Overlapping Orbits – or how to keep it together in a group?

Andromeda_Collides_Milky_Way @ Wiki Commons

We are herd animals. We all have precise expectations from groups. Sometimes high expectations, sometimes no expectations at all. We need to understand how groups will impact us. The question is whether balance and peace are a group ‘s baseline. Or maybe constant sparks are.

In my previous article, I wrote about Individual Balance. Individual balance is not a state in itself. It is a system forever balancing conflicting states. Balance and Imbalance. Harmony and Disharmony. Emotion and Reason. Chaos and order. All these states co-exist. Individual balance is like a planetary system, with us individuals at its centre. Gravity is defined by the pushes and pulls of the different elliptical movement of moods and states. Our system is in constant flux.

We do not live alone though. Our own solar system will come in contact with other orbital systems. And the whole balance gets questioned again. The gravitational system of the group creates their own tensions to make the group work.

So, how much of our balance is “Us”? How much of it is “Me”?

To answer this question, we first define what makes a group. Then, we need to understand what makes the group as an entity tick. Finally, we identify how our own orbital system will overlap with the orbital system of the group.

What is a group?

We are social animals. Even if we wilfully refuse any social commitment, the group still has a social position. Within a group, social interactions depend greatly on group size, proximity of the individuals and their goals. In a word, a lot of what makes up a group is fundamentally cultural.

You can define groups by proximity. Proximity could be the close family, a group of friends, a group of business relations, a regional group or even a nation. You can also define groups by occurrence, i.e. how they came to exist. Some groups are circumstantial, like families. Other groups came in existence by opportunity or by choice, such as friends or social media groups. There are also groups that exist through shared duty or shared interest. There are near infinite reasons for groups to happen. Their nature is endlessly varied.

All groups operate in the same way and face the same challenges

People try to interact and make the group work. They interact to propel the group into a certain direction and to achieve a certain goal. The group’s goal may simply be entertainment, or an emotional refuge. A group is a system of systems.

Like an individual, a group has a defined gravity centre. The group’s gravity centre is its very purpose of existence. Each group has a defined role, a purpose, project or intention. This in itself is the main difference with an individual. Having a purpose is a big advantage to finding balance. The group knows why it is here. The group will balance intentionally its own system. The groups wants to achieve a gravitational balance.

A group can only work, if its purpose and direction is clear and shared by all sub-systems, i.e. by all the individuals that compose it. If the group reaches a point where there is no shared goal anymore, it is no group but a collection of individuals.

There are 4 types of relationships to groups

1.     Me and Them – where we differentiate ourselves from others
2.     Me and Us – when we try to create a new working entity, such as a couple
3.     Me and We – when we belong to a group
4.     We and Them – when our group meets other groups or individuals

Me and Them

Me and Them group relationship

We define ourselves first as Me versus Them.

Our search for harmony always starts self-centred. We perceive our environment and ourselves through our own limited senses. So, the “other” is external to our thoughts. Reaching out to the group is coded, in motions (e.g. how we greet) and sounds (e.g. the use of codewords).

Coming together as individuals, even as supercool dudes and dudettes, is always a matter of norms and rules.

The alternative to a group is to live like hermits

The easiest solution to find balance would seem to stay entirely out of any group. This to avoid interference and enjoy the serenity of our own gravity system. After all, many have done so over the centuries. Think hermits, anchorites, fakirs, monks,…. As described in the previous article, isolation is in essence simply denying life. Indeed, isolation makes life easier. But does total isolation make life worthwhile living? Personal tastes aside, not your standard path.

So, if we want to join a group, how does this affect our own harmonics, our own gravitational system?

We enter a group with a shared aspiration for balance, order and harmony. We need this shared aspiration in order to succeed in the group’s purpose. Individual harmonies are, per definition, never the group ‘s harmonies. They can’t be. We share with the group its fundamental purpose and goal. Else there would be no group.

So much effort as an individual… for that? As gregarious animals, we yearn for “us”. It is genetically encoded. A link to a collective identity.

Families, a free floating adaptable balance system

Families are an example of how balanced systems can be created and sustained.

Family is one of the most organic of groups. Our relations to the family group is defined by knowing, anticipating and accepting the orbital cycles. Family is the most coded group. It is not only a biologic relationship. It is as well a social and cultural construct.

