- Any number of entities (members) considered as a unit
- (chemistry) two or more atoms bound together as a single unit and forming part of a molecule
- A set that is closed, associative, has an identity element and every element has an inverse
It’s only natural that we band together in groups, after all, Man is a social creature, and it’s pretty hard to socialise on one’s own! So as we begin this discussion together, I would like you to think about any groups you belong to. Perhaps you could consider the following groups as a starting point:
A. Work/school group
B. Family group
C. Friend group
D. Extended family group
E. Sports club group
F. Same interest group
As you go through the list, you will notice that you probably belong to a lot of groups, all with their own hierarchies and rules. You may be at the top of one group (say the family group) and the bottom of the other (work group), so you may experience different conflict going on within you. Why am I the boss of this group and the bottom of that group, but don’t be too hard on yourself, you can’t win ‘em all!
Apart from the family group, which includes your parents, you may find it hard to break into other groups, after all, groups are pretty exclusive things, no matter how many people are in them. But eventually, after working your social magic and becoming acceptable to the other members you are in! You will be treated as one of them.
People who would normally ignore you, as just another human, will come up and expressly talk to you. They will listen to you, and hear your ideas, and generally give you a forum to air your opinions. You couldn’t do that if you hadn’t joined, could you? You have become a member of the “in-group” (an exclusive circle of people with a common purpose), and as long as you share that common purpose, you will continue to be welcomed as a friend.
Let’s think about this for a moment. We may see a violent gang of criminals as threatening, and they may instil fear in us, but how do they see each other? Well I would guess, totally different. They are a group with a common purpose (crime), and they will be comfortable in each others company. They will laugh, joke, go out to dinner together, have a couple of drinks, go round to friends houses etc. and their life will seem completely normal.
When they come to rob our banks it’s a different story though. “Get your hands up or I’ll blow your fucking head off!” “Don’t fucking move!” they will scream. Everyone will be terrified and thinking “Please don’t kill me, please don’t kill me.”
But after it’s over, they will get back to their houses and laugh about the whole thing saying: “Jeez, did you see the look on that guys face when I threatened to blow his fucking head off? Ha ha, nice work today lads, shall we go and have a beer?”
Whatever we think of them, they probably don’t think about themselves. You see, we are the out-group and they are the in-group. We are not in their exclusive circle, so we feel afraid of them, of what they could do to us. Do you understand?
Hey you’re all right, you’re in my group!
Religion is another powerful in-group, out-group scenario. To be honest with you, it doesn’t matter about which religion we are talking about; it is the bond between the members we are interested in here.
Imagine you are on holiday in a foreign country, on your own, and you do not know the groups. One day, you are caught in a violent rampage with people shouting death to all muslims. Next to you a (muslim) member of your tour group is violently hacked to death by the mob, and just as you are about to be summarily dished out the same fate, you shout: “Wait! Wait! I am a christian, please don’t kill me, I am a christian.” Suddenly the group realises you are a member (even though you are not part of the mob threatening to kill all muslims), and someone says “Leave him alone, he’s one of us!”
Leave him alone, he’s one of us?! It’s unbelievable isn’t it? The other man who was just hacked to death with an axe was “one of us” too, remember? He is a human! But to the group, the only thing that mattered was whether he was “in-group” or “out-group.” It didn’t matter what colour you were or how intelligent you were, or whether you were loving or violent. As long as you belonged to the group “christian” then you were like a brother, and it is exactly the same in crime gangs.
If you belong to the smith syndicate, then all other members of the exceptionally violent smith group will treat you like a brother, but if you belong to any other criminal group then you had better watch out, because your body could end up dumped in the river. Do you see? It’s nothing personal. It is only the nature of groups.
So how many in-groups do you belong to? You see it is not for us to decide whether you belong to an “in-group” or an “out-group,” that is your perception, and any group you “belong” to will be an “in-group” and every other group will be an “out-group.” But it must be in the same field.
For example, the smith crime syndicate generally only has problems with other crime groups, they wouldn’t see the catholic church group as an out-group, it wouldn’t make sense. But the catholic church group may see the muslims as an out-group because it is someone who stands in the way of their goals.
In-group, out-group is like two sides of the same coin. Good one side, bad the other. Heads or tails! Is it becoming clearer to you?
Picture any scenarios where you could imagine this taking place in your life? What about when you go to a football, rugby, basketball, cricket match? Who is on the inside? Of course, anyone wearing the same shirt as you, and anyone wearing a different shirt is on the outside. So if it comes time to have a little fight, you know exactly whose on your side, even if you have never met him or her before!
The same goes for war. You are wearing a green uniform. If you see anyone with a green uniform on you will protect them, but anyone wearing a grey or brown uniform you will kill them. It’s all pretty dumb, isn’t it? But that’s the way groups work! As any professional criminal will tell you, “Hey, it’s nothing personal.”
