This article covers Social Relationships.
Although we humans are definitely individual souls, unlike social animals such as ants, bees, and herds, we are also at least as social as any other creatures. In the later stages of evolution hominids adapted by cooperating with each other as families and in small groups. When humans became carnivorous, a man would share a carcass he had found with his family and others. As mothers cared for their children and gathered food nearby, men organized themselves into hunting parties; thus the division of labor began with the biology of childbearing. Humans discovered that in a band with simple weapons they could successfully face any predator. They were safer and more likely to survive if they were part of a group. Today it is rare, if not nonexistent, for an individual or even a family to live in complete isolation without any trade or communication with other humans. In this chapter we will discuss sexual and family relationships, friendship, and other social associations. Before that, however, let us begin with a general discussion of the principles of ethics.
Ethics and Morality
The divine principles are our best guides to personal relationships and human interactions. The way of love, as expounded in this book, is very careful in treating others and ourselves as it is best for all. To love others as we love ourselves is to find a balance and harmony between how they wish to be treated and how we wish to treat them. If we only considered the other person’s wishes and not our own, we would become their slave. The opposite, of course, is much more common; that is where we place more emphasis on our own purposes and goals than those of others. This is natural for people to be selfish, as evolution has programmed most of our instincts to look out for our survival. The exceptions are that we care for our mate, children, and our social group. However, even these become a group selfishness versus other groups. I believe that the time has come for us to transcend these divisions and to care about the whole of humanity and life on earth so that we can assure their survival, which is currently threatened by national and ideological conflicts and horrendously destructive weapons. From a spiritual viewpoint we learn that loving is the divine way and that God is universal and in all people, creatures, and things. Therefore as divine beings to love all is to love ourselves.
Yet how we love is a personal choice for each individual to decide. What principles can we use as guidelines? First of all, ethics implies that we are free to choose, and therefore we must recognize others’ freedom as well as our own. Experience and spiritual understanding teach us that we are responsible for what we create by the law of karma. Thus every situation we face we have somehow created or chosen, and ultimately every action is balanced in harmony with the spiritual law of justice. However, that does not mean that in between much injustice and suffering cannot occur. The spiritual perspective can give us faith that eventually everything will be all right, but meanwhile we still have many choices that if exercised with awareness and wisdom can help us to alleviate and prevent suffering so that we can live a life of joy, health, beauty, etc.I believe that the most practical ethical principle is simply not to hurt anyone. This concept of nonviolence or harmlessness comes from the Sanskrit word ahimsa. Because it is negative, “not hurting” does not tell anyone what to do, thus allowing complete freedom within this admonition not to hurt anyone. It acknowledges that people have various goals and purposes which they wish to pursue; and as long as they do not hurt anyone along the way, they will be ethically clear and free of “negative” karma. Their actions will produce effects and have consequences, but they will not become debts or bonds that must be paid off or released. Only when we disturb the harmony of the universe are we held accountable to maintain the balance. No one wants to be hurt, and thus to do so is to violate their freedom. We are also responsible for not hurting ourselves or allowing others to hurt us.
Another key principle is responsibility. We are responsible for taking care of ourselves, first individually and then also collectively. We can use assistance and cooperation in taking care of ourselves, just as we help to take care of others; but inevitably we each know what we need and are free to decide how to fulfill our responsibilities. As members of groups we share in the responsibilities of group actions. Any social group that affects or influences our lives becomes partly our responsibility, and we must decide our relationship with that group. Thus group karma is a collection of shared responsibilities. At times we may feel that our role is small and powerless, but that is because our influence is proportional to our participation and because in larger social entities so many souls are involved. Responsibility is the ability to respond to the effects of our own actions. Personal responsibility can be easier to identify, but social responsibility, though more complex, can be equally important.
