Have you ever:
- Shared a joke with friends?
- At a game, gave a high five to a complete stranger next to you after your team has just made a tough score?
- Chatted with a coworker about a TV show at the water cooler?
What do these three actions have in common?
They satisfy a need to belong.
The Instinct to Belong
I’m sure the development of this need harkens back to the days of the caveman — banding together was the prudent way for early man (and woman) to survive encounters with woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers and the like (oh, my!) — those who didn’t, did not survive, and so the instinct was passed on.
Today, however, with those dangers extinct, we find other reasons to bond together. In the end, after food and water, and perhaps shelter, that next need is the need to feel a part of a group, whether it’s a life-partner in the form of a husband or wife, or something beyond a simple pairing.
Benefits of a Group
Indeed, there many benefits to being in a group
- Teamwork – working together can overcome many weaknesses
- Social skills – being successful usually means developing social skills
- Respect for others – the best teams usually have members who respect one another
- Support from others and camaraderie within the group – when one member is down, the others can pick him or her up
- Getting things Done fast – such as in an assembly line
- Brainstorming ideas in a meeting
- Strength in numbers
- Specialists are able to be developed or recruited, since other aspects are handled by others in the group, etc.
In fact, achievements such as building the Golden Gate Bridge or Hoover Dam is only possible through the power of a group. The strongest nations, the strongest corporations, are all groups.
Being in The In Crowd
It’s more than a great Ramsey Lewis composition, the “in” crowd is what makes us feel happy when we belong to one, and certainly makes us feel bad when we don’t — whether it’s a discussion on the latest episode of Heroes, or joining the after-work soccer team, the good feeling we get from being part of something is usually ingrained in all of us from the time we’re born, with things like:
- Being held in mommy’s bosom, where it was always warm and safe
- Cuddling with a parent as a toddler
- Playing in small groups in preschool
And then leading on to:
- School clubs
- Spelling bees
- Kick ball teams
- Birthday parties
- Music class
- Little league
Then we hear conversations like:
- “Oh, my kid got into the GIFTED program.”
- “My daughter’s teacher is Ms. Smith — teacher of the year.”
- “My son got into Harvard.”
- “My daughter got a full scholarship.”
These are all everyday conversations we might hear, but they all seem to point to one thing.
A Sense of Competition, and OneUpmanship
In our society, we are taught to (try to) thrive on competition. That push to be better than the other guy or gal is oftentimes a great motivator, and many individuals excel. As a person develops their skills, he or she may find him or herself:
- on a team, or even an “elite” team
- in a fraternity or sorority
- in a club
- joining a political party
- becoming part of the workforce, for a company, or starting his or her own
- at a company, become part of a department
- joining a union, and so on.
The Dangers of a Group
As we can see, society inevitably puts us into a group. And while we’ve seen the benefits of being in a group, there are also many dangers. Those dangers also begin early in our lives.
For instance, in school, we get the “bad apples” who are immediately grouped by being sent to detention. “Loners” may be shunned by the rest of the students for being “strange” or “radical”.
At work, sometimes the employees (“us”) versus customers (“them”) will result in poor customer service — ever get the “that’s not my department” line from an employee? Or a certain department (HR or Accounting or middle management) will eliminate members of the “regular” employees.
However, the true dangers come from exploitation of individuals in the name of the group, simply because the need to belong is so strong:
- Gangs – the need to belong is strong enough to entice some young people to join a gang, where terms like “family”, “brother” or “sister” are often used. Actions are executed in the name of the gang — “initiation” rites, such as robbing someone “outside” the family, turf wars, and worse — done to elicit praise from the leader(s), to get that love that is perhaps missing from their own (broken?) homes or parents that are too “busy” or uncaring, or to have a purpose
- Fanatic groups – think of the extreme right, groups led by zealous fanatics who use their charisma to gather a devoted following, oftentimes pitting them against the rest of society or other groups deemed unworthy, promising deliverance for successful execution of their agendas
- Religion – Religion is supposed to based on teachings of their founders (Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, etc.), and these teachings are taught by those who know “the truth” — the religious leaders — and so they form the group at the top, a group that has great power. But, some of these groups inevitably abuse that power and become corrupted. For all the good that is done, there are also great harm done in the name of religion. Think the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, and so-called “Holy” wars
- Politics – the “us versus them” card is often played here as well, resulting in impasses on policies at home, questionable campaign contributions that can sway decisions one way or another. Groups can cause civil unrests and other disturbances. Special interests are groups as well, and have sometimes been linked to conflicts and wars abroad. There are many examples today, but easy historical examples include Hitler and the Nazis, the plight of Native Americans, global Colonialism, Yellow Journalism, etc.
