By Robert Mauterstock, CFP
Kim Samuel, the author of “On Belonging: Finding Connection in an Age of Isolation” has spent her entire career helping to alleviate social isolation and improve the ability for people to connect with each other. She describes her meeting with Nelson Mandela as the turning point in her life. After he had spent three decades in prison, she assumed that he understood what social isolation was. When she asked him how three decades of isolation had impacted his life he responded “No I have never been isolated. On Robben Island we were all brothers working together with a common purpose. I was never alone.”
This exchange affected her deeply. “On Belonging” describes her subsequent career and her interactions with several organizations throughout the world. The book could not have come out at a more perfect time. We have suffered through the isolation created by the pandemic for the last two years. Elected officials have become polarized and unable to work with each other. Climate change has continued to become an increasingly difficult problem. “On Belonging” clearly shows us how we can overcome these crises to make a difference in the world.
Through Kim’s detailed narrative we learn a great deal about the many organizations she has interacted with in her lifelong quest to reduce social isolation. Her first experience was with the Special Olympics. She dealt directly with Eunice Kennedy the founder of the organization. From there she began a collaboration with a series of organizations including the Foundation for Community Development, The Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, and the Synergos Institute.
Her many activities led her to being named Professor of Practice in Social Connectedness at McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development. She describes the program she created as the opportunity to “develop a new course in the field of international studies, addressing social isolation and social connectedness through the dual lens of program and policy development.”
Each chapter of the book describes a different challenge she faced and the powerful and creative people she collaborated with to accomplish meaningful results. Her description of her visit to the Great Bear Rainforest with her sister Tammy and her children and their subsequent interaction with the Sitka spruce trees provides a powerful lesson in understanding the connectedness of all of life. She then brilliantly ties this observation into an awareness of wholeness and unity experienced by the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest.
Through her perceptive writing, we learn the true meaning of belonging, which includes four interconnected dimensions -- people, place, power, and purpose. We discover that these four dimensions create a whole far greater than these four parts. The book continues to expand on the meaning of these four dimensions.
Throughout the book are very well-placed quotes from a wide variety of sources including Walt Whitman, Michael Jackson, and Wendall Barry. Each one of these quotes provides an additional insight into the concept of belonging. At the conclusion of the book is a very ambitious detail of all the sources referenced in each chapter. These 28 pages of notes are extremely valuable as a source of detailed study.
I would consider Kim Samuel’s book “On Belonging” as the definitive work on the study of social isolation and the methods of finding connection in these difficult times. In the last chapter, Kim asks the question “How can I be an agent of change? What can I do right now to build belonging?” Her outstanding effort clearly leads the way.
About Bob Mauterstock, CFP®
Bob Mauterstock is recognized as an expert in the areas of legacy planning, intergenerational communication and eldercare . He was a financial adviser to families in Connecticut for over 32 years. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and has written four books including “Passing the Torch, Critical Conversations with Your Adult Children.” With his partners, Annalee Kruger and Robert Powell, he has created the Elder Planning Specialist training program, available through Salem State University in September 2022 and through the Financial Planning Association in January 2023. Contact him at email@example.com. www.plan4lifenow.com