Simply Complicated:
Understanding the Human Being

by Harry W. Yeatts Jr.

First Law: Survive

All living things have but one main goal: survival. All other goals are secondary. And all other goals are connected, however indirectly, to the first.

Living things must survive as individuals, and they must keep their species itself alive. They keep themselves alive, for what else is a living thing. They keep their species alive by bearing and nurturing more members to replace themselves. Two sides of the same coin.

The need to survive is not something taught to an individual. It is there from the instant of birth. The command to survive is not issued by a fellow member of any species, but by the species itself. The species builds in urges (like to eat, to sleep, to reproduce) and adds pleasurable rewards for having satisfied those urges.

The command to survive exists within an individual at the most basic, fundamental level. It is part of what an individual is, no matter what the species.

These ways just are. They are part of the inner workings of the living thing, deep down within. They work for the survival of the living thing itself and for the continuation of its kind.

Means to Survive

Each living thing has within it the means for survival. Some can fly, others can swim, some are very fleet, others are very big. Some have very tough skins, others can blend in with their surroundings. Human beings have none of these features...and yet they can adopt them all.

They can use their complex speech to cooperate with each other, their dexterous hands to fashion tools, their expanded minds to imagine possibilities. Together, these things make humans unique among animals.

But, like all other living things, humans rely first on their senses to survive.

The information a human being (or any living thing) needs to survive is provided by the senses. They see or hear or feel or taste or smell something and the information is sent immediately to their brain so that it can determine what it means to them at that moment.

And this information is added to their store of knowledge so they can best determine the means to keep themselves alive. (Besides information gathered through observation, knowledge can be learned from other humans, be they family members or other members of a group...or even their enemies.)

Because the main goal for each human is survival, the most important use of the senses is to determine whether something is dangerous. So, the information gathered through the senses is first filtered for anything that might be threatening.

Humans are constantly on the alert for such threats, even if their conscious minds aren't aware of it. It is an automatic response.

The world thus starts from behind their own eyes and ears. They must view the world from within themselves because it is the beginning of the world for them. It is their own senses that they must rely upon. They may understand that other humans get hungry or sleepy or tired -- like they themselves do -- but it can only be their own sensations that they really know. And they know them because they must deal with them; they have no choice.

They are continually distinguishing between danger and safety, need and fulfillment.

Hunger, for example, is an alarm set off by the body because without sustenance the body will die. Eating food turns the alarm off. This is a pure reaction. Individuals have no control over the alarm; only over the response do they have any influence. Every living thing has this alarm built in, just as they have alarms for thirst, sex, fleeing danger, and so forth.

And they know they will get hungry, so they store food. The mind can not only store knowledge, it can also anticipate needs.

As fewer alarms are sounded -- or when fewer alarms are anticipated -- humans not only feel more secure about their own future, they also are more secure about creating and rearing children. And since reproduction is a main law of species survival, this is extremely powerful. Thus, humans seek a comfort level, a level at which there are fewer threats or fewer unmet basic needs. Stability and security, then, are much sought after.

The senses aren't the only part of the body a human uses by reflex. They walk and talk and run and reach and hold and sit...without having to think about it. They don't have to tell their bodies what movements need to be made to walk up to the apple tree, reach up, take hold of the apple, and pull it off the stem. These movements are inherent in all humans.

Along with the ability to do something comes the ingrained attitude needed to use that ability. An attitude is a way of thinking when one is doing something.

The body uses different muscles and senses to do different things, and the brain changes its priorities as well. To do a particular task, certain parts of the brain dominate so that muscles, hormones, senses, etc., can function better to carry out that task.

The brain focuses on the task at hand: the eyes filter out information that isn't necessary; the reflexes shift to prepare the body to act in a certain way; adrenaline increases or decreases, depending on how much energy the body will need to perform the task; the mind pushes unneeded sensory input aside so the person can concentrate on the task.

So, to carry out an action, the body's muscles are used in a particular way, the senses focus differently, and the mind focuses on the matter at hand.

The human brain not only stores the instructions on how to do these things, it also stores the knowledge that a human can do it. Individuals may not consciously tell their hands to grasp the apple...but their brains do. This information is stored in their brains and is ready to be called up whenever it is needed.