The positive principle of ethics in terms of the consequences of our actions has been called the utilitarian principle, or the greatest good of the greatest number, the highest good of all concerned, or the best for all. This principle evaluates each action according to the results it produces. Although this is a retrospective view, it can be projected by the reason and imagination prior to an action in order to examine the probable consequences. Also it can be used as a prayer for guidance that we may discover and employ those aims and methods that will be for the best or in accordance with God’s will. Kant’s categorical imperative of analyzing the results of universalizing our actions is a rational corollary, which asks, “What if everyone did that?” This has rational limitations, because it only works as a general principle. In a specific case, if everyone tried to do the same thing at the same time, there would be chaos. People can and do many different things and still live in harmony together. Thus the most precise ethical evaluation looks at each specific action’s consequences to see how they effect everyone who is concerned.
Kant and others have been more concerned with the goodness of the intention, moral obligation or duty prior to the action than with the results. Obviously both are important, because often what people thought were “good intentions” have caused great suffering in the world, and even if a person of ill will happens to cause beneficial results it is hardly praiseworthy. Thus we must examine our motivations and intentions to see what good we are seeking and for what purpose, as well as projecting the probable consequences.
Above all, we can love everyone involved and always do our best to act in loving ways. In this process we are guided by the spirit of love, or God, and are most open to continual communication with those involved so that we can learn from them and they from us what is best and most harmonious at each moment. Thus the way of love considers the means to be as important as the end, avoiding the hypocrisy of acting in a negative way for some rationalized positive purpose. The best that we can do, then, is to love all and do those things that will produce the best results for all. This altruism is the way of the saints and is not necessarily for everyone. Many people choose to pursue their own pleasures or personal goals which may be karmically neutral or to some degree harmful or helpful. Ethically we have these three choices that inevitably blend together in everyone’s lives–those actions that are harmful, those that neither hurt nor help, and those that are beneficial. Even thieves and murderers have some sense of honor and cooperation, while no saint can be so pure as never to leave the slightest harm or disturbance in the world. Most actions are basically helpful even if selfishly. Again, no one desires to do evil; harm is usually the result of conflicting selfish desires and thus is primarily a social problem.
I distinguish ethics from morality, which is based on conventional social customs and mores, while ethics rationally evaluates action according to the divine principles. Morality varies in different cultures. Among cannibals headhunting may not be considered immoral but heroic, as among “civilized nations” killing thousands of civilians with bombs may not be considered immoral but patriotic. Eskimo hospitality may offer a wife to sleep with an overnight guest. Taking alcohol, tranquilizers, tobacco, or caffeine may not be thought of as immoral or illegal but taking other drugs may be considered both. Mores are decided by a majority of the society or by those who are in power. One culture may believe that the customs of another society are immoral, causing confusion and conflict when these two cultures interact.
Since this work is primarily concerned with the principles of living and learning, the focus here is on ethics that can be universally applied. Thus I may be critical of certain mores of different cultures in attempting to pursue a life that will be best for all. I believe that it is important to do this now, because we are rapidly becoming a global society. This does not mean, of course, that all cultural differences must be abolished, not at all. Most social conventions and customs are independent of ethical issues and are merely questions of tradition, style, environment, and personal preferences. As long as these are not harmful, they are to be respected because of the principle of freedom. However, those mores and actions that are harmful become of ethical concern to all those who may be involved. By figuring out how best to deal with these violations and prevent them in the future, we will be discussing issues of social policy and methods of social reform where needed. In this respect our process of education is not just personal and individual but social and collective as well. In fact our society is at a point now where if we do not learn to solve our social problems nonviolently we could destroy most, if not all, of the human race. Thus these lessons of social responsibility have an extraordinary importance at this time in history.
The most significant biological difference among the human species is that which distinguishes the male and female sexes. The evolutionary purpose of sex is to reproduce the species in a way that produces new combinations and variations in the genetic patterns. The ability to reproduce together defines the members of the same species and excludes all others. To my way of thinking, different racial characteristics are merely variations within the gene pool of the one human race, because no interracial combination has ever been proven to be sterile.
Every child that is born of woman is the result of his or her mother’s and father’s sexual selection of each other. How does this selection occur? With the exception of rape, the relationship is freely chosen. Next to murder, rape is the worst possible violation of another human being, and in my opinion a woman so violated has the right to abort that pregnancy. No woman should be forced to carry a child against her will. In all other cases sexual intercourse occurs by mutual consent, although the motives for this act of generation vary.
