Belonging and Our Desire to Be Heard

How many times have we thrown our arms up in frustration, fought tooth and nail, or screamed inside out, for the chance to be heard?

Our will to stand up and be counted as somebody whose opinion matters, means we’re invariably sticking it to the privileged few.

We’re rooting for the right to be taken seriously. We see ourselves in that battle for overcoming rank, authority and status, to feel like what we have to say, matters.

There have been social movements dedicated to this cause, compelling books written and stirring speeches given.

Yet this simple and essential human need to be seen and heard, despite our background, creed or place in life, works to fulfil another basic need; to belong.

Back to Basics

We all like to think that, despite our position in life, we are a ‘somebody’ that matters. We may not be a politician, a celebrity, an academic etc, but we are here and involved in the world around us and we want desperately to belong.

We have a voice and an opinion and crave to be taken seriously. Whether that voice should be heard, is another matter entirely.

We’ve seen this reoccurring and underlying theme popping up in world politics a lot lately; be it in those who brought Trump to office and the new wave of racist sentiment in the States or in the tide of public support for same-sex marriage here in Australia.

No matter which side we’re on, we all want the very same thing… be heard, to feel like our views matter……. that we matter.

Our Basic Need to Belong

In Maslow’s now famous Hierarchy of Needs, he identified love and belonging as ranking only just above safety in securing personal growth and well-being. And above that again, esteem and the feeling of accomplishment.

But in a media manic world which reminds us every second of every day of the celebrity, popular, powerful and inordinately wealthy ‘somebodies’ out there, it’s easy to feel like a nobody.

We’re also easily swayed by a plethora of institutions who are readily at hand to steer our attention, direct our decisions and influence our values and even moral.

Yet, the simple truth is we all want to be taken seriously and considered a somebody that matters.

Social Researcher Hugh Mackay lists the desire to be taken seriously as the core that drives us as individuals; “to be acknowledged as the unique individual each of us knows ourselves to be – the desire to be noticed, appreciated, valued, accepted … perhaps even remembered … that we aren’t being ignored or forgotten”.

In some capacity or other we want to be heard and accepted, to feel like our life matters to others and that we have achieved something in our limited time here.

Means to be Heard

While it would be nice if we could simply pat ourselves on the back and provide the self-stamp of approval, it doesn’t seem to work like that.

And in this pursuit for belonging, we sometimes lose ourselves and extreme measures are taken up in an effort to be heard.

” Most people who, at vulnerable period of their lives, feel they are being mocked and belittled, carry it as a wound that sometimes takes a lifetime to heal. And the frustration of the desire to be taken seriously can sometimes be like a weapon in the hands of individuals, or even entire nations” Hugh Mackay

You just have to look at the circus of world affairs on display in the news, lately; North Korea’s nuclear threats, white-nationalists in Charlottesville and gay marriage opponents in Australia, to see where such extreme measures to be heard can led some groups and individuals to senseless action.

On the flip side of this, there are individuals and groups who, despite their ‘under-dog’ status and limited platform, have been patient listeners and tirelessly earned their right to be heard. And with that, they’ve been a voice for the rest of us.

Accepting We’re All the Same

We’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t crave the opportunity at some point to have our turn to be heard. We’ve probably all followed unwritten social rules and even ignored our feelings at times, in an effort to conform so we might be taken more seriously or in a quest to belong too.

Perhaps Kim Jong Un’s nuclear threats indicate a desperate desire to be taken seriously on the world stage and if the US acknowledged this, maybe the rhetoric on their part would be more moderate and less inflammatory.

If  we all acknowledge that we share the same basic desire then; to be taken seriously, to be heard and that we matter, what can we do to ensure that our unique views are heard while avoiding as best we can, conflict and opposition?

According to Hugh Mackay, it all comes down to the method with which we interact…

“So the way we listen to each other, the way we respect each other’s passions (even if we don’t share them), the way we respond to each other’s needs, the way we make – or don’t make – time for each other… all these things send clear signals about the extent to which we are taking each other seriously”.

Like all things, it doesn’t pay to ignore the obvious and it’s becoming clear not just on a world stage, but in our own lives too, that in that quest to

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

‘matter’ we often fail to simply listen to others. To acknowledge that others, just like ourselves, want to be heard.

