Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Sense of Belonging

It seems I'm always inspired to write by something that I hear or think as I'm driving in my car. After 25+ years of driving and countless days of driving the same route, my focus is singularly on safety. I don't have to think about the route itself. Besides, in the relative peace of my car's interior, I have the mental space to contemplate things big and small. This morning was really no exception.

On the way to work I heard a story about a KKK member being indicted on murder charges for the shooting death of a fellow member, 43 year-old Cynthia Lynch, at an initiation ceremony. What struck me most was the victim's former attorney's speculation that she was likely seeking a "sense of belonging."

That struck a cord with me. That sense of belonging drives a lot of my own behavior. Even though I show a preference for introversion, I'm not a moody loner. I do want to know that there is a place, figuratively at least, where I can share the truth of my being.

I just can't imagine the depths of hatred it would take to join the KKK. I've never been able to understand that. And though I loathe the ideals of that organization and am fairly sure I wouldn't have been anything close to friends with anyone involved in the story, I have a deep sense of sadness for the woman who felt so troubled and so disconnected that she inevitably lost her life through her need for belonging.

The other fact that interested me is that Lynch hooked up with the group via the Internet.

CNN has posted a story about the Virtual Happiness Project in the Netherlands that is looking at happiness and our fascination with online social networking. The author of the study, Jim Stolze, spoke at the TED conference this month about a related but separate personal experiment he conducted, a one month online hiatus. The fourteenth of his slides summarizing his outcomes shows a relationship between loneliness, depression and negative Internet behaviors.*

Essentially, the hypothesis of the Virtual Happiness Project study is that happiness is a social factor, in order for human beings to feel alive we need to interact with other human beings, and with the wide availability of technology and the Internet, we're increasingly going to the Web to seek our happiness. Just like Cynthia Lynch did.

Maybe it's time to unplug even just a little.


*Incidentally, Stolze puts introversion in the negative category. Clearly, I have a bone to pick with that one. Perhaps his meaning is different than my Jungian understanding of introversion. And maybe that's another post.

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