Like all animals, we human beings have a herding instinct. It is built into our DNA for many reasons, but the most important reason is survival.
We are vulnerable when alone. Physically, psychologically, emotionally, and intellectually.
Being or feeling totally alone causes panic or despair. Either condition brings on an acceptance of death as a reasonable option. Ceasing to exist is the ultimate cure for psychic or physical pain.
Death is not always caused by a violent or drug-induced kind of suicide.
Among elderly people who feel isolated and alone, they simply shut down by allowing themselves to cease caring. About themselves. About anyone or anything else. By achieving a kind of ennui and despondency, which triggers the fragile body’s other systems to respond accordingly.
Young people with feelings of dissociation or rejection can do much the same. But their healthier bodies are not as quick to respond to the anguish emitted by the brain. Which makes the suffering much worse. Until they place themselves into a position in society risky enough to likely cause their demise.
Or resort to a more direct way to extinguish the pain.
My 60 years as an educator and researcher into ways people live, learn, and thrive has taught me many lessons. The most important is that human beings must be positively and continuously engaged with each other to have a purposeful and happy life. To avoid the cataclysmic outlook that leads to the ultimate disengagement.
Achieving that status requires a social catalyst, a stimulus that makes everything else happen. In ordinary words, people must feel REALLY part of a group. Not just a member, contributor, or supporter. But essential.
As in, “Without me the group and its purposes would be difficult to achieve.”
Essentialness is not the same as feeling special. Or superior. It is a quiet dedication with no reward expected. From someone who can be depended on. Even if unique or eccentric.
In fact, unique or eccentric behaviors are often the spark that energizes creativity and success in meeting a group’s mission. Groups that recognize and even nurture that eccentricity benefit in both planned and unplanned ways. A two-way street. Both the group and unique member become better, fulfilled in both tangible and intangible ways.
Older people usually know how to become engaged with others if they are willing. And if given the opportunity to do it. Groups want to be open and inviting but must actively show how one can become essential.
Then prove it by providing real opportunity for an involvement that means something. That actively recognizes and takes advantage of the individual’s talents in ways that are mutually beneficial.
As a man in his mid-80s, I know how to reach out and become engaged with a group and develop supportive relationships. I also accept the reality that some groups and individuals are more responsive than others, which prompts me to always carry around alternative plans.
My basic criterion is that the group with which I affiliate has a solid purpose and sense of direction. An enthusiasm for existing that is invigorating and dynamic. A kind of esprit de corps.
That term resonates with me because of my past affiliation with the military, and because it is the core of good group dynamics. All for one and one for all. With a personal caveat that the group’s mission is moral, worthy, and well thought out. That loyalty to the group is reciprocated with the group’s genuine loyalty to its members.
My motives for reaching out are not based on an overdeveloped kind of neediness, but rather the desire to expand my interests and talent in providing service. If, after honest attempts to become engaged with a group under those criteria fail, I go to that second or third plan.
I am also cognizant of my years and feel blessed to function reasonably well at an advanced age. Realizing my current condition will not last forever. Future adjustments will be required.
Young people still forming their personalities and self-awareness are more tentative and emotionally fragile. They may not know how to become authentically engaged with others. They may be confused by the constantly changing mores of our era. Do they know how to protect themselves from their own vulnerability, which makes engaging with others feel risky and sometimes dangerous?
Boys and girls need family and a sense of being an essential part of something bigger than they. A community. A school. Church. Anything that expands on and engages them in a sense of nurturing human service. An activity or association that surrounds them with the aura of essentialism. Their lives as human beings transcending the animal-like existence based only on survival.
Esprit de corps. Being part of something with a kind of universal meaning. Even spiritually uplifting.
I recognized that need when young. Sports activities were an option. But I could not then, nor even now, think of sports or games as being anything more than diversions in which one can excel if physically and mentally capable.
For most of us, any essentialism in the context of sports is fleeting. Something to excite us vicariously while seated in a stadium or watching television. A recreational activity that produces joy in spending time with others in a celebratory or interactional setting. Incidental fun.
This opinion is not a criticism. But esprit de corps attempted through vicarious connections seems shallow and brief.
True esprit de corps is never shallow. It resides in the human soul, not in the temporal regions of our being. It is the foundation for cultural meaning and connection to eternal relevance.
I recently completed a book titled The New Learning Infrastructure. In it I criticize today’s American schools for being micromanaged by those who believe schools are solely for the transmission of information and skills. I strongly suggest they do not uplift students in ways that merge their personas with culturally based depth.
Impersonal facts and skills taught in mechanistic and piecemeal ways are dehumanizing and robotic. None of the creative and inspirational drive that produces meaningful living. Or encourages the feelings of esprit de corps needed to feel truly part of our national or communal culture.
There is nothing to stand for at the end of that educational process. Except to become part of the faceless community of workers, consumers, and those who subsist. Given entertaining diversions and a life without much meaning. And that is not enough.
In The New Learning Infrastructure, I provide a model for how to overcome that inadequacy. The model includes teachers who act with a different motivation and are treated differently. A richer and more engaging kind of curriculum with assessments that are ongoing and multifaceted.
A model that involves serious intellectual and scholastic engagement. With curricular outcomes that make it possible for students to seek out and be qualified to be part of a meaningful and purposeful life.
Making that kind of change will not be easy. But it is necessary for our future citizens to be and feel part of anything essential. Anything that builds individual and collective feelings of esprit de corps.
©2022 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved