Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Finding Your Place in the World
A friend of mine has a teenager that is going through a tricky patch at the moment and this has led me to reflect on how we try and find our place in the world. As an alienated teenager coming from a somewhat dysfunctional family I was constantly trying to find a place to fit in. I suppose what I was really looking for was a replacement for my family, somewhere that felt like home.
It is true that most teenagers look for a way to fit into the world. They want to find their identity outside of their role in the family and often want to be a part of something bigger, to make connections in the world. Many teens go through phases some short some long, I went through a few myself: punk; mod; biker/rocker; hippy. I was trying on all the clothes until I found an outfit that fit. For most people the final outfit is probably a mix of the elements from all the outfits that they have tried.
When something is wrong in your homelife you look to these outside groups to provide that missing validation that you are not getting anywhere else. I think that is why some people take on what might have been a phase as a lifestyle choice and that is how some of us end up getting into drink and drugs (I am talking past tense here!).
As a teen I had a few false starts in finding my surrogate family. I spent a while hanging out with a group of young christians, my friend and I nearly left town with a bunch of hells angels ((I always thank my lucky stars for that narrow escape). There was a community of sorts in the pub I used to frequent. They were a rag tag bunch - a mix of bikers, punks, hippies and us underage drinkers. It felt great for a while, everyone knew each other but I sadly mistook lifestyle collusion for for real family. One day I had a revelation, if someone decided to clean up their act - stop the drinking and drugs, better themselves - the family quickly closed ranks against them. They were a family only as long as you colluded with the common behaviour, kept within their comfort zone. I knew that I wanted more than that and when I realised that I decided that I would have to leave my homme town - I was 16!
My next foray was a little more successful. I went to live in a hippy commune. Surely this was the ideal place to find what I was so desperately looking for. And yes in theory it was - IN THEORY! In reality a community is made up of a group of individuals united (or not!) by a common aim or creed. These people are individuals, they have their own ideas, personalities and motivations. Unless you find a community with a strong religious or motivational focus, you quiclky find that factions form, people fall out etc etc.
The commune worked well for a while. When I first moved in we had a common goal of rebuilding the house, which had been partially destroyed by fire. We put all our money and energy into this project - it was the glue that held us together. There was no room for slackers. When the end of the work was in sight though, things changed. People's interests diversified and broadened and a more hedonistic faction began to emerge. It no longer felt like my spiritual home. I was coming up to my mid twenties by then and I knew I didn't want to be around drink and drugs again - it was time to move on.
I think it was at that point that I pretty much gave up on the quest for finding the perfect family. I turned more insular, focusing more on individual relationships and my relationship with myself. I do think as human beings we somehow always retain a hankering to be in some kind of a tribe. Most of want to feel like we belong, whether it is to our family, our community, our culture whatever. And there is an inherent attraction to being part of something bigger - isn't that why we have religion, football matches, rock concerts?
Sadly in modern western society we are increasingly seperated and alienated from one another. This is liberating in a way as many of the old constraints are gone but for many people so is a sense of belonging.