A Shared Sense of Humanity and Reality : Gems of Wisdom

মন মাঝি's picture
Submitted by monmajhi [Guest] on Sun, 03/06/2012 - 5:18am

This is a collection of quotations / excerpts from a single source - one of my all time favourite articles (a monograph), authored by Stanley I. Greenspan, and Stuart G. Shanker. This collection can perhaps also be considered an approximate summary (in my opinion, may not be yours) of the original article - which is really a very long piece of writing (nearly 20,000 words, I guess). The selection and arrangement of the excerpts are mine.

Anyway, I prefer not to comment on the article or on the selected excerpts here, because the excerpts themselves speak voluminously and are self-explanatory enough, I believe.

In any case, reading the original article was a hugely enlightening, enriching and rewarding experience for me - a part of which I wanted to share with my fellow-bloggers and readers through the excerpts below. If you find this collection enlightening, enriching or rewarding at all, I would urge you to go and read the full article - the link of which has been provided at the bottom of this post. Thank you.

A shared sense of humanity and reality....

1. Enlightenment philosophers were deeply troubled by the question: How do societies man¬age to exist? How does a disparate group of individuals, each locked in his or her own private world of feelings, intentions, and desires, ever manage to come together into a func¬tioning and stable collective? How do individuals even manage to com¬mun¬icate with one another, to share their thoughts and concerns? What are the forces that hold so¬ci¬eties together?

2. Up until recently, different groups and nations could believe, appropriately enough, that they were each in their own boat and need only be concerned about their own sur¬viv¬al. But what happens when everyone is in the same lifeboat and the seas are getting rough? Any serious con¬flicts will likely topple the boat and all will perish. In this new context what are the best ways to deal with the threats posed by greater interdependency? Can traditional coercive measures ‘maintain international peace and security’? What is needed now is a new psychology that is commensurate with the realities of political interdependency. For when diverse populations share the same lifeboat, it is essential that they relate to and communicate with one another; but for joint problem-solving to occur, the various parties involved must have a shared enough sense of reality and humanity. A shared sense of humanity and reality, the prerequisites to any sort of problem-solving, however, can not be taken for granted simply because all the parties are human beings, communicate with each other directly or through translators, and appear to use reason. A shared sense of humanity and reality is a complex personal and social process that, at present, has only been achieved to a limited degree.

3. The basic principle of the psychology of interdependency is that a shared sense of reality and hum¬an¬ity emerges, not from our genes, or from hard-wired processes of reflection, ab¬strac¬tion, and generalization, but rather, from a series of formative developmental experiences that create the framework for a shared sense of humanity and reality, as well as reflective problem solving. It is through these formative experiences that individuals both share a common sense of reality and humanity, and share the infinite variation in human experience and behavior…

4. They are embedded in formative learning experiences that characterize vital components of culture that allow for both the commonality and variation in human behavior.

5. These culturally-mediated, formative, learning experiences are often implicit (Greenspan, 1997) . This notion of implicit processes or of an implicit psychology is reminiscent of what Emil Durkheim referred to at the end of the 19th century as ‘social facts’: représentations in the âme collective or conscience collective (‘collective mind’). That is, values, cus¬toms, beliefs, etc., that may exist outside the conscious awareness of the individual members of the society but nonetheless have concrete effects on their behavior. For example, we may not be conscious of the rules proscribing how to dress, or the distance one should maintain in varying social contexts, but we nonetheless scrupulously follow these rules. So too, by an ‘implicit psychology’ we are talking about fundamental prin¬ci¬ples that we tacitly use to form values and beliefs and to make sense of and interpret the behavior of others and ourselves. Implicit processes and the implicit psychology that emerges from the, therefore, in part determine our most basic assumptions and ways of interpreting the world

6. Individuals, in order to be part of a family group, community group, nation group, and global (human) group, however, require more than external guidance. They require enough of a sense of shared reality and humanity to coalesce around these different levels of social organization. Social organizations that embrace diversity and are broad and stable are not based on shared myths or shared histories. Certainly not in the narrow and traditionally described cultural sense. Rather, the coming together is around shared processes that construct a complex reality and a complex view of humanity that shares implicit rules for the group’s survival. An example of the application of such implicit rules is the formation of derivative institutional processes that are larger than any one specific belief (for example, those that support justice).