All humans may have the same basic instructions; to allow them to run, for example. But some humans are better at carrying out particular instructions: some can run faster or more efficiently than others. All humans can coordinate their eyes and hands and arms to shave a sliver from a block of wood with a sharp instrument, but some have the ability to shape and fashion the wood into useful and beautiful things. Others, however, have absolutely no talent for this at all.

And although anyone can improve their skills through practice, some start out at a higher level. Their bodies and minds seemed to be tuned to that kind of activity. All humans have some skill, even a small one; and some have more than one special skill.

The diversity of talents that can be found within different humans adds to the odds of survival for the species. One may run faster; another may be a better leader; one may do craft work better, another may have a special sense for preparing something good to eat; one may be good at healing others, another may be stronger mentally or physically.

Diversity is an integral part of the survival plan for humans.

  • A variety of individuals producing young adds much to the gene pool. Inbreeding does nothing to help the species thrive.

  • Diversity increases the possibility that some member of the group can succeed at a task that the group needs doing.

  • Diversity helps humans adapt to changes in their environment because the attitudes that come with different skills allow individuals to view situations in different ways. And the more possible solutions to a problem, the more likely it will be that the best solution will be found.

  • Diversity in humans increases resistance to disease.

  • Diversity is a very important reason why humans seek out each other and live together in groups.

    Though they must take care of themselves first -- it is the first law of survival -- they must also work with and take care of others. In fact, they depend on others for their individual survival, for survival of the group, and thus for survival of the species. Taking care of themselves also means taking care of others.

    Humans help each other survive and prosper. Their complicated communication system allows them to go beyond simple cooperation. Like other species, humans can cry out at approaching danger to warn others, but they can also name a river and explain in detail to another human that it will bend to the left, then to the right...without having to go to the river to show those turnings. They can tell their young about what has passed and what may come, what may harm them and what can help them survive.

    Some things need to be taught to a young human.

    Some things are learned firsthand.

    And some teachings are the passing on of explanations of natural things.

    The young see for themselves that they are like other humans, but they also see that in certain ways they are different, that they are individuals. They learn that they can do some things better than others, and some things not as well. They also observe how members of their group act...and also how they react when someone does something the group feels should or shouldn't have been done.

    Much of how they behave is based on their experiences, what they see their group doing, what they themselves try to do. And much of what they are taught by others is based on lessons those individuals have gleaned from their own experience. They also pass on their experiences to their young.

    The young learn that ...

    some traits are shared by all humans,

    some are shared by a large group,

    some that are shared only by their immediate group,

    and some traits that are their own

    Humans differ from other species, too, in that they are aware that they are learning.

    Because humans are capable of thinking about things they cannot touch or see or know about through their own experience, they also come to realize that they can die. This is one of a human being's most distinguishable characteristics. Death, which is common to all living things, is open to contemplation in human beings.

    In most other species, natural actions and reactions help an individual survive, which in turn helps the species survive. This is simple reflex, unconsidered because the individuals are incapable of giving it thought.

    Humans -- because they can think about themselves, about their own dying, about how they feel -- try to find meaning in all these things and try to explain and interpret all that they think and do. And because humans are diverse in everything from their body shapes to their skills and talents to their individual experiences, these explanations and interpretations can be as different as they are.

    Social Animals

    Human beings are both individuals and they are members of a group. It is imperative that they be both: the human race can only survive if its individual members survive, and the individual needs the group to enhance its own odds of surviving. It is a tightly interwoven connection. It defines all that they do, and all else depends upon it.

    They need each other to produce new members of their species, to protect those new members and themselves, to help provide food, to add diversity to the gene pool, to provide companionship, to pass on information. They depend upon each other for their survival and their growth as a people.

    At the most basic level, human beings are drawn together for reproduction. Built into every human being is the need to reproduce other humans. This need, and the means to do it, is not taught; it just is. Such a built-in need to reproduce others of one's own kind is basic to all living things, be it a flower or a dolphin.

