the value of belonging

The Value of Belonging

The We Belong Here program of Seattle Foundation’s Civic Commons initiative nurtures stronger relationships and connections

By Frank Nam, We Belong Here Project Manager

What does it mean to belong in a rapidly changing region like the Puget Sound?

Every day, I see how the anxiety of rapid growth puts stress on the relationships between neighbors. People continue to move here, while at the same time, some people are forced to leave their communities due to a shortage of affordable housing options.

Local and regional businesses are balancing profits with the difficulties their employees face in finding nearby affordable housing. Neighborhood organizations are weighing the need for growth and the desire to preserve what’s there. Young people are wondering what sort of world they will inherit. These are all outcomes of a society where we’ve shortchanged the importance of belonging.

Belonging and connection

But what is belonging?

Simply put, belonging is a recognition that we are connected to people we know, and also to those we don’t. In sharing the same region, we’re connected to people similar to us, and different from us. Their concerns are our concerns, and vice versa.

Belonging can help us counter our growing anxiety, because it establishes the right conditions to work together to confront our greatest challenges. Professor and social theorist john a. powell calls this new approach, expanding our “circle of human concern.”

We Belong Here, a cornerstone of a Seattle Foundation’s Civic Commons initiative, is an exploratory project that I am lucky enough to lead here in our region. We want to transform our region’s ability to address challenges by nurturing stronger people-to-people relationships across sectors and communities.

Our hypothesis is that we have taken belonging for granted and stopped doing the things that created and nurtured a sense of connection. In our rush to meet goals, gather data, vote on policies and push through agendas, we’ve undervalued the importance of taking the time to tell stories, share meals, actively listen and thoughtfully engage with one another.

Engaging together

To help grow a greater sense of belonging in our region, We Belong Here will invest in relationships between individuals from all backgrounds, shifting the basis of collaboration for change from a transactional, issues-based approach to one steeped in personal relationships. Lasting change starts from the ground up, so our initial work will focus on connecting people from different sectors to address the issues we face every day.

Our work will build on efforts already underway across the region to bring people together, such as The Evergrey news site, which actively offers ways for readers to learn about the communities around them and connect on more personal levels. Another effort that’s breaking down barriers is What’s Next Washington, which is bringing together human resources managers from different sectors to educate employers about policies and opportunities to hire people with conviction histories.

In that spirit, we are very excited to partner with the Washington Technology Industry Association Ion Collaborators program. Ion recruits diverse people working in the private sector, government and community-based organizations to learn more about our community and to collaborate on addressing a local challenge over six months. Our joint cohort is focused on “belonging” through a neighborhood lens in the Crossroads (Bellevue), South Park and Skyway areas.

Crossing bridges

It’s an important way to connect at a time when it’s easy to disengage or even “other” people who aren’t like us.

It may seem harder and harder to feel like we all belong somewhere, but that’s all the more reason to reach out a hand, open a door and cross a bridge for each other.

Please join us as we explore belonging in the region and how a better sense of shared belonging can move us from transactional to relational to transformational.

We belong here.

To learn more, feel free to email me.