On Belonging: A book review by Bob Morris

On Belonging: Finding Connection in an Age of Isolation
Kim Samuel
Abrams Press (September 2022)

How to gain, share, and nourish a sense of belonging in a fractured world

With positive and productive employee engagement averaging less than 30% in U.S. companies, the need for Kim Samuel’s insights is greater now than at any prior time that I can recall. It is a “must read” for C-level executives and I expect it to become a “classic” in knowledge leadership.

In recent years, several major research studies were conducted — based on exit interviews — in order to learn why so many talented people leave one company to join the workforce of another. What was of greatest importance to them?  One of the three most highly rated needs was feeling appreciated. Long ago, I realized that one of the defining characteristics of a healthy organization is the fact that its workers think and behave in terms of first-person PLURAL pronouns.

I shall never forget the impact when I first encountered Saint Paul’s affirmation of “many parts, one body” in one of his first letters to the Corinthians. Later, when watching the film Spartacus, I was again reminded of St. Paul’s remarks. After the gladiators have been defeated, the survivors were told they would be spared if they produced their leader, dead or alive. Otherwise, all of them would be crucified. One by one, they began to stand up, each proudly proclaiming “I am Spartacus!”

In 2022, from those who work at the three companies rated highest in terms their workplace culture, the proclamation would be:

“I am Cisco!”
“I am Hilton!”
“I am Wegmans!”

However different they may be in most other respects, all companies annually ranked among those most highly regarded and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their industry segment. That is no coincidence. At all levels and in all areas of the given operation, their people feel that they belong, that they and their contributions are appreciated, and that all are serving a higher purpose.

All this is precisely what Samuel has in mind when making these observations: “Belonging manifests perhaps most obviously through our relationship with people — with one another. We are social beings…Our connection to place happens through a relationship with nature, with the lands on which we live, whether in the forest or a city neighborhood. In an ideal relationship of belonging to place [i.e. a community of mutual respect and trust], this relationship is reciprocal: We care for the places where we live And they, in turn, care for us…Belong is also found in our relationship with power, and our capacity to participate meaningfully in the decision-making structures of the broader whole. Our agency, the ability to make choices in shaping our circumstances, and our capacity to collectively determine our shared future, are all bound up in this dimension of belonging…Belonging through purpose  — the ability to create meaning in our lives and to share our gifts with the world — provides a vital sense of ‘why.’ It helps shape our perspectives on where we should be headed and what is right and good.”

In the Introduction, Samuel makes several key points to keep in mind before and then after reading her brilliant book: “Psychologist Abraham Maslow identified ‘belongingness’ as one of our most basic needs in his Hierarchy of Needs, coming just after physiological needs (such as air, water, and food) and safety (health, personal security).  I reach beyond this and suggest that belonging — as the antithesis of social isolation — is not only a need; it is a right as well. Indeed, in the pages of this book I will argue that we’ll possess a foundational Right to Belong.”

A complete sense of belonging includes all four dimensions (i.e. people, place, power, and purpose) and that is true even for those who spend decades as prisoners in solitary confinement. Nelson Mandela once told Kim Samuel that he never felt alone, even when isolated in a cell on Robben Island for 18 of his 27 years in prison. “We were all brothers working together with common purpose. I was never alone.”

This book is indeed a brilliant achievement. Bravo!


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