the ties that bind

what's missing from our modern society and how to get it

This past weekend I attended a talk given by Sebastian Junger, the New York Times Bestselling author. His new book, titled Tribe, calls into question the role modern society has played in our mental well-being and our natural need, as social beings, to belong.

As it turns out, our modern society has not always been helpful in providing foundational support to promote mental wellness, as illustrated in an article from the 2012 Journal of Affective Disorders

"In effect, humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable, and socially-isolating environment with dire consequences."

Throughout his book, Sebastian juxtaposes modern society with tribal societies, societies experiencing war and persons directly affected and engaged in war, such as military personnel.

As one young man stationed in Restrepo - a military outpost in the remote Korengal Valley of Afghanistan recounts, 

"for the first time in (our) lives...we were in a tribal sort of situation where we could help each other without fear."

What this passage suggests is that far from missing the danger and loss of their situation, these young men miss "the unity that these things often engender."

Sebastian posits that "the beauty and the tragedy of the modern world is that it eliminates many situations that require people to demonstrate a commitment to the collective good."

As a result, many feel lost in a life that seems devoid of meaning, purpose and belonging.

Written on the wall of a once war-torn city is perhaps the most poignant testimony to that disconnect.

It reads simply, 

"it was better when it was really bad."

As anthropologist Sharon Abramowitz suggests, 

"We are not good to each other. Our tribalism is to an extremely narrow group of people: our children, our spouse, maybe our parents. Our society is alienating, technical, cold, and mystifying. Our fundamental desire, as human beings, to be close to others, and our society does not allow for that."

It's hard to read such words, non?

And yet, 

with our enormous wealth and comfort,

we continue to seek something that seems missing from life.

Something to fill the void that speaks perhaps to an ancient hunger.

We distract ourselves with food and entertainment and drugs and material goods...always in an effort to quench that which seems unquenchable.

And yet,

all we need do is look at one of our many forms of recreation for a clue as to what we seek.

And so, let's take a look at TV.

Have you ever noticed the type of shows that garner the most avid followers?

Each week, anxiously awaiting the continuation of the story or saga or battle.

Game of ThronesThe Walking Dead or just about any sports playoffs (to name just a few).

These shows represent our modern day Gladiator Games.

We watch, with bated breath, as our favorite character or player

struggles,

succumbs

or succeeds

And within those moments,

and the space between,

we find a place where we belong;

a place where we are part of a team or a clan or a family.

We revel as our favorites are challenged with the themes of

loyalty, sacrifice, honor, loss, courage, life and death.

We feel betrayed when they feel betrayed.

We feel loved when they feel loved.

We feel bereft when they feel bereft.

But mostly,

we feel ALIVE

we feel connected

and

we feel fully human.

And then...

the show is over and we return to our lives.

Our real lives.

The ones that can be lived,

if so desired,

in complete isolation;

never needing to meet another soul,

never needing to see another soul,

never needing to help another soul. 

Never needing.

And yet,

in order to thrive as social beings...

we need each other.

It is the heartstone of our humanity.

We thrive best when we have meaning beyond ourselves,

when we feel like we contribute beyond ourselves,

when we feel needed

and have purpose 

and a sense of belonging.

Neither food

nor tv

nor drugs

nor material goods

will ever fill that most basic human need.

So stop looking and start giving.

Give of yourself

your time

your attention

your effort

your love

your good will

your compassion

your passion

your ideas

your ideals

your courage

your humanness.

Don't wait.

Just start.

Expand your tribe.

Include.

Embrace.

Encourage.

It's who we are.

Truly.

 

*Dedicated to Wendy...a fellow tribe mate. ;)