Because everybody is born of parents who engaged in sexual intercourse (with the recent exception of test-tube implants), the biological instinct for this is extremely powerful. Only the enjoyment of eating can even compare with the pleasure experienced in sexual expression. Whereas eating is motivated on a daily basis by hunger demanding satisfaction so that the body can sustain itself, the desire for sex is primarily promoted by the hormone releases that begin with puberty and gradually fade with old age. The urge to procreate is not as demanding as hunger or thirst, but it does motivate by the desire for pleasure and the love of intimate relationship. Since the female menstrual cycle has been understood and contraceptive methods devised, these pleasures can be disassociated from the generation of a child. Nevertheless the characteristics of desire have been formed by the instincts of sexual and natural selection. Thus men are naturally attracted to women who are past puberty but still young, have childbearing hips, full maternal breasts, who are not fat and lazy (A small waist indicates someone who is self-disciplined and will not be too difficult to feed.), who have healthy skin and beautiful features (This can be rather subjective.), and who is affectionate, kind, and intelligent, therefore likely to care for the child well. Women are naturally attracted to men who are strong, intelligent, and therefore capable of protecting and supporting them, who are also healthy, young, affectionate, and gentle. Thus we see why women with a good figure and men with a strong physique are considered sexually attractive.
Of course sexual relationship is so much more than physical attraction and sensual pleasure. Let us look at the cosmic aspects. In electromagnetism the opposite polarities are attracted to each other in order to make a harmonious and balanced whole. The Chinese use the concepts of yin and yang to represent the cosmic female and male aspects of the universe. The masculine yang stands for light, heaven, fire, creative, active, etc. The feminine yin represents dark, earth, water, receptive, passive, etc. Everything in the world is continually undulating and swaying in this cosmic harmony. Within the center of yin is yang, and in the middle of yang is yin. When yang becomes too extreme, it transforms itself into yin, and vice versa. Ultimately yin and yang are inseparable, because everything is a harmonious whole of both. Within a man there is a feminine side, and in women there are masculine qualities.
Although individuals vary, general patterns are characteristic of the sexes. Usually men are physically stronger and more active than women. Because woman receives the seed of man and nurtures it in her body, she is more receptive, responsive, and patient with an inner ability to endure. Women are usually stronger and more capable emotionally than men; the sensitivity of her feelings often gives woman an edge in this expression. However, men tend to be more rational and logical than most women. He tries to compensate for her emotional power by using his intellect and reasoning ability. Yet woman can and often does transcend man’s mind by listening to her intuition. Ultimately as souls women and men are equal spiritually, because the soul has no sex or both. Naturally every person uses all of these abilities; only a slight difference in emphasis in most people is being noted here. As individuals evolve and grow, they develop all of these abilities and often become more androgynous in the process. Woman develops her intellect and becomes more active in the outer world, and man becomes more sensitive to his feelings and intuitions.
One of the main ways that people explore and learn about these qualities is through a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Through friendship, dating, courtship, romance, loving, marriage, etc., we learn how to share ourselves, communicate, cooperate, adjust, adapt, give, receive, trust, care, nurture, understand, support, confide, forgive, be responsible, etc. Whatever psychological problems we may have within ourselves tend to come out in relationship with the other person so that we can see, learn about, understand, and in some way deal with these traits or conflicts. Relationship is a mirror for both people, and often people mistakenly project their own problems onto their partner, allowing both people the opportunity to examine these issues and all their personal ramifications. The more love that is put into the relationship the easier it is to solve these problems. First, when we care about our partner, we do everything we can to purify and clarify our own motivations and inner conflicts so that the love we give to our beloved is less conditioned by our own personal limitations. When our partner is undergoing difficulties and conflicts, we offer our support and understanding. In a good relationship honest communication and openness in self-examination enable the couple to lovingly solve their problems as a team instead of as adversaries. Wise partners use each other’s intelligence and spiritual sensitivity and guidance to help them understand their situations. In this way true lovers become counselors to each other.
