Conflicting Basic Needs

We have two basic needs that, when the circumstances are far from ideal, have the potential to contradict one another: the need to be ourselves and the need to belong together.


When we’re part of a group, whether it’s a one-time gathering or a more permanent assembly, we tend to easily go along with what the group wants. And what a group wants is, aside from those situations where codes of conduct are implemented, determined by random behavior. When people meet, the first act performed by any of those people is often what sets the tone to which the rest automatically responds. When for instance one person, out of fear not to belong or out of sheer nervousness to meet new people, is cruel to an outsider, the other members may simply follow suit.


I work a lot with children, and groups of children, and I see this kind of behavior all the time – and I’m quite sure adults aren’t strangers to it either. When trying to solve issues by talking to the individuals, it often becomes clear that no one really want to behave in such a way; and even the one that started it all really doesn’t. A gentle confrontation and simple push in the right direction often results in a much happier bunch, with everyone included.


In a way, a collective is always without aim until someone takes the helm. And when that someone takes the easy course of action, the whole party may soon end up being adrift. A group onto itself is an entity without sentience or intelligence, and is therefore unable to choose or navigate itself, but once a “choices” has been made by the people in it, it may end up with a mind of its own. And unless we beware of this, it will change our minds accordingly, either temporarily or permanently.


In other words, we easily lose ourselves in the crowd. And that is because the two before mentioned needs are both on a different time table. The repercussions felt by not belonging to a group are near instant and the repercussions of not being ourselves slowly and gradually increase over time. And for as long as our eyes are directed towards the short term instead of the long term, this will remain a problem.


That is, unless we can bring the two terms together. What is beneficial to us in the long run can be used to steer the ships we collectively sail. We must all take our own responsibility to do what feels right and to not do what feels wrong. We must stand up to each other, and back each other up while doing so. In some cases this may be a very difficult thing to do, depending on the grip we hold on one another, but in most cases it is far easier than you may now suspect.


Most people actually want to do the right thing, but find themselves unable to because of peer pressure. A group makes us strong together and to stand up to that strength requires strength on an individual level. The illusion exists that we’re unable to compete with these Goliaths we’ve created, but once we know their weak spot – the fact that we secretly all want to do things differently – we can all be the one that defeat the group mind we’re in, and bend it to our will.


The need to be ourselves and the need to belong together don’t necessarily have to contradict each other at all. In fact, they can complement each other greatly. The thing is that we must labor to fulfill them in reversed order: first be or become yourself, and then remain yourself while being part of a group. Stand strong. Shape them in our image, instead of let them shape us after theirs.

Jerry Corstens is a visionary dreamer with a blind passion for self-reflection and contemplating life, a self-proclaimed philosopher with poetic ambitions. He's serious about helping people with the insights he gathered, but playful in the way he communicates his wisdom. It made him leave a career as environmental engineer behind, in favor of becoming a personal development coach and thought-provoking writer.

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