The Belonging Project

Forging paths of connection around equity and inclusion

In this initiative, small groups of KidSpirit contributors from different backgrounds meet regularly with staff and KidSpirit alumni over a three-month timeframe to get to know each other while actively engaging and reflecting on difficult issues around equity, identity, and inclusion. Over time, each cohort co-creates a project of their own design and shares their voices on a subject that is meaningful to them.

The Seed That Keeps Growing

By Roan Gillin, Grace Guambana, Biruni Hariadi, Katie Lamm, Jazmín Montiel, and Pragya Natarajan

What is my purpose in life?
Why am I here?
What am I doing and what am I going to do?
Will it bring me a sense of fulfillment?

This season's Belonging Project brings together six artists and writers who use their talents to explore their ideas on these daunting questions. In addition to their personal reflections, the editors sought out the connections between abstract ideas of purpose and everyday lives.

To begin their journey, Grace, Biruni, Katie, and Pragya pondered shared questions about purpose and sought insight from important people in their lives. They share these reflections in the slides below:

Next, Roan addresses how purpose can often be found in simpler, everyday activities through a series of interviews explaining how hobbies have motivated and shaped the interviewees’ lives.

Passion in Purpose
by Roan Gillin

The image of "purpose" many hold in their minds can be a grandiose declaration of the mind and soul, but why is purpose viewed as such a philosophical task? The idea that being philosophical is required to have purpose is quite a misinterpretation. To have the time to be philosophical can be a privilege to many, as how can they develop such a long-winded process when their focus needs to be set on survival?

Many everyday people have found their purpose through the hobbies and tasks they do without much thought. The series of photos and quotes in the slides below depict how purpose can often be as simple as the air one breathes:

Through these discussions with each other and members of their community, each group member refined their own conception of "purpose." Their artistic expressions of these reflections are below.

I've Got The Whole World In My Hands

by Pragya Natarajan

by Pragya Natarajan

I don’t know what I’m doing
I don’t know what to do
All I know
Is that I love you

I love you my family
I love you my friends
I love you my mentors
I love you my teammates too

I love this world
Strong and bright
Even as the clouds cast a grim view
Devoid of light

The orderly disorder
The only constant is the mess
The times of sweet respite
The times of crushing stress

I want to tenderly hold
The whole world in my hands
With all the oceans and cracks
Rough hands holding rough lands

I want to hold this world
And take Atlas’s burden
Bring smiles to the face
Of every kind soul Earthen

In every action large
Every action small
I want to hold someone up
Go one step closer to holding it all

I will not take the world on my back
I’ll hold it in my palms
So others can join and place their hands underneath
Together, we can all

Whether we sip champagne or beg for alms
Support one another and
Hold up the world
After all, “we’ve got the whole world in our hands”

A Purpose's Puzzle

by Jazmín Montiel

When I think about purpose and ask people about its meaning, I end up with many different answers. I believe purpose has so many different meanings for everyone. For some, purpose lies in reliability to their family or friends, for others it’s connected to satisfying efforts and achievements, a meaningful vocation or passion, while others seek meaning through religious beliefs or spirituality. Some may even find their purpose expressed in all these aspects of life. Purpose has a different meaning for everyone, but once you generalize, you’ll most likely end up with a “reason or intention for doing something”.

It's tough to remember the first time I was asked the age-old question: “What is your purpose?” To me, this one simple question can mean many different things. Purpose can be my aim in life, a motive to end a project, an objective at the end of the week, my ambition for the semester, or even a goal I'm trying to achieve.

Therefore, my follow-up question is: “Purpose in what?” What people mostly want to know is the answer to the famous “purpose in life” question. What is my purpose and what do I wanna be in the future? I specifically remember laying down in my bed, thinking about all these questions while trying to form a solid answer, soon I realized I had no idea what I wanted to become.

This made me feel sorry for myself. How come I do not know what I wanna be? Pessimistic thoughts started flooding my mind, blurring all coherent ideas that I could think of. It's said that your life purpose consists of the central motivating aims of your life—the reasons you get up in the morning. This thought made me truly put my existence into perspective. Who am I? Where do I belong? When do I feel fulfilled? Over the next couple of days, I tried to fill my days with hobbies while participating in every type of activity, trying to expand and find these puzzle pieces that seemed to be lost, looking for what makes me feel fulfilled, what makes me feel like me.

It seemed like every day I had another passion or motivation: one day I felt like my purpose was to be a provider for my family; another day it would be to empower people around me; the next day, I felt like it’s to live a successful life while making a positive impact. All of this made me feel overwhelmed. “Do I now have too many puzzle pieces?” I asked myself. Once again, I sat with myself and tried to put together this never-ending puzzle.

