Group norms act as prohibitors, permission givers and commandments to the behavior of individual members of the group. From the ancient Hebrews to medical doctors, to lawyers and even to the financial group of Wall street traders who serve in the role of villains in today’s economic drama, what we may do, may not do, or must do depends on the rules that govern the group. That seems easy enough to see and verify out of our own experience. But how do we choose to join a group? What is the basis for the choices that we make. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from safety to self-actualization provides a useful paradigm for understanding what we seek and because we need to stay alive and keep our place, safety trumps everything else. One would think.
Personal safety may be the starting place, but then how do we think about suicide and the sacrifice of self? Perhaps keeping our place in the group trumps personal safety and in certain circumstances allows or propels us to take risks for the safety of the group. Certainly that scenario is played out in a myriad of ways every day.
It seems then, that in certain situations our identity of self with the group transcends our sense of self as an individual capable of choosing another group and another life.
Our attachment to the group and to our place in it generates such a flood of feelings that our appreciation of our stand alone self is swept away and we become, in our sacrifice, the instrument of the group’s salvation. Within that frame of thought, suicide is the action we take when we feel ourselves to have become an insurmountable threat to the safety or well being of our group. Perhaps the religious,cultural, and professional rites that initiate us as new adult members of the group are the transitional ceremonies wherein we are pledged to dedicate our personal safety to the safety of the group.