Just yesterday, my little boy, Jamie, who’s two, sank his teeth into my shoulder so deeply that he broke the skin.  He didn’t do it because he was angry or mean.  He did it because he got completely overwhelmed with emotion, and in that moment, all he wanted was to be connected with me.

He might have a two year old’s way of showing it, but we all crave connection.  We might want to be connected to each other, or to nature, or to a group or even to a belief, but we love and need to be closely attached to things.  Indeed, moments of true connection can be really fun, and carry us to a switched-on high.

However, our craving for connection can also lead us into some pretty dark waters.  I’m thinking in particular of the riot in Vancouver last week following the Canucks’ Stanley Cup loss.  In the pages and pages of analysis that have been written since, most comments have centered on the idea that a particular element had to be responsible, such as professional anarchists, disenfranchised youths, disappointed fans, or a “bridge and tunnel” crowd looking for a thrill.  I haven’t seen anyone consider the notion that people participated because they thought it was fun.

But, you know what?  I bet it was.  I mean, scary as hell, and morally reprehensible, but fun nonetheless.  I would bet the people in the riot, or even at the periphery of it, felt truly switched-on.  Certainly you can see many of the rioters smiling, and looking really rather relaxed and happy, in some of the pictures from the riot.

As it happens, when Vancouver first progressed to the Stanley Cup finals, I actually thought about going out to Vancouver to interview people and get a feel for the atmosphere.  I’ve been wanting to look more deeply into a feeling known as “collective effervescence”.   Collective effervescence is pretty much just what it sounds like:  it’s the feeling we experience when we share a group’s collective excitement, anticipation or joy about something, especially something that’s meaningful to us.

I’ve been suspecting that collective effervescence is an important kind of fun, although it’s one that our modern society features only rarely.  Where once collective effervescence would have been a normal part of a life marked by commonly shared religious beliefs, or important shared experiences (such as harvest), now it’s pretty much relegated to the sidelines, existing in smaller pockets like major sporting events.  Thus, I thought that the Stanley Cup playoffs would be a great way to explore what people were feeling and the impact that it was having on them.

In the end though, my daughter’s end-of-term activities kept me at home, so I wound up watching the playoffs – and their aftermath – on TV.  Like everyone else, the morning after the riot, I asked myself, “Why?”  I mean, it’s awful when your own team loses (and to Boston!), but seriously, tearing up your own city hardly seems like a reasonable response.

Because I’d already been thinking about collective effervescence though, I started to wonder if the craving for that bigger sense of connection, albeit expressed in a very dark way, was really at the heart of what happened.  For sure it sounds like there were some people who might just have been agitators, but there were a whole lot more who were willing to be agitated.   In other words, people were willing to be swept up, to suspend their sense of right and wrong, in order to feel connected to a mass of energy and excitement.  And frankly, as people, this needing to feel that connection just might be a core part of our humanity.

Which leaves me wondering how we can foster collective effervescence in ways that are healthy and positive, that attach all that energy – and through it, us – to something with meaning, so that we’re using it to build up rather than tear down.  The intent isn’t to foil another Stanley Cup riot, not sure if one could, but to recognize that that riot tells us something about what we ourselves might need.

Maybe we need to bring back harvest festivals.  It wouldn’t necessarily stop the looters, but it might just do something wonderful for the rest of us.

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