledging Belongingness

I began nervously. Red faced with embarrassment knowing my pronunciation was flawed as was my reason for participating. I finished with a sense of “belongingness” as I announced that this was my “turangawaewae”(to-wrong-a-why-why) My standing place, my home. I can even begin to explain how this happened I only know that I’m very grateful that it did!

Greetings to you all                                 (Tane kotu katua)

Aoraki is my mountain                             ( Aoraki te maunga)

Waitaki is my river                                   (Waitaki te awa)

TSS Captain Cook is my canoe                    (Pene Kuku te waka)

My Mihimihi

Have you found your “standing place” or are you still looking? Perhaps you don’t need one? If you would like to share your thoughts please leave a message in the comments.

Just Vicki

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