    As their young grow, they become more aware of themselves as individuals and also of their place among other humans. As individuals, they are aware, through their own senses and thoughts, of their needs and feelings. They also discover that they are part of a unit of other humans. In fact, as they grow, they learn that they belong to many groups of people: some small, some large; some chosen, some without choice.

    Much of their individual identities comes from being connected to groups of one sort or another. A group can based on family, gender, an occupation, a physical characteristic, a geographic location, or even a certain philosophy.

    One person is...


    named Smith


    forty years old

    a mother

    a wife

    an Episcopalian

    a Democrat

    a lover of rock music

    a baseball fan

    a doctor

    Another is...


    named Chou

    medium height

    fifty-seven years old

    a cook

    a mahjongg devotee

    a Buddhist


    an uncle

    a player of the flute

    The groups they belong to can be large or small. And they can be like smaller circles within ever-widening circles.

    Each group that they belong to and each characteristic they call their own contributes to the diversity that is needed for humans to thrive. Each individual adds something different to the group in temperament, skills, and genes. And each group, however small, adds spice to the larger group.

    The varied skills and dispositions of the group's members are what make the group flourish and thrive. And when the group thrives, its members also thrive.

    Variety in a group comes not only from having individuals with differing skills, but also from something as basic as age differences: the young, with their enthusiasm and new ideas; the adults, with their stability and reason; the old, with the wisdom gained from much experience.

    Because individuals in the group vary in such as aspects as age, sex, and skills -- all of which involve varying ways of looking at the world -- there is a better chance for diverse ideas to be born for the whole group to ponder and adopt or discard. For the individual and for the group as a whole, new ideas are the stuff of which growth is made.

    Every individual contributes different skills, outlooks, and characteristics that the group can use, so each is dependent upon all other members in the group. And this interdependency is vital to the group's success. For this interdependency to succeed, however, members of the group must be tolerant of each other's differences. If this is so, the group and its members can grow stronger and better adapt to change. And change will come; it is a natural part of existence. Intolerance dooms a group to stagnation, if not disintegration.

    Humans gather together to survive and to prosper, thus the need to belong to a group is a part of each individual. And with this comes the desire to be needed by the other members of the group. A natural satisfaction and security comes from knowing that they are of use to others, that others value their contributions.

    When a decision is made, it is rarely embraced by everyone. There must be compromise. And though compromise may sometimes be considered a hated necessity, it allows divergent views to coexist...which allows divergent people to coexist...which is a good thing for them and for their species.

    Each person needs to be assured that their groups think of them as productive, meaningful members. Thus, they look to others to help confirm their own worthiness. Their self esteem is linked to the value the group puts on them. Their self esteem is also linked to the value other groups put on their group. If their group is regarded highly, then so are they.

    If they feel that their group does not consider them as useful, it is a rejection that is felt deep down inside. Failing the group is felt almost on a genetic level, as if they had failed their species. If the groups they belong to -- be they kinship or social -- consider them unworthy, they can feel great loss and sorrow.

    Human Beings...Living Together

    They are all the same...

    No matter their language, religion, customs, race, or environment, all human beings have the exact same feelings. Happiness/sadness; hope/despair; trust/wariness; pride/shame: these feelings are common to all of them. The causes for these feelings may differ, but the feelings themselves are identical.

    Just as the senses process information the same way for all humans and the body carries out the same physical processes, the brain initiates their thoughts and emotions the same way.

    Human beings, then, all have the same basic parts, processes, and emotions. Variations do occur (for example, a human born with six fingers on one hand; another may be extremely smart; another may have no compassion), but more than anything else, these variations confirm the fundamental characteristics common to all humans.

    ...Yet they are all different.

    Because each individual is different, each has a different view of the world, a different perspective. They each live in the same world, using the same basic senses with the same basic feelings. This can help them to mutual understanding. But seeing this same world in different ways can lead to mutual misunderstanding.

    From birth, every human gathers a great variety of information about the world. And this information will be different from that gathered by every other human because two individuals can see, hear, smell, taste, touch the same thing and yet describe it differently.

    Even if two people experience the same thing at the same time, the experience will still be somewhat different for each of them because it is touched by all the other experiences they have had. The differences may seem so slight as to not appear noticeable, but the differences are there. Each experience is added to all their other experiences. What came before adds shades of meaning to everything that comes after.

