The developmental psychologist Piaget said that “it is a necessary developmental stage to pledge allegiance to a given belief system”. But why? The most obvious answer might be that any belief system is better than none. Usually when a person reaches the formal operational stage (roughly age 12+) and learns to think abstractly, one realizes that the world is complex and that you need a structure to interpret your perceptions. Otherwise, the world is simply a chaotic mess.
Just imagine if you had no system for interpreting the suffering in life? Any suffering you had to endure would be good-for-nothing-meaningless torture. Everyone experiences suffering in the world, and belief systems help to understand that suffering. When you wipe out a predominant belief system, for instance, when the Europeans attempted to wipe out the Indigenous belief system, the people who held to that way of interpreting the world are essentially lost. Nihilism takes over, and what usually follows is a degeneration to pure hedonism. It is unbelievably saddening to read the stories of the indigenous people as their lands were overcome and to see a rise in alcoholism and drug abuse as their belief systems, land, and identity was stripped away.
But this sort of degeneration is not uncommon. In an age where humans have never been healthier and wealthier, statistics seem to indicate depression is on the rise. Why all the depression? Could the lack of a unifying vision or belief system be at the core of our often nihilistic society? Could it be that too few people share a mutual interpretation of reality? Could our lack of connection result in an ever-growing sense of isolation for the average citizen?
I don’t know, but disunity is not uncommon today, and in fact, it seems to be the default position of the average citizen. Families are smaller today, and more emphasis is put on work than on social activities, often resulting in love being placed lower on the priority list than a good job or school. So often we see people moving far away from their families and friends for school or work.
I could have moved to any number of schools for my education, but I chose U of T because it allowed me to stay close to home. I could not be happier with my decision. I have spent years away from home, with months between seeing or talking to friends or family. And the change towards being around people I love, and who love me, has by far had the greatest impact on my happiness.
Perhaps isolation is more at fault for the rise in depression, given such a flourishing society. Harry Harlow, the controversial social psychologist, certainly taught us one thing: that destroying the social bonds of social creatures, destroys the creature itself.
Hustle it up!