We are hard-wired as the human animal to crave belonging.
Even us rebels, we crave belonging.
I cannot speak on behalf of others, nor of ‘our nation.’ But I can say that I believe that as people, as modern Americans, we face a crisis. On paper, it is a crisis of depression, anxiety, isolation, fear, and lack of connection. We have a health crisis and an emotional crisis. On some deeper level, though, all of this boils down to community.
Who are we as people? We can’t understand this question without asking another: Who are we with people? While I, as an introverted artist who bucks convention in many ways, understand that introversion, contemplation, and alone time are critical, they are not in themselves sustaining for person. To eat or work or grow as people we need – other people. We need community.
Unfortunately, we in America (or some Americans, historically) have placed a high value on “rugged individualism.” It has been a rat race to the top, this race to a place of luxury where we are isolated in a mansion on a hilltop, affording everything and engaging in humble, equal exchange with no one. Or that’s been the goal for some. And no doubt, this “American dream” sparks such brutal competition, that many great ideas, inventions, and industries have been born in the process. But it leaves us, ultimately, alone. This brings in the question of an individual’s creative power. While the aggressive sense of competing with one another certainly has fueled creative power in America, this is not the only way.
Belonging in a Community, or Standing Out?
Each person represents a unique expression of the energy that churned out everything. .
Each person HAS a path, whether she chooses to be conscious of it or no. It’s not what brings you money, but can be. It is not just what brings you joy, but it can be. In my case, what I do to express myself as a person combines: art, writing, speaking, sport, meditation, mistakes, re-examinations, intrapersonal and interpersonal exchanges, and un-impinged geographic freedom (home-free travel.)
It is not my fault that my approach does not jive with societal standards, but it IS my responsibility to communicate this to those who worry about me.
(COMMUNication:) I exchange art for love, cooking for love, stories for money, money for stories (the occasional movie/,concert), work/art/stories for housing (not money e.g. rent), etc.
If I seem to receive things, I am not lucky or needy — the giver is generous (and/or my offering may be unrecognized.) If the giver is not generous, he needs to Speak it, or take part in exchange. If I offer work/love/art in exchange, it is because THAT’S what I have to offer.
Two great examples of non-monetary exchange: Monks provide insights/stories/guidance for a village, the village shares food. In many old-fashioned hetero couples, women were given the task of caring for kids and household. The man provided work to an external entity in exchange for money, which allowed him to pay for food/materials for household. Does the stay-home person pay rent? No. Does the working-half person do errands. No. Yes, they can switch it up, but the pattern holds—each person has something to offer and That Something she offers is who she IS.
The crux of the matter lies in how an individual’s expression of his or her life or creativity intersects with the expression of another person or community. How does one lead a unique lifestyle, or practice a distinct spirituality, and do so alongside his fellow man without friction?
It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
Ralph Emerson knew that we go along to get along, as is implied in the first part of this quote. Baked into that is the idea of man as a community, and having some kind of compromise or interchange amongst men in order to maintain order and civility. But along with the human being as communal creature comes the human being as a uniquely expressed creative individual.
So how do we all just get along? My first instinct is that yes, there must exist some compromise on some level. But then, I feel it’s equally important not to compromise ourselves in the process. We may compromise certain comforts or personality or ways of being or speaking (e.g. Say something nice or not at all vs. feeling too comfortable about judging someone.) but then we should not compromise our own inner sanctity (e.g. Consent is consent, expression of gender identity, feeling unrestricted in expressing our emotions or Speaking Our Truth.) We learn to adjust our behavior according to others. Being in the company of certain people allows us to be freer, whereas with others we might act in a more neutral or professional manner. In a library we are quiet or even remind others to be quiet, but in a bar no one cares if you are loud and might even discourage you from being quiet.
So then, how do we belong? Where do we belong? How do we live in a state of belonging without giving up our true self-expression? How do we allow these to exist alongside each other?