Sunday, September 7, 2008

Related Text: 'Welcome Stranger'

Appreciating the Concept of 'Belonging'

Text title: ‘Welcome, Stranger’

Author: Stephanie Dowrick

Text type: Newspaper article

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, Good Weekend, Inner Life, p68
August 23, 2008

‘Welcome Stranger’ by Stephanie Dowrick

(text copied from original article published in ‘Inner Life, Good Weekend’)

Do you give much thought to whether you are an “includer” by nature – or not? This is something we can easily fail to develop in ourselves and may not value or develop in our children. Yet the capacity and willingness to think about others and include them makes a profound difference for people of all ages. It could be a child at pre-school who is willing to share, an adult at a party who keeps an eye out for anyone standing on their own, a colleague who will take the time to show a newcomer around the workplace, or someone happy to draw others out and help them feel affirmed and welcome. In so many situations a moment of generosity and thoughtfulness can make all the difference between someone feeling like an outsider, with all the agonies that can produce, and feeling included.

The image of a child standing alone in a crowded playground, without the protection of company and friends, haunts many adults. Feeling included is vital for our emotional health and wellbeing and it will affect dramatically how we think about other people as well as ourselves. It will also affect whether we see the world as essentially friendly or hostile. Because most of us underestimate our own personal power and overestimate other people’s, we are likely to spend far more time worrying about being left out rather than whether and how we are including others. Yet this is always a complex dance. We have chances to be included; we have at least as many chances to offer that vital sense of inclusion to others.

Behaving in ways that are welcoming and inclusive lifts our own spirits – at any age. In fact being actively inclusive and friendly does wonders for most people’s personal and social confidence. Nevertheless, there will always be some people who remain fearful that reaching out to others will make them seem needy or vulnerable.

Even more disastrously, some of the most common and hurtful power plays between people depend on various forms of shunning that give a select group of people a sense of belonging at the expense of others. This happens so commonly we may think it is inevitable, but these are socially learned behaviours that can only flourish when they are condoned. They depend on an intrinsically self-centred view of the world and a grave misunderstanding of what personal power really means. What’s more, no one really feels good about being included when the basis for this is excluding others. On the contrary, as any schoolgirl can affirm, whenever exile hovers, there will always be an undertow of fear that makes such conditional belonging a dark and uncomfortable experience.

It’s tempting to believe that other people have an easier time feeling part of things than we do. Yet being real about our own insecurities should help us see how common they are and what we could do about them. In fact, honesty about our own social vulnerability creates a good basis for empathy and can give us the courage to be proactive rather than daunted. Acknowledging your power to bring other people in rather than leave them out already makes a difference.

I am amazed at how many people complain about feeling left out or overlooked while never considering how they might save others from similar experiences. Including others is a win-win situation: great for them, great for ourselves. Some people are naturally attuned to others, always keeping an eye out for those on the margins or those feeling new or unsure in any social situation. They are society’s treasures and we can all learn from them.

An easy sense of belonging is essential to feeling safe, inwardly and outwardly. Whatever our age or status, we are free to appreciate that sense of belonging and to offer it freely to others. It is an exceptionally uplifting way to move through the world. GW

Permission has been granted to the creator of the blog by Stephanie Dowrick for publication on this blog – http://belongingareaofstudy, with the knowledge that it will be used by HSC students and English teachers.


Read the artcice above.

1. Write down one main sentence which summarises the composer’s opinion about belonging.
2. What are the consequences of belonging/not belonging according to the composer for the following people:

a) Those who include others?
b) Those who do not include others?

3. The composer is suggesting that including someone who is an outsider is an easy way to make someone feel good about themselves.

a) Can you think of a time in your life when someone has gone out of his/her way to include you in an environment or situation that was foreign to you?
b) What happened? How were you included?
c) How did the experience feel?
d) What was the outcome?
e) What would you change/remain the same about that situation if you had the opportunity?

4. The composer is also suggesting the people often shun others to develop their own sense of power and sense of belonging.

a) Can you think of a time in your life when you deliberately excluded someone in an environment or situation that was foreign to the person?
b) What happened? How did you exclude the person?
c) How did the experience feel for you?
d) What do you think was the impact of your actions on the person you excluded?
e) What was the outcome?
f) What would you change/remain the same about that situation if you had the opportunity?

5. The composer puts forward a strong argument for taking time to include others in society so they feel a sense of belonging.

a) Put forward one criticism of her argument.
b) Put forward another aspect to the argument that would complement her ideas.

6. How has your understanding of belonging developed as a result of reading this article?

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