As children get older, parents worry about the lengths their child might go to in order to fit in.
Adolescents are especially susceptible to peer pressure. They are battling social anxieties and navigating fraught peer interactions. The developing teenage brain, which is preoccupied with what others are thinking of them, responds differently to emotional stimuli than the adult brain.
But we don’t age out of the human need to be accepted by members of a group.
Belongingness is a fundamental emotional need. People desire to be a part of something greater than themselves, to feel understood and seen. This meaningful bonding is crucial to our well-being. We may find it among peers, co-workers, family, friends, co-religionists or through some other association or mutual interest.
A friend recently posted a Facebook status in which she described an ice-breaker from a training session.
“We all introduced ourselves with our names and three groups of ‘our people’ -- the people we feel most at home with,” she wrote. The person running the session offered concrete affiliations -- fans of her college basketball team, for one. My friend’s answer was, “I’m Judy, and my people are journalists, nerds and people who grew up poor.”
The exercise is a clever way to get people to reveal more about themselves in a less threatening way. The question really asks: With whom are you most likely to feel at home? With whom are you most likely to feel immediate commonality?
In Judy’s groups, there is a common thread: She identifies with outsiders. Journalists observe the events they cover without participating, and nerds and poor folk also understand what it’s like to be on the outside. Each are immigrants in their own country in a way, she explained to me.
I considered her question carefully. My tribe is comprised of storytellers; doers and givers; and people who are both funny and empathetic. Again, there are commonalities among these groups. Storytellers are also keen observers and listeners. Telling a good story is a way of reaffirming human connections and making the listener, viewer or reader feel something.
Doers and givers have an inherent optimism and selflessness that guides their behavior. I am drawn to the resilience of people who have overcome difficult circumstances. Their courage is just as contagious as fear.
Funny, empathetic people are often self-deprecating, comfortable in their own skin and easy to be around. We all want to be around people who are authentic, genuine and sincere.
I asked my husband to tell me about “his people.” He named doers, underdogs and music lovers.
The overlap in our answers explains why we were drawn together in the first place.
Whether the point of connection is a shared passion for a particular sport or type of art, or a shared life experience such as growing up poor or running a marathon, we feel at ease with people in whom we recognize something about ourselves.
To some extent, our tribes describe how we see ourselves. But they also describe what we want to be.
Just like we caution our children as they grow up, it’s helpful to remind ourselves when we are older and the demands on our time are ever greater: Merely fitting in with a group is not the same as belonging. A sense of belonging comes from being accepted and supported.
Humans are multidimensional and often contradictory, so subsets of “our people” will likely complement different aspects of our personalities. I appreciated the chance to think about the sort of people I consider my tribe because it gave me insight into who I should prioritize spending my precious free time with.
It’s a revealing question: Who are your people?