Do you want to separate from the pack? Stand out from the crowd? Be special, noticed?
Do you want to belong? Feel connected and loved?
We have both drives within us. Love is virtually our life force. Infants cannot survive and thrive without loving care. Social isolation has deadly effects. But eventually, we need to cut the apron strings. To be mature, productive adults, we must be able to stand on our own.
One can successfully fulfill these two seemingly conflicting drives. The desire for love and connection is fulfilled in relationships, the workplace, community. The drive for specialness is fulfilled in self-development and achievement. But today, it seems that the drive to separate has gone to an unhealthy, unfulfilling extreme.
There are two primary motives behind the urge to separate…
When we seek our value and identity from external sources, we go to great lengths to be recognized. A false sense of pride drives us to set ourselves apart and highlight our differences. We compete to outdo one another, to prove we are better. Whether it is us alone or our team, our product or our country, we want to win, be #1. That’s what our society glorifies, and that’s our goal. But at what cost?
Winners must have losers. Superior necessitates inferior. Did you play the game King of the Hill when you were a child? Everyone struggles to reach the top of a hill and hold that position. How? By pushing contenders down the hill as they approach. Sooner or later, the king is outnumbered and thrown from his perch. The position is claimed by someone else who then turns against those who helped him achieve the coveted spot.
The excitement of gaining the top of the hill was always accompanied by fear of losing it. The apex is a scary, shaky place when attained by pushing others down. There’s always someone nipping at our heels, anxious to overthrow the king. Winning is ephemeral, the thrill of victory short lived, replaced by a sense of separation and isolation.
Too much self-centered attitude…brings isolation. Result: loneliness, fear, anger. The extreme self-centered attitude is the source of suffering. Dalai Lama
Little did we know that our game echoed the game of life. Competition is one of the primary forces in business and athletics, in life. It drives a wedge in relationships. Partners compete: who is contributing more? Who is the better parent? More accomplished? Parents and children compete: who is in control? Students compete: who is smarter? Friends compete: who is more popular? Competition can separate us from those we most want to connect with.
Ironically, it doesn’t matter whether we are better than everyone else
or worse, as long as we stand out, are special.
We are natural born attention seekers. Whether we are clothed in the finest apparel or covered in tattoos, we will – we hope – be noticed.
Just as we have an innate drive to connect and belong, we have an instinctual fear of others. Long before the development of agriculture and with it the establishment of settlements, we lived as nomadic tribes. Practically everyone within the tribe was related. We were totally interdependent and shared a group consciousness. On the occasions we encountered another tribe, we were naturally suspicious. Were they friend or foe? Were they after our food, water, territory?
This instinctual response to strangers is still within us. It was tempered when we settled in communities, and cooperation was necessary to survive. Nevertheless, within those settlements, we were drawn to people and groups with whom we felt a certain kinship. We still are.
We join churches of a particular faith and clubs of shared interests. We are wary of those who are or appear significantly different. Slavery developed because whites did not recognize blacks as fully human. Torture takes place when people see the other as evil, sub-human.
Fear is at the root of separation and hatred. Fear becomes magnified when it is the common thread that joins us.
There is no passion so contagious as that of fear. Michel de Montaigne
We are afraid of people of different cultures, colors, religions, sexuality, belief systems. We are afraid of our specialness and belief systems being threatened. We are afraid of losing something. We are afraid of being deprived. We are afraid of being hurt.
We are simply afraid. Take all those objects of fear away and we will find another.
Walls will not protect us. Wars will not protect us. Fear is internal and cannot be erased by external measures. We are not going to overcome our automatic instincts to distrust and separate from our fellow human beings until we recognize our primal fear and deal with it rationally.
Fear can only be overcome but its opposite: Love. And by that I mean acceptance, kindness, integration, understanding. It is impossible to understand and hate.
Yes, there are those in the world who would do another harm. But they do not fit into any one country or religion. If those of peace and goodwill are unified, those who are not will be more easily recognized and dealt with.
As love attracts love, fear attracts fear. We must not be swept up in a tide of group fear and paranoia lest it leads to the downfall not only of ourselves but of our country.
…the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked & denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.
Hermann Goering during the Nuremberg trials