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The Four Keys to True Belonging

Rather than doing experiments or quantitative analyses Brené Brown’s qualitative research involves conducting long interviews with people and then identifying concepts and patterns in what they say. Through this process, she’s discovered four practices shared by people who have a sense of true belonging—actions we should take in our society if we want to come together across our differences.

Make contact with people you disagree with.

Rather than judging a group from afar, Brown found, people with a sense of true belonging get to know members of that group. They don’t believe that their kindly Republican neighbor is an exception, but rather one example of the diversity of the party.

“People are hard to hate close up”


Share collective joy and pain.

People with a sense of true belonging also spend time sharing emotional experiences with large and diverse groups—whether those groups are found at sporting events, live music, church services, or vigils, writes Brown.

“The more we’re willing to seek out moments of collective joy and show up for experiences of collective pain—for real, in person, not online—the more difficult it becomes to deny our human connection, even with people we may disagree with”

Speak up (nicely) when you disagree.

Not all political discussions involve real clashes of opinion these days, Brown observes. Some of the time, we’re faced with “bullshit”: People asserting something just because they feel obligated to comment, or because their tribe believes it, or because they think it will help their argument.

According to Brown’s research, the people who feel a sense of belonging don’t stay silent in these situations, but they don’t attack either. They ask for clarification or evidence; they listen; they’re respectful.

Embrace the paradox.

Ultimately, Brown finds, people with a sense of belonging exhibit a paradoxical mix of traits. They have what Zen Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax calls a strong back and a soft front: On the one hand, they have principles and boundaries; they will speak up and show you their authentic self, even when it’s uncomfortable. But they’re also compassionate and vulnerable; they don’t lash out or put up a wall in front of their emotions.

The biggest paradox of all, Brown discovered, is that true belonging involves the courage to stand alone. In other words, if we’re too afraid to disagree or rock the boat—whether it’s in our family or our political party—we won’t feel like we truly belong anyway. She offers this daily practice to cultivate belonging:

Stop walking through the world looking for confirmation that you don’t belong. You will always find it because you’ve made that your mission. Stop scouring people’s faces for evidence that you’re not enough. You will always find it because you’ve made that your goal. True belonging and self-worth are not goods; we don’t negotiate their value with the world. The truth about who we are lives in our hearts. Our call to courage is to protect our wild heart against constant evaluation, especially our own. No one belongs here more than you.

Full article by Kira M. Newman for GreaterGood here 




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