If kids don't feel they belong, they'll look for belongingness somewhere else. It's not charismatic leaders. It's not mental illness. These factors may play a role in some cases, but if you're looking for an underlying cause that's a frequent common denominator, look no further than basic human needs.
We all want to belong, and we don't grow out of it. How many of us have ever left a job -- or wanted to -- because the people we worked with created a toxic environment? Conversely, how many of us have stayed at a job we didn't love because we loved the people?
Belonging. Being a part of something. Something that matters. Something important. Something that makes us feel less alone. A sense of belonging keeps loneliness at bay and prolongs life.
Our country is filled with people who feel outside the circle. And it's really not that hard to bring them in. Dr. Michele Borba created a list of 100 Ways to Let Kids Know You Care, but what struck me in reading this list -- in addition to how easy some of the things are to do -- was how much they mean to big kids and old kids, too. A smile. A compliment. Eye contact. An offer to help.
This weekend, go forth and be kind. Help someone feel that they matter, that they belong somewhere. That they're less outside the circle than they feel as though they are.
It only takes a moment, but the impact may be bigger than you think.