Social Archetypes

On Groupthink,
Characters on the Path and
Speaking the Language

Humans are emotional animals. We are wired to function in groups and build tribal structures to survive the harshness of life. From the African savanna to the corporate office, humans have continuously adjusted between in- and out-groups. To the socially aware there are always changing power structures that reshuffle during social events and moments of need. To the unaware this pecking order is invisible. These power games can be: domain dependent as observed when group members exhibit extroversion, when they are in a familiar environment; opposed to introversion, when in a new space with new people. Those with more developed personalities are not affected by social constructs and live in an aura of independence regardless of cultural norms, conversational risks and uncharted social geography. The socially unsure watch attentively and are reserved with their words until called upon or encounter a topic they are confident talking about. Of these, the strategic talkers listen to everyone to get a feel for the room before jumping in, and the antisocial prefer to withdraw from active conversation and hide behind their phone screens.

Powerful groups have very diverse members which allows them to enter any situation while maintaining inner harmony. This harmony is maintained by the ability to function as a unit while not sacrificing individual character traits. The one who can embody the swinging metronome never loses rhythm between the self and the group. Those who are polarized at either end may be seen as egotistic or conformist. Thus, balance always wins in the socially complex world of give and take.

Characters on the path:

All people display different external behavior influenced by past conditioning. Behavior repeated enough times becomes habit as it neurologically wires as a biological algorithm in the brain. This keeps some people trapped in a predictable loop that can be triggered by environmental stimuli or those who have influence over them. Underneath all this learned wetware (unless genetically predisposed) we have the same reptilian brain. As we become ‘civilized’, we override our reactive animal brain to function appropriately in social systems. The paradox is that we all see and act in the world differently but are fundamentally all the same.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

When we feel isolated from each other, we are separate from ourselves. We may meet people at certain moments in life that remind us of who we really are. Some will challenge, reflect or deflect us; and some will connect, support and grow with us. Either way we learn more about the spectrum of light and dark human potential. To see these character fluctuations and the oscillation of the self we have to be willing to look deeper than the surface.

The Diplomat:
The charismatic diplomats are masters of networking and experts in conflict resolution. They have seen the good, the bad and the ugly, and know who to remain calm through tense situations. They are the smoothest talkers and the most socially diverse. In both war and peace time (or weddings and funerals) they are supported by large numbers of people, from all walks of life. They carry you through difficult formalities and help you maintain neutrality when your impulses are pulling you towards irrational decisions.

The Lone Wolf:
The lone wolf takes more social risks and has no problem going to events alone or bombarding an ongoing conversation. These personality types are socially flexible and self grounded at the same time. They can be socially disruptive and seem ambiguous to the observing group because lone wolfs are not affiliated with tribal behavior and preset groupthink.

The Chameleon:
Chameleons are socially unpredictable, they can take centerstage, melt into the background, mirror, dive deep, subtly change topic, give or withdraw empathy, apply and transfer pressure, create and dissolve tension or remain silent simultaneously. Chameleons have a sixth sense for hypocrites, charlatans, psychopaths and predators. If provoked, chameleons can be ruthless and cause a scene by pushing a target’s buttons until they’re exposed. Mostly they are peaceful and only act aggressively when there’s a disturbance in the social order. It’s always better to have a chameleon on your side than against you.

The Prophet:
When things go wrong the prophet is willingly the default scapegoat of the group—always taking one for the team. Prophets have an intimate personal relationship with all group members and are trusted to see the dark side because they do not judge or enable self-destructive behavior. They support you through big and small changes like: quitting smoking, losing weight, starting a business or getting married. They carry your pains and celebrate your successes. They mostly remain quiet—allowing the group to make and learn from mistakes at their own pace—and talk only when it matters, for they understand the power of the spoken word. They are subtle masters of eye contact and can repel strangers that harbor ill intentions with a single gaze. They are the watchers, protectors, listeners and healers. They are the Muhammad, Jesus and Buddha mind, a mental model of the higher self.

The Olympian:
Olympians wake up at dawn and start their day before everyone else. They’re always full of contagious energy, take the initiative and inspire positive change. It’s no coincidence that they’re both physically and mentally fit, since they’re always attempting the difficult or impossible with religious zeal. Olympians are charged leaders and visionaries who are too busy looking ahead to notice any negativity or doubts that may be lurking around them. Active focus is their secret to getting things done. They’re always high on life, stop to watch the sunset, appreciate a full-moon and feel in sync with natures aesthetics. Their sharp minds make them seem intimidating but they’re open to share their life hacks with anyone who is genuinely interested. They have a builtin bullshit detector and never waste time. They’re envied for their lifestyle habits, good relationships and warrior spirit. With a pure mind, body and soul, the olympians are champions in all domains. They keep the group good times ball rolling.

