You Will Have A Better Love and Life Beyond
Interconnectedness vs. Separateness: Why Americans overinflate themselves and try to "fit in"
“The ego thrives on separateness. Authentic freedom is found by absolving this sense of separateness from others and God.” – Wayne Dyer
"Success depends on how well we relate to everything around us."
- John Perkins, former “Economic Hit Man" (Zeitgeist Addendum film)
If you're looking for a spiritual type of reason to go abroad, here it is.
immigrants upon arrival in
In America's case, since the majority population believes that they are individual separate egos detached from others, any newcomer immediately FEELS like a separate disconnected ego, even if he/she felt connected wherever they came from prior, because that is the new reality that he/she is in. It's a reality co-created by the American population, lifestyle, culture, and collective thought/beliefs/values. In essence, they're on their own once they come here, literally and figuratively, unless they have pre-existing friends or relatives. But even if they do, their social interaction will usually be limited to them.
From a spiritual and quantum perspective, we and the universe are all one, made up of the same “star dust” physically and of the same “consciousness” metaphysically. Thus we and everything are interconnected. Therefore our ideals of separateness cause a series of imbalances – psychological and physical (highest rates of mental illness and obesity in the industrialized world, for example). In the US, there simply is not a natural sense of interconnectedness between people like there is in other countries. Now, this is one generalization I can make that is very accurate, observable, and easily experienced.
According to spiritual teachings, this belief of having a separate individual ego creates much suffering, for a separate ego has a “me vs. them” mentality, fragmenting our natural interconnectedness. And since America is the most individualistic of all, it goes to follow that this type of suffering is greatest there, regardless of its economic prosperity. That's why despite its financial benefits and opportunities, it is a country of much greater psychological suffering and maladaptation than most. In short, America is the loneliest country in the world.
One of my insightful Indian readers described to me this dualistic “separation from others” attitude in America:
“I myself am heavily influenced by nondualist studies, such as Zen, Sufism, Advaita and Taoism, which focus heavily on interconnectedness with the universe, and getting away from the "I" (and understanding that our own perception of the self is generally false).
Indeed, America is therefore a very spiritually starved place, in my opinion, because of the emphasis on a self/ego (which is most likely perceived falsely to begin with), instead of the heavy emphasis on oneness, or interconnectedness. And it wreaks its havoc in work, in family life and beyond.
By the way, India, where my family is from, is a good place to meet people. Not the greatest, but quite a bit superior to USA in terms of social life. I love it when I visit there.
I do also think, however, that good and bad exists everywhere, in different ways and different amounts, which I know you've addressed. And we can only fight the bad so much. So it's a matter of how well we take the good with the bad.
But yes, when it comes to this particular problem of not being able to control the ego, and being hopelessly caught in the traps of duality, rather than engaging in interconnectedness with all, America is just about at the top. And therefore your site is spot-on about that.”
As a consequence, this lack of interconnectedness between people in America leads to two common maladaptive neuroses:
a) The tendency of Americans to overinflate their ego, confidence, and attitude to compensate for their vulnerability.
b) The conflicting oxymoron of trying to "fit in" somewhere.
I will elaborate on both.
Why Americans tend to overinflate their ego/confidence/attitude
Due to a lack of interconnectedness, Americans tend to puff up and overinflate their ego, attitude and confidence to appear "tough" to compensate for their vulnerability, since they are on their own. And in the process, many develop narcissistic attitudes as well. It's individualism gone too far, in my opinion and by the rest of the world's standards. Now couple that with overwork, stress, and loneliness, and you've got mental/behavioral dysfunction breeding big time, which is no surprise why the US is the highest in mental illness among industrialized nations.
The disproportionate American ego and attitude are too obvious to deny, especially when you compare them to foreigners. In fact, it's one reason why Americans think they are superior to the rest of the world, and come off as arrogant about it. When they are in abroad, they notice that their egos are larger than those of the foreigners, who by comparison are more modest and humble, and thus they subconsciously feel superior when amongst foreigners.
