What it Really Means to Belong

Over the last few days, we have been examining the social contract between government and society through the lens of Maslow’s Hierarchy. Because the foundation of that hierarchy rests in security, we have been looking closely at what a framework of security looks like in a well-functioning democracy. Now it’s time to move up the ladder a little bit and look at Love and Belonging. 

Why is belonging so critical to human well-being? At its most basic, belonging is an animal need. All mammals and many other species (ants, bees, fish – you name it) instinctively join together in groups of co-dependency. It’s necessary not only for survival but also for success, whether that be in hunting, feeding or the nurturing of young. The same applies to human beings. Belonging to a group, small or large, brings with it a feeling of security and worth. 

Not all groups are created equal, however. Belonging to a church, an alumni organization or a theater group can be good both for the individual and society. Belonging to a cult, a terrorist group or a street gang can bring a feeling of security to the individual but not to society as a whole. So, if it is government’s role to create a framework of security, it is also incumbent on it to encourage belonging to the widest group possible – society itself. 

Being a true part of wider society is only possible if you are made to feel as if you belong. This means that, as a citizen, you feel that you are of equal worth to all other citizens. And, in a well-functioning democracy, that means that government guarantees, observes and protects the Five Equalities: 

1) Equality under the law – meaning that justice really is blind and that the law applies equally to the lowest of the low as well as the highest of the high 2) Equality of rights – no one person or group of people have rights any 

different to those accorded to everyone else 3) Equality in voting – in a democracy, each vote has the same weight and not only is the ability to vote made accessible to all but it is also actively encouraged 4) Equality of opportunity – whether it be in education or at work, everyone has the opportunity to perform and to give the best of themselves; everyone operates within the same framework of security 5) Equality of treatment – discrimination based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age or anything else is completely incompatible with the concept of belonging in society. 

No country has a perfect record on any of these. Some do better than others. The United States has written much (though not all) of it into law through the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments and legislation. But, as I wrote above, it is up to government to guarantee, observe and protect these equalities. Any government that willfully fails to do so; any government that pits groups against each other and sows division; and any government that actively seeks to subvert these equalities and undermine the meaning of belonging and citizenship does not deserve to remain in power. 

Belonging matters. Citizenship matters. Voting matters. It’s part of our Social Contract.