Marriage is found in every culture as the institution that sanctifies or socially recognizes sexual partners and parents. In the past, parents often arranged the marriages of their children. Now the freedom of the individuals is fairly universally acknowledged as being autonomous, although a minimum age usually qualifies the independence from the parents. Marriage is freely entered into by a couple who wants to say to their community that they have chosen each other as personal and sexual partners. Lovers can also choose each other without going through the social ritual of marriage. Some choose less enduring sexual partnerships, perhaps as a search for a good match. Some prefer sexual relationship with members of their same sex instead of or in addition to heterosexual relationship. Although to some people this may seem immoral and unnatural, from the ethical viewpoint as long as they are mutually consenting and not hurting anyone, why should not their freedom of personal expression be allowed? Children and youth below the age of independence ought to be protected from sexual advances by adults so that they can mature before they decide these things for themselves. The age of eighteen has become the most common age of responsibility. However, what happens with teenagers who have passed through puberty at least five or six years prior to this time? In the last century the average age of puberty has changed from about seventeen to twelve or thirteen. They may be legally protected from adults, but what about their relationships with each other? Again, I believe the answer is found in education. Youth, especially in today’s society, are going to be curious and interested in sexual issues. Most cultures have had some form of initiation experience at the time of puberty in order to facilitate the transition from the innocence of childhood to the knowledge and responsibilities of adulthood. Whether it be by the family, community counselors, or school teachers, youths need to be taught about the ethical considerations, physiological facts, and social implications of their sexuality.
The combination of sexual desire, love, and the raising of children together can make marriage the closest, deepest, and most intimate of human relationships. I believe that feminine liberation is evolving our society toward greater balance and harmony by equalizing social power, reducing patriarchal violence and oppression, and softening the brutality of a previously cruel world. If love is to rule in our lives instead of force, then marriage must be an equal relationship that recognizes the autonomy of both partners. Partnership decisions can be made by mutual consent, and yet each individual can also have independent responsibilities. Since marriages are freely entered into, they can also be freely dissolved at the behest of either person. How can there still be a marriage if one of the partners decides there is not? Marriage is the most special relationship with a very special love that can teach us so much about ourselves, our sensitivity, understanding, caring, etc. If we are loving, we can double our joys and triumphs while cutting in half our sorrows and problems; but when we do not love, our problems are magnified and happiness slips away like daylight at dusk. When we open our heart and surrender to loving, it is as though light is turned on again.
The most universal and basic social institution is the family. Parents who produce a child usually take responsibility for caring for that individual until he or she has reached maturity and become independent. If parents fail to fulfill this responsibility, then some other relative or someone in the community must assume this obligation for the good of the child and the society. Family planning is an intelligent solution to the burdens, miseries, and dangers of overpopulation in the world. Educated people have responded to this challenge, but most of the poor people in the world are locked into a pattern of producing more children either out of ignorance and lack of birth control methods or as a means of social security for their old age. Experience shows that reducing poverty and providing education lowers the birth rate as well as the infant mortality rate. Certainly there are souls who are willing to come in and experience life in the human form, but of what great value is a few months or years of suffering hunger and disease? When we realize that we are all members of the human family, then those of us who are relatively wealthy will do much more to assist economically our brothers and sisters who are suffering such misery.
