11.08.2012

The Responsibility of Belonging

I have come to the conclusion that the people who volunteer time to committees, churches, charities, and other institutions/organizations, do so as a means to consciously or unconsciously satisfy one of their basic survival needs/requirements by dedicating a very large amount of their resources behind meeting that goal.

For those of you who are Maslow Hierarchy of Needs fans, I'm talking about number 3 and 4,  love/belonging and esteem.

So what instigates this survival urge? I imagine that some folks need to belong to group so they can feel like they have a higher purpose and are achieving something with their time/talents.

Other folks might have a need to leverage said participation so that they can grow personally/professionally.

Other folks are addicted to performing in the public light and the potential to outperform peers. Here, sometimes there is use (or abuse) of the hierarchical status to elevate their self esteem and esteem in the eyes of their peers. This one gets my goat because it's blatantly imbalanced.

We could bring up the touchy-feel-y discussion of introverts vs. extroverts, group dynamics, lone wolves, and a moving beyond one's comfort zone. However, these are all external pressures rather than an internal need/want to change. Therefore, any small, perceived change is just an act to go along with a group one feels a strong dissonance with.

What do the movies Grumpy Old Men, Gran Torino, and Up! have in common?  More about this later.

If someone acts outwardly in a way to indicate they accept the social group's dynamics and unwritten rules--therefore playing along and accepting the role each is given--internally there is a conflict between the person's  values and perception and the values and perception of the social group's participants. Dissonance is relentless, loud, and clear. The imbalance will lead to a performance and interest drop in this "lone wolf," and potential conflict with one or more of the social group's participants.

I've often played around with the concept of belonging and what a sense of community means for me. Whenever I've dipped my toe in a group, I've often winced. I inevitably come to the realization that actively belonging and participating in a community, is just too emotionally and psychologically draining for me. My bandwidth is really that tight, believe it or not. *cough*Scrooge!*cough*

I am unable to comprehend people's interest in squeezing some extra drops out of their sacrosanct rest, family, and work time to build up and participate in additional communities and obligations. Especially parents. As an observer, rather than participant, of parenting, I have noticed that active parenting seems to occupy so much emotional and psychological space in a person's life there's less time for other essential activities, such as sleeping and eating. Just ask the parents of a happy and bouncing newborn.

So what is a happy medium in managing one's responsibility to belong? I can't help to think of the movies Grumpy Old Men, Gran Torino, and Up! where we have individuals who seem perfectly satisfied in their very tight microcosms. At some point an external force exerts itself onto their lifestyles and perceptions--usually to comical effect. This external force ends up having some sort of semi-permanent effect (some would say interference) on the static lifestyles, until the change is more visibly perceptible by the characters themselves. These characters slowly warm up to the external input to the extent they grow out of the old lifestyle and adopt a more dynamic and extroverted blended lifestyle.

So my answer is that curmudgeons and antisocial types (like me) need to develop a healthy foundation of routine--which allows for comfort--while also engaging in some external interaction which can lead to change and growth, in small doses. Essentially, this is desensitization therapy. Exposing oneself to the risk leads one to be more comfortable and successful with managing risk. The build up of these risky but rewarding experiences--and learning opportunities from failed interactions--will create a more open-minded outlook, positive personal growth, and manageable conflict and challenges. Not to mention getting to know some pretty cool people out there.

It's not that dissimilar to social dating. One goes out with a number of people over periods of time. Some people one feels very connected to. Some other people one feels like having to act a certain way to fit in better. Once one finds "true love" then s/he is actively joining the other person consciously, rather than being dragged along for a wild ride.

Do you ever stop and think whether you belong to the groups you participate in because you really want to, because you think you should improve/change a part of you, or because someone dragged you in kicking and screaming?