My Expat Advisor, in his guide on how to behave in Russia, notes this difference between American and Russian egos:
“a) In America you need to blow your horn and act independent and arrogant to show you are somebody. Not there (Russia). You need to be humble. This is what they (Russians) like. Polite and friendly, too.”
In other countries on the other hand, people have a natural sense of interconnectedness with each other, as well as a rich communal bond, so they have no need to overinflate their egos and confidence. Instead, they have a calm relaxed ego and confidence that's in harmony with the rest of their personality, unlike the bulging/pulsating ego/confidence that Americans tend to exude which can be quite intimidating to others and to foreigners.
Thus, they are more comfortable to be around (in my view at least). And that's why I have a more natural comfort zone with foreigners. This difference is readily noticeable by anyone with exposure to foreigners and newly arrived immigrants. One can easily sense it in their personalities, vibes and auras, that they are accustomed to a rich communal bond. It's a refreshing contrast to the big bulging type of ego and over-confidence that modern Americans tend to develop, which is overcompensating, intimidating to others, and leads to dysfunctional behavior, maladaptation and mental illness.
You see, a sense of natural interconnection with others means you simply don't need to develop a big ego, attitude, or over-confidence to be "tough". But in America, you do tend to need such ridiculous qualities, otherwise you feel vulnerable to being trampled by others who have them. It's an immature power play.
Some Americans even consider me "weak" and "timid" when they meet me, because I don't overinflate my attitude and confidence in the bravado style that they do, and appear too easy-going to them. But in reality, I have a deep inner strength, balance, harmony and willpower that they don't know or appreciate (and how can they since most of them have no "inner life" anyway). So I have no need to inflate my outer personality to imitate them, which they sometimes use to put me down. Funnily enough, even some young punks have chided me for not being like them, acting as though “everything is cool” and exuding fake optimism all the time. However, I find their act/behavior too fake for my taste and also, if I were to try to emulate them, well, I just wouldn’t feel good about myself doing it.
In fact, even their British counterparts, whose culture/values most closely resemble ours, have far less of an egoist attitude and act far more modestly (as well as more cultured).
The conflicting oxymoron of trying to "fit in"
The second common maladaptive behavior influenced by the lack of a sense of interconnectedness in the US is the perpetual neurosis of trying to "fit in" somewhere. But it’s an oxymoron to try to “fit in” to a society that is individualistic and private in nature. You can't truly "fit in" a society where everyone is separate, individualistic, exclusive, and isolated from each other psychologically, cause there's really nothing to "fit" into. In that sense, no one really "fits in". They either thrive in this kind of environment, or they don't (like me). But many still keep trying (or feel the need to try) to "fit in" anyway because it is innate in our psyche to belong, bond, and connect with others. Unfortunately, the average American doesn't realize this, and so asks him/herself perpetually, "how do I fit in?"
And of course, there are some who simply live their own life and don’t care about “fitting in”, as my dad described to me about how he dealt with this issue:
I can understand now what you had gone through in those growing up years in California. I am so sorry that I did not see your sufferings then and offered you some help. My situation was different than yours. I was mentally prepared what I would encountered when we immigrated to the US. I knew that I had to work double harder and smarter to get the same pay and position. I hated to play politic. I was promoted to a manager but when the top management shift and re-organized, the minority managers are the first to be shifted. I knew that I could not and would not want to fit in to this foreign society. I was not interested in their sports. All they talked about was football and baseball, the players, the teams that meant nothing to me. I did not want to go to have a drink after work with my co-workers. So, it was not a problem to me because I did not want to fit in anyway. But to you, it is completely different. I was not realized the crude environment of American schools in all levels. I came from a very friendly and strictly monitored school environment. Look what had happened in the Virginia Tech that a Korean student killed 13 people? He was discriminated and badly treated in school. No excuse there. The problem is American do not seem to be able to learn from past lessons. That is why those tragedies keep happening.
