I started my day in kindergarten yesterday. Every day that I get to be in a kindergarten is a great day. First of all, they are adorable. Right there, you are guaranteed to start your day with a smile. They bounce and bop down the halls, happy as clams that it is Friday morning and the school day has started. Everything is a fresh adventure. That kind of joy is contagious. It’s winter so they look a little like turtles with their fat backpacks, all bundled up, heads peeking out of their parka hoods. Brightly colored sneakers and rain boots with ducks and frogs fidget in a line outside the classroom door- itching to get in. They are a hive of activity storing their gear in cubbies, high-fiving and knuckle-knocking their buddies like it’s been months and not 16 hours since they last checked in. They help each other without being asked and without judgment. They accept help gratefully. They cannot wait to share- share their space, share their pencils, share their expertise in tying shoes, and share their ideas and opinions (I got quite an earful on the topic of pet ownership). A friend is picked to help with an errand. Hugs are given to someone who looks sad. They take each other by the hand unabashedly. They don’t seem to notice their differences. They are a community and it is clear they all belong.
This visit made me think about when it is that we start, as humans, to wonder if we belong. How is it that we start to feel like we don’t belong in a place or with a group of people? Maybe it starts when we begin to notice how we are different from each other. I like to play in the woods and get dirty. You like to read. I like to play basketball. You like to sing. You are quiet. I am loud. Maybe it is when we start to hear from adults that those differences have a value. She’s such a tomboy. He can’t throw a baseball. He has a beautiful voice. You’re always such a mess with dirt all over your jeans. Her painting is beautiful. You are so talented. Well, there are other things you are good at I am sure. Maybe it is when we start to identify with those values. I am good at this. I am not good at that. Whatever the process, we look for a place we think we belong. We look for a place that feels right- where we feel right. We look for our people, our posse, our pack. It feels good to belong. I think that is the natural order of things.
But wouldn’t it be great if we never asked ourselves, “Is this where I belong?” Wouldn’t it be great if we never wondered, “Is this place for me?” You see, as soon as we do that, we limit ourselves. We take ourselves out of the game. We buy the artificial “goodness” and “badness” of our individual characteristics. We miss out on the opportunity to learn new things- things we might actually like doing and even have a talent for doing. We miss out on meeting new people. We miss the chance to find out that those differences, which we think divide us, really enrich us. We miss out on the very real possibility that we have more in common than we think. We miss out on the high-fiving, knuckle-knocking, hand-holding joy that comes from knowing what every kindergartener knows – we all deserve to belong.
Maybe instead of worrying whether or not we belong, we should be thinking about how we can make others feel like they do.