There is a profound need to belong to a group inscribed in the deepest recesses of our nature. This need could be satisfied through the attention of our caretakers and our family when we were very young. As we grow up, we yearn to be a part of a group that’s aligned with our search for authenticity. We find groups of friends, we’re into certain trends, we like a certain kind of music, and so on. Nowadays, we know that we are a part of one (or many!) groups, both at a personal and a social level.
It’s curious, then, that a lack of this “sense of belonging” can be described through the word “isolation”, which is derived from the word “insula”, Latin for “island”. To live in isolation means to live disconnected from a greater unified something--like a continent, for instance--, and to be surrounded by an insurmountable obstacle--like the water that separates an island from the mainland. It’s important then to be able to tell isolation from solitude, which is described as “being aware of one’s own authenticity”, which means that we are all unique.
Many cultures have been conscious of how important it is to welcome all those that live in isolation. Hospitality is a value of great importance to many creeds and communities around the world. The Norse people were famous for bringing in strangers in the night, since there was a chance that Odin, the All-Father, was outside in disguise, knocking at your door. The Pashtunwali code honors hospitality as a sacred duty to everyone, even our enemies (as depicted in Lone Survivor, a film where an Afghan shepherd takes in an American soldier, wounded in battle). The Greeks used to call this virtue “xenía”, which means hospitality.
The virtue of hospitality is needed to take in those who are isolated and to connect an island to the mainland. Denying someone of one’s hospitality has been considered a defect of the personality and social vice. When Ulysses found the cyclops, he described their race as savages due to their penchant for violence, cannibalism, and a maniacal need to eat in solitude. Incidentally, the Wixarika people of the northern mountain ranges of Mexico, call all those people who won’t share their goods with their community a “come solo”, someone who eats on their own. Sharing one’s food is one way of demonstrating the profound importance of helping people not to live in isolation and not to suffer from a lack of satisfaction with their most basic needs.
John Donne, an English poet from the XVII century, wrote a moving poem that reminds us of the importance of belonging and knowing that we’re all interdependent:
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; [...] any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
This last line was the inspiration behind Ernest Hemingway’s novel, that Metallica song, and many more works of art.
There are thousands of examples that show us how humanity has navigated a sea of desolation, to finally build bridges and cross the waters. Today, we have a chance to see our species as a great continent, whose individuals belong to the same land and are surrounded by the same ocean. If you know somebody who’s living on their own private island of solitude, jump on our boat and go to them. At the end of the day, it’s not them you’re saving--you’re saving yourself and all the rest of us as you go.
LUAN, building bridges
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