The Need for Connection

Spring 2016

Vivian Tsang

Schulich Leader at University of British Columbia

As human beings, we all want to belong somewhere, someplace, to someone. This year more than ever, I’ve realized the significance of this deep inherent desire for people to build bridges, to share moments of unspoken understanding. When I ask “where do you belong?”, my question is most often met with answers that indicate groups of people- interest groups, church fellowships, friends and family, communities that we are a part of. Undeniably, these are groups that have grown with us and grown as a result of our participation in them, groups we’ve defined and made our own. Over time through repeated exposure and participation, they slowly and silently meld together with our identity. As a result, when I ask the question “who are you?”, people respond with lists of the groups they are a part of and the roles they play in each. Some however, respond with a blank face, a lack of identity, confusion as to who their friends are and the people they are close with. They tell me that they don’t belong, they are nomads, they do not grow roots in their communities. Though it is hard for me to pinpoint an answer, these past years of travelling has brought much insight for me. 
I’ve had the privilege throughout the past few years to travel around the world for conferences and projects. On each of these trips, I always find myself wandering the city, without an agenda, pondering about the missing links of life and wondering what it would be like to live here- in Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, Los Angeles, Toronto, Ottawa, Hong Kong, Rongshui, Taipei, Barcelona, Paris, London. I love wandering cobblestone roads through old city streets and inevitably, I would proceed to sit down at a quaint cafe or park bench and have some of the most interesting conversations with locals, fellow travellers and everyone in between. In some ways, these conversations give me courage to break away, even if for just a fleeting moment, from who I am and what I know, in order to empathize more fully with the people I meet; to allow their stories to resonate and inspire me. These moments of connection, however brief, form the beginnings of shared memories and friendships that sometimes, though unplanned for, last a lifetime. Though travelling in itself is already a blessing, it is always these stories and moments that I remember most when I come home. From strangers, cab drivers, and fellow travellers, our brief crossroads has marked a moment of revelation for which I am grateful for. 
For those who feel like they do not belong, I urge you to step out and make space for shared moments and memories with the people in your community. However awkward it may seem at first, push on knowing that the next conversations will only become more natural, your next interactions more meaningful than the last.
The innermost parts of us call out in search of belonging; to belong we must choose to connect.