Whether you like it or not, you belong to a lot of different groups. Your family, your local neighbourhood, your country, of course. Groups, teams, colleagues, associations. Race, gender, age, wealth, education, political leaning. But more than all that, you’re one of the human race, alive now, here, on this planet. With all these other crazy people, all trying to find their place, with their own opinions, values, judgements and misunderstandings. You are one of us. Even if you don’t really want to be.

You are part of your country, your history, your parents’ backgrounds, their culture, where you were born, where you grew up. You might be on the edge of that culture, but it’s part of you even as you are pushing against being part of it. Often you’ll find that a particular group of people might not want you for some reason, mostly because people like to push people out to make themselves feel better. But the truth is, you belong. Everyone does. We just choose to make ourselves, or others, start to… unbelong.

We do it to ourselves, removing ourselves from a group we could find meaning and belonging in, when we decide that they would never understand us anyway, because there must be something wrong with us. Or, because we don’t feel ourselves connecting with them directly, it’s too hard, and we don’t feel like they really get what we’re trying to say. Sometimes we’re just flat out mistreated, either by the current group or by someone previously, and find it a lot harder to be vulnerable enough to belong.

Other times, we are excluded by people because of their own prejudice, because you belong to a different group that they feel they have some reason to mistrust. There’s not a lot that we can do about this sometimes, but it can make you start to doubt yourself and whether there really is something wrong with you that makes people push you away. It’s hard to see that these people would do the same to anyone of your background, and you aren’t necessarily doing something wrong.

This works both ways, of course. When you’re part of the ‘in’ crowd, make sure you remember that the only reason certain other people don’t belong is because someone chooses to exclude them. So instead of pushing people out, to make yourself feel superior, how about you get to the point where you are happy enough with yourself to be able to include people? Knowing what you know about how you’ve been excluded from a group you wanted to be in, make sure you are never one of the people who does the excluding. More collaboration, more unity, more listening and more understanding are always better.

The alternative is fragmentation into smaller and smaller groups, with little tribal turf wars springing up all over the place. It amazes me how an international sporting event can bring countrymen briefly together against another country, when the week before they were each busy excluding the other because of the local team they support. The fact is, life is briefly simpler when you know who you’re supposed to hate, and how to identify them. But I’m sure you know this as well – the easier choice in the short term is almost always destructive in the long term.

Groups are hard, because relating to people is hard, and trying to make sure everyone is happy is almost impossible. No group is perfect, and I know it would be better for humanity as a whole if some groups would just stop. But if you split something up every time you have a disagreement, nobody could ever talk to anyone else ever again, and we’d have over 7 billion little islands, each walking around hating the rest for being different while secretly feeling desperate to belong. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Even for an introvert like me, this is a terrible outcome.

You are part of something bigger than yourself – the human race – and we are all in this together.