Social Animals

      With hundreds of miles open to habitation, people still tend to build their houses close to the houses of other people. No matter the continent, no matter the culture, no matter the era, this is what we do. And to find an individual choosing to live completely alone in the world is so rare as to confirm that human beings need to live amongst each other; indeed we are compelled from within ourselves to group together. Humans are social animals; it is our nature to be so.

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 individuals, we could survive living all alone, but if we did, our species would not. We must mate with each other to create more of our kind. And we stay together to protect and teach our young so they might become useful members of our species. And we are responsible for what they will face when they get here.

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.

      Who you are comes not only from your own senses and memories, but also from the groups you belong to. Some cultures and societies may emphasize one over the other, but neither identity can be denied.

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.


      apartment 4

      third house on the left

      Main Street






      North American

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.

      Some of us can make something better than others, whether it be an instrument, an implement, or something to eat. Some of us are better at healing or hunting or even thinking. But the healer needs the hunter, just as the hunter needs the healer. The thinker needs the doer, just as the doer needs the thinker.

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 individual members share what they know with the group, it strengthens all in the group. It is how we grow and learn.

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.

      A person's temperament is formed by many things: our experiences, how we're taught to act and react, even some intangible inner qualities that we are born with.

      But what we think of ourselves--our self-esteem--is fashioned in large part by what we think other people think of us. Our self worth depends on our notion of how worthy we are to others, and on how we were taught by others to view ourselves.

      From nowhere but the relationships we have with others can come pride, love, honor, shame, trust, envy, or hate.

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