Human nature being what it is, we cannot expect very many people to abstain from sexual expression; thus techniques of contraception are being increasingly utilized. Recently the issue of abortion has become a major concern to many people. First of all, no one likes abortion; in other words, no one intentionally gets pregnant so that she can have an abortion. Abortion is a way of undoing a mistaken or unwanted pregnancy. Better education and availability of contraceptive methods are the best ways to eliminate the need for abortion. These are the practical solutions to this problem. Now let us examine the ethical issues. The pertinent metaphysical issue is: when does human life begin? The view of this philosophy is that souls are eternal life with no beginning or end. No one can kill a soul. Organic life in physical form is always at some stage of development and evolution. Souls do incarnate themselves in the human form. The questions are: when do they enter into the physical body? and what spiritual disruption of life experience is caused if the fetus is destroyed? Although there are individual exceptions, I believe that in most cases the soul enters the body around the time of birth, usually with the first breath. Prior to that time a basic self is developing the embryo, which begins as a growth and extension of the mother’s body. While she is pregnant, the mother is breathing and eating for that child. The fetus is part of her body, and her soul is the life energy that is sustaining it. At birth when the umbilical cord is severed, the situation is radically altered. Now that child must breathe for itself and eat for itself or die, although medical technology may be used as assistance. When people decide to prevent a child from being born is a personal decision primarily for the mother and secondarily for the father. At one extreme it could be argued that any person of reproductive age who refuses to copulate is preventing a child from being born. Probably everyone would agree that this is a personal choice. Next, people can use the rhythm method or contraceptive methods to prevent fertilization of the egg by the sperm or implantation in the uterus. Methods of abortion can extend from removing the implantation after a few hours all the way up to nine months of pregnancy. In some cultures infanticide of unwanted or deformed children has been practiced after birth. The issue then, is where the line is drawn, because everyone draws it somewhere. Common sense tells us that early abortion is easier, safer, and less disruptive for the soul that may enter the child as well as for the mother than later abortion, and that contraception is better than abortion. Some may argue that these things are evil, but what right do they have to force a woman to carry a child for nine months? Thus far, most societies have legally drawn the line at birth, allowing abortion but making infanticide a crime. In conclusion, I believe that the answer to abortion is better education, not fanatical moralizing.
The love a couple has for each other is naturally extended to their children who are flesh of their flesh and their co-creation both genetically and psychologically. Becoming a parent offers the most immediate and comprehensive lessons in responsibility for most people. Whereas spouses are freely selected, children are the result of that previous commitment of love. Because we can never change the fact that this is our child, parents’ love for their children and children’s love for their parents tends to be the most unconditional and strongest love of any except the basic self-love. We must love ourselves, because we can never get away from ourselves. We love our children no matter what they do, because they need our love; and children love their parents, because they are completely dependent upon them. As children grow and develop toward independence, a gradual change occurs as youths learn to be responsible for themselves. At independence the relationship is best transformed into a friendship based on a long experience of caring and sharing. The parents then need to realize that their child is now an equal individual free to determine his or her own destiny, and the child cannot help but feel a debt of gratitude and love which may require special concern and care when the parents reach old age. Old age is like a second childhood, and is it not only fair that children who were cared for when they were helpless return their love to the parents when they need it years later?
Parenthood is a complete schooling in domestic government. Because babies are born so helpless, parents must make decisions for them and rule the household. The mother and father must somehow share or divide their responsibilities. They shape the environment for their children and are their primary teachers, especially for the first few years. They train their children in elementary tasks such as drinking, eating, and using a toilet. Mostly they teach by example how to behave, show affection, walk, and most amazing of all, how to talk. At the same time the child is teaching the parents how to care for him or her. At first the most common form of communication is crying; one way or another the child will let his or her needs be known. The parents must monitor the child and the environment to prevent dangers and harm. In exercising responsibility for the child while allowing her (or him) to grow in freedom, parents need to establish rules and boundaries that will enable her to learn and explore in a safe environment, while being flexible in extending those boundaries as needed. As children demonstrate that they are capable of accepting responsibility, additional freedom and responsibilities can promote their learning experiences, initiative, and self-reliance. What begins as a benevolent monarchy with a king and queen should gradually be modified by increasing rights and responsibilities for the minors until eventually they become independent and democratic.
Experience with brothers and sisters helps children become less self-centered and “spoiled.” Opportunities for play, sharing, cooperation, competition, arguments, and quarrels with these ever present peers in the home teach interaction skills, adjustment, and adaptation. Older children learn how to help care for their younger siblings and exercise more responsibility while being careful not to abuse their greater strength and experience. They must learn not to be jealous when some of the attention from their parents is shifted to the younger children. Younger brothers and sisters who receive assistance from the older ones need to learn self-reliance and personal responsibility lest they become too dependent and weak. Parents experience many lessons in justice and mercy as they attempt to distribute their attention and rewards to their children fairly and compassionately. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended relations do not have the obligations and responsibilities of parents unless they are needed to fill in for them; therefore they can take advantage of their continuing relationship and occasional visits to develop friendship. To me, friendship is the ideal human relation of the New Age regardless of what other social activity is involved. Thus the best marriages, brother-sister relations, etc. as well as business partnerships and contacts and other social associations all contain that essence of loving relationship known as friendship.
