I ate a Girl Scout cookie the other day — Samoa, to be exact — and rather than just thinking about its delicious combination of caramel and toasted coconut, I thought about the meaning of being a Girl Scout and the desire people have to belong to a group or to another person.
It is this desire that inevitably shapes who we are as people. We seek to fulfill this desire in order to gain a sense of acceptance and security. We avoid solitude because we ultimately fear ourselves and who we might become without the impact or comfort of others.
This fear or encouragement of belonging is instilled from early childhood. At age 4, many parents enroll their children in Little League or other social organizations. We are taught from a young age to belong to groups and to others.
Instead of embracing individualism, we have formed negative perceptions of people who enjoy spending time alone and identify them as hermits. Society has given these hermits, or loners, a negative connotation because we fear detaching ourselves from this feeling of comfort and acceptance and we ultimately fear that solitude might allow us to recognize our flaws and failures.
These are the same flaws that people highlight when describing mass murderers: being quiet, reserved, or different from their peers. Rather than regarding those traits as positive qualities, society abhors those characteristics and encourages conformity instead of individuality.
People secure themselves with acceptable behavior and accustomed lifestyles to avert the feelings of insecurity and rejection. We spend time with people we no longer even connect with because we feel as if we belong to them — we belong to that group. If we detach ourselves from those familiar connections, society would translate it as exclusion rather than wanting to experience something new, meet new people, or even just take time to ourselves.
This is why many people in their adulthood only have friends from high school; they stick to the familiar and justify it by claiming that “no one else knows them better.”
We have high school and sorority or fraternity reunions because it provides us with that same sense of belonging — reconnecting with the familiar and avoiding the unknown. If people genuinely cared about their peers at reunions, then they would call them or communicate with them on a regular basis. Most of those reunions and social organizations give the appearance of care without the effort that follows.
That is the problem with the feeling of belonging: it blinds us from correcting our mistakes and from growing and becoming individuals. It blinds us because belonging means to follow a structure, which is why organizations create rules of participation. If the rules are followed, then we are accepted into the organization.
For example, earning a Girl Scout badge means you followed the rules. This type of recognition doesn’t complete a young girl, it simply provides her with social acceptance and ultimately makes acceptance easier to define.
Once we belong, we’re either afraid of losing that feeling or we purposely lose it in search for something newer and better. People fear the idea of losing their sense of security with their organizations, jobs, hobbies, and partners because they belong to these aspects in their lives rather than simply experiencing and learning from them. We practice daily rituals and conform to traditions that help alleviate that feeling of fear, rather than challenging ourselves with thinking differently.
I never thought that eating a Samoa cookie would develop this theory, but hope that it has provided some insight and slight craving to readers. Although we cannot control every feeling of belonging, we have to learn also simply to belong to ourselves. Only then can we truly grow, find inner peace and tolerate the feeling of insecurity.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 3 Apr 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Walsh, L. (2014). The Power of Cookies and Belonging. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 23, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/04/05/the-power-of-cookies-and-belonging/