Between belonging and exclusion

Between belonging and exclusion

We all desperately crave for belonging (not a huge discovery), but at the same time we often, as a response to our longing, exclude. And I wonder if this is a particularly American response? Is this exclusion which includes a dogged competitiveness and, dare I say, meanness born out of our capitalist, boot-strap-pulling roots? I’m not sure, but buy me a beer and let’s talk about it.

You might have heard from your parents at one point the aphorism, “If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart, and if you are not a conservative when old, you have no brain.” While this didn’t apply to me, I think it appeased my parents for a time until they realized I was politically a lost cause. The saying seems to imply that in youth we value compassion, and as we age we value the practical arm of authority.

And yet, in my conversations with young people these days, I am amazed by the seeming lack of compassion and empathy that characterizes the cancel culture in which they live. The same moral piety that I saw with some of my evangelical peers at Wheaton College in the 1990s feels eerily similar to that of the Gen Z students of today. In both groups, the first step in any engagement is to not only identify what is wrong, but classify it as unforgivable. Many of them seem to lose the nuanced understanding of transformation and redemption. The puzzling part of it all is that young people on both ends of the political spectrum work from this same neo-puritanical mindset, though I doubt either would admit it.

The state of where we are right now is complicated, but one of the chief issues is fear of exclusion. And this fear carries with it the highest of stakes because at our core what we want more than anything as human beings is to belong. I don’t mean belonging as a means of assimilating or fitting in, but belonging as a deep sense of self-worth, a trust that we are known and loved for exactly who we are. Belonging as a state of unconditional love.

A radical concept

Unconditional love has always been a radical concept, and yet with each generation those conditions shift rather than disappear.

What does unconditional love look like?

It looks like celebrating people’s intentions even when they fall flat. It looks like encouraging one another in the midst of failure. It looks like holding each other accountable with a spirit of compassion and patience. Sometimes it looks like stepping away rather than stirring the pot. It looks like sitting in someone’s worst moments with them without feeling like you need to fix it. It looks like living into the idea that none are worthy but all are welcome.

If grace is getting what we don’t deserve and mercy is not getting what we do deserve, then unconditional love is that cocktail of grace and mercy shaken and poured for all of us.

So for all of you longing to participate in the good, the true and the beautiful at the expense of a culture that separates people into those who are in and those who are out, profoundly simple expressions of unconditional love and belonging are there to be found.

Kelley Weber is a spiritual director, mindfulness educator and enneagram consultant. She teaches theater in Clayton schools. You can contact her at 314-308-0861 or

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