Maybe if we allowed for more serious listening, then our own desire to matter and that of others, would be more peaceably met. In our efforts to acknowledge others and their views more willingly, there’d be less of a pursuit to force views in such extreme ways.

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The Communication Revolution: Breaking Down Barriers or Building Them?

It was a typical Friday night; families, teenagers and young couples were out in their droves and as I sat down with a friend to enjoy a meal and conversation, there were two couples next to us who caught my eye. A double date it seemed ….how sweet.

Except instead of engaging in flirtatious glances with one another or witty banter, their faces were cast downward, alight with the blue glow of their mobile phones. Each of them engaged in either a phone call, a text, an Instant Message, or Facebook post, punctuating any real attempts at a face-to-face conversation.

It struck me how far removed we’ve become from each other. With all the wonderful benefits of communication literally at our fingertips today, we’re obviously doing a lot more of it, but is it meaningful? Are we really connecting or simply giving the illusion?

Technology’s relationship with communication has grown exponentially and while we’re all happy to jump on board the communication revolution, it’s moving at some pace. Is the Medium actually becoming the message and we’re just not listening?

The availability of communication mediums for us, the masses, means we’re no longer simply receiving information passively. We ALL are very much a part of the revolution. We have an opportunity to ‘reply’, ‘comment’, ‘tweet’ or ‘message’ one another, making our voices heard, breaking down social, cultural and even geographic barriers that once existed.

With a plethora of platforms at our disposal; the text with its emojis, e-mail on the go, sound-bites on Twitter, Comments online, we can connect instantly with not just our friends but interact and even develop supposed relationships with celebrities, politicians, activists, community groups in very immediate and accessible ways, making us feel like our opinions and ideas matter. Like we matter.

No wonder we’re hooked on The Revolution; it truly is for the people.

But just how meaningful are these connections? We are certainly communicating more than ever before, but are we really breaking down barriers or building them?

As the mode becomes more varied, our messages are open to manipulation, meaning can be misconstrued and the true worth of what we have to say, misplaced amongst the scatterings on offer in our inbox, each hour of everyday.

We’re constantly distracted, unable to delve into deep interactions and it’s changing our world in worrying ways. Social researcher Hugh Mackay believes ‘The Good Life’ is all about our capacity for selflessness, the quality of our relationships and our willingness to connect with others in meaningful ways.

In this age of consumerism, communication feels like just another medium we are happy to exploit, inevitably driving down its value and potential purpose to form meaningful connections. We seem quite happy to use and abuse without really understanding the implications for us on a personal and societal level.

Opinions once private, now are all too easily aired. The fact that one can sit behind a screen, often in anonymity, and project in words what they really think, without having to witness the reaction it causes to the recipient, has given rise to a new form of torment; cyber-bullying and trolling.

There is no need to feel uncomfortable about such interactions when we don’t actually have to be a part of it. The appeal with these types of communication means the ‘hard work’ of actually engaging in meaningful, emotional, sometimes difficult conversations, is a thing of the past.

Recent studies show us that teens today who we born only knowing communication technologies have never had the opportunity to experience and develop vital inter-personal skills, unlike generations before. Developmental psychologists such as Sherry Turkle have identified the importance of face-to-face communication in helping children and teenagers to develop other essential skills, including reasoning, self-reflection and empathy.

A real life conversation with another person involves both parties having to take in a range of emotional and bodily cues, such as tone and expression. According to Turkle, in sending a text “the complexity and messiness of human communication gets short-changed. Those things are what lead to better relationships.”

With a brief text or short e-mail, the lack of face-to-face contact means the subtleties and nuances of our interactions, which we rely so much on to gain greater connections and meaning, are lost. There is such a thing as too much and while we seem to be engaged in almost excessive amounts of communication, the quality of that communication appears to be compromised.

Either way, as our world continues to develop and the barrage of information increases, we need more than ever before to feel connected, to communicate but in meaningful ways. Otherwise we’ll end up letting those superficial forms of communication dictate who we are and the kind of society we become.

If communication sage Marshall McLuhan was right and ‘the medium is the message’, then in our increasingly interconnected world, we run the risk of feeling more disconnected.

What matters most is our relationships and real, meaningful communication is the key to keeping them and society in turn, intact.

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