Transcending the Limitations of Human Societal Groupings in the Life of the Individual

Human beings tend to identify themselves closely with various groupings in society, whether it be a family or clan, tribe, gender or sexual orientation, a sports team, a state or nation, a religion or belief system, a political or economic philosophical system, or any number of other methods of aligning oneself with a group of compatible people.  In many cases, these identifications are very intense and can even overwhelm, to a great degree, if not entirely, the sense of individuality.  In those cases, one subordinates the individual to the larger collectivity and seeks to advance that group even at the expense of his own life or well-being.

Even if humanity goes through phases where this subordination seems relatively complete, there still remains the drive to transcend the individual groups in the fulfillment of the individual’s growth and development.  This transcendence can take the form of adherence to a larger grouping, or to humanity as a whole, or even to something beyond humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Individual man belongs not only to humanity in general, his nature is not only a variation of human nature in general, but he belongs also to his race-type, his class-type, his mental, vital, physical, spiritual type in which he resembles some, differs from others.  According to these affinities he tends to group himself in Churches, sects, communities, classes, coteries, associations whose life he helps, and by them he enriches the life of the large economic, social and political group or society to which he belongs.  In modern times this society is the nation.  By his enrichment of the national life, though not in that way only, he helps the total life of humanity.  But it must be noted that he is not limited and cannot be limited by any of these groupings; he is not merely the noble, merchant, warrior, priest, scholar, artist, cultivator or artisan, not merely the religionist or the worldling or the politician.  Nor can he be limited by his nationality; he is not merely the Englishman or the Frenchman, the Japanese or the Indian; if by a part of himself he belongs to the nation, by another he exceeds it and belongs to humanity.  And even there is a part of him, the greatest, which is not limited by humanity; he belongs by it to God and to the world of all beings and to the godheads of the future.  He has indeed the tendency of self-limitation and subjection to his environment and group, but he has also the equally necessary tendency of expansion and transcendence of environment and groupings.  The individual animal is dominated entirely by his type, subordinated to his group when he does group himself; individual man has already begun to share something of the infinity, complexity, free variation of the Self we see manifested in the world.  Or at least he has it in possibility even if there be as yet no sign of it in his organised surface nature.  There is here no principle of a mere shapeless fluidity; it is the tendency to enrich himself with the largest possible material constantly brought in, constantly assimilated and changed by the law of his individual nature into stuff of his growth and divine expansion.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 7, The Ideal Law of Social Development, pp 68-69