Peace and the Sense of Belonging

Caren: “More Togeth­er than Alone,” 
Peace and the Sense of Belonging

Home. Com­mu­ni­ty. A sense of belong­ing. Don’t we all long for love and con­nec­tion? And when the anchored sense of belong­ing dis­ap­pears, we spot it — on the drawn face of a child alone on a play­ground or on an elder­ly face of some­one alone on a park bench. Haven’t we all felt that moment of dis­lo­cat­ed lone­li­ness? If no one reach­es out to us and brings us into a cir­cle of kind­ness, lone­li­ness can twist into dan­ger­ous alien­ation. “More togeth­er than alone” a phrase used by poet, author, and teacher, Mark Nepo, is my new mantra.

Recent­ly two pic­ture books have caught my eye that speak to a sense of belong­ing. In each of these qui­et sto­ries, a child reach­es beyond her own secure cir­cle to include a lone­ly per­son in need of a friend:

I Walk with VanessaI Walk with Vanes­sa: A Sto­ry About a Sim­ple Act of Kind­ness by Keras­coet (Schwartz & Wade Books) is an expres­sive, word­less pic­ture book that cap­tures Vanessa’s lone­ly feel­ings as a new stu­dent and her fright when the class bul­ly ver­bal­ly attacks her on her way home from school. A girl in a yel­low dress watch­es from a dis­tance then finds kind­ness and courage to reach out to Vanes­sa in friend­ship. It’s a small ges­ture, but one that mul­ti­plies. Even­tu­al­ly an entire com­mu­ni­ty of hap­py friends accom­pa­ny Vanes­sa on her way to school the next morn­ing. The mantra, “more togeth­er than alone” res­cues Vanes­sa and strength­ens the com­pas­sion of the com­mu­ni­ty of kids.

A Map into the WorldA Map Into the World by Kao Kalia Yang, illus­trat­ed by Seo Kim (Car­ol­rho­da Books), is a touch­ing sto­ry of Paj Ntaub, a sen­si­tive young Hmong girl whose fam­i­ly moves into a new home in a new neigh­bor­hood in their new­ly adopt­ed coun­try. Across the street are Bob and Ruth, an old­er cou­ple who sit on a bench and wave hel­lo. Sum­mer turns to fall. Paj Ntaub’s home fills with the live­li­ness of baby twin broth­ers and Paj Ntaub’s own grow­ing up. Win­ter comes. Sad­ly, neigh­bor Ruth dies. Then spring arrives. With­out Ruth, Bob sits on the bench by him­self. Paj Ntaub sens­es Bob’s lone­li­ness. With her buck­et of chalk, Paj Ntaub draws pic­tures of her year on the side­walk and an arrow point­ing to her house. The chalk draw­ings are an invi­ta­tion, “a map into the world,” a way for Bob to recon­nect after loss. The mantra echoes again: “More togeth­er than alone.”

Caren: Going Deeper

More Together Than AloneI shared Mark Nepo’s book titled More Togeth­er Than Alone with Ellie. Nepo’s book is a col­lec­tion of sto­ries that lift up moments across his­to­ry and cul­tures when human beings came togeth­er in cre­ativ­i­ty, empa­thy, col­lab­o­ra­tion, and enlightenment.

To con­trast cul­tur­al moments, Nepo first intro­duces two fic­tion­al tribes: The “Go Away” tribe believes in strict laws, clear bor­ders, and loy­al­ty. The “Go Aways” meet the stranger and says, “You’re dif­fer­ent, go away.” The oth­er is the “Come Teach Me” tribe. This tribe is will­ing to cross bor­ders, build bridges, and wel­come the stranger. Wise­ly, Nepo reminds us that “we are born into both tribes and can move from one to the oth­er, depend­ing on the lev­el of our fear.”

Nebo com­pares the “noise lev­el” of fear and vio­lence and acts of kind­ness. Fear and vio­lence are loud, dis­rup­tive, dis­turb­ing, and can blind us like a sand­storm. Acts of com­pas­sion and kind­ness are qui­et and often go unac­knowl­edged. More Togeth­er Than Alone lifts up qui­et, his­tor­i­cal times of enlight­en­ment for adults. I Walk with Vanes­sa and A Map Into the World offer the same mes­sage to children.

Lis­ten to Mark Nepo speak about More Togeth­er Than Alone.

Ellie: Action Steps

Often chil­dren are nat­ur­al bound­ary crossers, will­ing to reach out to one anoth­er. How do we lose that unen­cum­bered audac­i­ty as adults? We can prac­tice togeth­er as we cross bound­aries to bet­ter under­stand our­selves, cross inter­per­son­al bound­aries to bet­ter know the per­son next to us, and cross sys­temic bound­aries to bet­ter know peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from us. The work is not easy, nor com­fort­able. It takes prac­tice, a will­ing­ness to be open, a desire to be a mem­ber of the “Come Teach Me” tribe.” Each step, no mat­ter the effort, takes us clos­er to under­stand­ing that we are “more togeth­er than alone.”

  • Ask your­self where are the bound­aries in your school or com­mu­ni­ty? What and who are you taught not to see?
  • Walk around your school or com­mu­ni­ty and see some­thing new.
  • Make a point to talk to a neigh­bor or some­one new at your school.
  • Put your­self in a sit­u­a­tion where you are inter­act­ing with some­one who the world has called “the other.”
  • Invite a part­ner to come on this jour­ney with you.

For each Peace-olo­gy post, Caren and Ellie part­ner to learn and explore the mean­ing of peace — out loud. If you’d like to share your ideas about peace, books, chil­dren and liv­ing our lives, please share your com­ments here, or vis­it their websites.

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David LaRochelle
3 years ago

What a healthy mind­set to encour­age. Thank you.