The Inner Child:
Publicly they’re hidden from view, privately they’re the ones who know how to tap into the playful you. They bring the water sports gear to the beach house, still own (working) video games you used to play as a child, and always have chocolate and candy in arms reach. They help you reconnect with yourself during stressful times and bring out your inner nature. They remind you to slowdown, zoom out, and approach life like a game. Things are always more fun and less serious with the inner child. After a day with them you always feel light and sleep easy. Most importantly, looking at the world from your inner child’s eyes allows you to reclaim that sense of wonder, newness and mystery that was abundantly available, before rigid adult thinking imprinted on your mind.

The Apollo:
When we want to discuss the meaning of life, our growth challenges or engage in intellectual discourse we go to Apollo. Conversations with Apollo are always stimulating, insightful, and last for hours into the late night. Apollo challenges our beliefs, makes us consider things we’re not seeing, and takes us deeper into ourselves. Exchanges with Apollo meander around the serious and spiritual, and when we’re ready, the difficult and hard to hear. Encounters with Apollo—even if brief—are always valuable and build on past conversations and realizations. Apollo always pushes you to higher mental planes and doesn’t sugar coat life’s truths.

The Mirror:
The mirror is our parallel through life’s ups and downs. No matter our experience, the mirror always finds a way to directly relate to what we’re trying to say. If we look deeper into our mirror, we can see ourselves reflected back. This can be very revealing. Not everyone keeps a clearly polished mirror, because clarity forces us to see who we are and evolve. Whether positive or negative, an even exchange with our mirror leaves us feeling heard and understood.

“The summary of the advice of all prophets is this;
Find yourself a mirror.”

―Shams Tabrizi

The Jedi:
This growth relationship is based on dualism. Always two there are, the master and the apprentice. There’s a lot of mutual respect between these two, as they have mastered the art of giving and taking power. They share knowledge by both being aware of who should be in control when. Common metaphors include: the navigator (guide) and the driver (traveler), the engineer (builder) and the marketeer (seller), the chef (alchemist) and the farmer (miner). There’s graceful interplay here as role switching is frictionless and intentions are clear.

Prometheus Bound (1762)

The Prometheus:
Prometheus gives us fire. Like an intense muse Prometheus shakes our core and pushes us out of ruts and creative blocks. Prometheus helps us carry our ambitions and ignites our inner torch. Though meaning well, Prometheus can be impulsive and reckless while trying to make a new way. Lots of frustration can come from behind Prometheus when ideas are challenged or limits imposed. Prometheus is the explosive drive force in the group.

The Osiris:
A rendezvous with Osiris is always after hours. Not always the most liked person in the group, Osiris is disruptive, unconventional and always looking for a good time—no matter the circumstances or consequences. Osiris knows how to activate our hidden dark side and feed our ego. Detached from the responsibilities and routine of daily life, Osiris rejects the mundane and creates risky situations for amusement. The morning after Osiris can be heavy but we always emerge reborn when we come out of our visits from the underworld. We learn a little bit more about ourselves every time we visit Osiris.

Map of Hell painting by Botticelli

“No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”

—Carl Gustav Jung

The Language of Life

Throughout our social journeying we sometimes come across soul mates, these are special characters in our life’s narrative. They understand us by sole presence and eye contact. Moments spent with them are timeless. It feels like peering behind the hidden curtain of the universe from a protected bubble and understanding the omnipresent flow that connects all things. When you are together, there are no doubts, and a strong sense of knowing can be felt. There are no ego games in these relationships. With complete presence and openness comes a sensation of mutual sharing of life knowledge. Language and intellectual barriers do not apply here because this kind of chemistry transcends learned communication mediums. These are the trust bubbles that flower lifetime binary growth—which are the most meaningful relationships of our life. Everything flows naturally and events feel synchronized and seen from the same mind. This shared state of mind can have therapeutic and meditative effects. It can encompass a sense of infinite possibilities and complete trust. It is very difficult to describe in language and is constantly a revisited topic in poetry and sacred texts, but still ineffable. Attempts to encapsulate a description include but are not limited to: aleph, akasha, logos, Indra’s net, singularity, transcendence, primordial Om, God’s mind, higher consciousness, higher self, ultimate reality, the sublime.

Indra’s Net of Jewels

We all have different groups and people in our lives. Our relationships to those people are subjective and depend on our perspective, mental state and openness. Your mirror can easily be another person’s Apollo and vice versa, and these relationship disparities shouldn’t confuse or govern our behavior. The mind is constantly changing, digesting new ideas, battling with influence, and contracting or expanding. We are all travelers, experiencing different stages of a self that is always in flux, especially when surrounded by strong group dynamics.

Where are you going? Who are the characters in your life? Can you see the hidden social fabric?

flâneur | seafarer among seafarers | all Medium writing is experimental, opinion or abstract creative expression.