Suppression of Individual Thought and Critical Thinking
It’s easy to see how the group can be exploited by its leaders. Through the use of peer pressure, fear (of being cast out, or even losing his or her life), or simply the promise of love, individual thought and critical thinking can easily be suppressed, forgotten, or simply abandoned.
This can lead to the Lemming effect, where individuals simply go along with the group, not really knowing, or caring, in what direction they’re headed — mob think.
But I think a lot has to the do with the ones who lead the groups. Be it a gang, political, religious, corporate, whatever, leaders of groups have great power. And sometimes decisions are made not in the best interest of the group, but rather in the best interest of the leaders (e.g. to preserve their power and status).
Group is Great But One Still Has to Think
In the end, I think it’s important to be aware of the grouping phenomenon/instinct. Unless one is a total hermit, becoming part of a group is inevitable.
One still should practice critical thinking, especially when the direction we’re headed is not ideal, and voice his or her concerns, or simply leave the group.
One still needs to tell the Emperor he has no clothes.
The Group to Which We All Belong
Ultimately, we should remember that, whether we want to or not, from the moment we are born, we already belong to one group.
The human race.
The World is Full of Mysteries
Ever notice how much mystery plays a part in our lives?
“Peek-a-boo! I see you!”
That innocent game we play with a baby is probably the child’s first conscious introduction to mysteries. When the blanket is up, where did mommy go? When it’s down, oh, there she is!
From that moment on, we are constantly engaged in solving mysteries.
Going to school allows us to find the answers to the mystery of:
- whether or not Susie likes Calvin
Mysteries are what fuels scientist’s curiosity:
- Are birds descendants of dinosaurs?
- Who built the giant statues of Easter Island?
- What can we do to save this species from extinction?
Many of us face personal issues to which we seek answers, such as those offered by unscrupulous marketers:
- “Learn the 10 Secrets the Pros Don’t Want You to Know!”
- “Lose 30lbs in 30 Days!”
- “Get Rich Using these 5 Easy Steps!”
We seek out and are entertained by mysteries in stories such as:
- Sherlock Holmes
- Indiana Jones
- Harry Potter
Why are Mysteries Important?
If you don’t think mysteries are important, let me ask you the following:
- Have you ever seen a movie where you start realizing what’s going to happen before it happens? Ruins the fun, right? That’s like telling people Darth Vader is Luke’s father before they saw Empire Strikes Back in 1980.
- Or how about seeing a magician do a trick that you’ve already seen before? The effect is not as…magical.
- Or why a woman wearing revealing clothing that much sexier than if she was simply nude?
- When you go see an Opera, Ballet, Musical, or Play at the theater, what if they didn’t have a drawn curtain?
We Love the Tease
Ever hear advice about writing a cover letter for your resume? Or how about a book proposal, or any proposal. What about the opening minutes of a TV show? The inside cover of a book jacket? Magazine cover? Promotional mailer?
They all feature something short, quick and easy to remember — to tease you into looking for more.
The best ones present a compelling mystery, one which you are eager to solve.
The Quest for Knowledge
- If fiction, we have the “MacGuffin”, what director Alfred Hitchcock referred to as an object or person — SOMETHING! — that is being chased after, sought after, and fought over. That continued searching is what the viewer of his films get hooked on.
- In Dashiell Hammet’s Maltese Falcon – detective Sam Spade is after the “black bird”, a supposedly jewel-encrusted statuette worth millions. His partner is murdered, and various parties are all after the falcon. What’s going to happen?
- J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings – how is Frodo and his band going to destroy the One Ring, in the face of overwhelming odds?
In real life, we have the quest for knowledge.