    As their experiences add up -- and they begin adding up from birth -- every human becomes more and more a distinct individual. Situations may come along in which an individual will try not to appear different from others, but no human experiences the exact same things in the exact same way that any other human does.

    The earth spins and moves through space and all its occupants live out their lives in their own ways. All human beings see this same world, but each sees it differently. The world, then, is defined by how each person views it. And this view comes from individual experience, which creates unique perspectives for every human: what they have done before, what they have been told, what they feel, how they feel, what they are familiar with. Because they must survive first as individuals, it is their own senses, their own individual memories that they must depend on. The world, then, is different for each of them.

    Besides their outward differences,

    And the differences in what they are taught,

    They also differ within themselves.

    Taste buds, temperature, skin sensitivity...all can vary within each one of them.

    People react to their own senses, their own basic needs. And such reactions are immediate, distinct, and undeniable because each person must respond to those inner commands -- they are part of the survival instinct. The senses, then, may work basically the same for all humans, yet respond at slightly varying levels.

    For example, feeling too cool or too warm is a signal from the body's respiratory system that corrective action might be needed. And individuals have varying "temperature settings."

    The person who feels chilly reacts immediately to answer the body's signal to change the condition that set off the alarm: they turn up the heat. Another person, sharing the same environment, however, does not feel chilly, but is in fact comfortable. Turning up the heat can actually cause the second person's body to send a signal of its own: it's too warm. Both individuals are reacting to their body's signals. They are both "right."

    They are the same, but they're different. When they acknowledge their similarities, they understand each other's needs more clearly, and thus get along together better. When they acknowledge their differences, they have a better chance of understanding that sometimes there isn't just one right way.

    Males and Females

    Males and females have gotten together since the beginning to create new humans. The sperm and the egg must merge. The female and male then protect and nurture the child so it can continue the species.

    The sexes are drawn to each other because of the internal mechanisms inherent in all human beings -- put there by the species. They are rewarded with physical satisfaction and delight. They fit together -- and they know it is the way it should be.

    Females and males are much alike. With the exception of what their bodies will not allow them to do, both can do virtually the same things.

    Both have the ability to hunt, fight, heal, teach, cook, care for children, or do any other social necessity. This increases the likelihood that necessary actions for personal and species survival will occur even if one parent is missing.

    The differences in body structure, chemical makeup, and attitudes are there for specific reasons. They are part of the species' plan to continue itself.

    Females contribute to species survival by carrying developing children, giving birth to them, and providing them with life-sustaining nourishment. Males, on the other hand, are needed to defend the group (and especially defend females when they are pregnant and lactating because they are most vulnerable to predators and other enemies during this all-important time).

    Thus, the bodies of human females and males differ so that each can function better to carry out certain tasks: the female has milk-producing breasts and extra body fat for insulating the developing child; the male has larger body size and muscle mass for increased strength and speed.

    And, when a body has the physical apparatus suited to carrying out a task -- like fighting enemies or giving birth -- along with it comes the attitude to see those actions through.

    To have the muscle mass and speed to fight off enemies or to search for and bring down an animal the group can use for food, clothing, and other needs, the male must have the mental characteristics that promote such activity.

    He has more muscle mass in his torso and legs so he can protect the group. His body is more adapted to aggressive behavior to suit this purpose. And his attitudes complement this purpose in the reproductive process.

    To have the physical characteristics to keep the species alive through childbirth, females must have the mental characteristics that promote the immediate welfare of the offspring.

    Her body is oriented toward carrying and nurturing children. Her body is less adapted to aggressive behavior to suit this purpose. And her attitudes complement this purpose in the reproductive process.

    Females look for male partners who exhibit the best tendencies for protection. It is in their genes. Males look for female partners who exhibit the best tendencies for child-bearing. It is in their genes.

    Both sexes are very competitive by nature. The males compete for female attention and admiration from other males. Females compete for the best males to sire their children and for admiration and status from other females. This increases their status as individuals, which is connected to their usefulness to the group...and to the species.

