Where do we belong?

We all belong to something that we feel part of. Sometimes it gets submerged underneath the day to day, but it’s always there.

The origins of the word are rooted in “to be fitting, to be suitable”. It is an idea far beyond the simple idea of simplex “ownership”; it is duplex, mutual – belonging to each other as part of a greater whole.

When I was young, I was fortunate to have a Grandmother straight out of a book of Archetypes – all baking, white hair and unconditional love – who told me to be careful about what I owned, in case it turned round and thought it owned me. It was counsel around debt and a long time on, I’m grateful for it. When we buy something by incurring debt, we incur an unforgiving obligation, and it’s easy for the obligation to direct our lives. Mortgages are one thing, but debt for short term consumables entirely another. Like most of us, I know, I’ve been there.

I thought bout it this morning as I listened to the news about the formation of a football super league. It triggered a thought about a “chain of belonging” and complex consequences. Football clubs are a great example. They all bear the name, and a nominal association with a place, although they are owned by people who have no connection to that place, with for the most part, players who have little history with that place. Go far enough back up the “belonging chain” and we find the dominance of money – in this case J.P. Morgan, whose roots are in a place where football is a minority sport. This is business, and as long as we don’t conflate it with clubs belonging to a place, it’s fine.

Emotional belonging though is different. Emotionally, the clubs belong to the fans, although they have no say in what happens. It’s rough when we belong to an idea that has no investment in us. The consequences of a business decision will ripple all the way down to club sport and affect real people all the way down.

And so we get to a business decision – why form a super league? As far as I can see (and I am no expert on football) it’s because the clubs are owned by their debt, required when the club was bought, and extended by the needs of cash flow to pay for players and marketing, all of which stayed whilst fans were forced to stay away during the pandemic.

Short form answer; the clubs do not belong to their notional owners, they belong to the debt.

For football clubs, read all businesses. It’s why I love working with owners, and despair of working with those who are at the bottom end of a belonging chain where shareholders and debt are at the top. At least real owners have the capacity to make difficult decisions for themselves,

It makes me realise how fortunate I am. My obligations, incurred with gratitude, are to my family, my friends, and my community in that sort of order. I have no obligation to money. It is a cold, lifeless thing without personality that is useful for transactions. Giving it power over us, either as debt or as aspiration, just creates a Zombie. Zombies have only one intention, and it’s not about our wellbeing.

We all belong and what to matters. It defines out health, feeds our soul and shapes our short lives.

As my Grandmother said. “Be careful that what you own does not really own you”. I’m grateful to her.

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