The power of belonging

I have read a couple of articles in the past few months about the positive things that happen to human beings when they belong to a group.  It is somewhat of an instinctive need, developed just as humans developed over time.   Early man needed to belong to a group for hunting, safety, shelter, and food.  The isolated person in more primitive times would almost certainly become food for some other animal.
Like many others, I attended Georgia’s First Big Fish Festival this past weekend.  The city has been having festivals for almost 40 years, but I don’t think I ever have attended a better one.   
The day started out with a record number of runners for the 10th annual Joyce’s Jog.  The parade was long and the streets were full.  The car show was a big success. There was more food than ever before and more people seemed to be eating the fare, from alligator to catfish.   
There was enough entertainment that two stages were required.  There seemed to be something for everyone, including children’s activities, quality arts and crafts and even an excellent exhibit featuring area artists.
There were 40 teams playing in a tournament at the Recreation Park and a large number of fishermen on Lake Seminole.
Late in the day, already tired from the activities that started before sunrise, I watched the people sitting in front of the stage or walking around.  It struck me that this is what a community is all about.  Whether you live in Donalsonville, Seminole County, or were visiting from near or far away, it seemed that everyone was relaxed and happy.  It seemed they belonged.
We all belong in different ways.  For some, it is their interest in hunting or fishing.  Groups of friends evolve around a common love of sports.  We often bond based on the schools we attended growing up or where we have worked and played.
Families are one of the most powerful groups of all, with some families having dozens of members locally.  Sadly, some are alone, with no family nearby or perhaps no family at all.   
For many, their religion is a powerful place to bond with others of similar beliefs.  In small towns, two of the first questions a newcomer might be asked is what church they attend and what football team they support.
We have historically identified ourselves with one political party or another.   That has been particularly challenged this election year, yet people are identifying strongly with the candidates, both positively and negatively.  
Belonging to a group or groups is important for our own self-esteem and helps give meaning to the different seasons of our lives.  Belonging helps give you a sense of identity, when circumstances in life change, like having your children grow up or losing a loved one.
We often draw moral support from friends or groups that hold us accountable in an increasingly chaotic world.  We may not know what we want to do with our life, but the discussion that takes place with groups we belong to and value can give us direction.
Finally, belonging to groups can help us make some sense of a world that seems senseless at times.  Belonging to others helps us see the bigger picture of the world in ways that aren’t always so negative.
The Big Fish Festival won’t cure everything that ails the world, or even our small community.  But for a day, everybody belonged, the world made sense, laughter and fun ruled, and smiles were the dominant expression.    
Thanks to all those who worked so hard to make it a special day. Thanks to all that belong.
o0o
Dan Ponder can be reached at [email protected]

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