Selfishly Social: An Essay On The Need For Contact
Why do we need others?
We do, it is a proven fact. Lacking instincts, we need exposure to others than ourself to learn even the most basic life skills. Humans learn through contact, and if necessary any contact will do. If a child (b.e. because of neglect) interacts more with animals than with humans from a very young age, it will show animal behaviors, having copied those from its companions. In essence, it is who we are around that defines who we become.
But even after we grow up and acquire the skills necessary for survival in our increasingly complicated world, we continue to need others. Unlike many species, who live largely solitary lives, we require interaction with others that goes beyond a mandatory mating period. Research shows that when people are deprived of contact, purposefully or through unfortunate circumstances, mental deterioration sets in. This supports the idea that our social behavior isn’t just learned, but fundamentally necessary for our species’ survival.
Functioning in our current society demands that we continuously interact with others, but this is an effect rather than a cause of our need for social contact. Our society is only as it is because we are as we are. We are social creatures by nature.
“Social” does not mean that we automatically care about others, no matter the connotations the word may have. No, it means we need them, like we need food and water. We need others to see us, to notice and interact with us, to judge and appreciate us. Broken down to its fundamental nature, being social is a very ego-centrical thing; even though it is wholly focussed on others, it really is all about ourselves. We may not be aware of it most of the time, but that doesn’t make it less true.
The Social Contact Hierarchy
To me, social behavior is a necessary evil. I take joy in it in the same way as a traveler in the desert takes joy in drinkable water: because it quenches the thirst rather than because of its taste. I cannot deny that I am human; I need contact with others as much as I need sustenance. I often wish I were one of those people who can do with a minimum of it, like there are people who can do with a minimum of food… yet I am not. Not at all, even. When it comes to affirmation and appreciation from others, my thirst is unquenchable. Which is rather bizarre, because I don’t particularly like being social.
All needs are also weaknesses, for every need can be used as leverage on a person through deprivation. When a pimp introduces a prostitute to drugs, he creates a need that he can later use to control her. When parents send a child to bed without food, they make use of the human need for sustenance to enforce obedience. To have a need for something is to be vulnerable, and the need for social contact is no different. I can name tons of examples where the fear of being expelled/excommunicated/abandoned/cast out/etc. from a group led people to do stupid things, and I’m sure you can too.
Depending on how great a weakness their need for contact is to them, people fall into different, hierarchical categories. I have imagined it like this:
- Deprivation: the person’s social behavior is insufficient to make meaningful contacts, and the need for contact, interaction and group acceptance remains largely unfulfilled.
- Hesitation: the person is uncertain in his social behavior, there is no clear insight in what makes it successful. People in this category are in general very vulnerable to peer pressure. The need for contact finds some fulfillment, but much insecurity remains.
- Popularity: the person’s social behavior is very successful, and in a group he/she forms an example figure whose behavior others copy. The need for contact finds complete fulfillment, but the person is very dependent on his/her followers, and will develop in function of them. In a way, the Popular people in the center of a group are as much at mercy of it as the Hesitant ones on the edge of it.
- Independence: the person has developed a self-image and skill-set that is largely independent from his/her social interactions. The need for contact doesn’t only find fulfillment, it is also smaller than in the previous categories.
- Mastery: the person has achieved great enough understanding of social behavior and the need for contact to successfully manipulate others. The need is completely fulfilled, and the person’s development is not determined by his/her following.
To put it simply: offer a Deprived person friendship, and you have the makings of a slave. They will do nearly anything to sate their need. Hesitant and Popular people are sort of in the same boat, albeit not on the same deck. They are both developing themselves in function of others, and are largely dependent on those others to maintain their self image. Independent people are in a good place, their need for contact has a lot less leverage value because their self image does not wholly depend on it. In my experience, this is the highest level most people can achieve. There are few who have the makings of a Master, someone capable of truly conquering the social weakness. It is theoretically possible to learn how to manipulate people, but when manipulation isn’t accompanied by gradual emotional detachment, it catapults a person back into Deprivation by making all social contact fake and unfulfilling. Masters are as rare as people who conquer their hunger impulse…
The Point Of This Essay
The need for social contact is one of the main driving mechanisms of our society. It is my personal belief that a greater understanding of its functioning can help people develop themselves, conquer a place for themselves in the world, and lessen the degree to which they depend and rely on others. I have no scientific authority in this field, so for what I’ve written I can claim no other expertise than that of experience. I’m open to comments and criticism!