Ditch The Herd

In the spirit of philosophical thought, I give below words from the Buddha on being rational:

“Rely not on the teacher, but on the teaching. Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but on experience. Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”The Buddha, Kalama Sutra

Now, who is capable of being rational? We all are. But we do not all exercise this freedom to be rational. It is because some of us have handed over that freedom to an ideology of our choice. We have freely given away freedom! There are many groups of various ideologies all vying for our attention but not necessarily our inclusion. It may be religious or spiritual groups, the ín-crowd’ group in school, political groups, street gangs, or any other social peer-group. Many groups thrive because they provide what most of us look for but may not need. 

Many of us are afraid of social isolation. A group provides security and a sense of belonging. Sometimes our self-esteem is closely linked with the group’s ideology – we feel good about what we stand for. Being in a group can also help us to counter physical and mental illnesses. A support system that works and is trustworthy could be precious at our weakest moment. 

But there is a price to pay for ‘belonging.’

Philosopher Albert Camus said, ‘Every ideology is contrary to human psychology.’ The moment we identify with a group, we sell ourselves short by engaging in ideological obedience. Is this a bad thing? Yes and no. Yes, because you have stopped learning and growing. No, because depending on your emotional and physical needs, belonging will provide a safety net of support and protection. 

This article is for those of you who love to learn and grow. Consider this – if you already belong to a group, how will they react to certain situations?

  • If you want to change your religion;
  • If you want to support a different cricket team or basketball team;
  • If you want to visit a place considered únholy’;
  • If you want to dress differently;
  • If you want to belong to a different street gang;

What reactions would you see? Anger, resentment, disdain, emotional blackmail, maybe even violence. 

Freedom is a heavy price to pay for the sake of belonging. But if you are able to shake off the fear of not belonging, there is a whole world of adventure waiting for you. 

Freedom from belonging means you don’t have to carry the torch of the group’s narrative anymore. You can think for yourself, explore other thought systems, study the pros and cons of different world-views, and choose your value-system that you wish to live by. 

Studies have shown that well-being is closely related to gratitude and love of learning. 

Sincere gratitude is experienced when you move out of your group’s cocoon. When you are within a group, the group takes care of its own. Love is felt within the group, and so it is shown within the group. The priority for loving-kindness is always within the group. You can feel the immediate rejection cutting through like a knife when you decide to leave. Some members will reach out for a few days, but it will eventually stop. All that love and bonding has disappeared. So the love within a group is conditional – it only applies as long as you remain.

However, if you are free from belonging, you are also free to love – anyone you like, regardless of their ideologies. You can practice universal love for all. You can finally be grateful regardless of the possibility of future benefits. This is sincere gratefulness. Sincere gratefulness build bridges across individuals, families and communities

When you are unencumbered by ideology and dogma, you can pursue a love of learning. It has been found that our sense of well-being is significantly increased when we seek learning. As with gratitude, pure love of learning is possible only when you are free. Your mind is cleared of clutter to absorb, evaluate, accept and reject. There is no one to point a finger at you for reading the wrong book or listening to the wrong guru. No one will raise an eyebrow if you choose to develop your talents in a way of your own choosing. You are on a journey of self discovery and self-actualization.

It takes energy to conform to group rules and ideologies. Belonging to the group may have fulfilled some part of your purpose initially, but as you go along you find that your individual goals slowly morph into group goals. You spend your time and talents within the group. Suddenly you find there is a strong codependency. You have begun to rely excessively on the group for approval and identity. All this energy could be diverted for creative endeavors and self-actualization instead. The down-side is losing your place in the herd. But the freedom that you experience will be so strong that you will not dwell on any feelings of displacement for long.

While writing this article, I reflected on how many people I know have become slaves to ideology which have hindered their achievements. Some of them leaving lucrative jobs because it is not in line with group values, and others completely ignoring their talents to conform to group thinking. And some deciding to live through miserable marriages that are so obviously toxic to themselves and to their children – all because of obedience to group values.

Personally, life has been an incredible journey of discovery for me. At times, belonging and then, not. Free to be my genuine self, ideologically independent, questioning everything and everyone without fear of repercussions. To someone who belong‘, this path may seem uncertain and lonely, but the discovery of life above and beyond my perceived capability, have compensated me for the loss of a social safety net. As Einzelgänger says, ‘The delight of not belonging is priceless.’

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