    This competitiveness isn't a conscious act. It is a reflex born within them. And they can carry this competitiveness further than necessary. Thus, males can look at females as weak, and thus inferior. Females can look at males as weak-minded guardians.

    This is the base animal in all human beings.

    Humans, however, are more than just reactionary animals. They are thinking animals as well. And their minds allow them to develop in many different ways. When the "thinking" part of humans is exercised, the partnership between the sexes is acknowledged and nurtured itself.

    Males--because of their body structure, their hormones, even the way their brains are set up--tend to do certain activities differently than females. The same is true for females. But it must be remembered that this is only a question of tendencies. And, in fact, when a person with a tendency in one area cultivates or develops another area, then that person is much stronger for it.

    The female can be aggressive and the male can be nurturing. Both sexes can nurture or protect. It is more a question of natural tendency and degree and circumstance.

    It is the differences in attitudes that is the primary reason that one sex has difficulty understanding the other. In fact, tens of thousands of years after they first developed, men and women are still pondering the differences between them.

    They have always known that it takes both of them to produce children. They know their roles as protector and child-bearer. They need to know that the differences between them are not bad, but can complement each other's strengths in all aspects of life.

    Settling Their Differences

    Because their differences can mean conflict, humans have devised various means for settling their differences peaceably.

    For example, some humans have a saying: "Do to others as you would have them do to you."

    The basic idea is clear: They know how it feels to be treated badly and they don't like it. So they shouldn't make anybody else feel like that.

    This idea can be found in many cultures and in many religions on Earth. No matter what the group, its members have to get along; they have to cooperate. They must learn their common strengths and weaknesses. So this saying is social advice on how they should view each other's feelings.

    It is simple advice, but like most things concerning human beings, it is also complicated. For it to work, the humans involved must be more aware of each other's feelings than their own.

    Such an awareness breeds tolerance, and tolerance is the keystone of group living, whether it is as a couple, a family, a clan, a team, or in any situation involving more than one person.

    It is easy for them to like something or someone; it is difficult for them to tolerate that which they do not like.

    Considering that even good intentions can lead to conflict, it is easy to understand just how near to discord humans walk every day.

    Because they are made the way they are, conflict is inevitable. Not only is it basic to their relations with other humans, it goes on within each of them as well.

    Deep within each individual are demands to eat (hunger), rest (sleepiness/fatigue), reproduce (sexual arousal), among others. These demands are part of them, part of what keeps them alive. Every living thing has similar demands it must respond to. When two of these demands occur at the same time -- hunger and fatigue, for example -- there is conflict. And every individual feels the pull of inner demands that run counter to each other.

    Humans, like many species, also have inner demands to group together. This too is for survival; working with others increases the likelihood that an individual can successfully produce food, defend against attackers, create and raise offspring, and so forth.

    Groups and Rules

    Living in groups offers numerous chances for conflict, so members must comply with rules for behaving in a group. The same demand that compels individuals to want to group together also urges them to follow the rules their group lives by.

    The diversity that is basic to the strength of a group is also basic to conflicts between its members. Groups then must set rules by which all members can live together. Such rules help harness the diverse talents of its members and control the conflicts that inevitably arise.

    All groups control their members. It is control not exerted from outside, but from inside the group--by the members themselves. The members decide on the rules and enforce them. They may adopt the rules of those who came before them, they may accept the rules passed down from a more dominant group, they may change the rules because of outside or inside forces, they may add new rules, or they may discard old ones. But it is the group members themselves who decide what rules the group should follow and see that the rules are carried out..

    Children learn the rules of the group when they are very young. This process begins the moment they become aware that there are some things they should do and some they shouldn't. These rules are as strong as anything they will ever encounter. Even when they test the group's rules -- and adolescents in every culture do -- they are very aware of the power of these rules. This is what makes it exciting for them because they were becoming fully functioning members of the group, and they are learning about their own power by learning more about how power operates in the group.

    The rules become a part of each young member as they mature. What they are, how they think, how they react to the world, and what happens to them in it...all are shaped by the rules they live under. The rules are not the subject of everyday thought, but more an underlying structure to their lives. They act and react subconsciously to situations according to the rules of their group.