7. What are the “common” experiences that can support these implicit processes and their derivative institutions? These experiences are the ones that determine how we engage in and define human relationships, express and comprehend intentions, and implicitly negotiate the basic themes of survival, such as safety and danger, respect and humiliation. They are also the ones that determine the degree to which we can symbolize, reflect on, and create institutions to deal with our own and others’ intentions, beliefs, and values to sustain a shared sense of humanity and reality. How can we characterize these experiences at the collective level ?

8. For example, some societies struggle with the basics of regulating behavior and forming a cohesive group; others work on coll¬ec¬t¬ive self-reflection that generates values and institutions to deal with basic needs, integrate different beliefs, and flexibly grow with emerging challenges

9. In this model, the more reflective and the greater the breadth of mastery of the group, the greater the adaptability and stability of the group.

10. some groups or societies cohere at levels of development that depend on con¬crete, pol¬arized images and rigid, inflexible rules. In these groups, concrete ideas govern rel¬a¬tive¬ly unreflective actions. Other groups cohere at developmental levels where the practices and institutions can integrate different perspectives that involve subtlety, nu¬ance, and the ability for change and growth through collective self-reflection. Here, more intricate processes guide decision-making as well as manage conflict and change.

11. For bonds of connectedness to endure among the increasingly varied kinds of ‘hyphenated’ citizens, a people must experience and maintain a sense of commonality broader than ever before in the human experience.

12. Covert affective communications define the shared assumptions a society uses to meet its basic needs, such as security and dependency, control of aggression, power, sexuality, and the like. These tacit or implicit processes underlie more overt symbols and are a significant component of a group’s character. They begin their impact in the early years of life in the way that a society or group, through its family practices, commun¬icates with its young and deals with basic themes such as safety versus danger, security versus fear, acceptance versus rejection, approval versus disapproval, humiliation versus pride and respect, power and assertiveness versus helplessness, sexuality and respect for the body versus shame and embarrassment.

12.BThese covert processes, which are imbedded in group procedures dealing with basic needs, as well as in the content of emerging symbols (beliefs), can lead to varying degrees of adaptive or maladaptive organization at various levels of integration. For example, some groups employ the mechanism of splitting emotional polarities when confronted with intense affects. Rather than seeing another group as sometimes good and sometimes bad, and having an integrated perspective which unites the parts into a whole, there is a tendency to split experience into one or another dimension (believing at that moment that only one dimension exists). Such splitting can justify enormous hostility when another group is characterized as all evil. Groups that tend to maintain nurturing and dependency in the face of intense affects (such as anger, fear and humiliation) facilitate more inte¬gra¬tive organizations. Other aspects of the collective character that are formed and main¬tained by covert processes include the degree of individual or group rigidity, the tendency to project intentions onto others, the tendency for rapid unpredictable shifts in attitudes rather than stable perspectives, and the tendency towards impulsive action rather than delay and caution.

13. If a group has a large number of words or symbolic images for representing and discussing an area of experience, clearly it can deal more precisely, and possibly more reflectively, with that array of feelings than a society able to avail itself of only a few roughly differentiated symbols.

14. That is, at a basic level we see groups that cohere around some superficial trait, like skin color or language; at a more advanced level the group might cohere around some polarized belief system; and a still more advanced structure develops institutions that encourage highly reflective and abstract thought processes.

15. Becoming emotionally invested in abstract concepts, such as equality, justice, and democracy, can be more challenging than being emotionally invested in polarized beliefs (we are better than them) or surface physical traits. Only individuals who have evolved through the capacities described above can channel emotions to animate the abstract ideals of their society and the structures that embody them. Social cohesion results from what Thomas Jefferson referred to as the “consent of the governed.” It is a product of the affects widely held within a group rather than of compulsion and regimentation.

