Our Ethics Matters themes are ways of exploring different ways of inspiring ethical living. We are all different people, so we have different ways of being inspired.
In life, we tend to walk the same paths we’ve always walked. One benefit of community and relationships is that we can see what paths others walk, and sometimes try out new paths to see if they also work for us.
The hope this year is to explore ten different paths that can take us both deep and wide in exploring how we can better live our values. Each month is an opportunity to explore whether a path works for us. Maybe it’s a different path than we usually take, and we don’t yet know if it takes us where we want to go. Each path is an invitation.
As I think about The Path of Belonging (our September 2022 Ethics Matters theme), I am recalling some earlier posts I’ve written.
I also think of this quotation from John O’Donohue: “There is a lovely balance at the heart of our nature: each of us is utterly unique and yet we live in the most intimate kinship with everyone and everything else.”
John O’Donohue was himself a unique combination of many identities: a priest who eventually left the priesthood, a philosopher, a motivational speaker on bringing values to the workplace, an environmental activist, a leader in exploring Celtic spirituality. He often wrote on both the inner life and outward connections.
“There is a lovely balance at the heart of our nature: each of us is utterly unique and yet we live in the most intimate kinship with everyone and everything else.”
Our circles of belonging are many. Some circles are circles of identity. They include some and exclude others. There are some religions where I would not feel at all comfortable belonging, and others where I likely could feel I belonged had some accidents of life been different – and there’s Ethical Culture, which for me provides a deep sense of belonging. I also belong to circles of family, some family that shares DNA and some that is chosen family. In some of those circles, I feel more belonging than in others. I belong to several organizations – and in some I feel a deeper sense of belonging than in others, and sometimes that sense changes over time.
Each new geographic place where I have moved, I’ve found a sense of belonging, some more quickly than others. And I do have that sense of belonging in the world and universe. A walk in the woods or a day lying on a beach or sitting on the top of a mountain – I love that feeling of belonging that can overwhelm me.
As human beings, we are hard-wired to connect. We are social beings, adapted to live in groups. Our development of language made even more possibilities for connection – I can quote the thoughts of a poet who died some years ago and connect with him as a fellow human being.
Our Western culture has also emphasized a disconnected individualism – not the individualism that accepts that each individual has worth and is unique, but the idea that we are separate from one another, and can survive without any support from anyone. The idea that such independence is a valuable goal in life. That my greed is only about satisfying my wants, and others can take care of themselves. To other cultures, this seems very strange. I think of the African idea of ubuntu, in contrast: “I am because you are, you are because I am, I am because we are.” Or the ideas of Martin Buber, where “the sacred” is in our relatedness, in how we are connected. Or the greeting of the Blackfoot people who ask, when they meet one another, “How are the connections?”
“Belonging” can also have a more disturbing side. The drive to belong can override our ability to make reasonable decisions (those based on both compassion and rationality). We see this in cults – the most famous and obvious of these being such groups as the followers of Jim Jones. They abandoned and cut off from family and other friends, they moved together to another country, they followed the orders of their leader. At the end, they drank Kool-Aid most of them knew was poisoned, because that was easier than losing the sense of belonging to their group, when that group’s existence was challenged.
From that event, we get the expression, “drink the Kool Aid,” applied to taking at face value the demands and stories of a group which we think has a loose grip on reality. In today’s polarized world, those who are antiracist or are focused on social justice are accused of drinking the Kool-Aid of “wokeness.” Those making that accusation assume that it is a sense of “belonging” that overrides the American way, and the self-interest of those who might lose their privileged place. QAnon followers drink the Kool-Aid that a dead son of one former president will arise, and another former president will give the cue to slaughter opponents. We recognize that “belonging” is such a deep human need, that it can override “common sense” – and how we each decide what is “common sense” is determined in part by our own choices and commitments.
This month’s programming will explore some of these themes. We’ll look at the basic question, which gets to some deep cultural divides, on whether as people we own the land (and some own it more legitimately than others), or whether the land owns us – and how our ideas around “property” are often conflicted. We’ll regather in person and share some activities and information and food. We’ll consider some ideas about what it means to belong.
Our graphic theme for the month says “You belong here.” It’s an invitation to explore whether that’s true for you. It’s a special invitation to those of you who’ve seen the Society mentioned for a long time, and have only visited once or twice or haven’t visited at all. What might it mean to belong to a community of people who try to live our lives in a way that honor the worth and dignity of all, and that seek to improve how we relate to one another?
And maybe the statement could be reversed. This community belongs to members, the community, and all those who touch and are touched by it, past, present, and future!