Friday, 13 July 2012

The Group

I try to think the best of people. I'm sad to admit that it is not always easy and not something I have always done with a fair amount of consistency, but I'm glad that I'm improving. As Joyce Meyer is fond of saying: "I'm not where I ought to be, but thank God I'm not where I used to be!" So at an interpersonal level I can say that I'm not really a judgemental type of person. I try to accept people for who they are regardless of their religions, creeds, and what not. It is, I think, partly this reason why I have so many diverse friends, ranging from atheists to religious folks; from Catholics to Protestants to followers of Islam or Wicca or Buddhism; from artists to mechanical engineers to philosophers to artisans. 

Yet while I can love diverse individuals, I often find myself much less optimistic of humanity as a whole, and of political powers in particular. I see humanity as innately selfish, and politicians (as the figureheads of groups) as inherently power-hungry mongrels that ought to be distrusted. There is therefore a peculiar paradox at play: individual humans I accept, but groups of humans banded together I mistrust. 

Why exactly this is the case I do not know, but it is a motif that I recognise in myself as something that is taken over into various contexts. I enjoy individual sports, but not group sports. I enjoy intimate social moments with friends (one, two, three people), but am not very fond of big parties. I value individuality and praise people that dare stand out from the crowd, but am disappointment with all the "sheeple" that just follow the popular streams. 

My distaste in the "group" may have started very early. I remember for example instances when I was still at school and having very civil and pleasant one-on-one conversations with a fellow schoolmate, just to have this person turn into a bully when in a group -- a type of menacing wolf-pack mentality that brings out the worst in a person. Think of football hooligans who are often separately nice individuals, but turn into crazed bastards when they are part of the mob. For similar reasons I distrusts fraternities, political parties, religious groups, and so on. Any congregation that creates a homogeneous entity where the individual is assimilated into the group and the group becomes the new grand organism makes me feel uneasy.

Yet, with all my aversion to the group, I know that the group is not all evil. Sometimes groups are good: People do sometimes come together for a shared altruistic goal. I love music and music is often the result of people working as a group together. It is of course significant that I should especially love jazz music, where the individual musicians never give up their individuality, nevertheless, there are positive groups, of which music and the arts abound. I know of groups of people that raise money for charity, to build houses for the poor, or schools or hospitals. Spontaneous groups of people that come together in times of crisis to help one another. 

What should be the difference in these altruistic groups, and those other groups? In part, I guess, it is the we-against-them attitude that so often occur with a group. What makes a group a group is that the group-members should share something, some identifiable trade. Something that makes the group different from people that are not part of the group. This focus on difference is often the cause for the antagonism against anything that is not the same. The magic of an altruistic group seems to be an outward focus, rather than an inward focus. A group that comes together to build a school in a rural community is not focussed on themselves and what makes them unique, but is outward focussed. Their goal is altruistically other-focussed. Unfortunately my disapproval of groups is based on the fact that there really are so few altruistically other-focussed groups. Most groups are formed with an inward focussed attitude and selfish goals.

As an outsider living in a group-oriented society like I do (here in Korea), one gets to perceive the interesting nature of groups. One get to see the ugliness of groups, but also the encouraging characteristics of groups. Like is often the case in real life, groups are not all evil or all good. I often say that I have a love-hate relationship with Korea, I guess in part because there are aspects of Korean culture and society that often irks me up the wrong way, but then there are other aspects of the culture that is heart warming to see and experience. 

Although it will still take a very long time before I get over my near reflexive distrust of the group, I am slowly learning to accept that groups can be forces of good, that groups are not necessarily always the sandboxes of devils. The spirit of a group may very well be guided by angels, by altruistic principles, too.

No comments: