Change “The” to “Our” and FEEL the difference.

I have never been a movie buff. Movie quotes go over my head, save for a few from family friendly flicks like “What About Bob?”  “Sleepless in Seattle” and “The Fiddler on the Roof.”  I grew up on “I Love Lucy” and Disney films, always hated scary movies, and never saw any of The Godfather series. Yup, you read that right.  Never. Saw. The Godfather.  Yet, the culture of Francis Ford Coppola‘s movies is so pervasive in our society that I can guess certain quotes are from them movie having never seen any.  So the other day when my client said, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” I was certain it was from the cult classic. I was right.

What I lack in movie love I make up for in blogs, podcasts and music.  Just last week I was listening to my favorite  podcast, “On Being” by Krista Tippet. She was interviewing author, wise woman and speaker Brené Brown.  Two close friends have recently suggested I read Brown’s work, so I was thrilled to hear this interview.  This would be a great introduction.

The podcast, entitled “Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart” covered topics from equality to social divide to belonging.  They talked about vulnerabilty and courage and ​how so often one is not present without the other.  They touched on the current political climate, The Now Movement and the idea of loneliness.  But what was really intruguing to me was when Brown shared her experience sitting in focus groups with middle school aged youth and asking them about loneliness and belonging.

​She spoke of how these kids shared how hard it was to feel lonely at school, but even harder when they felt lonely, or like they didn’t belong at home. Examples included being born into a ‘sports family’ and not being good at athletics. Or perhaps their parents and siblings were very social and he or she very shy.  Or living in a family who excelled academically, and they struggled with formal learning. I finished the podcast and stood for a moment. I thought about my own family, my own upbringing, my own sense of belonging.

The next day I saw my mother, who I am extremely close to. She had just come back from a trip seeing some friends.  She had gone with my aunt and they had had a lovely weekend.  “We ate, we shared, and I showed them pictures of the family.  We had a wonderful time!” she beamed.  I paused, I recalled the podcast.  The idea of belonging. “THE family? Your family. Our family,” I said.

At that moment I realized my whole life I had heard my family being referred to as “The Family” instead of “Our” family.  And without ever reflecting on it, it had always sounded odd to me. Now, for the first time I realized that pronoun created feelings of separation, formality and distance.   In fact, when I asked my mom to change to saying “our family” or “my family,” the difference I felt was immediate.  Despite the normal divisions and pains that every family has, the ownership I felt when hearing “our” family was comforting, familiar, and embraceable.  Instead of feeling unfamiliar or separated I felt a sense of belonging.   As I explained my feelings to my mom she got it.  She said, “Ya, you mean like it’s so formal.  Like THE GODFATHER.”   I laughed.  Yes.  Like “The Godfather.”  And still, having never seen the movie I knew that the reference totally made sense.

The next morning, I received a text from my mom.  “Good morning! How’s MY family doing?” It felt good.

The feeling of belonging does not stop only at the family unit.  Most of us have disjointed families and so our desire to belong and be part of a larger community, village, tribe, whatever goes beyond our birth family.  To belong is to connect, and without connection, loneliness sets in and with loneliness we can feel stuck, apethetic and lifeless.  I think a feeling of belonging gives us a secure sense of support, a life force, and a confidence to be ourselves.  To me, it also represents a sense of ownership and willingness to contribute to that very group.

I wonder how you define belonging and where you feel like you belong.  I wonder if it’s something you struggle with or desire more of.  I wonder if you’d like to reflect on it…

Exercise:

Is there something in your life that you use, “the” to describe rather than “our” or “my”? Ex: “the team” or “the church” or “the extended family.”  What if you replaced it with “our” or “my”? Does it change the feeling for you?  Is it a more positive one? Does it give you a sense of belonging that group or community?

In health and curiosity,

-Francine

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