- Buddha, in the process of becoming the Buddha, sought to answer to why humans suffered
- Leonardo Da Vinci, the Wright Brothers, and other dreamers sought out the answers to flight.
- We each all have our goals, and often wonder how we are to achieve them.
Mysteries engage our minds, our imagination, and our creativity.
The Mystery of Blogging
It even applies to our blogging.
Why do we ultimately subscribe to someone’s RSS feed?
To find out what’s going to be written next.
Have a great weekend!
I leave you with the following inspirational video clip:
TEDTalks: J.J. Abrams: The Mystery Box
We often think that we need to drive less, or buy a more fuel-efficient automobile to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels. At least that’s the general rhetoric we hear from pundits.
Of course, I’m all for conserving our resources, so I have nothing against driving less, and using less gas. (I even encourage efficient driving.)
However, I’m wondering how many people know that another all too convenient consumer product comes from oil.
Plastic Comes from Oil
It’s true that recently, there are plastics made from organic materials (such as the Biobags that are made from corn, mentioned in my composting post) but the vast majority of plastic still comes from petroleum.
Therefore, if we really want to conserve our oil supply, we should each do our part to dump as little plastic into our landfills as possible, since dumping plastic is like dumping oil.
- Ask for paper instead of plastic - when possible, of course. Here in San Francisco, the city Council passed an ordinance requiring paper bags be used by stores over a certain size.
- Better yet, bring your own (reusable canvas bag)
- Recycle as much as possible (instead of dumping it in the trash) – trash goes to landfills, recycling goes to recycling centers.
- Take packaging into consideration when making a purchase – meaning, decide if there’s an alternative product that uses less packaging, or use material that can be recycled easily (like paper).
- Buy less stuff – probably worth an entire post to discuss this.
- Consider buying recycled products – such as those by Recycline, found at stores like Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe’s, these include items like toothbrushes and razors, to cups and plates, to name a few, all made from recycled plastic. Plus, they can be recycled as well.
Plastic Consumption in Perspective
If you’re still not convinced that buying less and recycling plastic is a good idea, here’s a link to artist Chris Jordan’s photographic work. He has a series of photographs depicting the amount of stuff we (in the United States) use, and a lot of the stuff is made from plastic.
It really puts things in perspective.
Going with the Familiar, the Comfortable
- When we attend a class, we sit in the same seat
- We listen to the same songs on our iPod
- We order the same meal at our favorite restaurant
- We drive the same route to work
- We read the same blogs
Do these traits sound familiar? We ARE creatures of habit.
Physiologically, this makes sense. When we get into a habit, it is because we’ve discovered something safe and comforting, something that will not put us in the classic “fight or flight” mode, which means less stress. Less stress is good, right?
When Good Habits Do Bad
However, getting into a habit can also have detrimental affects. They can get us:
- Stuck in a rut – we do the same thing over and over again
- Blind to new things – we become unaware of changes in the surrounding environment, whether it’s the local physical environment, within or without the industry itself
- Into a sense of Complacency – we have a false sense of security that our way will always be the best way
- Unwilling to accept changes – we become conservative, unwilling to embrace new ideas or to see the writing on the wall
- Afraid to lose our comfort zone – we become fearful that we would lose our current status, and would do anything to ensure our habits remain intact.
These and other ill-effects can come from hanging onto an old habit (assuming it was good to begin with).
So maybe I’ve begun to shout more at my kids, or the video store is unaware of Apple’s entry into movie rentals — whatever our habits may be, it’s a good idea to examine them from time to time with an objective eye, to see whether any change is in order.
It might do wonders.
photo by undronotto
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated with Legos.
Just think about it.
Two little Lego bricks (like the 4×4 squares in the photo above), when pushed together (the bottom of one to the top of the other) will stick together. Yet can be pulled apart. Yet can be stuck together. Again. And again.
What I love about Legos:
- They’re colorful and tactile – they appeal to the senses, as most toys do.
- They’re versatile – Once you’re done building the “prescribed” model, you’re free to tear it apart and build something else, and their design allows a multitude of designs.
