Simply put, a paradox is when two truths contradict each other. The most well-known, and possibly famous paradox is “Shroedinger’s Cat Paradox” where the cat in the box is both alive and dead until the box is opened. I want to talk about a paradox that is a bit more obscure and less thought about it. It concerns the idea of “belonging”.
Everyone wants to be a part of something. It is in our nature to desire to belong. Throughout our lives we strive to be a part of one social group, clique, organization or team. As a young boy I desperately wanted to play baseball. Like any red-blooded American boy of that age, being on a sports team was a defining moment. I finally reached the age and was able to get on a local Little League team. I finally belonged. However, this feeling would soon be short lived. I was not very coordinated nor had a natural aptitude towards the sport. My weakness and failures soon began to affect the team, and like all groups do in such situations I was teased and shunned. Right before the last game of the season, I walked away and didn’t look back; despite our winning a trophy.
Where does the paradox lie in belonging? It can be found in the basics of the idea. The very act of aligning with a group is itself an act of separation. If you’ll bear with me for a moment, I think you’ll understand shortly. Our desire to belong, to be special, to be unique, to be part of something larger than ourselves, is an act of aggression. When someone stands up and states, “I am an American.” what they are silently stating is that they belong to this group who identify themselves as Americans and are separate from the whole of humanity. Of course there are other groups doing the same thing. People all across the Earth stand up and proudly state “I am Russian”, “I am Chinese”, or “I am Australian.”
If you were to bake a cake. You would mix together all of the ingredients, bake it for a specificed time and at the end you would have a whole cake. When you take a slice of cake, you must separate it from the whole. The very act of cutting this slice of cake is an act of aggression. The same, figuratively, is done when we seek to belong to a group. By declaring our allegiences, siding with a particular thought, or taking a stand with a community of people, we are separating ourselves from the whole of humanity. We are slicing ourselves away from the whole cake.
Therein lies the paradox. To belong I must separate myself from the whole. What a world it would be if we could see this act for what it is, an act of aggression, of violence and seek to undo it. Imagine, if you would, no longer needing affirmation of being special or unique, but rather understanding that we are a part of humanity, which is a part of the nature, the world and the universe; that from the moment we are concieved we are part of something grand. When I was little I used to do an experiment. I would ponder my place in the world. I would close my eyes and imagine my body. I would then expand that awareness to the room that I was in. From there I would move outward to the house, the neighborhood, the city, the county, the state, the country, the hemisphere, the Earth, the solar system and finally the Universe. Being able to see how I was connected, ultimately, to everything was another paradox. It was both frightening and reassuring all at the same time.
The next time that you feel the need to belong to something, I’d like to invite you to try my method. Find your place in the universe and know that you are a part of something immense and beautiful. Know that you belong to everything. Yes, it may seem a little hippy and out-there, but I think if we could see how we are all connected and worry less about severing ourselves from the whole, we would discover that life is less about separating ourselves to belong to something and more about finding our place among the whole.