When I have my sentimental moments, few emotions remain as real as do significant separations. I can recall vivid details of the last day of grade school, the last day of high school, the last day of college. I remember exactly where I was standing and what I was wearing the moment my dad closed his eyes for the last time. As the drummer in many orchestras and bands, and as a participant in many plays and theater events, I remember the last performances. Taking a kid to college, watching a friend retire, helping a close friend pack to move away--these moments lay heavy on one's heart.
We pile up statistics about the effects of single-parent homes and the results of divorce on kids, but we don't weave the idea of separation and its effects into our strategies for improvement. Why not? So many of our anti-drug campaigns are about what one shouldn't do. Now that our president's wife is telling kids what they should and shouldn't eat, there are more commercials and ads telling kids what they should and shouldn't do. Lazy Americans are told to get up and get moving. This may be all well-intended, but have we put forth a positive message about leading a different life? I'm not so sure.
Belonging To A Group
I find the way to reach my kids, employees, supervisors and friends is to appeal to each on a personal level. A good example was recently in Cleveland, where some churches, once considered staples of the community, were to be closed by the Catholic Diocese, as monies were nowhere near plentiful enough to support all of the individual parishes. As parishioners banded together to resist these decisions, it was apparent they were truly enjoying the common cause and camaraderie. Most of these churches were in neighborhoods where families grew up together. Men and women who once came to church with their grandparents were now going to church with their grandchildren. The right to have their church remain seemed almost absolute in their minds. There was no wavering, only one over-riding emotion, a sense of entitlement found in belonging. "This is mine and you cannot take it from me. These people, this neighborhood, this experience, this feeling--it's mine and I belong here."
And belonging is so important. When I walk the halls at work, smiling and nodding to fellow employees, there is a sense of belonging to a greater good that makes me feel confident in my work. As a park and recreation employee for 27 years, I have worked to give people a balance with nature. I am far from irreplaceable, and I am by no means perfect at my job, but for now, on my watch, I have kept my end of the bargain by providing a reliable product to the people of Greater Cleveland. I belong here.
A Basic Need
My first real experience at belonging was organized sports. In junior high school, I was fortunate enough to letter in football, baseball and cross-country. At the end-of-the-season awards banquet, I stood beaming, clutching my pin, shoulder to shoulder with the other lettermen. As parents applauded our collective effort, I remember the warmest sense of pride. I never wanted to relinquish that, and therein lies the lesson.
When something becomes so personal like that, one desires it more and more. Consider all the kids who have carried guns into school to take revenge on those who made fun of them. Consider the class bully, who is really just a lonely, misguided kid taking his problematic life out on someone who is innocent and defenseless; the bully likely finds himself on the other end at home.
As social animals, humans need love, interaction, kindness, a feeling of self-worth, a feeling of contributing to something, a standard by which to measure themselves. They do not need isolation, which brings about depression, repressed anger and loneliness. In a world with so many people, why should anyone be so lonely and desperate that they can’t find some type of companionship?
The Case Study
When my older son was in second grade, the principal called my wife and me, requesting a conference. Our son was practically falling asleep at his desk, and then struggled to sit still as recess drew closer. When the recess bell rang, he bolted for the door and ran around the playground like his pants were on fire. "He needs to be medicated," we were told. We said no. "He needs to be kept back a year.” We said no. "You'll regret this.” We shook our heads and went home. We developed a plan. Part one was stepping up as parents and doing our job even better. We began to incorporate evening exercise into his daily routine as apparently weekend sports were not enough. He began to play recreation-department baseball, football and basketball year-round. Mom researched his diet and controlled the sugar and carbohydrate intake. The tutoring each night was replaced with creative games like shooting baskets and answering questions each time a shot was made. Spelling words were reviewed over my shoulder on a two-seater bike. His vitamin regimen was balanced and, two months later, his grades were higher, his patience was better, and he was never medicated or held back. He graduated with his friends, made good grades in college, and now holds a full-time, well-respected job. He invests his money wisely, and reads voraciously. Once he became involved with teammates and had a real sense of belonging, he was further encouraged by his family to focus all that energy for success. His natural competitive nature guided the way. The support of others who "belonged" made it all possible.
Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Indian Guides, library school, baseball, football, hockey, soccer, basketball, ballet, ice-skating, music, theater, dance, art classes, part-time jobs--our youth must get involved, must volunteer, must get off the couch and serve the greater good and, by doing so, they will inherit this sense of belonging and want to do more. They will become socially responsible and look forward to challenges, and not hide behind the anti-depressants half the country is swallowing daily.
Mr. President, I beg you. Send a directive to the parents of America to be the moms and dads their children need them to be and to help them belong. Realize the power of people's reluctance to separate, and help them seek reasons to stay connected, to stay involved, where they can keep that feeling for the rest of their lives.
Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.