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Seven Levels Of Belonging

October 25, 2014 Frontpage No Comments

By DONALD DeMARCO

The dictionary is not a very good teacher of philosophy. Its definitions are limited and fail to show the wondrous versatility of the word. Philosophy, on the other hand, loves analogies, metaphors, shadings, and nuances. Moreover, it likes to put the various meanings in order. Consider the word “belonging.” The dictionary fails to reveal its breadth and how its various meanings are all connecting with each other and form a ladder that ascends from the humblest to the highest. The following seven levels of belonging illustrate the dictionary’s need for philosophical explication.
Position: On the humblest level, the jigsaw puzzle offers us a good illustration. “Where does this piece belong?” someone asks. Its peculiar shape and contour indicates that there is but one position that answers the question. And so, we put the puzzle piece exactly where it belongs and enjoy of small glimmer of satisfaction.
Possession: Because the puzzle is my puzzle, it belongs to me. It is my possession. It is one of the many things that I own. This level of belongingness, of course, is one-sided since I reserve the prerogative to dispossess it and give it to another. Possessions are transferable, as well as disposable.
Place: Shakespeare’s Ulysses, in his play, Troilus and Cressida, speaks to his troops about the supreme significance for each of his men to “stand in authentic place.” We all need to know where we belong in terms of our proper place in relation to others. Center field is the right place for the speediest outfielder. The seat on the throne belongs to the king. In the bridal procession, each person is in his and her proper place. We should all know where we belong in relation to others. Jumping the cue in a theater line is properly considered taboo.
Partnership: We all long to belong. Therefore, people join groups or become members of a fraternity, sorority, or a lodge. Even the French Foreign Legion is able to attract members. Partners belong to each other and work together in order to carry out certain tasks. They enjoy the sense of belonging when they fit into a collectivity of likeminded people. In this sense, belonging means being part of something larger than the self.
Parameter: Where do I belong? Late at night, children belong in bed. When work begins, the worker belongs at his post. Because home is where the heart is, it holds a special belonging for all its members. Our town and country provide parameters within which we find a special belonging. Belonging is specific. It has its boundaries.
Personification: In the words of an old song, “You belong to my heart, now and forever.” Adam and Eve belonged to each other, as do husbands and wives. Wherever there is love, there is belonging. Such a level of belonging brings great personal satisfaction. It is characterized by equality and mutual assistance. This level of belonging makes it especially clear that we are not mere individuals, but belong, in some way, to others or to someone special.
Pacification: In St. Augustine’s most celebrated phrase, “Thou hast made us for thee and our hearts will not rest until they rest in thee” (Fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te). This is the ultimate level of belonging, the level that confers a complete sense of peace. All the other levels of belonging are merely preludes to it. Along with the need to belong is the desire for peace. The two are inseparable. None of the six lower levels of belonging should be taken as fully satisfactory in themselves. Neither possessions nor memberships nor status nor personal relationships with others can satisfy our ultimate desire for belonging. Each level brings some degree of satisfaction, but only the seventh level is fully satisfactory.
In each person, there is a secret yearning. By nature, we all long to belong. The seven levels of belonging direct us upward from the humblest level to the highest level of belonging. The state of no-relatedness, as psychiatrists have made clear, is unbearable. At the same time, the first six levels are proportionately unsatisfactory. We should seek the ultimate, and not be content with the preambles.

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(Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.)

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