By Cortney Huber
Every time I’ve moved to Provo it felt like moving home—whether coming here for the first time as a reluctant 3rd grader, or a lifetime later, with my husband and four kids, returning after an extended educational and training period. With all of the family, friends, and memories built in, Provo felt safe, welcoming, and natural-- we belonged.
We have thrived over many years in the community we’ve enjoyed here. Recently, we challenged it. After a long, thoughtful, and painful struggle, my husband and I, along with our kids, decided to leave the church that had been the heart of our community and network. But we stayed in Provo, in our neighborhood, in our family. We wanted to preserve relationships with neighbors and ward members. Our church decision isolated us and complicated all of our relationships. We tried to be very open and authentic about our decision, so instead of just quietly disappearing, we reached out with a letter to family, friends and many neighbors, explaining our choice. The responses we received varied. Reaction to this kind of news is a complicated and individual calculation.
The best replies made us feel valued and included. They expressed empathy about our painful journey, offered love, and reaffirmed their intention of continuing our relationship. One friend asked for feedback about some issues she was thinking through, showing she still valued and trusted my opinions and judgment. Another said, “I never felt more connected to you than I did when I read your letter explaining your church decision,” not because she could relate to my struggle but because she appreciated the openness and vulnerability. Another said, “I got your letter. I’m sorry for your pain. Let’s go for a walk and you can tell me more.” Some family members said, “We read your letter. We love you. Can we come talk so we can better understand your choice?” Even expressions of sadness offered us a chance to connect with people and deepen our relationship, as long as they could accept and respect our decision.
People who responded in the ways that were most meaningful to us had found it possible to remove fear from their reaction, and by doing this, they communicated to us that we weren’t a threat to them, that they still wanted us close. Author and social scholar Brene Brown said, “We are connected to each other in a profound way and the thing that moves us away from that faster than anything else...is fear.” Instead of coming to us with fear, these people offered us something much more productive:
Belonging is an important human need—not merely a want or desire—to feel accepted and claimed. The lack of it brings detrimental consequences to health and well-being. Child welfare advocate Amelia Franck Meyer highlighted this in a 2016 TEDx Talk: “When we can’t connect, we don’t belong. And when we don’t belong, we have no protection of our tribe and our brain acts as though our survival is at risk, because it is.” There are innumerable social and individual benefits that come from belonging in a strong community-- from a greater ability to contribute, having an increased sense of purpose and resilience, higher personal achievement, to lower violence and crime, and improved educational outcomes. The benefits are significant and varied.
We strengthen our community when we remove fear from our interactions and genuinely connect with each other with respect and acceptance—when we help build belonging. I’m sure many of our friends and family had trouble finding the “right things” to say to us. But we always appreciated a sincere effort to show acceptance and love— removing fear to expand the parameters of belonging.
Cortney Huber and her husband, Brad, have four kids and are longtime Provo residents. Their shared love of travel and adventure has recently taken them to New Zealand, where they will be living for the next year.