The Extended Family
By Chris Wilson
When we look beyond our immediate family, how do we behave in general society, and what kind of new families do we involve ourselves in? In doing so what opinions do we form of others outside such groups, how do we react under stressful conditions and, when we do react, what justification might we have for doing so. It all sounds very easy when you reduce it to such simple questions, but on more detailed investigation a more complex picture emerges so, without any more preliminaries, I think it is time to make a more detailed assessment without delay.
It is not unusual for animals that are as complex as ourselves to explore new territories so that we may ascertain whether such areas are on interest for various types of activities. We are lucky though, as despite our ancestry and the need for us to obey the natural rules of survival, we do have additional powers whereby we can seek our avenues for other interests in life. In doing so we normally seek out groups or collections of individuals who are in tune with how we think, and who wish to pursue a given set of activities further.
Once we have done this we then decide whether to directly participate in such an agreed activity, to support other agreed participants, or even more indirectly, to support a group that we may never actually see or get involved with. Group dynamics within the workplace will be examined in the next chapter but what we can do is to look at groups outside of both the workplace and direct family, and see what systems are operating there. So it is we leave our houses, and go forth into the wider world around us, and so it is that our clubs, teams, interest groups, organisation, and alliances are formed. Whatever we may wish to call them, or however we wish them to work, are they really any more than outside family units and, if we chose such groups with care, do they not support us as a family, and help us to fulfil our dreams?
Furthermore might they not act as super or high grade families, as if all members share the same interests, desires, and terminal goals for a given goal might that not result in even greater harmony, unity, and strength in numbers, than might be gained in a standard family unit? What might be useful though is to decide, for the purposes of our discussion, to term all such units as groups, and groups alone, as otherwise a great deal of needless elaboration might occur. I do apologise however, if members of other organisations feel uncomfortable with such a simplification, but I would hope they have the maturity to see why such step I being taken.
Considering the power of such groups, it is interesting to consider the dynamics of various organisations, as they are fascinating in themselves, and of real relevance when such groups interact with other groups around them. To begin with any group needs members as without such a basic item the group cannot exist, but is there any limit as regards the number of members involved? Strictly speaking just one individual may form a group, but unless at least one other member join such a group, might a discussion within such a group be at least brief or one sided, if, at times, not a little insane. So it is that we can say that, for practical purposes, at least two people might be involved, and beyond that, any number may join. The next thing to consider is whether or not all members within a group should have common aims, interests, or views?
On casual consideration the answer would seem to be yes, but look a little deeper, and a different picture begins to emerge. At one end of the spectrum some groups, e.g. open discussion groups, state, and actively pursue mechanisms, by which their members can examine and then expound different ideas with total and utter freedom.
At the other end, group members are informed that only certain views will be tolerated, and that such information, often released from a central organisation, is not to be considered for any kind of challenge or interpretation. Furthermore members of such a group may be informed that if any such deviation from the group dictates or principles occur, serious punishment may occur, leading to serious risk for the defaulting group member, or expulsion from the group as a whole. This last group, often political by nature, may have overtones that are less than pleasant than those of groups around them, either by mode of operation or by the ideas that they propose, but at least they demonstrate a degree of honesty, albeit savage honesty, in the way that the operate.
Might we accuse some other potentially softer groups of dishonesty, quite possibly yes, for if we consider how most groups really operate, do they not operate in a slightly less cosy way that they would have us believe? Even if most group members join with the very best of intentions, do they not soon form their own agenda within any group, and secretly or overtly begin to pursue or chart a course of their own?
This might not always seem obvious at first glance, but if it does occur is it really that surprising? If we have learnt our group bonding, and survival skills by being part of one family from birth, isn’t it both natural and almost inevitable that we end up by using such skills in the new family that we are in now? Most groups though are aware of such inner dynamics, so through various techniques and formalities, order, agreement, and group cohesion are generally achieved.
What happens though when forces outside of the group put pressure on the group within? What happens when such a group feels threatened or under attack, how does it begin to behave then? With smaller groups the group either folds or possibly merges with a group or groups of similar interests so, that they might survive or grow stronger, but when dealing with larger more powerful groups more significant changes may occur. Under such circumstances do we often revert to our pack ancestry, and upon doing so does not the more savage part of our nature begin to emerge?
There may be several types of responses from such a pack, and the emergence of such responses would probably reflect the severity of the external pressure, but if we look at our own group, behaviour, how do we behave? In order to do this it may prove useful to identify how we operate on a one to one basis before we turn to the group, as possible deeper roots may lie there. As individuals we often identify a potential attacker, and in doing so we attempt to identify his or her potential weaknesses and strengths. Once this is done we attempt to neutralise, through fight or flee mechanisms, such an attacker, thereby ensuring such a threat goes away. This sounds good, but how often do we pass comment about the attacker to a friend, lover, or colleague where we work, so as to validate and strengthen our case for our defence or counter attack, and in doing so, how fair an assessment of our opposition do we generally pass on?
Do we not neglect to mention their good or strong points so that we may bring any negatives to the fore, and furthermore, how often do we amplify such negatives through second hand generalisations or stereotypical imagery? If we do this as individuals, and it could be argued that we should naturally do so, think what power larger groups may yield? Might not larger groups mirror such behavioural patterns and, if so, might not the effect of this be to amplify the potential damage that has already been identified? If this is so would the individual, or the group, be wrong? From a purely natural standpoint, the answer would probably be no, but think of the damage that can occur, and think of how such a validation affects our supposedly special place in the living world?
Put a group under pressure and what do we see. Do we not see a rise in such ideas or idealisms such as racism, xenophobia, sexual bias, protectionism, and a host of other unpleasant or regrettable ideas? Further more how often has this given rise to civil war, world war and genocide? Sadly this raises a potentially difficult question for us all. How free are any of us from such ideologies, can any of us stand tall and state that this is really so? We may maintain that this is so when we are at peace, or in times of plenty, but if times go bad, or if we are directly threatened, what crawls out our own woodwork then? This might sound harsh but look at the world around us, what do we see?
How many of us in Britain, now seek British jobs for British people, and, with the rise of such political groups as the British National Party are not racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance, increasing all the time. We build and give life to the idea of being British, but it alone is only a word, and it has no power, so if we wish to wave our flags, or declare our patriotic support, or carry on dreaming, can we truly disassociate ourselves from what is going on?
Does this mean we all behave in exactly the same way, of course not, as how can we do so when we are such a multicultural and mixed race nation, both now and over hundreds and thousands of years. Does it mean that we are the only nation that behaves this way, certainly not, we only need to look at the rest of the world to see such similar behaviour, but we would do well to remember what has occurred as regards recent European history?
I refer to events during the Second World War, especially within occupied German territory. Look at the parallels, between then and now. Are they not disturbing and increasingly self evident, and if so might we not end up, as intelligent free thinking and tolerant individuals, only following orders? As an individual nation, or as a group of nations, we have done so many times in the past, might we not do the same over the years to come?
So it is that, once more a bleak choice faces us. Do we wish to validate ourselves and our groups, both in action and deed? If we do, we must decide if we are just another animal, or whether we truly wish to stand alone. We have the choice, for within us all, we have the resources and the mental the ability to follow whatever path we choose, I just wonder which path we shall chose
That is for the future though, this is real life, the clock is ticking, and we are getting older; but before we use any time that might be available, we need to consider the following. What is time, can we measure it with any accuracy, how important is it to us, and what do we do with it once it seems to be in our grasp. All these questions will be dealt with in the next chapter so let us go there without any delay.