People-watchers; I am one of them. Wherever I go I like to observe the human animal. We are interesting creatures. This past weekend my daughter and I visited my son and while there we went to the dog park, walked around the local weekend Farmer’s Market, and had a go at the city nightlife. I definitely am not part of that scene any longer; kind of outgrew it, I guess.
One of the things common to all of us, human or otherwise, is our need to belong. Anyone who has ever taken a psychology class of any kind is familiar with Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow was a humanist and believed we all desired to be self-actualized, in other words, be all we were meant to be, realize our potential, to understand our purpose, etc. To accomplish self-actualization there were a series of other steps to master on our journey to the top. He designed the hierarchy as a pyramid; the lowest level as the base moving upward. The theory goes as we master each level we will ascend to the next. In order, the levels are physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. It is our need for belonging that has always drawn my fascination.
We need to belong, to be a part of something larger, seen as an important piece of the whole, we need to love and be loved. We come into the world seeking to be accepted, recognized, loved. We are sent to school where we splinter into groups; the cool kids vs. the not-so-cool-kids. Adolescence is a confusing time when we start the process of identifying the groups and individuals we will belong to; we become members of even more specific groups, and enter into intimate relationships with others. For some, it is much more difficult than others. As adults, we seek group membership in other settings; church, the bar scene, or various types of hobby or socially aware clubs.
There are few places the need to belong is more evident than the bar scene. People of all ages just trying to fit in, be a part of the collective, be as ‘cool’ as the next person, get recognized. We are like peacocks trying to entice and seduce a mate. It can be comical at times; the driving motivation to belong, to be important to another or others. Some go to ridiculous extremes. We erroneously believe if we cannot draw the attention of others, if are not special to another we are failures. And so, we adopt mannerisms, a sociolect of the majority, prance and preen to draw attention to ourselves in the hope of being singled out and drawn into the orbit of a partner.
The church is another place the need to belong is prominently evident. I’ve been a part of the bar and church scenes and finally arrived at the conclusion I fit neither. More importantly, I am content not to fit into either. Obviously, the reasons we belong to a church group are different from those of a bar group, but the motivation to belong is the same. Some belong to both the bar and the church scene, become adept at transitioning from one environment to the other. For each, there is an accepted language, dress code, and behavior, and many become excellent at fitting in whether on board with the collective mindset or not.
But, what about those of us who seem to be swimming upstream in a downstream world, decided we are not going to adopt the collective mindset for the sole purpose of belonging or fitting in? I believe this is part of the growth process, the path of enlightenment and spiritual awareness, the trek up Maslow’s pyramid to self-actualization. Next stop; esteem. Respect for self, for personal beliefs, the willingness to step away from the collective mindset. It’s foreign territory for many, so conditioned are we to believe it necessary to be a part of the collective even if the collective isn’t who we want to be…..