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David Mahon

Belonging. What does family mean to you?

19th Feb 2017

Throughout my Compass journey I discovered that although we’re all different, we all want very similar things – the support and love of our families, to be part of a community, and to feel like we belong.

But what does family really mean, and why are so many of us still trying to find out what it truly means to belong?

Belonging. Featuring Tony Rodgers, a Cambridge University rugby coach for over thirty years, former solder Grant Underwood, and comedian and therapist Mo Levy.

Mo is also the subject of our Star Interview, in which she talks in more detail about her experiences of being adopted, and how she uses comedy as a tool to help us understand why we behave the way we do.

However far I travel, I always feel my family close by. I have pictures of them all over my flat, I’m always recalling our conversations, we’re always messaging each other. They will always shape the person I am, no matter how far I wander.

My very first conversation on the Compass project tackled the very issue of needing a ‘family’ around you, but in a broader sense of the word.

Tony Rodgers

Tony Rodgers

On a warm July day, overlooking the Fenner’s cricket ground in Cambridge, Tony Rodgers recalled his thirty years as a rugby coach. He’s someone who truly understands the meaning of team spirit and the need to feel part of something bigger. You’ll do anything for your teammates, you give it your all.

“You don’t leave anything behind on the pitch,” he explains.

Grant Underwood

Grant Underwood

As someone with a fascination for WWI history – and with our discussion taking place shortly after the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme – Tony’s thoughts turned to the way men behaved in the trenches. You didn’t go over the top for King and country, you did it for your mates, the guys you’ve suffered with and fought alongside.

It’s something which former soldier Grant Underwood also recognises. He told me about the buddy-buddy system, where you train and fight closely alongside another.

As you’ll see in his Star Interview, the army offers you this family unit where yes, it’s tough, it’s dangerous, but you get a hard-earned feeling of belonging. “The only thing around you to keep it together is the person next to you.”

David Mahon, Underdog Boxing

David Mahon, Underdog Boxing

I can see why army life often has appeal for people who have missed out on a stable upbringing, and how, once they leave to enter civilian life, if they don’t have this ‘family’ structure around them, they can feel left high and dry.

Another military man, boxer David Mahon, told me of his fight to get into the army, how disciplined he had to be to even get through the application process. But then to be part of that adrenaline-filled and close community – fighting with the lads out in Syria – where everyone is pushing themselves to the limit, is where he feels he belongs.

Over in Ibiza I came across different, much more gentle definitions of what it means to belong.

Ines, Ibiza

Ines, Ibiza

For many people, it’s a party island, where clubbers flock to Pacha and other legendary venues for that tribal feeling of belonging they find on the dancefloor.

But it’s also home to a creative community, people like artist Christina Ostrom, musician Jean-Michel, and The World Family, with whom you’ll be familiar from our Charlotte’s Compass episode Nurture.

You also find communities of retailers, like stall holder Inés, who told me about being part of the community of market stall holders. She seemed happy and content, drawing a lot of pleasure in being part of this wider ‘family’ around her.

Sebastien and his family gave me the same feeling of contentment and being grateful for the simple things in life, like living in beautiful surroundings with a solid family structure around you.

I visited them at their beach café in Cala Llenya and they told me how they’ve been there for generations and want nothing more than for this to continue. They feel part of the community and feel protective of those around them, whether it’s tourist or locals.

Over in Dublin, print artist, therapist and comedian Mo Levy gave me a completely different perspective on family and what it means to belong.

As someone who was adopted as a baby and never knew her birth parents, she doesn’t have the luxury of looking back at the generations before. She grew up feeling part of someone else’s story.

As she explains in her Star Interview, having children of her own is what gave her a feeling of having roots.

I feel like there are so many perspectives yet to discover on what it means to belong. What do you see as your family? How important is it to feel like you belong? Maybe you had to turn your back on a community to really feel like you.

Do comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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