In order to understand ourselves fully, we usually have to go back a ways and this time I’m not talking about childhood. I’m not even talking about looking at our genealogy, because that’s a whole different story (a relevant one to consider, but not today). I’m referring to the story of humanity itself. Now of course there are debates about how we came to be here, but we do know some facts about our history.
One fact is that when the world was much, much less populated, our only way to survive was hunting and gathering. The dangers we faced back then were very life threatening, and only the “fittest” survived. Anxiety was a different animal back then, both literally and figuratively, because there was a much higher chance of us dying young than there is now. Now we get the privilege of being able to create a lot of our own worries, mostly about things that have nothing to do with whether or not we will live or die. I digress. The point is that in such a dangerous time in our survival history, a safety or protective factor for us was…each other! If we resided in groups and helped each other out, our chances at survival went up.
Now of course this idea caught on and with that came problems. Maybe we didn’t have enough space and resources to support a large group, or maybe some were adventurous and wanted to see what else was out there. Either way, we expanded into new territories, and the idea of ownership became more prevalent, which encouraged us to differentiate more. Thus came…my group is better because of x, y, z, etc. Next came a need to protect what is ours, our resources, our chances of reproduction, etc. and eventually we were fighting each other, still largely for survival purposes.
This is an important piece of our biological history for us to consider. Not only does it give perspective on today’s anxieties, but it also gives a framework into understanding ourselves socially. For example, it seems to be in our nature to want to find a group to belong to and connect. Many people spend a large portion of their lives feeling as though they don’t belong, which is very distressing. If we are among the lucky that find a group with which we “belong”, we are naturally inclined to judge other groups. I used to do work with Juveniles and they would often be involved in what we called “territory wars”. It seemed so silly to my adult, mature perspective to think that someone is any better or less than based on which side of Tampa they resided. However, looking back at our history, this is a pattern we have been repeating for a LONG time, and it’s just in our nature at this point. Plus when I really thought back, I remembered teasing other kids for being from different areas of town. Maybe we didn’t fight over it, but it was still mentioned!
So lets bring this even closer to home. For many people, when they walk into a room, the first thing they do is scan it to see where they might fit in. Then if they find a place, the next move is to find reasons that this area that I fit in is the best area. This is the same thing that defines clicks and different social groups, i.e. We are better because we all wear black; we are better because we play sports well; we are better because we are highly intellectual; and so on. If we really break this down, A. It’s in our nature to group together then segregate; it’s not personal, and it really doesn’t carry the weight that we give it in our minds, B. People are all just looking for a feeling of protection, safety, and belonging. As it turns out, those who feel the least like they belong are more likely to join gangs, become drug addicts, etc.
One one hand, this is a message to support Ellen Degenerous’s theme of “be kind to one another”, but to me the more important message is that we do not have to attach such strong meanings to human social behavior. People get so hurt when they are judged, but the truth is that most people judge, and we do it instinctually. Not only that, but the judgments are often based on silly criteria that do not mean anything about who YOU ARE as a PERSON. Also, if there’s no one group that you feel you belong to, that’s a good thing! That’s a progressive way to be! That means you can relate to a large variety of people and groups and ways of being, and that makes you even more likely to survive! If you don’t feel like anyone likes you at all, then that’s a more internal puzzle for us to try to solve, but odds are it’s an old message you received that you haven’t been able to gain perspective on as yet. Don’t worry, we can go there!
To summarize, there are many things that are simply a part of human nature, and the better we understand that, the less personally we have to take things! Let this be the beginning of really processing that idea!