It’s more than a book, it’s a bible!
One to be studied and marked up with notes and “ah-ha” realizations. Why? Because she is a master at breaking down social barriers, unraveling outdated ideas that only create more division, and her writing style is modern and easy for the common person to understand. Braving the Wilderness redefines what true belonging is and the relevance of her quest to find this lies within a quote from an interview between Bill Moyers and the divine Maya Angelou.
“You are only free when you realize you belong no place-you belong every place-no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great”
Brown begins her work with a road trip traveling back to her childhood and the circumstances that left her with a sense of not fitting in. As she spent years studying belonging; what it is, what it isn’t, how to belong without compromising one’s authenticity and beliefs, and how it differs from fitting in, she discovered something altogether new.
The conflict was in her upbringing as well as her research of the ruinous divisiveness among our country due to different political and social views as well as lack of proximity. Although many of us belong to some sort of group, the overwhelming majority still feels lonely and/or unaccepted. “The sorting we do to ourselves and to one another is, at best, unintentional and reflexive. At worst, it is stereotyping that dehumanizes”.
Brown uses a number of literary devices such as;
- Idioms: “So I decided that I had to fire those naysayers and fear-mongers” “and Ed Catmull, Shonda Rhimes, and Ken Burns stand behind me, whispering in my ear, while I’m telling a story.” “One of my worst defenses when I get anxious or fearful in conflict is to “put people on the stand”.
- Personification and imagery: “The author and activist bell hooks comes to the fore when there’s a painful conversation happening around race, gender, or class”. “It was 1969, and as wonderful as the city was and still is, it was a place suffocated by racism”.
- Irony: “Turned out, I was the wrong religion, yet another wedge between me and belonging”
- Metonymy: “All the girls-I mean all the girls- were made up from head to toe”. “It wasn’t that I swung from one extreme- finding value only in fitting in- to another- finding value only in being different, defiant, or contrarian. Those are two sides of the same coin”.
The first crisis occurred when she reflected on Angelous’ quote from her interview with Bill Moyers. She was heartbroken to learn that she actually disagreed with her social and literary idol. Her entire life she believed that belonging and connection was a fundamental need. The second when she decided to Brave the Wilderness
How could Angelou speak so contrary?
This crisis provoked a new definition of belonging and the validity of Angelou’s statement occurred to Brown when reading multiple requests to come speak at various venues. Please come speak at our church but will you refrain from cussing because it’s not good for the faithful and please come speak at our organization but please refrain from speaking of faith because we don’t do that here. It dawned on her that she didn’t belong anywhere and yet she belonged everywhere and she said to her husband Steve, “You will always belong anywhere you show up as yourself and talk about yourself and your work in a real way. And that was it. That was the moment”.
Belonging is a human need and essential to our well-being. The problem is we’ve tried to acquire it by fitting in and seeking approval. Brown reaches a resolution and uses a crafty literary technique called an acrostic, to guide us in true belonging without sacrificing who we really are. The word is BRAVING which stands for Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Nonjudgement, and Generosity.
True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance. Responses provoked the development of-
The four elements of belonging:
- People are hard to hate close. Move in
- Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
- Hold hands. With strangers and another literary technique, an allegory and possibly even symbolism.
- Strong back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.
The term strong back refers to resisting the need to please, perfect, or prove anything to anyone. Having a soft heart is releasing our urge to be defensive and softening ourselves to vulnerability which is the foundation of belonging and lastly, wild heart is the wilderness that she speaks of where we must be sometimes and be okay with standing alone.
Allusion of the “Ministry of Presence”
We learn to brave the wilderness in our search for true belonging but she never denies the impact of collective joy (ministry of presence). As she describes singing hymns at her aunt’s funeral, and Cheryl Sandberg’s story from her book Option B, she realizes this;
“An experience of collective pain does not deliver us from grief or sadness; it is a ministry of presence. These moments remind us that we are not alone in our darkness and that our broken heart is connected to every heart that has known pain since the beginning of time”.
So indeed it is true;
“You are only free when you realize you belong no place-you belong every place- no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great”