Friendship is the art of loving those we know. Friendship is a reciprocal relationship that ideally is balanced, harmonious, and free. To have a friend, we must be a friend. Friendship naturally results from friendly attitudes and behavior, and I believe that all human relationships can be friendly. This is loving our neighbor as ourselves, and everyone we meet is our neighbor. In our global society all people can be neighbors to each other.
What are the qualities of a good friend? Friends are open to each other so that our spirits can unite and exchange energies of consciousness. It has been said that friends are two bodies with a single mind. Thus true friendship is oneness and intimate sharing. This begins with openness and communication. If we listen to the other person as though it were our own mind speaking to us, (because spiritually it is), then we come to know that person. In sharing ourselves, the key is to be honest about how we feel and what we think. This often requires courage, because we must face and acknowledge our own doubts and inadequacies. Yet the beauty of it is that we learn how to resolve our doubts and fears, work on our weaknesses to strengthen them, and thus grow in awareness, instead of hiding and repressing our faults. The same thing happens in our relationship to other people when we are honest in expressing our feelings and thoughts about them. However, doing so we need not forget love, joy, harmony, peace, justice, responsibility, wisdom, etc. In other words, this is no excuse to take out our anger and frustration on others, especially when they are not the cause of our upset. If we do have a problem with another person that we want to resolve, we can tactfully and lovingly be honest about how we feel so that a two-way communication can occur in order to work on solving the problem. We cannot make someone else do what we want, but we can communicate our views so that they may know our ideas and feelings and be free to decide based on that information. Openness and honesty does not mean being naive; on the contrary, if we feel we do not trust someone, there is no need to be foolish. We have the right to choose not to bother with them; or we can communicate our doubts to them. This requires courage but shows faith in the person’s ability to change or gain our confidence. Too often we hide our fears and suspicions, because we do not want to “hurt their feelings,” but the result is that we avoid a deeper relationship and maintain a barrier between our feelings and theirs, instead of working through the problem by opening up communication.
Good friends enjoy being together just to be able to share experience regardless of what it is. When we treat people as ends in themselves rather than as a means to some other goal, then we are in a spiritual consciousness and loving relationship. We are loving and enjoying the Spirit that is present in each other. Of course we do have various goals, purposes, and objectives in life that involve other friends as well; but when we are with someone, we can still appreciate her or his value as a human being. If we neglect the importance of love and joy in human relationship, then we treat people as objects instead of as the same divine essence that we are ourselves. A materialist uses people in the pursuit of things, while the humanist uses things for the sake of people. Expressions of affection, such as a hug or even a simple handshake, help to unite people’s consciousness, relax tensions, and open feelings, enabling the basic selves to express and feel more comfortable with each other. From the most intimate marriage to the first contact with a stranger, these attitudes and gestures can help us to understand each other better so that we can live harmoniously. Direct eye contact is another valuable way to open communication and the channels of love. Fear and anxiety often deter people from extending this spiritual contact; but if we have the courage and the sincerity to reach out in this most intimate union, we may find that love, joy, and understanding will wash away those doubts and shadows. This communication becomes intimate so rapidly that some people may interpret it as sexually seductive; but as we become more experienced in this spiritual contact we discover that deep intimacy can be independent of the procreative act. Those who feel uncomfortable with this gazing naturally tend to look away; thus the freedom of choice of each person is recognized, because we can so easily avert our eyes.
