Belonging is said to be the strongest motivator of human behaviour. In other words, most people fear rejection more than death . I know this to be true. To be cast out of the tribe for any reason can be painful, life-altering and traumatizing. For most of us, journeying back to wholeness is an arduous process, akin to Sisyphus condemned to endlessly push a boulder uphill. Integrating such experiences, goes beyond the simplistic Hollywood notion of a magical “epiphany.” In this particular telling, I’ve deliberately prioritized inner experience to lay bare the path toward healing. I wish I’d such a roadmap offered to earlier versions of myself.
Like many in Western society, I grew up reading stories containing mostly white people. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Anne of Green Gables, Nancy Drew, Judy Blume novels. TV, movies, and media were the same. Dallas, Happy Days, The Facts of Life. The world reinforced the idea that people who looked like me could never be the centre of a story. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie articulated in the title of her seminal TED talk, there is a danger in the single story. In addition to the wounds inflicted from immigration, racism, and social rejection was the implicit idea that my story – my life – wasn’t as valuable. Until just recently, I rarely came across stories from people who shared my background and experiences. I was in my early forties before I realized I had to make the path by walking.
Putting my life down on paper wasn’t always a fun process, but it was necessary. By telling this story, I picked up all the fragmented parts of myself still waiting to be recognized by someone out there, and silently cheered each and every one of them as they moved across the stage into formation. As trite as it may sound, this book was a fundamental step in returning home to myself. My hope is that these pages serve as a battle cry for each of us to step onto our own stage, to bask in our individual brilliance.
Claiming our identity, learning to tell our own stories, is increasingly complicated. Many of us no longer come from a single tribe with a shared identity. Taking ethnicity as an example, increasing numbers of people are no longer part of a singular cultural or racial background. Or we may be part of a defined group but we differ from the established norms. A Muslim who plays in a punk rock band. A transgendered lesbian. A Sikh man with a turban who is a pro boxer. What is the impact, how do we make sense of our lives, when who we are falls outside of what is considered “normal”? How do we recover that bone-deep knowledge that we belong?
What I know for certain is that few of us are able to transcend, deny, or ignore our wounding forever. What we endure, particularly in childhood, echoes throughout our entire lives. Many of us pretend to be competent, professional adults, with everything “together.” We think we are beyond the shackling chains of our own pasts. Yet our bodies never forget. The unprocessed past continues to affect every present moment, calls to us through challenging physical symptoms, feelings, and thoughts. As Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone. Afterward many are strong in the broken places.” Facing our wounding only makes us stronger. Seeing the past clearly allows us to move beyond it.
Our ability as humans to endlessly polarize into “us” vs. “them” is visible in every nation, every societal context, from minor conflicts to full-blown genocide. Part of the answer lies in individually and collectively developing our capacity to see us in them. This is the role of art, of stories: to help foster a sense of empathy, to re-acquaint us with the parts of ourselves and others we wish to deny. It is my hope that my words will open a few more doors, minds, hearts. Although my story isn’t universal, I hope all will find universal truths here. For people who identify strongly with my experience, know that I stand beside you. For those who have and continue to walk more challenging paths than mine, I hope these pages offer a sense of solidarity. More than anything, no matter who you are, I hope you can hear me applauding you between these pages.
Ultimately, all we have left at the end of the day are our experiences, choices we’ve made and rejected, relationships we’ve entered into and left behind, the invisible tattoos of emotional scar tissue: our stories. Each story is a fractal, a reflection of the whole, offering something back to the collective that is required for growth. I offer you mine. Make room for yours. Creating a world where everyone matters and belongs depends on it. Kipling D. Williams, Ostracism: The Power of Silence (Guilford Press, 2002)  Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, Charles Scribner’s Sons, United States of America 1929 (pg. 267) Share this: