We are all born with human rights, we are not given them. Dr William Alford, Vice Dean of Harvard Law School, says, “Rights occur from our core humanity.”
The very essence of being human is having the right to protection, shelter, food, safety, love, belonging and some would even say self-actualisation. Yet even this assumption of human rights is being questioned and violated every single day and in deep, pervasive, systemic ways.
The narrative and subsequent reality of belonging encapsulates how people, society and even values-based businesses will survive this next wave of change on the planet – and not just survive but thrive.
If we don’t belong, we can experience ill-health, disconnection, exclusion and even environmental apathy. In one study, a psychological sense of belonging was seen as a greater predictor of major depression than other factors commonly associated with depression.
The rise in the systematic absence of belonging is bringing to light the reality that the fundamental right to belong is the human right that we have forgotten. This omission may provide the missing link in understanding our way forward to a better, brighter future for all.
“Unbelonging” isn’t just being experienced by refugees, older people and people with disabilities – it is affecting everyone. Isolation can be subjective; therefore, it does not discriminate based on socio-economic status, location or previous life experience.
Global data on health and well-being shows that people all over the world are feeling lonely and disconnected – ricocheting into increased hospital intakes, a mental health crisis and a suite of other social issues. These problems are costing tax payers and governments billions of dollars, but if we take a close look at belonging, we can see that it has benefits and flow-on effects into all the traditional measures of success across society. For example, a business that builds a positive, diverse work culture experiences better outcomes. A local government that designs social connection activities can see a decrease in crime and isolation. A civil society organisation that does more to build belonging through their activities will experience greater self- efficacy and individual improvements.
Kim Samuel, a pioneer in the work of addressing social isolation and the Founder of the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, coined the phrase "Right to Belong." She is currently writing a book about how contemporary human society can restore the birthright of belonging.
I believe we need to drive a values-based “narrative of belonging” into our personal and professional circles. Martin Luther King once proclaimed that we need “a revolution of values”. These values will guide the policies and laws that will defend our human right to belonging and connection.
At Humankind Enterprises, we are utilising strategic storytelling to deliver on this mandate as we seek to develop the world’s biggest dataset on first person stories of belonging and social connection. We believe in empowering organisations, governments and communities to utilise these insights to develop new and empathetic solutions that relate to people’s diverse needs. Belonging is not a one-size-fits-all approach. We have helped create intergenerational programs to connect isolated seniors with rural youth, developed pathways for businesses to create inclusive, values-based cultures and demonstrated that belonging is a competency and a skill that can be cultivated and reinforced.
On a structural level, we need to advocate for the inclusion of this missing human right into the structural legal frameworks which enable our society to be governed.
It is with a sense of urgency that concepts of belonging should be included into the debate and into the policy and procedures where solutions are being developed. We need it embedded into our measurement instruments and do away with GDP as the primary indicator of national prosperity. Bobby Kennedy once wisely said about GDP, “It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”, including belonging.
When making decisions on behalf of people’s lives and experiences, we can start by asking Does this policy or plan facilitate belonging and connectedness, or will it deepen disconnection and isolation? Let’s take an example of a building development. So often permits are issued for buildings or precincts that have no consideration for community connectivity and well-being. If we want our places, towns and cities to be places of human flourishing, and not just human productivity and isolation, then we need rules to be introduced that protect people’s right to belong. We need laws to hold people accountable and as Prof Kim Samuel suggests, “A Charter of Belonging” to hold us to our ideals.
It’s time to declare The Right to Belong for all Australians.
It’s time to start a conversation and ask the right questions –
- What does belonging mean to you?
- When was a time you felt a strong sense of belonging?
- When was a time you experienced disconnection and “unbelonging”?
- What does this mean about what you value?
Every single human is born with the right to belong.
If enough people share this vision, anything is possible. We can create a network of Cities of Belonging through intentional leadership.
It’s time we enshrine this right and give it the attention it deserves.
Written by Sophie Weldon, Founder and Managing Director of Humankind Enterprises
This article is inspired by the work of Prof Kim Samuel, who recently convened the 2019 Global Symposium on Re-imagining Community in the 21st Century. I was honoured to be one of the 170 leaders brought together to discuss the central theme of “belonging”.