Copyright Lark Ritchie 1997.
One of the things I enjoy is a difference of opinions. Another thing I enjoy is looking at how other people see the world. Combining these two enjoyments with a passion for communication has up to this point given me opportunities to take on or discard values that I would never have considered evaluating, had such opportunities not been encountered. Why do I consider this important?
Sometimes we hold behaviour and human interactive principles that bind us to our life so tightly, that we do not allow for opening ourselves to different realities beyond our own, and the possibility of incorporating parts of these realities into our own life. In essence, improving our selves.
When we meet new people, we sometimes encounter a shock to our personal set of principles that may be disturbing. In reality, this disturbing experience is a result of approaching a different or former reality we have experienced in a different way than that of this new person we meet. We experience these 'shocks' in a number of ways, ranging from quiet avoidance to outright hostility towards that person delivering that shock. In fact, we ‘kill the messenger’ for the message. And we fail to evolve as human beings.
At one extreme, these types of reactions are valuable in themselves. For example, meeting a person who advocates genocide would definitely cause a reaction in most people, and we would act to remove ourselves from close association, or take action to protect society, or at least those close to us from such people and messages. Most of us could consider such action beneficial.
At the other end of the spectrum, we would open our arms to such ideas so completely, that we would adopt the same attitudes, and actively promote and pursue genocide. Most of us would think that this would be a dangerous line to follow.
These reactions we experience are base reactions, like a natural instinct, or reflexive, like a knee-jerk response. It is our way of quickly protecting ourselves from danger. But these are not ‘natural’ in the sense of instinctive or physiological, a part of our body-system. In fact, what they are, are a summarization of our learning and past experiences. And when we react to another person, either positively, or negatively, we are making a summary judgment rather than take the time to analyze all of the factual data before taking action. At the extremes, this summarization strategy works as we say ‘extremely well.’
It is in the ‘not so extreme’ areas of the range that encounters give us possibilities for growth. It is in this area that ‘automatic reaction’ becomes questionable. Our choices for summary judgments versus analysis of fact are sometimes clouded in this foggy area, and we sometimes become victims of this protective mechanism, using our summary of learning and experience all too hastily. In fact, we pre-judge the situation or the person, without having a set of information to support the reaction. In such a case, we are ‘prejudiced.’
For example, if we were taught generalizations that ‘all men are cads’ or we have had experiences that lead to a generalization that ‘divorced women are bitches,’ our prejudices truly limit how we perceive such people, and how we interact with them. In fact, there are probably more men and women in these classifications that do not warrant such a judgment than do. But if our background learning or experience-summarization operates without thought, we can react to avoid or be hostile to that person, and curtail a learning that such people are not, necessarily bad people to know. In fact, such people may expose us to conditions, facts, and possibilities for understanding that might change the very value system we hold. In other words, such exposures may cause us to change our minds; to grow in our personalities.
Our personal set of principles are a result of early development, as a child, learned from those close to us, usually our immediate family, or those we saw as important to us at that time. We were influenced, either by example, conversation, or monologue to adopt other people’s opinions of the world around us. Our personal principals are also modulated, or even restructured by our own defense mechanisms, as when we have been hurt by another, or betrayed. It is this fear of being hurt again, that leads us to generalization, and quick almost uncontrolled summary judgments and limited growth.
We should ask ourselves, ‘Am I working from a defensive position when I encounter new people?’ And beyond this immediate question, if we are, or plan to become parents, ‘Will I influence my children to adopt strategies that lead to self limiting growth?’
© 1996 Lark Ritchie. Contact me at this address..