    Because rules for behavior form the basic structure of human interaction, they are not easily changed, whether it be adding new ones, discarding old ones, or modifying existing ones. The rules are constants in their lives; the rules give them stability. Even when the majority of a group's members agree that the rules need to be changed, it is not an easy thing to accomplish because when the rules are changed, the members must then make a conscious effort to change their behavior; this is one of the most difficult things a human being can have to do.

    These rules have a powerful effect on a member because the group is powerful. The group's power comes from the fundamental need of every human to feel useful to other humans. They group together because they rely upon one another for survival. All members of a group, then, need to contribute to the goals of the group. And any of the group's goals, no matter how small, can be thought of as a surrogate for that ultimate group goal: survival.

    Every member of a group is aware of the group and what the group has decided it needs (stability, creativity, or unity, for example). If the members of a group feel that a member is not properly contributing to the group (the member is disruptive, unproductive, threatening, or untrustworthy, for instance), that person will, at the least, not be respected; at the most, the member will be expelled from the group. And since individuals are as sensitive to what their group tells them it needs as they are to what their body tells them it needs, being chastised by the group is powerful indeed.

    It is important that humans not be regarded as negatively different. If they are, they might be excluded from the group -- and the group is where they draw their self worth. In any society, in any culture, being expelled from a group they deem important is one of the worst punishments a human being can endure.

    Groups need information about their members to monitor behavior and for decisions on how to deal with inappropriate behavior. Thus, information networks are formed. Group members are constantly (mostly subconsciously) observing other members' behavior. Noteworthy actions (either positive or negative) are passed on to other members, who then convey the information to even more members of the group. Negative actions usually receive the most attention (any behavior that might disrupt the group will always have priority). Positive actions are noted, but only the extraordinary receive top priority.

    The human the senses of all animals...are attuned to the unusual, for in the unusual often lies danger. It could be danger from outside forces (some foe attacking the group) or it could be from within the group (members who don't do what is expected of them for the group's welfare). They thus key in on the exceptional and the sensational. Their senses react because that is what they are there for.

    Because of this, humans tend to view the world not from a wide view of commonality, but from a narrow searching for the uncommon, the different. They also take what they view and generalize it, relate it to their own lives, make it personal.

    When they hear of abnormal behavior, or see portrayals of it, or read about it, their innermost fears are awakened. Their senses are alerted and check for what they fear.

    Complicating all these matters is the fact that humans usually belong to more than one group at a time. Because of this, the directives of one group can run counter to or prevail over those of another group. A group's power is directly related to the importance of the group to that person. Indeed, how groups rank is the basis for social differences.

    Groups form an essential, elemental part of an individual's identity. It is Belonging. It is being considered a valuable member of the group, which translates into being a contributor to the group's survival, which then translates into helping the human race survive.

    Behavior and Religion

    The group guides behavior by sanctioning or censuring individual acts that it feels are either not in the group's interest or in an individual's interest.

    Groups can be highly structured and very formal. That is, the rules for guiding behavior can become intricate and very strong, involving people over much distance and much time. Political systems are such groups.

    When the behavior-controlling aspect of groups meets up with the human tendency to both fear the unknown and wish to understand it, religious groups appear. Like all groups, the religious group controls the behavior of its members, but it also serves to explain the intangible to its members and protect them from it. In fact, this is the main source of the religious group's power.

    All cultures have some kind of religion because all humans can ponder things that are not directly related to their immediate survival. They have brains that allow them to be aware of things they cannot see or taste or see or touch or hear. Human thinking is flexible and open-ended; that is, humans can imagine anything.

    The part of the mental process that allows humans to adapt to their environment in such inventive ways is that they can reason; they can figure out how things work. The wheel is an example of how humans can reason out which shape an object should be so it would more easily move.

    Another aspect of life that humans can imagine is the future (which has as its ending each individual's own death). And if a person's life isn't very happy, the future can also mean more unhappiness.

    Those things that humans do not understand -- and especially those things that threaten their existence -- make up a mighty powerful force. Humans, then, constantly search for explanations for such things. Lightning and thunder, drought, disease, badness in people...these are life-and-death matters and must be dealt with, but how?