- It teaches fine motor skills to young kids – I watched my younger boy struggle with it when he was 4-5. Now at age 6, he has no trouble building sets labeled for 8-12 year olds. (Ironically, they have larger “Mega Bloks” for preschool aged kids).
- They spur the imagination – CHiPs was one of my childhood favorites, and I built my own lego motorcycle to imagine my own chase scenes.
- Legos will last – They toy has stood the test of time, and today’s blocks are totally compatible with yesterday’s and tomorrow’s models.
- I know they appeal to boys, but I would say they are certainly girl-friendly – I’d be curious to hear my female readers’ experience with Legos.
Lego was not the first “erector” type toy but its success has spawned a number of copy-cats, including much “slicker”, “cooler” toys.
However, Legos still sits atop of my all-time favorite toys list.
Far-Sightedness versus Short-Sightedness
I learned the difference between far-sightedness and short-sightedness in high school, and I’m not talking about needing to wear glasses. I’m talking about seeing long-term and short-term effects of a specific action.
It Happened in History class
The inciter was one of my history teachers, whom I shall call Mr. F.
He was certainly not a great teacher by any means — in fact, he normally taught P.E. — but for whatever reasons, we had him for one semester of U.S. History.
What normally happened was we would be cruising along through the textbook during lecture when one thing or another from the text would prompt him to go off on tangents. Here are two that I recall:
- Railroads – Mr. F would wax nostalgic about the railroad system of the late 1800′s, during the Industrial Revolution. Tracks spanned all across the country, and you can go most anywhere via a romantic train ride. Cities and industries grew due to the “iron horse”. Then, along came the trucking companies, who, in the interest of increasing truck sales, started buying up the railroads, and then simply shut them down, all in the name of profits. For Mr. F this was one of the great injustices wreaked by corporations, one apparently he had never forgiven.
- S.F. Municipal Transportation – On another occasion, Mr. F would talk about something closer to home — San Francisco used to have a lot more streetcar lines (verified by looking at any old historic S.F. photo book). However, the same automobile companies came along and convinced (read: bought off) local politicians to have many streetcar lines removed, so that buses could be sold to the city.
Mr. F would go on exclaiming, “Do you know how many trucks are needed to haul all the freight that can be loaded onto a string of freight cars pulled by a single locomotive, and how much fuel is wasted!?” And he would the class in a huff!
Similar diatribes would occur throughout the semester, and we, being young teenagers, would always snicker afterwards and shake our heads, thinking how bitter Mr. F was.
Looking Back at that Class
Now, looking back, that’s where I got my first taste of the kind of harm corporations can do when they emphasize short-term gains over the greater benefit that often comes from actions geared toward a long-term vision. The idea to always think about long-term effects has stuck with me ever since.
All because of one bitter old man.
Excellence Comes from Training
Michael Jordan. Jerry Rice. Fred Astaire. Gene Kelly.
What do they have in common?
Yes, they’re all guys, and yes, they were all considered the best in their profession. They were also known for their incredible commitment and dedication to practice, training, and/or rehearsing.
Practice Critical Thinking
Critical thinking, like any worthwhile ability, is also a skill that needs to be nurtured, developed, and practiced on a regular, constant basis in order for it to be effective.
So here are 5 ways to improve one’s critical thinking skills:
- Learn to Listen First – We often start thinking the moment someone starts talking to us, thinking to such an extent that we actually fail to listen. If we fail to listen, how can we get all the facts that are crucial to correct decision-making?
- Set Aside Time to Practice – Just as with an exercise regimen, critical thinking should be practiced at regular times. Fit the activity within one of your routine habits, tasks, or chores. See my post on The Best Times to Think for tips.
- Be Open Minded – Someone once said, “The mind is like a parachute; it functions only when open.” An open mind will be amendable to accepting new data and ideas that can be used to form new opinions and decisions, or modify old ones.
- Practice Cause and Effect – Be observant of people’s behavior, and work backwards to speculate how they may have arrived at that behavior.
- Ask Questions – Be inquisitive and ask questions, look things up in the dictionary. Learning new things will keep the brain stimulated.
Hopefully, these will be useful exercises.
