Hard-Wired To Belong
photo by Todd Fong
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Every university has distinctive rituals, mantras, chants and traditions.  Why do students take pride in preserving and promoting these time honored festivities? What does it show us about our cravings for acceptance and belonging?

For a first year student these rituals both introduce and initiate them into their particular university culture.  For the cultured upper years it is an opportunity to reaffirm their distinctives and introduce the new students to the way of cultured life in university.

INITIATION:  Upper years introduce first years to the university environment and show them how to get the most out of their university experience.  They are usually the most social, committed and vocal of the university. This process enables first years to learn and become attached to their new relationships and traditions.  They adopt and adapt to the ethos of the university with varying intensity. The first year is typically impressionable and eager to please, and complies with the process of initiation. Some with reluctant participation, some with eager fervor.

TESTING:  These rituals often stretch a freshman student’s comfort.  They are often awkward emotionally or morally, testing the determination of the newcomer to identify with the group.  It is their baptism.  There identifying expression with their new fraternity.

BELONGING:  The extent to which the newcomer welcomes the challenge and bravely engages in it determines the level of belonging and acceptance in the group.  This is a right of passage.  You have earned your right to be there.  You have passed the social test so to speak.  Beyond the grades that you strive for in your classes, your peers are testing your social competence and willingness to fit in.

HARD-WIRED TO BELONG. From infancy we desire acceptance and our desperate need for relationship is evident.  Although we grow in independence we don’t outgrow our need for acceptance and belonging. Contrary to the impression of some we are not rocks or islands.  In fact so many of us crave belonging so much we will do almost anything just to belong.  We want to be an insider, valued and esteemed.  We want people to like us and respect us. If we don’t find it in family, friends, or other circles we will go in search for it.

Perhaps university traditions are but a glimpse into the traditions held in micro-cultures around the world. Some are less overt and crazy, but aren’t we all going through some sort of culturization. We are being initiated into a way of living, relating and making it in this world and we seek to belong.

These cultures reinforce the impression we need to and can earn our way into belonging.  If we work hard enough, show enough commitment, go along with the culture, suffer, endure, others will give us affirmation and we will be compensated.  The result is that we either feel proud that we are on the inside and have the reputation we want or that we are depressed because we feel like we are on the outside.  In the whimsical nature of human beings we can be in with some and out with others, in one day and out the next.

What we fear most is rejection and judgement.  There is no greater rejection than having been respected or loved deeply by someone and then they turn on you and despise you or are jealous of you.

We want to belong to others.  We fear isolation.  We fear rejection.  We fear being on the outside. We fear being left out.  We fear we won’t measure up, so we strive with all we have to belong.

What is our desire to belong telling us about ourselves?
Is there a person to whom we know we can permanently belong?

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