All in one


IVOR BROWNE looks at group dynamics and how they affect our behavior.

The inspiration for this was a beautiful statement that I found in the oldest of the Upandishads, which are part of the Vedic scriptures from ancient India:

There is a light that shines beyond all things on earth,
beyond us all, beyond the heavens,
the very highest heavens.
That is the light that shines in our heart.
– Chandogya Upanishad

In the twenty-first century, particularly in the West, most of us have a fairly clear awareness of who we are as individuals, however we are much less aware of the roles we take on as part of a group, and of the way in which group energy can make us behave. Our earliest experience in this embodied existence is not that of a separate individual, but rather as an intimate part of a group, that is, the family. The individual personality only emerges later as we develop into adult life.

A group is not simply a multiple of individuals, but is a separate living system, a different organism with a life of its own. As part of our early development in the family and as a result of the karmic tendencies we carry into this life, each of us tends to have a predisposition for a role, which we enact repeatedly in later life when we become part of various groups.

Typically we are quite unaware of this, and believe that we are just the same as ourselves as individuals. When we become part of a group, however, we are surprised to find ourselves behaving, thinking and feeling quite differently. In these circumstances we usually convince ourselves that we have simply changed our view in the light of discussion, although we typically feel confused and have an uneasy feeling in regard to what is happening.

For example, most of us will recognize the following situation: before going into a meeting, we agree upon a policy with someone, and a direction to be followed. Then, to our amazement, not only does our colleague not support the view we had agreed upon, but actually speaks up against it and votes for the opposite point of view. It is important to understand that this is not a result of disloyalty or dishonesty, but it is an instance of the person taking on a role given to them by the group. Once away from the influence of the group, they would often like to reverse their position, but feel committed by what they have already done.

There are many situations in life where we find this happening. Of course, there are individual differences in how likely we are to collude in this way, depending on the strength of our personality and the ability to manage our individual boundaries.

Wherever we look, inside an atom or inside a human being, we find opposing positive and negative forces. This appears to be the natural order of things, at least in this world. This was the underlying principle understood in ancient times by the Taoist sages in China, and in eastern philosophy generally. In very early times these ancient scientist-philosophers in India and China came upon the principle of a balance of forces or energy within all existence. These energies have been given various names – positive/negative, right/left, male/female, good/ bad, light/dark, etc. They are always changing, always balancing, always attempting to resolve and unify, but always dividing. Behind this, as the Taoists would say, there is an unchanging Reality on which our effervescent dualistic reality rests. This is not something we can ever perceive directly, although we can experience it.

The more we understand, the clearer it becomes that everything is interconnected, that there is no such thing as a separate human individual or community. If we apply this view to society, then even joy riding, rape, vandalism, and vicious attacks on old people, must be related and interconnected with what is happening in other humane sectors of society. If there is any merit in such a view, we must all have a share in the responsibility for the negative and disadvantaged sections of our society.

We have to ask how far each one of us is dumping the negative aspects of ourselves onto others. Of course the perpetrators have their individual share of responsibility for what they are doing, but nevertheless we still have to ask in what way have we all contributed to this viciousness. How do we maintain it?

This highlights how vital is the need for us to be alert, and to stop any projection of negative energies or negative thoughts about others. It is up to each individual to realize that each of us contains both good and bad, is capable of aggression and gentleness, and that the task of each human being is to manage all of these painful and conflicting emotions, attitudes, pleasant and not so pleasant behaviors of ourselves, all of which go to make up the human condition. The least we can do is to try to take responsibility for our own selves.

Article by IVOR BROWNE

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