Belonging is an essential human expectation. More than an expectation, belonging is community, and community is wide-ranging. Community encompasses home, workplace, and community. We have a human need to belong.

Where do I belong? Do you ever ask yourself this question?

Too many are asking the question, and the belonging question remains unanswered.

“According to data from the General Social Survey (GSS), the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has roughly tripled in recent decades.”

An unhealthy culture is taking root.

Belonging and Segmentation

Today, belonging is over-segmented. Some segmentations place us in sameness, and some segmentations corner us into something we really are not. Big data may make these over-segmentations easier.

Segmentation: Make Us the Same

Gerrymandering has been around a very long time but maybe not like today. Districts have been carved to support a certain type of candidate. Although the districts may feel like we belong, our national community suffers. We created a divisiveness of the right and left and few in the middle. Worse, within each carved district, the minority feels left out. The risk: Unsolved problems and frustrations burn. We lose our sense of belonging and, worse, our sense of a greater purpose.

Segmentation: Corner Us

Other segmentations try to pigeonhole us. Millennials may be the biggest segment the popular media and some leadership “experts” have defined in often unfair characterizations and over-generalizations. We are unique within our generation, yet we get forced into a certain classification by fixed mindsets.

Many other ways exist in how we get segmented. Why? So, we can be marketed to or can be rationalized in some way. The danger is our sense of belonging evaporates.

Scientific Impact: Lack of Social Belonging

When our sense of belonging disappears, we waste mental energy. Science highlights what happens when we feel are the “out group.” “When students feel as if they don’t belong in a school setting, the cognitive energy that should be used on social engagement and learning is being used to scan for group barriers, discrimination and stereotypes.” Added brain science show how our cortisol levels rise in these situations, causing lower cognitive abilities.

In our workplace, productivity and effectiveness decline. In our communities, we retreat into our homes and disconnection rises. In each, our learning declines. None of this is healthy for an individual or our organizations and communities.

We lose the full potential of our organizational and community citizens.

Personal Impact: Lack of Social Belonging

We can be around people but still feel a lack of belonging. Belonging provides a deeper connection to each other. In many ways, it is a spirit and mind connection. When we belong, we can make a spiritual connection to another person or group of individuals. When we belong, we can make an intellectual connection. We may make one or both. Whatever the combination, we have a deep feeling of satisfaction of knowing we belong, and we add value in our connections.

Today, many elements chip away at our sense of belonging. In our homes, we may feel like the odd one out, or everyone retreats into their own room. Belonging is in place only, which is not empowering.

In our communities, we may belong to organizations, yet human connections are superficial. Cliques form, and many feel left out. Our neighbors are unnamed shadows. We feel like strangers on our own block. With no belonging, the idea of we versus them becomes real within our thoughts.

In our workplace, the relationship staleness may extinguish our creativity. Organizational boundaries may keep others out. Whispers and politics treat individuals as outcasts. Being like the norm overrides being different. After all, different is an outsider.

Whatever the norm is, it creates a fake sense of belonging. No spirit or mind connection exists, just a veneer of culture. No wonder why engagement is at such lows. No sense of belonging exists.

Our discontentment springs from our lack of belonging.

Belonging: A Responsibility

To capture our sense of belonging, we need to do something. In our homes, we need to eat together, play games, and engage in meaningful conversations. In our workplaces, we need to foster a sense of belonging within our diversity. We need to drop our biases and eliminate our politics. In our communities, we need to do our best to explore groups that give us a sense of belonging, and groups need to be open to new individuals and find ways to make them feel a part of the mission.

A mix of personal, organizational, and community responsibility must rise up and find ways to make spirit and mind connections with others.

Our Belonging Challenge

We may be connected to many people, but connections don’t deliver a sense of belonging. If we are not having a conversation with someone other than the usual ones within our circle, then we are failing. If we are creating more barriers than eliminating them, then we are failing. If we are faking being open, then we are failing.

“Where do I belong?” is a haunting question within many, including me. We need to answer the call of belonging. It is a tough challenge.

You may walk into your company and feel like others are going around. You may enter your home and feel like no one notices. You may take your dog for a walk and wonder who lives next door. Of course, a personal responsibility exists. However, I think too many are removing opportunities for others to experience a sense of belonging. Another gap we need to close is the one between being lonely and belonging.

It seems to me that we need a stronger sense of belonging in our workplaces and communities. We need a renewed sense that we are in this together.

Are you ready to create more opportunities for yourself and others to renew their sense of belonging? How can we build better bridges to a greater sense of belonging?