Human relationship teaches us so much about ourselves. If someone bothers us or some personal trait continues to irritate us, that tells us what we need to work on in ourselves. If we are truly joyful and at peace within, then we can adjust and maintain a clear consciousness at least by remaining neutral and detached. No one can upset us unless we allow it to happen within ourselves. Personal interaction and communication, then, offer continual lessons in self-awareness and the art of loving. A friendly attitude toward everyone we meet makes these experiences more pleasurable and uplifting. What people do not like about us can also be used to refine our character and attitudes. Whatever negativity we express is mirrored in our relationships because of the law of karma. People tend to treat us the way we treat them; thus we learn creativity and responsibility as well as justice through the interactions.
Social reality is in the consciousness of the people involved. Social situations are freely determined by the concepts people have of what they think and feel that situation is. Individuals define their roles and relationships by their attitudes and behaviors. I believe that ultimately all souls are equally divine. Thus the social distinctions we make are temporary, limited, and even illusory. For this reason I choose not to discuss at length such issues as race, social class, status, elitism, etc. as social groupings, because I believe they tend to be based on false values and prejudices. The next two chapters will discuss political and economic conditions and relationships, but to me these are not adequate reasons to make socially prejudicial distinctions. I believe that every person is deserving of human dignity and friendly relations regardless of race, ethnic background, sex, age, language, nationality, religion, political views, prosperity, occupation, or neighborhood residence. Some people seem to feel superior if they look down on others as being inferior, but to me these people have limited their consciousness and relationships because of their lack of spiritual awareness and love for others. They may play elaborate games in the social roles they adopt with the symbols and appearances they present to others to try to communicate social concepts of who they are and why they should be treated differently. Such people may judge each other by the fashions of their clothes, hair style, modes of transportation, style of residence, activities, and places frequented to see if they have affinity with other people.
We choose to relate with other people on the basis of some affinity. For some, these superficial considerations are important; for others mere proximity in home life, work, and other activities leads to social contact, while many associate with people who have similar interests in hobbies, recreation, arts, religion, education, politics, etc. Similar or complementary personalities are also drawn to each other. For these and other reasons we join and associate with groups of people. These processes of socialization provide many lessons and lead to changes in behavior. To be a part of a group action or experience we must somehow cooperate with the other members of the group, which means either following the traditions that have been passed on, the instructions of the current leaders, or participating in the group’s process of decision-making. We choose to be in a group, and we can freely leave. The exception is a national group where we are born into it with emigration being restricted or difficult.
Being in a social group teaches us how to be a part of something that is larger than ourselves. Our ability to cooperate to fulfill this larger purpose is continually tested. In order to function smoothly members of the group usually exert subtle pressures on other members to conform to their concepts of group behavior and attitudes. If an individual or several people challenge these standards, rules, or patterns, then the group must either resolve the conflict or tolerate the variations or dissent. Thus conformity, or the desire to have others in our group be like us, tests our tolerance and skills of adjustment, whether we be a conformer or a dissident. If the conflict becomes intolerable, then the group may break apart, divide, or expel the dissenters. How a group distributes power and goes about decision-making is a political process, and how the resources of the group are gathered and used are economic questions.
Group processes depend upon communication, cooperation, and shared responsibility. The individuals in the group are collectively responsible for the actions the group takes and their consequences or karma. Each individual is responsible to the extent of his or her participation; all these combined together comprise the group karma. This naturally works out as the individuals share in the results, consequences, and repercussions of the group activities. A person who joins a group and seems to reap what he or she did not sow probably has karma from being part of another group previously which attracted them to that group.
Communication skills enhance the group experience. Active listening can help us to understand what people are saying by giving them our full attention and clarifying the meaning of their message by communicating how we understood it. Then we can express our own feelings and ideas. Groups that encourage everyone to participate and actively share in responsibilities and decision-making, rather than having an authoritarian leader who gives orders, allow for more personal growth and empowerment of many individuals. The process of obtaining a group consensus, where each person’s feelings and thoughts are considered, may take longer and be more difficult and complex; but because the individuals feel more integrity, responsibility, and personal power, the group that can integrate their concerns will ultimately be stronger for it. Groups usually develop rituals, ceremonies, group habits, or planned behaviors in order to obtain group cohesion, harmony, and stability.
By Sanderson Beck
This article is borrowed from Sanderson Beck