When I came down with an answer of what I believe my purpose is, I found my key. I truly like to teach, write articles and tell stories I'm passionate about, then share them with people I love in the hopes of enlightening and uplifting them. Having this capacity and potential to create and help others makes me feel fulfilled and belonged, I want to keep doing it until it doesn’t make me happy anymore. Will this still be my purpose in a couple of years? Probably not, but this is what made me realize how purposes are formed within us.

I realized that we develop through many stages of life, which means that we’re constantly growing into different phases. We don’t need to find a solid answer now; you can still change your mind anytime that you want or need because there’s still so much to live for. Allowing our life purpose to evolve with us helps us guide life decisions, create meanings, shape goals, and even gives us a sense of direction. This whole chaotic period helped me find the puzzle piece I needed to find myself and comprehend the beauty of purpose.

The Beauty of Purpose is that, no matter what your situation might be, it will always be unique—to each their own. What you identify as your life path may be different from others’. In addition, your purpose can shift and transform all through life, in response to evolving life priorities and fluctuations. This means that, even though the purpose of life might seem like a puzzle, we don’t have to search for all the missing pieces at once. We can find the pieces at the right moment. Even if that means you need to change the whole puzzle, it will be okay because that capacity for change is what gives a purpose its value and makes it so meaningful and special.

Pushing for a Purpose
by Grace Guambana

by Grace Guambana

My purpose is to include one another
My goal is to help people speak for each other
I was born to stand up,
I was born to fight
For everybody’s equal rights

Was I born to push others to their limits
Or push myself higher ‘til I see it
To serve others first is my purpose today
‘Cause the world needs our help in every way

Some may be cruel, they can scare
I will show them how to calm down and share
The world with space for us all
My purpose keeps standing so we don’t fall.

Redefining Purpose
by Biruni Hariadi

Now that I’ve finally thought about it, I think one’s purpose is aggregative. Not aggressive or aggravating, mind you. Purpose is an aggregate, like viruses or economic demand. It’s like the total on your receipt or the =sum( box at the bottom of your Excel column.

You’re quick to jump to the big ideas when I say “purpose”; “of life” is the natural modifier. But take a step down from your mountain view—come see the forest for its trees, its leaves, and the ants that march single-file over that particularly obstructive root.

Which is not to say I’m not talking about life. Of course, purpose is inextricable from life. With no life, how could you or I have purpose? With no purpose, how could we have life?

I think purpose is both individual and predestined. Individual, in that everyone has their own unique purpose. Don’t force what you think your purpose is on others, and don’t judge those who haven’t yet found theirs. Predestined, in that everyone does have a purpose, whether they’re aware of it or not. It’s been set from a time before everything, from a time of absolute nothing—an idea beyond color or imagination.

I propose that it is through the intentions and choices we make, through discovering what we care about and hold close to our hearts, and finding the change we wish to see in the world, that we build our purpose. The mundanity of day-to-day experiences and interactions holds the answers to the all-encompassing question: Why am I here?

But maybe build isn’t quite the right word. It isn’t as if one creates a purpose from scratch. Plato talks (or talked, because he’s dead) about a world of Forms—perfect, ideal ideas of everything, so perfect that when you see a flawed counterpart in our imperfect world you may implicitly recognize it for what it is. Who is to say that a Form of your purpose does not exist? Perhaps it’s less like adding paint to a canvas and more like scratching with a toothpick at that sort of matte black cardstock exclusively found in preschools to find the rainbow underneath.

A purpose is a discovery instead of an invention.

Now that I’ve taken the step of proclaiming that you—yes, you!—have a perfect purpose out there, let me add a dose of disappointment: That perfect purpose? You’ll never find it. Wasn’t it too good to be true?

Now let me make it up to you: you can’t find it, but you can get really, really close.

Why must I deem it unfindable? Well, a purpose is ridiculously complex. In Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro compares the human heart (as a poetic concept, not as a physical organ) to a house. It may have a fixed size, but once you open a door to a room, you may happen upon another door, and through that door, there are more, and you may continue exploring its passageways like this for hours, and even though the house cannot grow smaller or bigger, you’re finding that there’s much more to it than you first thought. A purpose is like that too. It has caveats and exceptions. You’ll never get to know each and every quirk. But as you grow older and have more experiences and make more choices and add on to your purpose—or rather your understanding of your purpose—you get closer and closer, as a Taylor series approximates a function.

