Marc Halévy says in his “Petit traité du sens de la vie” that a human being is not “un animal social. Par contre, il est un animal communautaire”. What he means by that is that we are social in a very particular kind of way. We create important and significant bonds between other human beings. That’s how we live….each one of us with our own unique world constructed from our own unique set of relationships with significant others. I’ve read various estimates of the maximum size of such functioning groups – from 50 to 150. Certainly several thousand twitter followers, or facebook friends don’t represent these kinds of real life relationship groups.
He goes on to say that our “communitarian human” is undermined by the “mass society human”. We have societies based on nation states which deal with whole populations as if they are a single mass. In this mass, not only is the individual lost, but so is the individual’s human world of relationships (each of which, remember, is unique in its own right)
I think this takes the understanding of uniqueness, and what it is to be human, to a different level.
Lewis Hyde, in the superb, “The Gift”, deals with this issue from the perspective of the ego…
I find it useful to think of the ego complex as a thing that keeps expanding, not as something to be overcome or done away with. An ego has formed and hardened by the time most of us reach adolescence, but it is small, an ego-of-one. Then, if we fall in love, for example, the constellation of identity expands and the ego-of-one becomes an ego-of-two. The young lover, often to his own amazement, finds himself saying ‘we’ instead of ‘me.’ Each of us identifies with a wider and wider community as we mature, coming eventually to think and act with a group-ego (or, in most of these gift stories, a tribal ego), which speaks with the ‘we’ of kings and wise old people. Of course the larger it becomes, the less it feels like what we usually mean by ego. Not entirely, though: whether an adolescent is thinking of himself or a nation of itself, it still feels like egotism to anyone who is not included. There is still a boundary.
He goes on to argue that the relaxation of that boundary is where we begin to experience the connectedness of everything….begin to lose that sense of duality and separateness from the other.
I think this is helpful. The truth is it isn’t easy to feel that ALL human being are your fellow men and women. But you DO live every day with a number of relationships which are fundamental to the creation of your world. I don’t think this means we should restrict our interest and our compassion to those outside of our personal community but if we approach these relationships from a positive perspective, and understand that every single human being cannot be understood in isolation but only in the context of their own unique web of relationships, then we might find an increase in both love and understanding.
Just a thought…..