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Attention and Intention: The Art of Belonging


This post, written by Isaiah Ritzmann, discusses how being attentive and intentional in our interactions with others can help build belonging in our community. This story was shared with us by New Story Group. Isaiah and NSG, thank you for sharing!

“It is hard to keep cultural traditions in times of transition. This is especially acute when these cultural traditions are ones that have played a key role in nurturing welcome and belonging. I had the opportunity to reflect on this with a friend of mine who, with some effort, attempted to keep his grandmother’s traditions of hospitality from India. He extended himself, offered lavish welcome to friends, cooked delicious food and attempted to knit together networks of belonging. Yet, for all his effort, my friend ran into barriers. The cultural traditions of hospitality my friend inherited had embedded within them an implied reciprocity and shared understanding that simply was not shared among his Canadian friends – which meant they were not ultimately sustainable. The habits, customs and attitudes that could foster belonging could only do so if there was a good probability that they were shared by those around him. My friend and I had intense conversations on this experience where he expressed both frustration at the lack of reciprocity he received and resignation that to keep these traditions in an urban, multicultural Canadian context is much more complex and challenging than one might hope.

This experience lead me to ask – if the traditions that carried belonging so well in the past, the ones that could do the heavy lifting by maintaining complex webs of expectations, customs, habits, and mores that embedded welcome and hospitality into daily life, could no longer do so, what replaces and substitutes for these traditions in times of transition? I would offer two possible responses to this question that could give us guidance as we seek to foster belonging and welcome in our lives and in the wider community. These two responses, simply put, are attention and intention.

In this era, we must pay careful attention to the people around us, to their multifaceted experiences in general and to their experiences of belonging and inclusion in particular. To hold the space once held by our traditions, the level of attention asked of us now goes beyond what may have been asked for in the past. I am being asked to notice the people around me, to notice their experiences of inclusion, to notice whether or not they feel like they belong, to notice the barriers they may face to belonging, and finally to notice the opportunities I have to welcome and include others. Perhaps in practicing attention we can become better at it – like developing a skill or exercising a muscle.

Attention, however important, is incomplete without intention. listenWe must not only notice, but we must act intentionally on what we notice. If I notice that inviting people over for a homemade meal once a month or dropping by their house once in a while will foster belonging for them I must act with intention to do these things. This may seem obvious but consider that the cultural traditions that formerly held these things did so by making things second nature so that they required little intention in and of themselves. Things are no longer so second nature to us so we are required to be extra intentional.

As finite human beings we cannot give endless attention or be infinitely intentional – this is where the New Story Group with its mission “to nurture inclusion and belonging” comes into the picture. To support the need for higher levels of attention and intention in fostering belonging our work, the New Story Group is providing tools to our wider community so that people can do this work. Although difficult, the work of including others is both joyful and rewarding. Tools like our Community Conversations or Indicators Project can help community members as they seek – with attention and intention – to foster belonging and inclusion in their lives.”

Isaiah Ritzmann is staff at the Working Centre in Kitchener and a member of the New Story Group.

June 20th, 2016

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