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The Big Answer

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Psychology and Social Responsibility: Facing Global Challenges

a book by Sylvia Staub and Paula Green

(our site's book review)

They say that “. . . all the major global threats to human survival and wellbeing are now primarily human caused. That is, they stem from our own behavior and can therefore largely be traced to psychological origins. This means that the current threats to human survival and wellbeing are actually symptoms of our individual and collective mindset.” We must not only feed the starving and reduce nuclear stockpiles, say the editors, but understand and treat their psychological roots. “Developing and applying such understanding may be one of the most urgent tasks facing our generation.”

They present a discussion of psychological defense mechanisms that normal people use in the service of denying uncomfortable realities, seeing things in ways that make them feel most comfortable regardless of what is real, and avoiding responsibility and stress. The most important defense mechanisms in this regard are: repression, denial, projection, rationalization and intellectualization. People see important problems needing attention and avoid dealing with them by using some or all of these mechanisms to logically explain to themselves why they let the situation fester rather than taking it on as something to act upon.

We use psychological defense mechanisms in the service of denying uncomfortable realities like nuclear power or nukes in general
We use psychological defense mechanisms in the service of denying uncomfortable realities like nuclear power or nukes in general

They quote Maslow as having said: “What we call ‘normal’ in psychology is really a psychopathology of the average, so undramatic and widely spread that we don’t even recognize it ordinarily.” They comment that: “This claim of widespread psychological underdevelopment has since found support in studies of ego, moral, and cognitive development.” They say that culture can therefore be seen as not only a force for education and evolution, but also a force against self-knowledge and psychological growth—we collude unconsciously to protect one another’s defenses and illusions.

Erich Fromm, Willis Harman, Ernest Becker, Otto Rank and Ken Wilber have dovetailed with this insight that society prevents awareness of reality, is a shared hypnosis, is an immortality project supporting death denial, and a system supporting substitute gratifications as much as authenticity and maturity. This is also a cognitive issue in which the paradigm in place is the filter through which one sees reality—one is blind to what doesn’t fit the current paradigm of reality. (Old, mechanistic-reductionistic paradigm subscribers have trouble seeing the ecological disasters in our future due to their blindness to the systems thinking mindset, but new, ecological-holistic paradigm subscribers see it all too clearly.) This is also a nurturing and maturity issue, since when one is emotionally needful one sees through the filter of one’s needs—perceptions are in terms of those needs, and people and things that cannot be perceived as need-fillers become invisible. (Consult Maslow’s being-cognition versus deficiency-cognition thesis for an expansion of this concept. See Toward a Psychology of Being.)

What all this adds up to is that our survival may depend on our individual and collective maturation, say the editors, and they are right.

Research shows the obvious—that aggression and the tendency toward violence, as well as kindness, helpfulness, generosity and cooperation, can be fostered or inhibited depending upon child-raising methods and socialization characteristics. It’s been found that training parents in specific child-raising skills is a highly effective way to promote the positive personality traits (the last four listed). The editors advocate parent education, parents being good examples to emulate, lots of nurturance and warmth, avoiding authoritarian methods, using consequences to teach, using effective guidance and promoting self-esteem. In other words, they favor authoritative parenting. They also favor avoidance of abuse and deprivation and neglect, and education of all to prevent these.

They say “For change to occur in a society and for one’s nation to contribute to change in the world, many members of society must become active participants in working for the social good and human welfare.”

Positive social movements such as the MC movement are a good example. And the social good and general human welfare isn’t even necessarily a goal of such people at the outset—although it might be. Their intentions will often be to enhance their lifestyles until they work well, while ceasing the charade of pretending lives littered with dysfunctional and/or ineffective parenting, relationships and communication are fulfilling and happy when they're merely coping well with the relative nonfulfillment, lack of close and meaningful social connectedness and community, and lack of good childcare and eldercare.

But the interesting thing about lifestyles that genuinely promote happiness, self-actualization and fulfillment is that they also produce compassionate people who feel full and see others who don’t, so they tend to relate to these others in nurturing ways and spread some of the goodness around. Such is human nature. This is why MC guidelines don’t naďvely say one is expected to advance from close encounters of the first kind (within the MC) to relationships of the second (local) and third (world) kinds. It is statistically probable that such a thing will happen, but the last thing MCs do is try to tell people that they should feel compassion and/or friendship with others and then describe how they should express these things. This would be a lousy idea. One needn’t “push the river.” The MC rules don’t tell anyone how to feel or how to express it.

One needn’t 'push the river'—just let it flow naturally; it knows what to do
One needn’t 'push the river'; just let it flow naturally—it knows what to do

The rules merely give great, proven guidelines about parenting (P.E.T. and/or authoritative methods), communication and relationships, an unprecedented opportunity for inspiration, creativity, nurturance, people knowledge and human relationships of the being-cognition variety between self-actualizing individuals who are “normal” families but also best friends with other members. People feeling good and expressing it socially is merely a secondary effect of MC life—they needn’t strive for it. But they certainly may if they wish. In an effective MC, if someone got into do-gooder mode as a way of escaping low self-esteem or their real emptiness feelings, they would not be interfered with, but others with more insight would express concern that they get their own needs met as well, and these others would present opportunities to the escapist to be nurtured and gain security, so that s/he would someday be able to base his/her social beneficence on fullness, not emptiness.

They’d also model—and teach—good self-talk and self-parenting habits to this person, because, ultimately, we must all parent ourselves throughout our adult lives if we are to thrive and grow happily. PSBs would be one of the primary mechanisms (along with phones, visits and email) with which the organizing, expressing and communication of such needs for nurturing and desires to nurture would be facilitated and coordinated. People’s statuses being compatible during such endeavors is important, and PSBs exponentially aid that goal. See Why Register for an MC?.

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

The editors of Psychology and Social Responsibility: Facing Global Challenges score a great point when they assert that, whereas multicultural education stresses ethnic pride as the critical ingredient in self-esteem, normal America-centered education ideally gives people competence and confidence in the actual country in which they must operate as knowledgeable, wise citizens. If they have a we-them, minority-versus-country mindset, aren’t they set up for alienation and disaffection and victimization contexts rather than empowered to understand the country of which they are a citizen and in which they need to get a good job, succeed, and find happiness amongst the diverse mix of people and beliefs?

Like most other thinkers, they stress the importance of community and social responsibility to balance our rights and entitlements.

Staub and Green stress the importance of community and social responsibility to balance our rights and entitlements
Staub and Green stress the importance of community and social responsibility to balance our rights and entitlements