I say “of sorts” because my purpose here is not to discuss me; rather, I’m using myself as a jumping off point to discuss the larger issue of what it means to join a group, even informally.
I’ve never been what you could call a “joiner.” (Cue quote from “PeeWee’s Big Adventure: “You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”) I’m not one to rush after the latest fad, follow the crowd, or jump on bandwagons. If I do happen to find a parade going my way, it’s more of a synchronistic happening.
I usually haven’t taken “the road less traveled” with much forethought or design. Often, it’s just because I don’t like crowds. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, where I could see the horizon in all 4 directions. I still like to have a 360-degree view of things, even on the interweb.
Another reason why I am not a joiner is that I usually find that I simply don’t fit in with many groups. Part of it is my natural tendancy toward introversion, but over the years I’ve discovered that I tend to think differently than other people. If there’s a different viewpoint in the room, it’s more than likely to be mine. I almost never agree completely with the general consensus on many issues, often to the bewilderment and frustration of more single-minded thinkers. Unless it’s important, I often keep my opinions to myself, which is not that hard, being a man of few words anyway.
One of the things I have begun to understand over the past few years as I have pulled away from some things that I had “joined,” is that joinging involves, to some extent, a loss of self. If you are going to fit in and be a true part of a group, even only internally identifying with a group or ideology, there are things about yourself that you have to give up. This can often be a very good thing; for example, learning to put others first involves putting some of your own interests aside. When I got married, and then we had children, this was essential. Refusing to step out of the spotlight results in destruction of the family, etc.
However, occasionally joining a group, especially when it’s centered around a certain ideology, requires a sacrifice of a part of yourself (unless you’re already bent in that direction). You can’t maintain a “solo-think” and at the same time adopt the “group-think.” And let’s face it – it’s so much easier to just adopt the group-think, especially if you already lean that way and respect other people in the group.
All over the web, there are sites which preach to the choir, reaffirming the extremist group-think. Pretty soon, those who take up residence in these tribal territories begin to see the world in such a way that the extreme appears to be centrist and “balanced.” They may even believe they are the free-thinkers, but in reality they are only free from the gravitational pull of the other point of view. Politically, theologically, and socially, I have some basic conservative views that I’ve held since I was young. I also have some basic liberal views that I’ve held as well. This tension has caused even more tension, at times, but it has served me well by protecting me from becomeing sucked into one vortex or another.
I am not free from the need to belong, even if I am something of a recluse. There are times I have wanted to belong, and found for one reason or another that I just can’t, at least for an extended period of time. And at times I’ve occasionally immersed myself in a group that I later realized was just wacko, and to be honest, I’m fairly embarrassed that I let myself be sucked in. Not wanting to be embarrassed in the future is a good motivator to look before I leap. So who knows – my reluctance to be a joiner may be a little wisdom layered on top of a personality defect. However, I am blessed to belong to a wonderful family, and that’s a tribe that I can give myself whole-heartedly to, and which in turn I find satisfying.
The point of all of this, again, is to say that becoming a true part of a tribe involves a real loss of a part of yourself. Joining a tribe is not something to be taken lightly (unless it’s something just for amusement, like playing music or joining a sport). It’s good to be sure that what you are gaining is both valid and is more valuable than what you are sacrificing.