16. The oversimplification of issues has the deleterious effect of weakening internal insti¬tu¬tions. If leaders give the public pat answers and polarized choices that do not rep¬resent the full complexities of challenges, they undermine both people’s confidence and their ability to think reflectively about world affairs. When political leaders use the mass media to feed the public misleading information – a danger exemplified during the McCarthy period in the 1950s – the collective loses the capacity to make careful dis¬tinc¬tions in its national discourse. Current polling techniques exacerbate this situation. After public figures have framed issues in a polarized way, pollsters conduct surveys to de¬ter¬mine which positions are popular. Leaders then justify their policies and actions by referring to public opinion polls that were initially shaped by their own misinformation. A cycle of escalating misinformation and polarization replaces informed debate

17. The capacity for individuals to organize into groups that cohere at flexible, reflective (rather than polarized) concrete levels is part of a long evolutionary process. While Darwinian images of the survival-of-the-fittest are often associated with this evolutionary process, the mental abilities that enable relationships, empathy, cooperation, and understanding emerge only from nurturing relationships in caring families. It is the nurturing side of relationships that enable human beings to form, maintain, and work together in families, communities, and societies. Working together in these groups makes it possible to rear reflective children and create complex economies, militaries, and governments. In the modern world only such cohesive groups founded on formative developmental processes that are characterized by nurturing relationships will have the potential to cope with the world’s growing interdependency.

18. This delicate pattern of relationships and learning in each generation is a chain that can easily be disrupted by factors that interfere with caregiver-child relationships, families, or communities. Many such factors ranging from war, famine, poverty, and illness to changing childcare patterns are operating today. Moreover, to strengthen these formative cultural patterns that make social groups possible in order to accommodate growing interdependency will take considerable investments in a new type of “human capital.”

19. Obviously, each of these departures from reflective thinking at the group or individual level can occur in varying degrees. Even though this developmental framework on the levels of thinking in groups and/or individuals is relatively new (Greenspan, 1997) , most of these, less-than-reflective approaches, are somewhat familiar to any student of politics or international relations. What’s often not clear to students of group behavior, however, is the degree to which the level of reflective thinking or the departure from reflective thinking is an indication, not just of the intellectual processes used by the individual or group, but their emotional processes. Reflective thinking requires, as indicated, well developed forms of empathy (being able to project oneself into another’s shoes and understand a wide range of feelings and views without distorting them), coupled with the ability for being realistic and having a firm assessment of reality. The ability to hold on to reality in the face of complex circumstances and to be able to balance realistic appraisals with empathetic understanding is a complex emotional and intellectual task. It is especially difficult for groups and individuals to carry out this task under extreme stress and/or strong emotions. Well done, however, such thinking processes harness our emotional and intellectual capacities in a seamless, integrated manner.

20. it will be important to help children see events from multiple contexts and frames of reference.

21. In order to increase the constructive elements, we must deal with not only economic and political forces, but also psychological ones.

22. Like our sense of humanity, our sense of reality depends on sharing sufficient formative experiences so that we can use similar principles of logic and reflection to reason about our world. We’re talking here, not about similar beliefs or agreement on religion, economics, or politics. Rather, we’re talking about a similar enough way of reasoning so that we share a framework for being logical and, therefore, for constructing a sense of reality about our world. Surprisingly, our sense of reality, which most of us take for granted, depends on the relative mastery of the developmental capacities of social groups and individuals described earlier. These developmental capacities, in turn, depend on the availability of certain types of formative experiences.

Source: Toward a Psychology of Interdependency: A Framework for Understanding Global Conflict and Cooperation, by Stanley I. Greenspan, M.D. and Stuart G. Shanker, D.Phil.

Compiled by: Mon Majhi

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