I am glad and feel so relief that you finally came out of that and are able to find your own path and write about them. You can now guide others out of those traps and find their happiness some place else.
Good luck, love,
An offshoot of this is the "identity crisis" where an individual feels undefined, not knowing his/her place and purpose in an "artificial society" like ours (which is not even in harmony with nature or our own souls). It's a complex neurosis that makes no sense, and has no logical solution, yet it's an ongoing problem that lingers in the psyche of many in America. Unfortunately, many young Americans have no idea how to deal with it, nor how to verbalize it, so they escape into drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, addiction, or delinquent behavior.
The problem though, stems from an inherent conflict/contradiction between American cultural values and our innate human nature. On the one hand, Americans like to be separate from others, independent, not need others, and be in their own space and bubble. And they are conditioned to derive a sense of pride and honor from being independent and autonomous. But on the other, we have an innate human need to connect/bond with others and belong to a social group/collective.
Thus, a fundamental conflict arises at the core between our mentality and our natural biological/psychological needs. They mentally tell themselves, "I am strong, independent, self-reliant. I don't need others. I am happy being alone. And I'm proud of it." But in their heart and emotions they FEEL a need to bond/connect to others and belong, so deep down they wonder "how do I fit in and where do I fit in?" These two needs are diametrically opposed, and can progress to a deep "identity crisis" that they can't explain or understand, like a split-personality within them that creates confusion.
Simply put, the American cultural value of separateness does not breed unity, deep-hearted camaraderie, or a communal sense of belonging among its people. Instead, it breeds narcissism and selfishness. My Expat Advisor couldn't have been more right when he told me:
"Americans don't tend to work well in groups. They meet for convenience and then go their separate ways, each doing his/her own thing."
contrast, in other countries "fitting in"
is simply not an issue, and certainly not a neurosis, because the
inherent sense of interconnectedness in foreign cultures makes everyone
"fit in" by default, since there is no cultural/psychological
separation in the first place. Since in
most other nations there is not such a strong sense of individualism,
not view themselves as separate from others.
Thus, people have more in common with each other and get along
better than those in individualistic countries do.
There isn’t this Western individualistic ego
that battles other egos like in
One of the
best examples of this is in the
“One thing you will notice in the
people will just accept you as you are and treat you as a human being.
That is called Freedom. The freedom to be yourself.
I am not afraid to go to Casinos there, bars and restaurants and that I will feel out of place or see
cocky people around swaggering or puffing up their chests. All social interactions are smooth and
friendly and you are part of everything. I just walk in and the feeling is nice. You are included in their
groups. They are so different from the Anglos or the CJKs (Chinese, Japanese, Koreans).”
He also observed:
"The Philippine society puts primary emphasis on family, human relations and the development thereof- which includes sex, friendship, love, etc. Socially, it seems to be one of the most advanced societies on earth. Of course, these developments are not mentioned in the western press which only measures progress in political, technological and financial areas. If it started measuring societies by the healthfulness of social life, the place you are at would win hands down. Cheerz."
In fact, the article at this link below explains why Filipinos in general, though poor, have a pure radiant happiness about them and in their smiles (which I can personally attest to, having been in the Philippines) attributing it to their fundamental view that they are NOT separate from others:
“UP Professor Felipe de Leon, after a decade of researching, has concluded that Filipino culture is the most inclusive and open of all those he has studied. It is the opposite of the individualistic culture of the West, with its emphasis on privacy and personal fulfillment. It is also the opposite of certain collectivistic cultures, as one finds them in Confucian societies, that value hierarchy and ‘face.'
"BY CONTRAST", Filipino culture is based
the notion of kapwa, a Tagalog word that roughly translates into
being." In essence, it means that most Filipinos, deep down, do not
believe that their own existence is separable from that of the people
them. Everything, from pain to a
snack or a joke, is there to be shared. "The strongest social urge
the Filipino is to connect, to become one with people", says De
One of my
readers who has lived in the
“I've lived in the
From my experience in foreign environments, you can sense this “interconnectedness” I speak of, even without seeing any evidence, from the vibe in the air around you, generated by the collective mentality/attitude of the population.
