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The Body Language of Belonging

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Today’s findings are body-speak for man’s deepest need: the need to belong, and remind us of the famous sociological phenomenon, the Roseto Effect.  Roseto, Pennsylvania, was a virtual transplant of a people and culture of the town of Roseto in southeast Italy.  It kept the old country patterns of tight family and extended family ways of life , leading to a total integration of the generations, predictable habits of work, play, family and worship; interdependence on each other in times of need, marriage within the culture.  They belonged intensely to each other. And despite breaking all the dietary rules for cardiovascular health they had outstanding heart health, no crime and no requests for welfare assistance. They belonged intensely to each other and had a way of life that protected that belonging.  As one author pithily nailed it: “In short, Rosetans were nourished by people.”

As time went on, the more American they became, the more Rosetans’s health resembled the rest of the country.  Said differently, the less they belonged to each other the more their bodies revealed the stress. 

For both poor and rich the secret of a good life is the same:  base life on the important relationships of family and community rather than on “the task”.   The pursuit of close relationships yields plenty of tasks — the Rosetans of Pennsylvania worked harder and longer than did their neighboring towns; but the modern way of the pursuit of tasks for the goods they give (grades, degrees, fitness, income, property) does not yield close relationships.  To paraphrase a sacred text “Seek first the kingdom of closeness and all these other things will be added unto you.”

Traditional Italian life and Spanish life used to be quite similar in patterns of ‘people-belonging.” But modern Spain has made a Faustian bargain. Today, virtually all mothers, no matter their income level, return to work at month four.  Many deliberately avoid getting too attached to their newborn because they do not want to experience the wrenching anxiety that sudden separation will visit on them and their babies.  

What a Faustian bargain:  work for its own sake. Their household gods have certainly been replaced by a new religion.  Such a culture cannot replace itself. It is in a downward spiral. 

But maybe family love will be rediscovered by some divine intervention will intervene and let people discover close family again, especially in the newborn infant.  It certainly won’t be a government program.  

For the good of the child, the future of the world,

Pat Fagan, Ph.D.

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