Do you see the stupidity of the group mentality? One day you are wearing a grey uniform and everyone with a green uniform tries to kill you. To them you are evil, and must be destroyed, but don’t worry, everyone else with a grey uniform will protect you.
The next day you decide to defect to the other side. You hand yourself in and ask to join them. After some lengthy interrogation to make sure you are not a double agent, they give you a green uniform. You catch sight of a guy that only yesterday, just narrowly missed killing you. He shakes your hand and says “Hey, buddy, welcome to the team.” But now of course, all the people who yesterday wanted to protect you, now see you as evil and want to kill you. It’s nothing personal though!
One minute you’re in, next you’re out
Work is a great example of being in the in-group. You are thrown together with a load of people you have never met before and you are instantly accepted as one of them.
“Hey, alan, welcome to the team” they said “want to go for a beer after work on Friday?”
“Sure” I said.
And it felt good to be standing laughing and joking with all these people I had only known for less than five days. If I had been in the pub on my own they would have ignored me. I could have stood on the outside laughing along with them but soon, someone would say, “Hey, who’s that guy, does anyone know him? Excuse me, this is private, ok?” And I would have to walk off to the corner alone again.
But no, I was in, people were listening to my stories, sharing their own, gossiping about other members of staff, and although I didn’t even know them, I laughed along, because I could. I belonged.
And it was nice to belong.
People said “good morning,” and “how are you, alan?” and although I didn’t have an important job, boy did I feel important as I walked through those doors every morning. I joined in weekday social activities, went out at the weekend with some of the guys occasionally, I even joined a five a side football team, and also had a “little” on-off affair with one of the secretaries there!
Life was good. Until one day, I was called into the human resources office and my boss and a couple of other bosses were there.
“I am sorry but we are going to have to let you go alan”, they said.
“Uh, oh, when?” I said.
“You have not being fulfilling your contract properly and we gave you plenty of chances”
“What? I said. “How can you, that’s really unfair!”
And there I was, a fully fledged member of the in-group, football player, ten pin bowler, friday night drinks man, wooer of the ladies in the sales department, being marched out of the building by my boss! No one said a word.
Over the next few weeks I called some of the guys, and although they commiserated, they didn’t seem to be that interested in me anymore.
“Shall I see you guys for drinks next friday” I asked one of them.
“Err… I don’t know erm… if we are going out on friday, we’ll call you if we are.”
I even tried calling the little on-off secretary I had been seeing, but she wouldn’t return my calls. I couldn’t understand it. Why were they avoiding me? “I thought they were my friends” I thought to myself, and I was more than a little hurt.
When I did eventually see them on one friday night after work (they just happened to be in the same pub as me), everyone said “oh hi alan, all right?” But I quickly realised I was never going to be invited in to the circle to join in with the laughter again. So I just finished my drink and left. After all, it was nothing personal. I just wasn’t in the in-group anymore.
So how many of you have stories like that? What, am I the only one?
Anyway, it is clear to see that what we call “friendships” are mostly little more than in-group affiliations. But don’t take my word for it, test it out for yourselves.
Is anyone a true friend?
So how do we know if someone is really our friend? Given that group relationships come and go, are there any people we can really call friends, people who are there for us through thick and thin, who don’t stop being our “friend” when we stop being a christian, or going to the tennis club, or stop working for a certain company? Well, there’s usually your parents, who although say they’re your friend, are really there for you because they love you, they brought you up, and they don’t want to see anything bad happen to you, or see you unhappy.
But sometimes, we find a special someone who is there for us, and we are there for them with no strings attached. Not because we are married to them, or share a common purpose, but because we are connected in a bond that is greater than all groups. That relationship is something to be cherished, because believe me, they don’t often come along, if at all.
Man may be a group animal, but at heart he is still an individual; and learning to stand alone, when all others are joining groups just so they can “belong,” is one of the hardest things you will ever have to do.
It is so important that Man thinks for himself, and does not just conform to belong. That is how we have seen some of the worst atrocities in the world carried out. Not because people necessarily believed in everything they were doing, but because they were just following the group. Do you understand? We must learn to leave the groups we belong to and stand alone.
It doesn’t mean socially isolating ourselves, just not throwing ourselves head first into belonging, without first investigating what it means to you (and the rest of us) to belong, and what it will mean for you and for others, if you are forced out. You must investigate this.
As humans, we just can’t seem to be honest with people or be loyal to them, can we? Just when we think we can trust people they let us down. And let’s face it; most of us are pretty good at letting people down. But as individuals who belong to the group called homo sapiens, we must try to find a way to be loyal to people, whoever they are, to support them, give love, guidance and compassion, and not falter in our friendship. That is what it is to be a true member of the group – not some temporary relationship with some people from work. It’s time to start thinking outside our little groups and thinking of the impact we are having on the big group. Us.