Yesterday I ran from 4 in the morning until about 11 at night. That is what the entire week has been like, not a bad thing, just not something I really care to repeat on a weekly basis. And despite all my new found knowledge about reactive hypoglycemia, I screwed things up for a few days (actually only one day but felt the effect for 3) and was reminded that no matter what, remembering to take the squirrel food with me is of the utmost importance.
James Fowler wrote a book called “Stages of Faith” that pretty much sums up the process of developing faith. Now, faith is very different from religion, it is the actions you pursue that are guided by belief. The beliefs can be the religion or lack of religion, for example, atheism requires faith in order to act according to its set of beliefs.
Fowler echoes Erickson’s stages of development and they both assign age ranges to each stage. The important thing to remember is that the age ranges are only “examples” the sort of – if the world was perfect this is how we would grow and mature. The stages they assign to infants and toddlers and teens are stages that many people do not pass through until their 30s or 40s or even later. And, as both point out, most people in this day and age get stuck in the teen stage. Therein lies the problem that we face in creating change.
The fancy term for this stage is the Synthetic-Conventional stage. Here, the person begins to recognize that there are other people in the world beyond themselves. However, they retain a very self-centered vision. The people they recognize as valid and of consideration are limited to the people they know. And, to what they can see and interact with themselves. Identity found through a group becomes primary (even if it is defined through rejection of groups – the isolation becomes its own form of “belonging” to the very group rejected).
The longer the person remains in this stage, the less their capacity for autonomy of thought and action. Their actions are dictated by the projection of how they will be received by the group. Will they be accepted? Will they gain status? Or, if it is a reverse identity, will what they have done be perceived as their opening the door to accepting the rejected group (and in that case they choose not to pursue the action).
In essence, the person’s vision is restricted to that which they can see. The capacity for imaginative understanding, of empathy, does not exist because it is counterintuitive. Because the person remains at the center of the judgment of value, as the source for approval – they cannot accept or internalize an experience which they have not had. Does that make sense?
This is why stereotypes are so very powerful and hard to undo. If a person lacks the ability to empathize (imagine themselves in a situation they have never experienced) and sympathize (imagine what someone they do not know must be feeling in a situation they themselves have experienced or imagined they are experiencing) than any experience that they have not directly gone through will not be seen as valid. Their opinions and judgments will be that of the group they have sought identity with and their ability to exercise free will and thought become non-existent. But they themselves will not perceive this or see a problem with it as they will be self-validating their judgments by comparing them to the rules of the group (which must be obeyed to remain a member) and receive external validation from the group for being a good person and right thinker.
One of the characteristics of a group is that they may only have a limited membership. Someone must always be defined as “ineligible” in order to create a sense of uniqueness for the group’s members. This sense of being special is a replacement for the skill of being self-validating and independent. Communities are not groups.
Becoming capable of extending one’s mindset to include what is not directly seen or experienced is one of the first requirements to creating change in any circumstance. Even if the change has to do with oneself, the pattern will not be broken until one can recognize as valid the impact of the pattern on others, including those you do not know. An oversimplified example of this is walking down a crowded street with a pissed off expression on your face because once again you have broken your diet. Breaking your diet has no effect on the strangers you pass on the street. Your mood and appearance does. Breaking your diet may be a habitual pattern for you and one you will not be able to break until you can begin to connect the impact of the pattern on things and people outside of yourself. Once the world is no longer purely seen and perceived as being “all about you,” change begins to happen.
Change that comes from a place of regard for the way we interact with life and respect for how we can influence/affect others that brings us no pain or gain is the first step toward leaving the Synthetic-Conventional stage.
It is the first step to moving into what transactional analysis (another over-simplified theory, but it’s easy to use for examples) calls the Adult State. In the adult state we weigh the prejudices formed by the Parent state (our authority figures who teach us and that we have depended on for acceptance and safety – parents, careers, schools, companies, groups and so on) and our memories from our Child states (where our direct emotional experiences are consider the most valid means of interpreting the world around us) against the reality we perceive and can project perceiving.
In the adult state, we begin to doubt what we have always held true for no better reason than that is what we have been told or what is expected of us or how we feel; and move towards discerning an appropriate reaction to what is needed in the moment. We meet reality with action based in self-control and consideration. We begin to learn to have compassion and to balance our emotional needs with the needs of others.
We become skilled at the art of vision. For vision sees not only what is in front of oneself, but also what has been, what lives inside, and what has yet to be.
c.2011 Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.