How A Belonging Lens Can Transform Our Strategies And Impact

Posted on October 12, 2018
By Jessie Sutherland

What if, we used a “belonging lens” to look at our world and began to see our social problems as a compass leading us directly to the values and relationships that need strengthening? When you really think about it, at the heart of any given social problem, you will find a group of people who feel “pushed out” and values that have been eroded.

Choose any social problem and you will find shocking statistics that demonstrate the number of people who are “pushed out”. For example, there are over 65.6 forcibly displaced people in the world; 370 million indigenous people, many of whom have been displaced from their lands and languages; and over half the world’s population has moved from rural to urban centres.

When we use a belonging lens, it becomes crystal clear that the people who are most impacted by any given social problem are the experts. They know how they were “pushed out” and what values were eroded in the process. It is not enough to invite people with “lived experience” to inform, consult or be part of a discussion. We need to work together to restore their dignity, their voice and their place as a valued member and leader in the community.

On the one hand this means supporting people who have been ‘marginalized’ to develop their voice, restore their agency and provide opportunities for their leadership. On the other hand, it also means teaching the community how to listen, how to act on what we hear, and how to make space so there is truly room for everyone. For example, in a group of families who were living in poverty and raising young children, they identified greed and selfishness as key values that had been eroded and were pushing them into poverty. They also identified shame as a key barrier to restoring their voice and their agency. They shared stories about how they stopped accepting invitations to barbecues with friends because they couldn’t afford to contribute what they considered to be their fair share, leading to increased isolation. They talked about teaching their children to hide the fact that they are eating dinner at a food bank to neighbours and friends, creating a sense of isolation and embarrassment for their children. 

Having identified shame as a key value at stake, they decided to build a strategy around strengthening their sense of dignity – in their lives and in their strategies to lead change. First, they came up with inner resiliency tools: tips and strategies to overcome shame; how to break the cycle of depression and anger; and finally, practical skills and practices to foster self-care.

Next they developed money confidence through building supportive relationships with each other and service providers in their communities. Through research and perseverance they learned ways to reduce expenses as well as strategies to find better paying jobs.
As their voice, agency and sense of dignity increased, they came up with a strategy to offer peer support to other families to build relationships, overcome shame, and share practical tips and strategies including how to access community resources.

When we listen to the experts (those most impacted by poverty) and then act on what hear, we realize we have been given a gift. Imagine, drawing on the core values they identified - dignity, generosity and kindness - as guiding principles in our economic policies and systems as well as our attitudes and behaviours? What would happen if we grew the values at stake from the inside out – within ourselves, our relationships and within our systems and institutions? Imagine…

Learn more:

Cities Deepening Community, Belonging

Jessie Sutherland

By Jessie Sutherland

Jessie Sutherland, M.A in Dispute Resolution, TEDx Speaker, Director of Intercultural Strategies, Adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia School of Community and Regional Planning, is the founder and innovator of the award winning Finding Home™ neighbourhood dialogue and capacity building program and author of the book Worldview Skills: Transforming Conflict from the Inside Out. Jessie is fluently bilingual, has over 25 years experience in community relations and engagement; leadership development; conflict resolution; dialogue; and values based decision making processes. In Canada, she has lived and worked in British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and northern Indigenous communities. Worldwide, she has lived and worked in Europe, the Middle East, West Africa and South America.

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