One of the basic needs of people, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is to belong. A sense of acceptance is vital to human life. Without it we suffer. And in our world today the is a scourge of non-acceptance. Or rather it is the emphasis on proving you belong, proving that you are okay. We live in a world where people of privilege, be it economically, politically, socially demand that the other people prove that they belong, that they are okay, that they are not a threat. It is not just a matter of law, assuming guilt before innocence is proven. But also socially, being in the same community, the right neighborhood.

Sometimes it can be humorous. Like the time when Bob Dylan, world-renowned 60’s antiwar singer-songwriter, was in his hometown for a concert and went wandering around his old neighborhood. Apparently, some folks in that neighborhood say him looking into a home and got spooked because they thought he didn’t fit in and might be a suspect. Since he does look a bit scruffy, and they were ignorant of who he was, they thought he didn’t belong. Even the cop they called didn’t recognize him. He took it well and went on with his concert. But what if it had been a person of color or someone who had no other place to go? Should we react to an unknown person as if they didn’t belong? It reveals a disturbing bias in our often suspicious world that we act before we ask, assume ill content.

Years ago I had a conversation with a friend who was upset that in a trial the prosecution was unable to bring up the defendant’s prior criminal record during the trial. I explained that that would prejudice the case. People are quick to assume guilt, and have the bias of ‘once a con (convict) always a con”. That is why so many people who serve their time have a tough time getting a second chance from society. I said if the person is convicted on the evidence then during sentencing the prior record can be brought up, but not before. He replied that he hadn’t thought of that. That is the trouble – we often don’t think until someone reminds us. Everyone is to be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Always assume positive intent.

There is another danger in our society regarding acceptance and belonging. It is not just the way we view other people in society. It is also in how we see ourselves. We are our own worst critic and oftentimes have issues accepting ourselves and believing that we belong. It is devastating to many people and it does not matter how rich, well-off, or successful we are. It is an internal war to see ourselves as worthy of respect and love.

My message to you is this: You are worthy of respect and love. You belong, period. Remind yourself of that daily if needed. You are loved, no matter how much you think you fail, no matter how much rejection you have faced. Please accept yourself as you are. You don’t have to prove that you belong. If someone does not accept you for who you are it is they who are wrong, not you.