A Look Back
“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end,” critically acclaimed author Sebastian Junger writes. In his short book, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Junger details a series of historical events that aim to capture how humans have always longed for a sense of unity among others. He cites Native-American tribes from the 1600s and 1700s as his prime examples of a society that lived in perpetual fear of the danger their natural surroundings held. In modern society, much of this threat is lost (which is probably for the better), but it has consequently led to another issue: loneliness. The need for such closely-knit bonds are no longer essential for survival, so we no longer need to sacrifice our ambitions for the greater good of society. This, along with numerous other factors, (such as the prevalence of social media that is trying to compensate for a lack of intimacy) has resulted in a self-sustainable, individualistic way of civilization. Despite this, it would be safe to assume that modern advancements in healthcare and engineering have progressed our hierarchy of needs, resulting in a more appreciative culture, right? Well… think again. Unexpectedly enough, tribal members lived a much more enjoyable and equitable lifestyle in terms of sociable standards. Resources were shared equally, classism was essentially non-existent, and people had the freedom to do whatever they wanted without the pressure to conform to social norms. It was essential that they bonded together; it was a matter of life and death. And this isn’t just a freak case study, in numerous examples (the Avezzano earthquakes, the London bombings, the siege of Sarajevo, etc.) the same trend appears where people have found a greater sense of unity in times of difficulty rather than in safety and security. What does this all mean?
To preface, in no way am I trying to say that I wish to give up the safe and healthy lifestyle I have now and put myself in ways of physical harm. What I’m trying to get at is how conflict seems to turn back time to when we were at our most homogenous state and how we can take a page out of their book in making our society less isolated. It’s in conflict that we see how intertwined our problems are, that we gain a sense of compassion for each other despite our previous differences. It’s in that indifference that we become more humane, that we can come together in solidarity and become a community rather than a collection of individuals. That’s why despite there being a severe risk of danger in tribal life, their members still find it favorable relative to a more reclusive, technologically advanced society we know all too well.
Conflict in our Lives
Personally, conflict has always been something I feared. I felt there was no use for it, that it was the root of my unhappiness and a world without it was a better one. But recently, I’ve taken a different approach to conflict, one that looks a little deeper into how hardship has shaped me into who I am now. What I began to realize is how critical these moments have been for my personal growth. It’s during these times of adversity that I can inspect how I’m feeling on a much more personal level and then use that experience to empathize with someone who might be feeling a similar way. In another way, personal burdens act as a navigator for me, guiding me to what will fulfill me. For example, jealousy is an emotion that most people would assume as incorrect or immoral, yet everyone has surely felt jealous at one point or another. As one person cleverly puts it, “Jealousy isn’t bad, jealousy points us to what we want. While envy asks, ‘Why do they have that, that’s so unfair,’ jealousy asks, ‘Why can’t I have that?’” It’s that simple rephrasing of words that evokes a greater self-confidence in me to chase whatever goals I’m pursuing. There’s no need for guilt in how we feel as there lies a silver lining in what our brain is trying to tell us. Rough periods of our life are going to happen; we can’t change that. But what we can change is how we react and how we grow as a person when those periods pass.
Conflict is a universal occurrence; it’s ubiquitous in every facet despite our best attempts to evade it. But when we disregard it and try to block it out, we forget this and we believe we’re alone in our struggles. It is no wonder why there has been such a dramatic spike in loneliness in today’s society: we have failed to recognize that our problems extend past ourselves and don’t reach out as a result. So when difficult times do come, and they always do, I encourage everyone to take a moment and consider how others might be going through the same thing. It’s by doing this that we can offer a helping hand with sincere kindness and work through our difficulties together. More than anything do we need to cultivate this sense of altruism in our communities. You never truly know how precious this sentimentality is and the impact you can have on someone’s life.
Because of COVID-19, much of what we once had is currently on pause. But one bright note that I’ve seen is that it seems this pandemic has made us truly understand the value of connection and social interaction. During these times, we tend to reflect on the good parts of others rather than fixating on how different we are. I’m sure that I can’t be alone in wanting to see all of my friends and family more than I ever have. It’s that sense of belonging that has been so far lost in our society that it has taken a disaster of worldly proportions for us to finally realize that. As I’ve been saying throughout this passage, it’s exactly moments like these that we must remain connected in unison. We all share this unique burden during this unusual time, and it’s by reaching out and helping those in need that we develop something so rare yet so aspired for: relationship. So while quarantine has not been optimal for many of us in countless ways and we all wish that things could revert to their “normal” ways, I hope that we can take away a valuable lesson when normalcy does return: we need each other more than we can imagine. It’s as Junger says, “That’s the basic human instinct, to help another human being who is sitting or standing or lying close to you.”
Junger, Sebastian. Tribe. Fourth Estate Ltd, 2017.