Abraham Maslow identified it as one key level in his hierarchy of needs. Almost every living thing – from vegetation to Homo sapiens – relies on it for foundation, development or support. It is our roots. Each of us craves the sense of belongingness that our roots provide, and, even when those roots are rotted or missing, we seek out alternative routes to connectivity.
The Unabomber – David Kaczynski – was not necessarily seeking aloneness when he retreated to the remote wilderness of Montana. Rather, he used this base of operations to demand, in pathological fashion, to be noticed and to connect to those that he felt had wronged him.
Wolves and domestic dogs gather in packs, while migrating birds seek connectivity through the flocks they join as they head south for the winter. Social gatherings form voluntary roots to the like-spirited people that we call friends. Fish school for protection, while whales gather to fish for krill. And, when “krilling” is completed, those same whales migrate thousands of miles to breeding grounds.
The family may be the most visible and durable of roots, but it is not the sole source of support. Work cliques and coffee klatches form, impromptu, to exchange ideas and share the workload.
Many family roots are severed, sometimes through unavoidable tragedy and others through dysfunction. Yet, the longing for knowing our origins attests to the desire to repair those ruptures. Even those who call adoptive parents “Mom” or “Dad” often seek out biological origins. It is knowing those foundations that gives us comfort, much like a security blanket.
Part of the problem with breaks in family relationships or friendships derives from a feeling that we are not being embraced “as we are.” We expect to be accepted, without condition, by blood relatives. In turn, we may place impediments to acceptance in front of others, as a test of loyalty. We often are disappointed.
To achieve unconditional acceptance and belonging, we must first accept others and ourselves, as we exist. Not all bonds will be immutable, though. Even family members have individual issues and priorities that will preclude strong bonds. But those roots are essential to our sense of wellbeing and completeness.
“Belonging” is not automatic. Like well-travelled trails to desert oases, or roads to popular destinations, we need to travel a variety of routes to find belonging.
The journey often is difficult, but, however long the route, finding a place that we can call home, whether it is a group of friends or a close family connection, when those roots are planted and dig deep, we will thrive.