Live by the sword, die by the sword is an ancient, and probably true statement regarding choice and consequence. But we also know another truth which seems at times to confound us: Live by the group, die by the group.
Short of seeking shelter in a continuing string of different groups we are functionally wed to a relatively few on going groups with whom and by whom we live and “die”. That’s obvious when we think of either the Marines or the Mafia. Unless we are loyal we cannot expect loyalty, and without loyalty we are vulnerable to our enemies. For most of us the drama is not life threatening, it’s not “enemies” who threaten our sense of well being, but all those people for him what happens to us is simply a matter of indifference as we compete for jobs or promotions.
We live this truth day in and day out but it is so much at odds with our favorite cultural myth of the strong individual who “stands alone” (usually in a small western town with the sun setting) that we relegate it to the basement storage room of our consciousness until those sudden life crises that reveal us to ourselves as alone, but not all that strong.
When that happens to us the fragility of our individual self becomes undeniable, and the fabricated expectation that we should “be strong” undermines our ability to collapse into ourselves long enough to grieve the loss and discover how much we do in deed need each other. Recognition of what belonging means to us can give us the strength and focus our search for a group that will confirm our worth and support our growth. But beyond that self propelling understanding, we have the opportunity and I think the obligation to deepen our respect for what group life means in our ever changing society. Respect for the reality of the divergent needs and goals of the different groups that are engaged in a daily struggle for survival is the necessary first step towards finding common ground. Whether it is The National Association of Realtors or the neighborhood watch, whether it is the labor unions or the Chamber of Commerce, whether it is the police or the local adolescent gang, groups roam our cities and states and are driven by the same chemistry that drives the antelope and the lion. We need to recognize ourselves as unavoidably part of that process, and dedicate some energy to reducing its lethality.