    In any society some individuals will give themselves over to explaining such phenomena. These people present explanations for natural phenomena. Their explanations must be considered valid by the membership for their stature to rise within the group. Those who believe these explanations soon form a subgroup within the larger group. The power of a religious subgroup grows for two reasons most important to humans: the need for group cooperation, and the need to have explained those things that they cannot understand directly through their senses. Religions offer explanations and protection for its membership.

    Religions are usually an extension of some group or group structure prized by its members. For example, a political system like feudalism, with its "lords" and "kingdoms," can be extended to a religious view. The feudal system protected and controlled the populace as well as explained the why's and wherefor's of death.

    Any type of group can be used as a model for a religious structure, including the closest of groups: the family...with its father, mother, child pattern.

    Any dominant group, whether it be religious, political, family, etc., wields a great deal of power. Such power requires something to balance it. This balance must come from individuals in the groups protecting themselves from the group. Groups exhibit behaviors and tendencies much like individuals do, and these are a reflection of the strongest personalities in the group. Individuals must question the group's intentions at least periodically to see if a balance of motives is evident. Blindly following a group is as bad for the group as it can be for the individual.


    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.

    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.

    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.

    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 guard 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.

    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.

    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.

    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 fides 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 seem 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 upon 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.

    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.

    Reflexes and Thinking

    All animals react to things instinctively. If there's danger or hunger or sleepiness, they react accordingly..

    These are base reactions, survival instincts. Learned reactions are those that individuals add to their own list of reactions.

    Humans learn something -- like riding a bicycle -- and their minds store the instructions on how to do it. From then on, they can do the activity by reflex, without conscious thought as to how they do it. They learn social rules the same way: when something happens, they learn to react with actions acceptable to the group. This allows them to turn their minds to fulfilling their everyday needs.

    They do not often consider possibilities that are not in the path. When something happens, then, they have a reaction prescribed by the group. Rightness or wrongness is decided by the group...and they are free to instinctively react.

    However, another part of human beings wants to ponder the possibilities. They want to go beyond base and learned reactions because their brains can consider things beyond the immediate, beyond what they can see or touch or smell, beyond the concrete world they live in. Humans can think about anything. This is exciting and frightening...and the very basis for the complexity that is part of being human.

    Because humans can think on several levels about something, they can interpret the meaning of an action. And they can wrongly interpret. They can mistake an action as a slight, for example. This leads to a very complicated social system.

    They gravitate, thus, to simple reaction-based social systems. It may not be the best, but it is simpler. While thinking is natural for them, it requires imagination. Reacting requires no imagination at all.

    So, human beings need to react instinctively and they need to think. They are both reflexive doers and imaginative thinkers...this makes them a very volatile species.

    When human beings acknowledge that much of what they do comes from base reactions and then actually think about situations and relationships, much more is possible for them.

    Basic Instincts and Beyond

    Basic instincts can be in conflict, too, both within groups and within individuals. Even in the same situation, some people can feel the pull of one inner command while other people feel the pull of another command.

    Bearing children, for example, is an instinct. It is basic to species survival and is rooted deep in the psyche of every human. At the same time, individual survival is as basic as child-bearing because staying alive must be done before one can bring new humans into the world. This sets the stage for a conflict in basic instincts.

    This is a conflict between equally ingrained inner commands: Humans must bear children to keep the species going. They must make sure they have the resources to take care of themselves and their children.

    Every basic instinct humans have is usually balanced by at least one other instinct.

    For humans, every situation can mean more than one possible reaction to the inner commands of nature. This is part of the wonder of being human, and part of the conflict and confusion of being human.

    Knowing that they have these inner commands allows them to begin to understand why they act the way they do. They can then ponder the interrelatedness of all the instincts that make them what they are.

    No human being can cease the urges brought out from within. They can, however, change their responses to these urges. They can think, they can contemplate, they can interpret. And then they can act accordingly.

    They cannot argue with instinctive behavior when the instinct is in command. Only when the intellect is in command can they deal with a situation with reason and compromise.

    Copyright 1997 by Harry W. Yeatts Jr. (