What is it with groups?


What is it with groups? From the earliest age I have never seemed to quite get the hang of groups and belonging to groups.  My instincts and behaviour often put me outside of what my peers were doing, even for the most inconsequential things.

I remember as a child going on holiday and being left with other children of similar ages while our parents all went out for a drink. Those were simpler times, and nobody thought anything of it. We fell to telling each other ghost stories as it fell dark. One boy was telling about a ghostly hand that haunted innocent children and arrived by knocking on the door.  At that moment, there was a loud knock on the door.  Every child in the room jumped into a tangled mass on the nearest sofa screaming with fear.   

Every child except me. Without a moment’s thought I had quietly moved to stand behind the door. Even at that tender age I knew that any dangerous predator would be attracted to the sound and movement and the odds were I would be ignored. 

It was my father, who had heard the story telling and decided to play a trick on us. No unattended children were harmed in the telling of this tale. But it stuck me then that it was odd how all the children had somehow decided to do the same thing without a word of discussion between them. It did not strike me as odd, that I had not.

Even at that young age I knew that kids ranged in packs. They did that out on the streets, playing football, and out on the common. Again, that was perfectly normally at the time. But I rarely did so. It was not that I did not like my neighbouring children. It was more that what drove me to get up and do one thing, was not the same thing that drove them to get up and do another. In the long summer days when it was normally to be turfed out after breakfast with a bottle of water and a sandwich and be told to return by dark, I simply did not have the same instincts or requirements. 

They enjoyed what seemed to me to be quite mindless destruction. The joys of throwing stones at walls, or windows, or shouting were mostly lost on me. I preferred to explore and range much further afield.

Later I failed at being a Brownie (would not wear the uniform or do the sewing badge) and as time wore on it became increasingly obvious that I was just not good at that sort of thing. I even managed as a teenager to fail at being a hippy because I was unable to follow the rules!

We live in an age of partisanship and packs and tribes

People have always formed packs and tribes. Most it would seem define themselves by what group they belong to.  For me that was always a problem as the very act of joining one group was by its nature a decision not to be a member of others. I preferred to be a loosely attached member of many groups.   

As a result of that, and a childhood spent with parents who argued politics, religion, history, literature, and even what the weather was doing today, I grew up with the knowledge and expectation that people had different opinions, different ways of dressing, different things they valued.  

Yet to some people the very idea that other people have other ideas makes the other person wrong. Simply expressing a different opinion can often be taken as a hostile and aggressive act. And being different in ways one cannot control from gender to race, is seen as an attack on ‘normal’.

There has always been partisanship in politics and religion. People have always been drawn to one ‘side’ and felt the other side was simply entirely wrong.

But the invention of social media and its algorithms coincided with or possibly caused the longest period off partisanship I have seen in my lifetime. From left to right (or woke to fascist depending on whom you speak to) to Brexit, to (Anti-Vaccination), strong and simplistic positions are used to divide people and we seem unable to resist the notion that everyone who disagrees with us is somehow more stupid or more selfish than us.

We are no longer children and the time for bundling onto the bed to avoid the scary fictional ghost is long past. The real enemy is not those from who are divided but those who deliberately fan that division for their own ends. And no, I am not talking about reptile aliens with nasty habits, but politicians with ambitions that require our unthinking consent.

We live in an age of ‘mindfulness’ gurus. Yet often that is used as a way of withdrawing from the world and its woes. Perhaps now is the time for mindful civic participation and the rebuilding of a consensus or at least a centre that may hold. Can we engage in the world in a mindful way and not become a hate filled partisan?