Within the family, we create a series of codes and rules. Some of these codes exist to create exclusivity. The family rules define the family specificity. Many rules and codes are created to try and reach a balance, a gravitational system. This balance, these codes are forever shifting as new members or new memories are added – both good and bad. Within the family and for the individual, the layered spins of conflicts-peace-harmony-disharmony are the very essence of a family existence. Why else would people love/hate Christmas dinners?

Playing Happy Family causes destruction by paralysis

Shoehorning balance in a family will not work. It will ultimately break the family. You could try and hard-code the family rules. Essentially what you call “playing happy family”. This is trying to freeze the system in one state at one point of time. The loss of momentum alone will mechanically throw off the system and break its dynamic balance. Basically destruction by paralysis. Hence playing happy family may even be actually trying NOT to be a family.

Nice fireworks, but fast consumed

In conclusion, we will only ever share some overlapping cycles with the group. We never share the entire system. In whichever group, we put on the table only some elements of what makes “Me”. This is never our whole balance system. It cannot be. This is exactly why there are always shades and codes. Ultimately, we naturally feel that sharing has limits. Too little and there is no point to the group. Too much and the sparks fly continuously. Nice fireworks, but fast consumed.

There are limits on both ends of the overlapping spectrum of Me and Them. It can never be fusional.

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Me and Us

Me and Us group dynamics

We thrive to build. Most genetically pre-ordained is the couple. What we try to achieve here is: me + you = more than the sum of the parts. This is a relationship to build something more, something else. The differentiation is hence what we are ready to give into the equation to make it work.

Continuing on our theme of balance, a couple is essentially two gravitational systems in extremely close contact. This close contact is emotional, physical and intellectual. You could even call it overlapping. The complexity of this overlap itself explains why it is so difficult to keep it on an even trajectory.

Both systems co-exist and can never merge nor be limited in investment. More importantly, each individual has to accept that the other orbital system may be in different phases, sequences or even timelines. Both individuals in the couple have to accept that each of them have a system with a unique gravity centre. Both gravity centres can come closer. But, like in physics, they cannot really totally overlap without creating cavitation.

The stakes in this relationship are the highest. To keep a neutral outlook, we have to widen the lens and look into its mechanics from one level higher or further. We need to compare this specific “Me and Us” group, with a output expectation, to the slightly wider one, i.e. “Me and We”.

Me and We

group dynamics

When we define a wider “group” however, the question is very different. We are on a trajectory. We share a common goal, be it entertainment, a hobby or social recognition, or golf.

Because the point is to share a trajectory, one of the big questions is how many sub-systems will we share. And how will this sharing of sub-systems impact us. In essence, how much can we remain ourselves to reach the group’s goal. How much will we keep the integrity of our own balance system intact.

Our gravity centre, our orrery, is defined by the phases in our own personal systems. In a group, we are confronted with our own gravitations plus other rotating systems. The question is how many of these do we share with the group without losing our own momentum. In a word, how much of my own balanced system, my own identity, will I share with the group.

In essence, we decide the degree to which we accept the impact of momentums, other than our own. Other systems are judgements of our own gravitational balance. This is where defining acceptance of external influence is key.

How not to lose identity when joining a group

I spent most of my life joining entirely new groups. I.e. new groups outside of the groups I already belonged to.  This happened in the military, in the many new countries I lived, new company entities or new cultures I joined.  So “Me” had to enter many “We” – sometimes at the very same time and with very different purposes. In none of these instances did I want to be subsumed in these new groups. Every time I entered new “We” groups, I did not want to lose identity nor momentum in my individual search for harmony.

Here are examples of some of the decisions I made to make this work.

The groups I joined were mostly high stakes groups. Both for me, and for the group. Sometimes, my salary and future would depend on my good integration in the group. For the group, for “We”, integration means I had to fit their goal. I had to fit the group’s common goal. Thus, I always mentally ranked their primary goal (singular) and secondary goals (plural). Like an individual, each group has a gravitation dynamic, a spinning system. I need to understand its workings as it will define which planets, which momentum systems I am expected to share. This in turn will impact my own. For example, it may be something as basic as playing golf every Saturday morning.

