The groups a person belongs to come from a variety of sources: family, friends, occupation, skills, village, politics, residence, country, religion, ethnic, sex, common history, mutual interest, language, race, among others.
All these groups form a part of an individual's identity, and within each group there are rules. The rules for one group can be mostly the same as for another group, or they can be very different. Individuals know well the rules for each group they belong to, and they are aware of the rules for those groups they do not belong to but come in contact with.
All these rules do much to define a person's view of life and of other people. Knowing and abiding by the rules of the groups they belong to gives form to their lives, a sense of order, and the means for belonging.
My group has its own rules: things I'm supposed to do and things I'm not supposed to do. Within my group, I follow the rules to show that I think they're important and to show that I'm a good member. This applies to all the group
I belong to, those I was born into and those I chose.
The amount of control a group has depends upon the size of the group, the amount the individual values being in the group, the stress the group feels it must exert to protect itself, and so on. A group's dominion over its members can decrease the more
it is removed from the individual, either over time or distance.
Groups are like smaller circles surrounded by concentric larger circles. The smallest, innermost circle is the most important; the largest (and thus the farthermost) is least important. The smaller the circle the fewer members the group has.
Group circles are like where you live: room, house, neighborhood, section, town, city, county, state, region, country, continent, hemisphere, world.
Circles often relate to other circles as well. A member's status can be increased or decreased depending upon which other groups that person belongs to. A person with an esteemed skill (like a healer) may live in a neighborhood or town that isn't highly valued, which decreases somewhat his or her overall status.
For most people, the family is the smallest, closest circle. And even within this circle there are differences. First, there could be immediate family members: mother, father, sister, brother. Then, one circle larger: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Then the extended family: second cousins, great-uncles, etc.
A person's language, ethnic background, skin color, and so forth, can all form groups, and the circles can vary widely as to their size and strength. These circles -- like all such circles -- have no unalterable number of members or even relationships
within them. The smallest circle could, for example, include a grandfather, a cousin, and an aunt. If these individuals are defined as the closest family group to an individual, then this is the most important circle. And the smallest circle need not be family at all.
Where a person lives most often forms another of the smallest circles for an individual. The village, section of town, block, or building can form a very strong group. Loyalty to one's residential area can be a firmly binding circle.
The smaller the group and the fewer number of groups individuals belong to tightens their loyalty to the group because outside that small circle they are outsiders. And being an outsider is not a comfortable position to be in.
A stranger is someone they know nothing about; an outsider is someone they may know but not in the context of the group. A stranger is one degree more alien than an outsider.
A Russian living in Russia among other Russians is a member of a very large circle. Because it is so large, other, smaller circles become more important: the part of Russia she hails from, for example. For that same person, being
uprooted to Argentina changes that very large circle (being Russian) to a very small one. She is still a Russian, but she is not amid a large number of other Russians. The smaller circles she once belonged to have ceased to exist...except in her memory.
he must define new circles for herself and find out what circles others have defined for her. But first, she realizes that she is, above all else, an outsider.
Outsiders (and strangers) are potential negatives before they are potential positives. The unknown must be filtered through their senses and their information storage to determine if it means harm to them -- or those they care for. They put their guar
up; they activate their senses to discern whether something is harmful. Thus they are looking for something that might threaten them. Their senses scan every bit of information at their disposal, including any memories that might be relevant.
There is a saying: When you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail. When our senses are on the lookout for threats, we tend to regard everything as a threat first, and then turn off the alarms only when we do no
perceive someone or something as threatening.
Strangers and outsiders are a possible threat; until individuals are familiar and comfortable with them, there will be an ingrained wariness of them, a tendency to reject first and ask questions later.
Some individuals or groups go to greater extremes than others to avoid even the possibility of danger. This happens because their sense of danger has been heightened through past experience. Most people learn through observation, training, or teaching
to realize that there are potential positives to be found after they filter the negatives. These other individuals and groups, however, have stronger senses of survival and view most things with a cautious eye.
We all know that strange people or strange situations can mean trouble for us and that we should be wary of them at first. But, then, most of us also learn to realize that people and things we aren't familiar with can turn out to
be good for us (or at least not bad for us). Some people, though, have a tougher time with this because of the way they were raised or because of some nasty thing that happened to them in their past or even because of that inscrutable characteristic we call temperament. These individuals build thicker defenses than most of us and have much more difficulty seeing the good possibilities in new situations.
That groups would also be wary of outsiders is no surprise because defense is one of the prime reasons for any group's existence. As individuals, humans are naturally careful around people they don't know; as members of a group, they can form an instant mutual defense against possible harm.
Group members may squabble with (or even hate) other members, but if someone outside the group (even from a circle close by) casts aspersions on their immediate group, the bond that members feel will take immediate precedence over internal feuding. Members will even defend group members who they would squabble with if there were no external criticism of the group.
Because much of a human's self worth comes from the identification with a group (and their place in that group), defending fellow group members is much like defending one's self. Group members feel loyalty to all the groups they belong to, from the smallest, dearest one, to the largest, most remote one. And they will defend their groups in that order.
Brother may fight brother at home, but then they may each fight any outsider who says anything disagreeable about the other.
Residents of one part of a country (or village, street, neighborhood, block, town, city, continent, hemisphere) might criticize another part, but residents of both parts will defend their country from criticism by someone from without.
Sometimes there is, however, a subtle shifting in the importance of a group. Young people, for example, usually to go through a phase in which the family is supplanted by the young people with whom they associate. There will be times when the family is not the most important group, and thus individuals will not defend family members as strongly as had been done before or may even criticize them to distance themselves from the family. After the peer group has been used to establish the teenager's bona
ides as an adult, the family can then become the smallest circle again. The family may be the original family or a new one begun by the young person, with the original family taking a secondary role.
During times when external threats are perceived, members of a group are both more and less tolerant of other members.
Threats cause group members to be more conscious of their group than they would otherwise. Most group belonging is unconscious; members just "know" where they belong. In times of stress, the group seeks even more cohesiveness. To protect the group, members must have a keener acknowledgement of the group because the group is only as strong as the sum of its parts. To this end, members will be more tolerant of other members they don't like. However, they will be less tolerant of behavior that does not s
em consistent with protecting the group.
Because human beings have varying circumstances to contend with, they can vary their emotional responses accordingly. As in the above example, they can shift back and forth between attacking and defending. Different emotions can dominate, depending up
n the situation. If they live amid lots of people rather than in a rural area, the emotions that better allow them to survive in such circumstances will dominate.
Walking down a crowded city street, individuals lower their eyes rather than meet the eyes of a stranger. To do so would be either rude, because you cannot acknowledge each of the thousands of others you encounter, or it would be
dangerous, because the anonymity of the city allows fewer social restrictions on behavior...including violent behavior.
In a small town or village, people walking down a sidewalk or lane would be considered rude if they did not acknowledge their fellow citizens. To not make some gesture of recognition would indicate disdain.
Human beings must be adaptive to survive. This is why one set of emotions -- be it fear or anger or competition or cooperation -- dominate in certain situations. When the situation changes, or when the individual perceives that the situation has changed, the predominant emotional set changes also.
Shifting from one predominant set of emotions to another has its price, however. Having become accustomed to viewing the world in a particular way, it is difficult to completely set aside what came before. This is especially true if a situation required
very strong survival instincts.
The sounds of life can take on new meaning. Loud noises, which would be more easily dismissed during peacetime, evoke strong, life-protecting reactions during war.