We’re social animals. We thrive on connection. Being a valued part of a group makes us feel like we have a purpose, like we’re giving our time and energy to something important.
It feels good to belong.
Maybe these feelings are justified. But they’re also dangerous.
When you first join a community, you watch the other people. How they talk. How they act. How they communicate with one another. You see that they care about one another. You think to yourself, “I want to be a part of the family.”
But you can’t. Not yet. The familiarity, the brother or sisterhood, is reserved for the Insiders. People who have demonstrated their loyalty to the group. People who have met certain criteria or standards.
You haven’t done that yet. So you set out to do whatever it takes to attain that sense of belonging, to be inducted into the inner circle.
Months pass. You’ve shown your commitment, proved your loyalty, demonstrated your usefulness and now, you are an Insider. The world illuminates. You’re invigorated by the ideas and the sense of purpose, by how everyone encourages everyone else, by the lengths you’ll all go to for one another.
Yes, there are benefits, real, tangible benefits to being an Insider. But they come at a cost.
An Insider is bound to the community he inhabits. Any attacks on the community are a personal attack on himself. Which means that ideas and evidence and discussion which contradict the group’s ideals are the enemy.
An Insider makes decisions, but his decisions are not guided by their rightness or wrongness. They’re guided by how they affect the group and how they will make him appear to the group. It took time and effort to win Insider status. You will do anything not to lose it.
This is the problem. Being an Insider distorts your perception. It makes it difficult for you to see clearly. Your very status biases your decisions and your observations. Everything is tinted by the allegiance you hold so dear.
Which is why I have a rule:
Don’t be an Insider.
Being on the outside doesn’t mean loneliness or detachment. It means you recognise that a community is a group of people with a set of common objectives or ideals. The key word here is “people”.
The group is a construct. A facade. It’s not a thing. The people in the group are very real. It is to them that you are loyal. It is to them, not the “community”, that you are committed. The people in whatever communities you choose to align yourself with are more important than the communities themselves.
Being on the outside also means that you don’t suffer from the same distortions in judgement as an Insider. Because your identity isn’t intertwined with the community you can separate ideas from ego. Because you don’t tie your success or well being to the rise and fall of the group, you can think more clearly.
Don’t let anyone trick you into subjugating your identity to the group. Don’t let anyone bind your purpose to the purpose of the group.
Yes, connect with the individuals there. Talk to them. Learn from them. Laugh with them. Challenge them. Debate them. But don’t let anyone sell you on becoming an Insider. It’s not worth the risk.