Understanding and accepting the group primary purpose

Groups can be defined by social markings, hobbies or sports. Anything really. But all of them have direct and indirect, conscious and unconscious purposes. All have one primary purpose and it is up to me to understand and accept the new momentums it will bring. Or not.

This is how we continuously remodel our social surroundings. Joining, leaving and interacting with other dynamics. Adapting can never be merging. Why else would you join as an individual? After all, this is a reciprocal decision. The group sees some added value in you. You see added value in joining the group.

Adaptation to the group is a matter of gradation

Adaptation is hence always a question of gradation. To put it in a different way, how many orbiting states will you share with the group?

A classic example are expats. When you ask expats what is their adaptation to their environment, you get two types of answers. Either you will be told that the people you talk to have “gone native” – in their own words. Alternatively, they are living entirely in the expat bubble of the resort, compound or that area. Neither is possible. Neither going native nor living in a bubble are literally true of course. It is just the way you see yourself, really. Where and with whom you feel more connected, with whom you recognise yourself. You see yourself as submerged in a group or independent from it. It is however not the reality. To maintain balance, your reality is more subtle than these both extremes.

Cultural enrichment

Observing as an outsider the cultural interaction and cultural differences between groups is both crucial and the most rewarding of experiences. They bring out the most demanding questions. Never for the exotic part of it (as in, “oh, so this is how they do it”), but by deciphering how the other group culture has solved the trajectory of that particular harmonic in their particular system.

Understanding and adapting these new rules bring more global solutions. Selecting a few new rules to inject them in your next group. That is true cultural “enrichment” for each other. This is an exchange. You take the momentums and the sparks from other systems to ignite your own.

Now you have your group. You have your dynamics. And you have an idea on how to mesh your harmonics with your new groups. Groups however are entities in themselves. They interact between each other. How can my balance handle this?

We and Them

group dynamics

Groups co-exist with other groups or individuals. They intersect. They overlap. Some even never meet each other. You are their only common point. Yet, you do have group-on-group dynamics. There are the groups I identify with. They are “We”. We stands in contrast to “Them”. Them being the groups we don’t identify with. Or the individuals we don’t identify with.

We saw that groups are essentially entities themselves. Groups are defined by the opposite fluxes of the individuals. Groups – like individuals – will be vying for attention and time. Hence “We” and “Them” is rather a critical element, especially in our world of social media.

A group generates a sense of belonging, if not loyalty

You are part of that sub-Reddit? It actually does think that it’s better than mine? Mine is best, just fg great!11!! From there on, down to and including online gang wars.
Any group will tend to define itself by comparison to other groups, organised along similar purposes. It is the underlying glue of the group, implicit or explicit. The group ranks itself against other groups. This may conflict with our own balanced system, as much as the establish group dynamics.

The group identity is also momentum that needs to be factored in the system. It is however a neutral momentum. It just exists. Once the momentum is lost, the group will exist as a shell, a name, but not as a common project anymore. The group will lose steam.

For the group itself, like for the individual, the inner harmony will and must always remain a struggle of fluxes. Inner groups’ harmony is not a set state, but a condition of its very existence. Conflicts, chaos and turmoil, are imbedded. When individual pushes or pulls come against the gravitational system of harmony/disharmony, the group sets out to solve.

Conclusion: Individual harmony – Group harmony

I am very conscious that, of course, my view on groups is heavily influenced by my own personal experience. But I have seen it playing out again and again. It has become a Law to me.

I have lived half of my life “abroad”. That is, I lived outside of an established social system. For me, as an individual, it is a basic event to reach out to other groups. The point in this case is neither to “know” or ignore the culture of the group you meet, but to break down the experience in small digestible slivers. Understanding the momentum of that particular society. Being aware of the cultural tensions. And putting on the table that part of myself that I know may be used by others to re-ignite or propel their gravitational balance systems. To create a Me and We, the exchange goes both ways.

For We and Them, there is a stated reason for that group to exist in the first place. Be it a party group, wine connoisseurs or museums afficionados, individuals can pick and choose individual systems to share. When there is no common goal, except circumstance, groups won’t last.

Finally, for Me and Us, we set out to create more than the sum of the parts of the individuals. We set out to create new orbits within our systems and potentially new shared momentums. It really depends on sharing momentums, individual searches, not necessarily explicitly, but knowingly.

Thus we streamline our individual harmonics into a shared orrery.

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