I was just talking to someone in the
newsroom where I
work about his trip to
offshoot effects of “separateness” in
some other offshoot effects of the inherent
Going out alone in other countries doesn't
leave you feeling vulnerable, alone, or insecure like you would in
other hand, when you go out alone in
b) Likewise, being single in other countries is also far less painful than in America, where the lack of interconnectedness makes being single much worse than it otherwise would be in an inclusive interconnected social environment and vibe. After all, what could be more lonely than being alone in a society where people are isolated from you mentally, emotionally, and psychologically by default?
In a society where everyone is separate, independent, and in their own bubble/shell, it feels awkward, unnatural, and inappropriate to try to meet people or connect with others, rather than in an interconnected/communal environment.
c) Nowadays, the whole country seems unduly insecure, as one reader observed:
“Living in the
Western Europeans however are very warm in
you if you have money or not. In
Our overemphasis with individuality in
“The US appears to hold
individuality so dear that it
has produced possibly the most bland 'individuals' of all cultures,
patients aside perhaps, which there seems to be no end of now. It would
the true life of the person cannot be found in isolation, rather it
blooms in a
more collective mentality. No surprise, it's difficult to cultivate a
mentality when all you're exposed to is the same people, friends,
roads, jobs, etc or worse, left in isolation. I have always found my
from other countries to be far more informed and colorful as people,
women both and far more altruistic and 'other oriented' than the people
known in the
Strangest thing is, the people I've known from politically torn and bomb ridden countrysides are far less paranoid than people from the States and far more outgoing. Then again, people from safer countries than the
Also, the belief in separateness from others
also contributes to disunity and harmony in the American family.
been sociologically documented that families in
f) The individuality of separateness view also contributes to a primitive socialization process, as this intellectual expat observed:
In conclusion, Americans simply don't know how to deal with this emptiness and lack of interconnectedness. If you look at their faces in public, you notice that they look angry, high strung and irritable all the time, not knowing why they aren't happy or what they are missing. Occasionally, they pull out the regular punch line greeting to others, "How are you? Oh I'm just great, and how about you?" in their artificial cheerful tones, to reinforce fake optimism on each other. But it's just a temporary fix-it "band-aid" they try to use which in no way substitutes for the rich communal bond, sense of belonging, deep-hearted camaraderie, or interconnectedness with others that they are missing.
The insightful metaphysics/spirituality author, Fritjof Capra, in his book The Tao of Physics (page 9) described the consequences that “fragmentation” leads to:
“This inner fragmentation of man mirrors his view of the world “outside,” which is seen as a multitude of separate objects and events. The natural environment is treated as if it consisted of separate parts to be exploited by different interest groups. The fragmented view is further extended to society, which is split into different nations, races, religious and political groups. The belief that all these fragments – in ourselves, in our environment, and in our society – are really separate can be seen as the essential reason for the present series of social, ecological, and cultural crises. It has alienated us from nature and from our fellow human beings. It has brought a grossly unjust distribution of natural resources, creating economic and political disorder; an ever-rising wave of violence, both spontaneous and institutionalized, and an ugly, polluted environment in which life has often become physically and mentally unhealthy.”
To be fair though, separateness and individuality do have some advantages that are worth noting. For one, if you are in a group, family or environment that is detrimental to your interests and goals, it is much easier for an individualist/separatist to do what it takes to get out of such a predicament, than it would be for one who is group-minded and co-dependent on their group/family. The latter aligns his/her interests with those of the group, viewing the group’s interests as his/her own, dissolving their own individuality in the process. Plus, group-minded folks are less likely to speak out or take action when it’s needed, and more likely to be modest and passive instead. And they can be unnecessarily self-sacrificing (depending on your views and values of course), foregoing their own needs for others. But of course, whether these are advantages or not depends on one’s personal and cultural values.
