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Belonging: The next step

Think of a community meal — pre-COVID, or planning for post-vaccine COVID — in which you attend a large dinner party. Diversity is the attendees including people from many varied backgrounds and cultures. Inclusion is everyone feeling welcome to attend and having a seat at the table, along with utensils. Equity ensures each person has what they need to enjoy the meal: someone who is Jewish has kosher food; someone who is vegetarian has a meat-free meal; the location is welcoming to people with disabilities. Belonging is each person feeling comfortable to be authentic at the dinner party.

Yes, belonging means we’re adding another word to our people-first lexicon. And just like the first three words, belonging is important to creating and maintaining spaces for everyone. Belonging is about promoting a culture of acceptance, and psychological safety as well.

Psychological safety allows people to ask questions, raise concerns, share ideas, and learn from mistakes, without fear of retribution. Psychological safety is paramount to surviving and even thriving during times of stress and uncertainty, like a pandemic. Many people find close friendships create a feeling of belonging, and this makes sense: when you are near people with whom you are free to be yourself without judgment, you feel safe.

Unfortunately, many people do not have the privilege to work or live in psychologically safe spaces. This is the reality of our current economy, in which some organizations thrive and some collapse, and being “essential” is a double-edged sword. This is also the reality of being at home, either alone or with roommates or family. Our spaces might not be as safe as we’d like, and belonging may be missing. We may not regularly see people with whom we share a sense of belonging.

Remember, during stressful times, you can also belong to yourself. Honor who you are, what you need, and recognize what you can do to support yourself. This is not selfish, but a form of self-care. While I am working remotely, I change up my Zoom space as often as possible to give myself a new perspective. I make a lot of soup in my instant pot because tomato soup is my favorite during the cold fall days and nights. I listen to podcasts. I try to treat myself as kindly as I would any friend.

Remember too, to be the kind of person who encourages others to belong. Cultivate your relationships as much as possible during this pandemic. I put out a Free Little Library on my corner and encourage my neighbors to stop by and take a book or leave a book. I text friends to check on them. I make a double batch of soup when I know someone with Covid. I put a note on my front door thanking drivers from Amazon and Instant Cart. Even though I’m far away from people with whom I feel a sense of belonging, I am still trying to make others feel welcome.

Two vaccines are making great strides in our fight against COVID-19. We do not yet know when they will receive final approval, or what distribution looks like, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. While it may take a year for all citizens to have a COVID vaccine, remember we have a goal and the resources and agency to survive until then, not to mention a new administration that believes in science. And thanks to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, we have the tools to thrive as much as possible in our communities until then.