Sunday, November 13, 2016

Membership's Benefits ... and Drawbacks

     Sometimes we enthusiastically join, support and become strongly identified with certain groups. How completely we become identified with & transformed by the group depends on us, as well as the group. Our level of psychosociospiritual development determines the type of group(s) we wish to join. There's a very broad range of groups from which to choose: from sports teams, charities, political parties, professions, unions, the armed forces, religions, nations, ethnic groups, to outlaw gangs, etc.
     Not surprisingly, we're in a very different place in our life if we choose to join & identify with, say the Hell's Angels instead of Save the Whales. Besides different activities, one group may demand strict obedience ("dogmatic"), while another may be laid back & informal ("liberal"). Interestingly, many of us, at a certain point in our lives, are strongly drawn to dogmatic groups that completely take over our thinking, behavior - our whole lives. The very same person who's a peace-loving humanitarian in their 60s, could have, in their teens, enthusiastically enlisted for combat duty to fight "the enemy" of the day.
     When we feel lost, empty, like a nobody, marginalized, hopeless, angry, without any sense of belonging, as soon as we join a dogmatic group, we instantly feel proud, connected, accepted, have both an identity and a home. A dogmatic group has a strong distinctive brand, and we're thrilled to be branded, wear the uniform, fly the flag, repeat the slogans. For many, this means a radically-improved quality of life. There's no looking back at what we might have given up - our immediate assumption is nothing, since they had nothing. Group-think is demanded and easy to go along with - easier than thinking for oneself. One develops very strong, almost unbreakable emotional attachment to such groups. Many dogmatic groups explicitly teach that leaving the group has catastrophic consequences for the individual - shunning, court martial, eternal hell-fire. So reason is rarely successful against such powerful emotions to extricate oneself (or another) from dogmatic groups. Members tend to be paranoid, and may respond violently to any criticism - feeling as if their very life were being threatened.
     But human evolution of consciousness is an entirely natural process, whereas the core basis of dogmatic groups is a set of fixed ideas - dogmas. Most of us simply outgrow dogmas. 
     "Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values. (But) humans strive for internal consistency. An individual who experiences inconsistency tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance, as well as actively avoid situations and information likely to increase it." 
     So as we mature psychosociospiritually, cognitive dissonance increases. The question then is how much authenticity can I tolerate suppressing while I'm with my dogmatic group? This is a wrenching, quasi-life-or-death decision - a form of ego death, since the group for many of us is/was our core identity. But living a lie - a "divided life", is for some of us, deadening, soul-destroying.
     When we quietly observe the mind during meditation, we notice a huge amount of self-talk - mostly transient, unnecessary ego noise. Our real identity is beyond all this noise: words, concepts, including all dogmas. When the noise from our own or our group's ego settles down, we touch authenticity, freedom.

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