The Need To Belong

According to A. Maslow satisfying the need to belong is a prerequisite to developing self esteem and confidence, which in turn is a prerequisite for self actualization. Self esteem, confidence and the opportunity to pursue inner talent to achieve fulfillment, “self actualization”the right of all people, requires a social context which is why Maslow posited self esteem above belonging in his pyramid of human needs. The need to belong is driven by evolutionary factors and is a powerful fundamental and extremely pervasive motivation. Belonging helps people in times of trouble. It provides a place to report good and bad news avoid loneliness and feeling unloved. It is the place to get the information and the realistic interpersonal rewards that builds confidence and self esteem. The power of belonging on the productivity of people is well understood and studied in the forums and organizations of business in Japan and all over the world.
Misunderstanding the importance of belonging, present day thinkers and program planers for people with serious mental Illness want all programs and services delivered within the context of the general community with specialized professional support from case managers. The idea being that, all people have the right to belong to the general community, that the learning that occurs in segregated facilities will not replicate in the general community and that learning the necessary coping skills will happen more readily in the general community. Case manager support to accomplish general community adjustment may be useful to some who have serious mental illness or other disabilities, but the satisfaction of the need to belong, what Maslow states is the necessary prerequisite to self esteem and fulfillment, assumes acceptance. How can people develop a sense of belonging to the general community if they do not experience basic acceptance by that community? The literature is replete with examples of stigma and the resultant isolation that happens to many people with serious mental illness living in the general community. If basic acceptance and its axiomatic imperative sense of belonging does not happen in the general community how can these people develop the self esteem and confidence to pursue their individualized talents. Is it possible that planners are proposing this unrealistic yet arguably idealized notion of general community belonging as treatment because they have no idea of how to create programs that offer to people with disabilities the satisfaction of their need to belong? Evidence for this supposition can be found in the public school system where drop outs never finding acceptance in the school system find their way into gangs where they experience unconditional acceptance and their need to belong is satisfied. Although true, that all people should have the right to belong to and ideally be accepted by the general community, the reality is that the general community establishes conditions which must be met before full acceptance is achieved. This is why immigrants to America established their own communities and sub cultures in which they prepared themselves and their children for general community participation. For those seriously mentally ill adults who choose membership in a Fountain House like intentionally created community, basic acceptance, a sense of belonging, and being needed, social and emotional support and pragmatic opportunities to increase self esteem and confidence, will be theirs. They will be in a place of acceptance that will prepare them for total general community participation. The argument made by todays planners is that to choose the Fountain House intentional community approach is to choose a community segregated from the general community which lacks of appropriate role models. Thus making it difficult for members to learn how to function in the general community. What is a segregated program or for that matter a segregated community? Segregated communities or programs do not have porous boundaries nor do they offer their participants bridges to the general community. Some do not believe that their participants are capable of successful functioning in the general community, as in the case of special education classes in public school systems and others do not hold a value for general community participation as in the case of the Amish in Pennsylvania. To equate segregated programs with a Fountain House type intensional community program compares social contexts without regard to their programs, goals, values and hopes. For example, the Fountain House community believes most all of its membership can achieve general community adjustment. In practicing this belief, all of its programs in employment, housing, wellness, education and artistic creativity have specific programmatic bridges to the general community. Also, the Fountain House intentional community, through its side by side work program, gives its members the opportunity to model staff and other members who are visibly involved in varying stages of general community engagement. The Fountain House intentionally created working community model should never be equated with a segregated community program because it holds a value for general community adjustment, believes in its memberships ability to achieve it, and offers an environment filled with role models and pragmatic programatic bridges to the general community. Program developers would do well to learn how to create these intentional communities so that all people with disabilities could realistically benefit from the satisfaction of their need to belong