[October 4, 2019] Over the past few months, I’ve been speaking with veterans, college students, and community leaders about their thoughts on the value of higher education. What I found out had little to do with education but on something deeper. What I discovered was, more than anything else, that there is an overwhelming need for them to belong to something bigger than themselves.
Everyone needs a chance to belong. This idea of belonging is a powerful force that explains much of our behavior. While I’m no psychologist, it doesn’t take a college degree to figure out that people have a strong need to belong. Reading the literature on the subject of “belonging,” one can find academics who say the desire is either innate or learned or a combination of both. Ultimately, the reason doesn’t matter because the need is undeniable.
I was talking with a small group of teenagers at a local High School near my home last week. The reason I was there was to talk about my experiences as a military veteran. But what these young boys and girls told me that was far more interesting. If there was one consistent theme in our conversations, they desired to be part of something bigger than themselves; whether that was through their religion, the government, or the military. Their need seemed to be genuine.
Not all see it that way; to belong to something big, something important. I was told several stories about friends and relatives who were into social media and playing computer games. Those who did so seemed to be adrift and had few close friends.
“My girlfriends want to become famous. They want to look pretty and have the latest clothes fashion. They think they are better than me and others in our class. They are shallow.” – a young teenage girl in a High School in Southern New Jersey
I was convinced that these young boys and girls I talked to would someday be someone who everyone could rely upon, have successful families, and be leaders in their community. I’ve seen it before. There are always a few young people in any group that can keep a cool head when others are “freaking out” or just “following the crowd.” Belonging has always been a fundamental driver of humankind. We should never dismiss it as something unworthy or trivial.