Belonging To ‘Just a Group of Guys’by Saul Levine, M.D., Professor Emeritus in Psychiatry at UCSD August 27, 2018
Our original “Group of Guys” came about during a dinner conversation over 20 years ago, when one guy (not I) suggested that the three men there form a nucleus of a discussion group about their lives and invite other members.
Flash forward to the present: This group of guys includes eight men who have been participating regularly in monthly evening meetings at each other’s homes for more than 20 years.
We members are indeed a “motley crew,” remarkably diverse, with widely different ages (50-85), ethno-cultural backgrounds (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, American, North African, Canadian, Moroccan, Caribbean); vocations (artist, psychologist/professor, manager/salesman, physician, plumber/poet/activist, organizational consultant, inventor/businessman, drug counselor, writer); socioeconomic status (struggling to middle class to wealthy); and markedly different personalities.
The monthly meetings occur at different members’ homes around the host’s dining table with him as chairman and last a few hours. Everyone has an opportunity to speak in sequence about his own life or any other subject(s). Each speaker brings the group up-to-date on relevant or preoccupying issues in his life, and other members are free to comment and discuss.
The unwritten but clear rules are simple: No topics are off limits; No disrespect or rudeness; Honesty and Trust; and Omerta, or strict Confidentiality.
In these meetings, we’ve shared our moods and our fears, our regrets and desires. We’ve heard about the trials and tribulations of different members’ lives, as well as hopes and dreams. We’ve discussed relationships with spouses, children and lovers, and issues involving our health and sexuality, finances and careers.
Listening, empathy and caring are the norm, but we also tease and confront when warranted. We have mourned each other’s losses, and we’ve celebrated our milestones and successes. Amidst serious discussions, we have supported and hugged, we’ve shed tears and laughed heartily. Over the years, we’ve lost some members (through death and illness), and gained new blood, but the original core remains.
What has become vividly apparent is that we are “there” for each other, through thick and thin, setbacks and successes. We all have other family and friend relationships, but we implicitly know that each of us feels safe and secure in the group: We have each other’s backs.
Our gatherings serve a variety of purposes. We are not a “dining group” per se, although the host is responsible for providing dinner. We are not a “drinking group,” but libations (alcohol and not) are provided, and we are not primarily a “recreation group,” but we do get respite from our daily routines and derive pleasure. While we are not strictly a “therapy group,” when we discuss our personal frailties and setbacks, as well as our pleasures and achievements, feedback from our members is always meant to be helpful.
There are innumerable formally defined groups throughout the world, sharing activities, interests, hobbies and avocations, sponsored by organizations and institutions, and they are important and effective. Our own group, however, was and is an “ad hoc” creation, not officially established or sanctioned. And yet, our group thrives, as we provide each other with communality, caring and trust. While we feel comfortable as we share many deep values and attitudes, we also cherish our differences. We all leave each meeting feeling nurtured and fulfilled.
Ultimately, we offer each other a sense of Belonging, a crucial cornerstone of The “Four B’s” (including, Being, Believing and Benevolence) which, I believe are the core criteria we use to evaluate the quality of our lives. Belonging is the extent to which we feel appreciated, respected and cared for as a member of any group of close people. The groups vary widely and can be made up of family, friends, colleagues, teammates, congregants or platoon members, for example, or can be informal, like ours. But they all offer that sense of being welcomed.
A Sense of Belonging is related to our feelings of well being, and to actual measurements of better physical and emotional health. Loneliness, on the other hand, which is a growing “epidemic” in post-modern societies, is clearly detrimental to these qualities of life. Belonging is a boon to our existence, while loneliness is a bane to our lives. A Sense of Belonging enhances our very lives: Our bodies, moods and minds are enriched and ennobled.
If you already belong to groups which provide you with close, supportive relationships, more power to you. But if you seek a new or additional “antidote” to loneliness or lack of meaning in your lives, allow me to suggest starting a similar “Group of Guys (or Gals”).”