It’s better than sex
You could be excused in the 20th Century for most forms of group think. People grew up in communities that molded them. Parents introducing you to the world was probably the only way you thought things could be done. Preachers at church or your first boss explaining the way things are. You only had experiences with your classmates, colleagues, and people who put their blanket near yours to watch the 4th of July fireworks.
Because we were aware we knew little of outsiders, we generally ignored them or at least didn’t value their differences. We assumed we wouldn’t have that much in common and weren’t really interested in taking the time to get to know who they were. But we still treated them and thought of them as people. People who did things differently from us back then were just that, different. Texas was different from Vermont and that was OK.
But a fifth of the way into this new century, succumbing to group think is a choice. We are now exposed to a myriad of different people who grew up in circumstances we can’t imagine. The children of famous celebrities now flaunt their wealth and day-to-day lifestyle on reality television. Netflix documentaries show abused children dropping out of school and working to eke out a life we feel uncomfortable imagining. Our faces are shoved in the lives of others whether we like it or not. People are complaining that they want things separated (i.e. cancel culture, keep politics out of sports) like a buffet where one can safely sample the mashed potatoes without the risk of ingesting whatever that lumpy porridge dish is in the tray beside it. We want clean distinctions between various groups so we can relax in the comforting walls of one arena without the chance of being disturbed by thoughts we don’t share. But our modern world is more like a giant salad bowl. Those that hunt and pick out all the little bits they don’t particularly like end up spending as much time pruning the salad as the chef did making it. No matter what you believe in, who you vote for or what your morals are… you WILL be bombarded by people who disagree with you. You will likely work for people who disagree with you, have laws made for you by those you didn’t vote for, and your kids will befriend other kids whose parents are teaching them things you’d never allow in your own home. You can’t unfry an egg. Even though it’s tempting to imagine how wonderful it would be if everyone around you was as smart or as logical or as compassionate as you are… it’s just not realistic.
With our path to a cleaner and simpler past blocked, most people simply let the pressure build up inside themselves. Every time we see someone forgiven for something that we have ourselves been punished for, every time we’ve sacrificed for something that has been given freely to another, the pressure builds inside us. This is severely uncomfortable. The only thing more infuriating that someone cutting you off in traffic is then seeing their dumb car boasting a bumper sticker of something or someone we hate. Pressure is building up everywhere. I’ve met my share of frustrated people all around the world, and no matter what their beliefs are I tell them that they can find a relief valve for all their pressure. It’s called understanding.
The ancient Greeks believed that understanding was the highest form of human life. Students chose to pursue a life of learning how to understand rather than chasing money, power, or even sex. But today we find it terribly uncomfortable to sit down and dedicate even one full minute to watching a YouTube video made by and for the political party we despise. We can’t bring ourselves to read a book written by someone we don’t respect. We don’t want to spend our precious free time attending a group gathering knowing that we’ll be surrounded by idiots who just don’t get it. But I promise you, these infrequent and temporary periods of frustration will allow you to finally understand why your enemy ended up on the opposite side of [whatever issue]. All that pressure that’s been building for years will release and the high pitched hiss of it passing will be the sweetest sound. Understanding gives you a greater view of reality. You start to shed light on parts of the world you wanted to ignore but couldn’t. This knowledge of where you and your group fit into the greater puzzle allow you to better enjoy your life. Knowing the difference between a squirrel and a bear allows you to continue enjoying a hike in the woods if confronted with the former. For those who do not understand the differences, however, one can make a very big fool of themselves.
But if you’re still not convinced, I’m afraid you’ll be forced to die a death of a thousand cuts. Since the way back is blocked, and you refuse to put in the work discovering root differences, the only alternative is to submit to never understanding them.
Imagine you are on a tour in Southern France. An announcement is made in a frantic voice and half of your tour group drops what they are doing to run for cover. You observe that it is only the French speaking members of your group that are sprinting away while the English, German, and Chinese speakers are still holding their cameras and swiveling their heads around wondering what’s going on. What do you do? Admit you didn’t understand the message and try to continue your tour with your French speaking peers? I don’t believe you two would share the same priorities in this particular moment. Or would you ask someone what the announcement was? The tour guide who is already a quarter of a mile away by now could rely the English translation. If the contents of the message was that a tiger had escaped from the local zoo, you might join the French in running away. But, what if you learned that the important message was that the French football team was in a penalty shootout for the World Cup? The Frenchmen on your tour are sports fans and want to watch their country play for a world championship. You may never have watched a World Cup match and would much rather continue with the tour. Understanding isn’t the same as agreement. Depending on your own tastes, maybe you’d run or maybe you’d stay after the announcement. But being aware of why people make the decisions they do is the foundation for any community.
We spend our money on food that pleases our taste, clothes that please the eye, and engage in sex that pleases the body. But where does the mind rank among the parts of the self we reward with stimulation? Are we choosing to live in a world ignorant of those that continue to pester us with their seemingly absurd opinions and invalid morals? Are we truly miserable living amongst people who don’t understand us and who we, conversely, don’t understand? Isn’t that one of the greatest motivations for suicide? Once a person is convinced their world doesn’t understand them, hope seems to be lost. Don’t lose that hope. No matter which terrible group of people are frustrating you currently, you’d be doing yourself a favor by taking a minute to understand why they think you are the one who doesn’t get it.