One of the more interesting aspects of the “trip up the spiral staircase” is the socialization / meaningfulness equation. it’s the job of parents is to socialize their kids. One of the keys to this process is to teach kids to “check out” the reaction of those around them to judge the correctness of their actions.
Initially, this approval comes only from the parents. Soon, however, the list of people doing the approving grows to family, babysitters, teachers, other adults. In other words, socialization has as its basis the idea of fitting in to one’s culture, and one knows that one fits in through the approval of the “stronger” members of that culture. This is so expected that children lacking this ability to fit in and quickly modify their behaviour are viewed as troublesome or deviant.
Most kids get it that approval is essential for their survival–certainly at an emotional level. It might be argued that kids actually assume that societal approval is essential for their physical survival as well.
It requires a big, almost insurmountable
leap to step away from seeking cultural (external) approval.
The joke is, however, that external approval is an internal
creation, and is therefore irrelevant.
Most people never get this joke.
Now, teens are noted for their rebellion, but this rebellion is simple substitution. Initially, teens rebel against parental authority by reflexively arguing against what the parent says. As anyone who has talked with a teen knows, this is not reasoned argument. It’s screaming “no!” for the sake of the screaming.
Sadly, most adults never get past this way of expressing their displeasure.
The other aspect of teen rebellion is teen conformity. The majority of teens shift from “parental norms” by adopting the viewpoint of their peer group. They have to wear what their friends are wearing, do what their friends are doing.
One nineteen-year-old we know said, “I was out until 6 am. I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed. Unless someone calls and wants me to go out. Then, I’ll have to go, because everyone knows I’m very social.” Yikes.
When we look at our present endeavor, it becomes clear why people remain stuck in place on the lower steps of the spiral staircase. Each trip around requires a shift in perspective that leads farther and farther away from “group-think,” replacing it, not with rebellion, but with self-responsibility. This is only possible if I understand that there is no reality outside of myself and how I “language” my reality.
This is scary stuff, as we have been conditioned since birth to seek out group approval for pretty much everything. Standing up, being a real adult, walking onward while our peers scowl or shout in disapproval, is a difficult and scary thing.
The image I get of most “adults” is the two-year-old, running full steam, but glancing over his shoulder, looking for mommy. When he reaches a point where his discomfort exceeds his sense of adventure, (he’s outside his comfort level) he runs back, “to check on mommy.”
I Spend a lot of time encouraging clients
and students to trust their instincts.
This is not a prescription for mindlessly dashing ahead,
damning the torpedoes.
It’s to say that the process involves
endless checking in on oneself.
I know people who hold themselves back based upon what their daddy said to them when they were eight. Who go to a partner or spouse for permission to think about changing something. Who make decisions based upon books, tapes, or cultural norms. Endlessly waiting for a green light that never comes.
Others are waiting for the clouds to part and for “god” to tell them what to do. I’m only smirking a little here, as I have this god/vocation belief myself. It’s how I choose to see what I do and who I am. What I don‘t do is assume that I can prove this, nor do I hammer people over the head with it. It’s just how I choose to configure my universe.
I think the key to all of this begins to become clearer as we play with Maturana’s radical constructivist principle “Life is a purposeless drift.” Many people have some dissatisfaction with this concept. My sense is that this sentence serves only one purpose–to remind us that life just is.
There is no intrinsic meaning or direction–no universal purpose for anything. In other words, one’s religious, philosophical or cultural position is not “real.” It’s just how I describe reality to myself. Another way to put this:
“Nevertheless, Maturana frequently asserts, “there is no independently existing reality. We literally create the world by living in it” (Kenny & Gardner, 1988, p. 15 link)”
I typically add, “Life may be purposeless, but it’s not meaningless.”
By this I mean that my life and life in general means exactly and precisely what I mean it to mean. Now, I can defer to “authority” to peer groups, to whatever, and let them tell me what life means. But that is the same thing as saying that I make the meaning of my life. Life doesn’t mean something because a certain viewpoint got the most votes. It means what I believe it means.
If my life lacks meaning, I can choose to create a new perspective. (This is actually how everything that’s been invented came to be.) Or I can stay stuck and make excuses and wait for someone else to fix it or to tell me what to do.
These are really the only two options.
Me, I’d rather keep walking, creating and inventing meaning. And owning it. It’s the best I can do!
See you after holidays!