The math of belonging

One of my earliest memories of ‘belonging’, funnily enough, traces back to maths, when I learned about sets and Venn diagrams. Maths has a symbol to denote belonging: ∈ (can be read: is an element of). For example, if a set A = {universities in Australia}, then we can safely say, “{University of Sydney} ∈ A”.

When you are younger, you start out belonging to some predetermined sets. For example, imagine two circles of a Venn diagram – family and preschool. At that time, you, a part of both circles, would belong right where the two circles overlap – the intersection. Slowly, as you go through school and teenage years, you start belonging to other sets – friends, sports teams, student clubs, etc. You find and develop connections with other people who belong to those sets as well, perhaps not in the exact same combination and manner. 

Over time, as we grow and our interests change, we might find ourselves slowly being subtracted from old sets and being added to newer ones. In the process of entering adulthood, our knowledge of the world expands and sometimes we might find it hard to locate ourselves within it, not knowing where we belong and where we don’t. At some point, we might look within ourselves and find that we belong to groups that over time have become more salient to our identities – Ethnicities, gender, career paths, social groups, etc.

You will eventually lose track of all these groups, but they will always be there. And the fascinating part is that at the intersection of where all these different groups overlap, there you shall lay. The one common denominator that connects all these different groups is you. This intersection tells the story of all the places you belong to.

Belonging can be in groups as big or as small as you choose. Imagine three sets: A = {USyd Anthology admins}, B = {people who enjoy writing} and C = {people who enjoy talking about math}. {I (author)} ∈ A, B, and C. If you find yourself in any of these sets, you already belong here.

We can’t wait to hear about your journey with belonging! Happy writing!

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Words by Urvi Agrawal