Americans should take note that in spiritual and mystical thought, it is taught that at the higher levels of consciousness, people view themselves as interconnected and interdependent with others and everything else, including the universe and God, for that is the true nature of how things really are, at the quantum and physical level. That’s why they aim at absolving the ego (sin nature in Christian terms) which thrives on separateness rather than unity with others and God. The best-selling New Age author and motivational speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer taught:
“The ego thrives on separateness. Authentic freedom is found by absolving this sense of separateness from others and God.” (“Four Pathways to Success” audio tape)
"There is no such thing as independence in nature. The whole of nature is a unified system of interdependent variables, each a cause and reaction, existing only as a concentrated whole."
And in the same film, John Perkins, a former “Economic Hit Man” described the joy of connection:
"Joy comes from that bliss of connectedness. That's our God spirit. That's that side of ourselves that really feels it, and you can feel it deep inside you. It's this amazing wonderful feeling. You know it when you get it. You don't get it from money. You get it from connection."
Discuss this article here: http://www.happierabroad.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6709
- “Interesting. A lot of it stems from collective mentality- there is no need for a massive ego if you belong
to a group with many
friends. They bolster you and support
you and make you feel better about yourself.
others with huge egos will crush you. And people will not respect you if you do not puff up your chest and
tell the world "I am great!"”
- “You really tell the truth the way it is about American society. Many
people want to get in a bubble or comfort zone of a kind of fake reality
with our mainstream media, superficial tv and music and it reflects in
the women of
engineered to live apart and not want "natural" contact with others but
instead want superficial relationships and friendships. It is hard for
free thinkers of different backgrounds in
comfortable in this kind of environment, which is why I want to either
would be more open and accepting for a classical black musician as
myself! The educational system is dumbing us down as well in American,
making us submissive to authority and never questioning things in our
society. I could write a long essay about this but I agree with everything
that you have said. Keep up the good work.
- “Alright I just read the rest of your paper and though I still agree with the original thought I can see where you placed your finding... without a doubt the countries I have been too particularly Sweden and Jordan when traveling many times perfect strangers would ask for my friends and I to come visit... have dinner, tea, etc without wanting or expecting anything in return. These things you would never, ever see in the states where everyone stranger or friend is looked at as a threat.
hope you had a good day,
- “Do you remember these pop song lyrics: "If I fail, if I succeed, at least I'll live like I believe......." also "I did it my way....." and ".... then the hero comes along, with the strength to carry on....." All the above things represent the American spirit of individual achievement and, ironically, you are using it, and following it while looking for collectivist cultures. In other words, you are looking for the balance between the two and, possibly, finding it.”
- “Hi Winston I can 100 percent relate to
your last article. About how the
“Interesting points, but not necessarily; like anything and most
everything there are rules of thumbs and generalizations that can be
exceptions and standard errors exists.
- a strong cohesive society can also have its draw-back - the so-in-your-face-imposing type of culture as well as peer pressure; though it can be a comfort and joy, it can also be a hindrance in creative expression that seem to be fostered in individualistic form of environments...
- extreme peer pressure can lead to hypocrisy, where individuals will tend to mask certain predispositions for the sake of conformity.
though filipina by origin, and I grew up in Manila in the early formative years, my father was a foreign diplomat for a European country, hence I grew up in an ex-pat Manila setting; My adult career in the US while often in Europe (Italy) - I see the pros and cons of both invidualized and cohesive family-style types of societies (which seems to me like an extended tribal form of grouping) ....
individualized societies can be annoying too ... don't get me wrong ...
but just wanted to comment, that .. sense experience needs to be taken with a grain of salt ...
there are pros and cons .. there's not one best way or mode ... (well I guess it's not best if it's fascist, totalitarian or any form of extremism) ....
i see life as a dialectic ... i simply flow.”
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