Jun 02, 1998 12:15 PM
by K Paul Johnson
Lately I've been thinking about several senses of the term
"belonging" and the relationships among them. This is inspired by
my Theosophical karma, Kym's recent comments about it, and the
impending publication of the Cayce book.
The literal sense of "belonging" is simply membership in a group.
But behind that is the figurative meaning of "having a sense of
belonging." That implies being welcome, at home, among friends,
secure. The worst part of certain reactions to my books about
HPB was the implicit message of "You don't belong." Meaning,
from the POV of the person expressing rejection and hostility,
"You are not welcome here, this movement is not your home, you
are not among friends." Even though the deliverers of this
message were not the ones who had ever given me a sense of
belonging in the first place, it was still wearing after a
while to get such regular doses of unbrotherly sentiment.
Particularly since the better part of 20 years has been spent with
Theosophy as my primary nexus for a sense of belonging.
Behind that positive psychological sense of what it means to "belong"
is the dark side. That is "to be owned by." While most people
would indignantly deny that they yield their independence to
conform to a group's pressures, we all do so in different ways.
These are usually invisible, with people not seeing what they're
giving up in autonomy. The people who take the most pleasure in
"belonging" to a group are also those most likely to yield
autonomy, to have their values and principles determined by group
norms. It's only when a person stops belonging in that sense--
stops thinking the way "all x are supposed to think," that the
dark side of belonging manifests. It's as if the moment one
clearly expresses "You don't own my conscience" to a group and
its leaders, one is also saying "I don't belong to you." And
that quickly can merge into the other meanings; figuratively, when
such mental independence brings about an unwelcoming, rejecting
reaction from the group, and sometimes literally when "heresy"
leads to formal expulsion.
It therefore seems to me advisable to seek groups in which the
senses of belonging are not so intertwined. Where being welcome,
at home, and among friends does not require conformity to a belief
system or behavioral code. This is an ideal type, not
perfectly manifested in any concrete example. But the ideal is
one that the TS Founders clearly held, and one to which the
various Theosophical groups give lip service.
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