Our 7-year-old daughter was so excited about something that looked like junk mail to me.
“It’s addressed to the Trinko family!” she kept repeating, excitedly. “That’s us!”
I quizzically looked at her. I’d never seen someone so excited about a generically addressed envelope.
My wife helped me understand it. Our youngest, who we adopted through the foster care system, was just happy to see something that made her feel like she belonged. For some reason, that piece of marketing reminded her that she was one of us now.
We all want to belong to something. Most of us have families that will claim us. We work so hard to identify ourselves based on the groups we think describe us, whether it’s by political ideology, by our chosen professions or by our religious beliefs.
It’s getting harder and harder to feel like we belong these days, though. Social media, which started with the promise of bringing us together, instead pushes us further apart. We fall into echo chambers fed by the voices we like on Facebook and Twitter. It’s easier and easier to feel like we need to belong to groups, since they give us an identity.
I suspect the great changes in our society since the coronavirus pandemic started are messing even further with our heads.
We haven’t had as many casual encounters out in society lately. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot less time just out in society. I’m a bit of an introvert anyway, but now when I’m out it feels extremely isolating. It’s a mix of seeing a world of half-covered faces and businesses with fewer seats than normal.
It’s such a challenge to feel like you belong to something bigger. That’s why it’s so easy to latch onto little slivers of groups. That’s how it becomes so easy to demonize those who aren’t like us, especially when we don’t get a chance to really get to know anyone from groups outside our own.
Black. White. Democrat. Republican. Female. Male. Baby boomers. Millennials.
They’re all just labels we lean on to overgeneralize what someone believes instead of investing the time and effort to realize that we all belong. We all belong to a greater group called Americans. We all belong to an infinitely respectable group called humans.
I’ll try to think about this the next time I’m tempted to generalize a whole group of people. I’ll try to accept the wisdom of our 7-year-old daughter: Belonging brings you joy.
We let her open that piece of mail, by the way. She excitedly tore it open. It was an offer for life insurance. It’s funny how life can teach us important lessons from seemingly random things.