Filed under: Education, Family, Philosophy, Smarter View, UnCommon Sense
Over at ZenHabits is another useful post, 7 Powerful Steps to Overcoming Resistance and Actually Getting Stuff Done. In it, Leo mainly talks about the book The War of Art by author Steven Pressfield, and discusses how to overcome our natural urge to not do the things we really want to do and rather maintain the status quo.
Of the 7 steps listed, number six jumped out at me:
“Know your motivation. Why are you doing this? Why is this task important? What is it working towards? And how important is that end goal to you? Why is it important? You need to know these things to build up the motivation to overcome Resistance.”
Motivation is Key for Me
Most of us have seen or read crime thrillers, where the detective needed to find the motive (and evidence, and opportunity) that will finger the bad guy.
Well, in real life, we have motivations for everything we do (hopefully not crime). As such, motivations play key part in explaining why there is so much conflict in our societies: different priorities, agendas and the like. On a more personal level, though, understanding my own motivations is a step towards understanding myself, and that’s what I want to talk about today.
Think about it.
A Baby’s Motivation
As a little baby my motivation was to survive. I needed my:
The basic needs.
A Child’s Motivation
As I kid, my main motivation was (probably) to have fun, to play.
However, as I mentioned in my post about reading, at some point my motivation became the need to satisfy a thirst for reading fun books, which I guess can still be viewed as to have fun.
A Young Adult’s Motivation
College for me was quite a long, circuitous path, because I did not know what I wanted to do for the longest time — I did not have the motivation. There was also the allure of making (okay) money at a dead-end job, money to pay for more expensive past-times (dates, trips, video games, and other grown-up “toys”).
A Parent’s Motivation
Now, I have a business I love, and my main motivation to do well?
To provide for my family. I know that when the time comes for me to leave this existence, I want to be able to answer in the positive to this question: “Did I do my best for my family?”
Motivations “Grow Up”
It’s interesting how my motivation for the longest time was: for the Self. It began as the basic needs, but I now realize that the rest of my “needs” over the years and the resulting actions (why we need to buy certain things, say certain things, perform certain actions) all derived from motivations that I acquired through learning from my parents, my peers, and the media. From time to time, I was able to re-evaluate my motivations and modify them.
Throughout a lot of my life, my main motivation remained geared toward the self. And although I didn’t think of it as much, it was a form of selfishness, a self-love.
However, once I got into a serious relationship, one that has developed and grown over the years, that main motivation has changed. I now do what I do to provide for my family, to teach the young ones and instill in them values that hopefully will remain and help them grown into good, productive young men.
I find myself teaching, and MOTIVATING them.
Have you thought about why you do the things you do lately?
If you liked this post, you may like:
Since we’re observing the birth of Dr. Martin Luthor King, Jr. today, I thought I’d list a few of my favorite quotes from this influential man.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
– I see this as a universal truth on how we should deal with setbacks and failures, when the going gets rough, when we feel overwhelmed and stress.
Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”
– this one hits home, and is one of the underlying reasons for this blog, and why I chose to focus this blog’s theme on Critical Thinking.
“One who breaks an unjust law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”
– Inspiring. Of course, Dr. King must have been referring to Rosa Parks.
If you’re interested in more quotes, check out Brainyquote.
One of the best recent books I’ve read that perfectly illustrates critical thinking skills is Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.
In it, Mr. Diamond espouses on a number of theories that help explain how early human societies throughout the world developed, evolved and eventually wound up with today’s nation-states.
It’s amazing how he is able to illustrate in detail a broad picture of the development of human societies — in many ways, the “story” almost resembles one of those world conquering video-games like Age of Empires, or Civilization and their ilk. For instance, mankind in the beginning had to contend with simply finding (gathering) enough food to eat. But with the introduction of new “technology” like hunting, more food became available to support a larger community beyond a family. Thus, began tribes, villages, and eventually cities, kingdoms, etc. (I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those game creators had read the book for research).
It really is a fascinating look at the reasons why and how various societies developed, who was able to succeed, why others failed, and especially why current national powers exist where they are. Factors such as geography, natural wildlife, plant species, and luck are all examined in detail. And of course, later on in the book, we find out more about the influence of “guns, germs and steel”.
It’s an eye-opening book.