On reclaiming who we are as humans
The recent launch of Kim Samuel's On Belonging: Finding Connection in an Age of Isolation threw the spotlight on the power of community and belonging.
The event, at Exclusive Books at Johannesburg's Hyde Park Corner, included a discussion between Samuel and Marlene Ogawa, country director at The Synergos Institute, a global organisation that's pioneered bridging leadership and building trust and collaboration to solve complex problems.
Having worked together for almost 12 years, the pair's relationship has been strengthened by the work they do for Synergos and the Samuel Centre for Social Connectedness, a “think-and-do tank” that develops high-quality research and programming. They are also connected through their love of community and people.
Samuel said producing the book took a long time. Twenty years before she began researching it, she witnessed her father experiencing terrible isolation, something that left a deep impression on her.
“It is not only the injustice of having to suffer doubly — physically and emotionally — that I was concerned with, but I was also shocked by what the lack of care does to people. We all need care, not only to receive it, but also to give it to others."
Samuel reflected on a conversation with Nelson Mandela that inspired the book and brought about her commitment to uncovering the effect social isolation has on many people now. “It wasn’t so much an inspiration, but a calling.”
She highlighted the complexities of fitting in with what she describes as the shadow side of belonging. “It looks like belonging and often feels like belonging at first, but is actually empty.”
To introduce this topic, Samuel asked Rantsope Meshack “Rex” Molefe to speak at the launch. An educator and expert in early childhood development, Molefe was recruited as a child solider, which gave him a false sense of belonging — a feeling of community he hadn't experienced at home.
Samuel described his experience as a distorted sense of belonging — the shadow side thereof. “It's not belonging if someone else’s belonging is denied,” she said. “If we fail to understand and address the shadow side of belonging, we run the risk that the feeling becomes the only form of belonging we know.”
“The world is gravitating towards totalitarianism and dictatorship that pushes people into further isolation,” said Molefe. To combat this, he urges us to eschew fictitious boundaries and come together. “We all belong to one race, the human race,” he added.
Mental health issues have become less stigmatised, but isolation has deep roots that require reprogramming centuries of alienation as a result discrimination.
“We need to reclaim who we are as humans; reclaim our ubuntu, reclaim our wellness and how we see ourselves. We need to examine how we see each other and how we see our place in the world,” said Ogawa.
The launch was also attended by those involved in researching the book, including anti-GBV activist Josina Machel; Ethan Sesethu Xabanisa, whose story of disability, homelessness and homophobia features therein; and Joey Monane, founder of the Ikusasalethu Youth Development Project.
Samuel hopes her On Belonging will spark conversations about the importance of social connectedness.
“There are many stories in the room, much wisdom and many vulnerabilities, but the gift of stories is that they heal us in beautiful ways,” Samuel said at the event.
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