So I suppose there are really two purposes to you: one the perfect Form that you will never see, the other the accessible, iterative, cumulative version that aspires towards the first. The latter is an understanding of the former and so you may feel inclined to depreciate it, but if it’s an informed understanding, can’t we imagine it to be as good as the real thing? A scientific theory based on decades of research and observation may not be completely correct, but the scientific community accepts it as “good enough”—the fact that it hasn’t yet been disproved is proof in and of itself.

Maybe this second purpose is hard for you to picture. Imagine you’re choosing electives, and you’ve narrowed it down to between band and home economics. Choosing band doesn’t necessarily mean that music is your purpose and your destiny is to become a clarinetist. Maybe you chose it because all your friends did. Maybe it’s a shorter walk from the class before. The point is that in choosing your school elective, you’ve made a decision based on considerations, and, upon reflection, the factors, the people, the causes you consider should reveal something about you and your purpose. Maybe part of your purpose is to be around people who uplift you (in the former choice) or to consistently exercise pragmatism (in the latter choice). Again, these little purposes shouldn’t be confused with the big thing. You can’t accurately condense something so multifaceted as a purpose into a few words.

But imagine the cumulative picture of these choices. You’re constantly living and experiencing and deciding. I theorize that whether you realize it or not, these choices align with your perfected purpose. Turn around and take a retrospective look at this collage, this mosaic, and the insignificant blurs together into something very significant indeed.

Your purpose.

A Broken Femur: An Examination of Purpose and Its Implications
by Katie Lamm

I have come to the conclusion that the human race does not have a purpose. Some find this horrifying, but I find this freeing.

With this mindset, individual humans are not bound by a larger purpose, but can instead create their own. Religion guides some to do good, while others do good out of selflessness. Others feel like their purpose is to become famous, to become an Olympian, or a doctor, lawyer, whatever it may be. Some people, though, don’t have time or the opportunity to discover their purpose—in their case, survival is their purpose. I think it all depends on the experience of an individual’s life. Even my opinion about this is probably from the experiences and perspectives I was exposed to.

Katie's friend, Madeline.

The most wonderful aspect about this topic is the variety of answers you can get and the variety of experiences and thoughts behind those answers. I thought to understand how my friends perceive their purposes and to better understand the world around me. By asking them about this, maybe my definition of my purpose would even change. I talked to my closest friend Madeline about this. Conversations like these were not foreign to us, so I wanted to pick her brain. I thought she would find a definite answer—she’s a thoughtful and intelligent person, so why wouldn’t she?

When I delivered the brain-drilling question, she looked at me, struggling to find the right words. She was just as overwhelmed by this question as I was.

Minutes later, Madeline said she believed that if anything, humankind should help one another, and humans have helped each other for 15,000 years. Madeline recalled an article about anthropologist Margaret Mead who explains that the first sign of civilization was a human femur that had been broken and healed. The injured person had to be helped to survive: they had to have food and water brought to them, they had to be protected from the elements and potential predators. Others went out of their way to help this person heal their broken leg. When Madeline told me this, I changed my mind about purpose. No matter how many selfish people there are, no matter how many bad things happen to good people, there are others out there with empathy. We are all in life together, and this piece of history is proof. There may be no purpose, yet humans for millennia have found their mission to help others. Civilization determines its own purpose, and that purpose isn’t always individualized and self-centered.

During our conversation, Madeline was toying around with the multiple ideas in her head as I was. She then questioned: “What if we’re all just here?”

It probably wasn’t supposed to be this dramatic and profound statement, but it really stuck out to me. There was no anxiety or even much intrigue present in her voice—it was just a thought. To me, it was a comforting thought.

What if we were all just here?

And if we are all just here, what a wonderful and special thing it is to be kind—to have a purpose that makes the world just a little bit better each day.

Roan is a 14-year-old from Georgia. She enjoys music, theatre, and mixed-media arts.

Grace Guambana is a 6th grader at Friends’ Central School and lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is interested in becoming a writer due to her love of books and poetry. She enjoys sports such as soccer and ice hockey and one day wants to make a mark in history.

Biruni Hariadi is a high school student from Arizona. She enjoys writing and art.

Katie Lamm is a 16 year old KidSpirit editor from Memphis, Tennessee.

Jazmín Montiel is a 15-year-old from Coronel Oviedo, Paraguay. She enjoys writing and scouting.

Pragya Natarajan is a tenth grader at Cupertino High School in California. Her hobbies are watching animated tv shows, running, reading, writing, and art. Her favorite color is red, and she loves interacting with people.