Jane and Jim are sitting in the sun at a local café. Jane is sipping a vegan latter and snacking on an organic, gluten free cookie. Jim is having a bottle of sparkling water (that donates 1 penny toward a clean water fund for 3rd world countries for every bottle purchased). Jane and Jim (who you may remember from earlier blogposts) have a new friend, Mark. Mark is still at the condiment counter engaged in the ritualistic and highly scientific act of applying liberal amounts of raw sugar and 1% milk to his dark roast coffee.
They have just come from participating in a walk to end global hunger. The official International End Global Hunger day was on a Thursday, but the organizers decided to hold their walk on a Sunday so it was easier to attend. Jane and Jim are talking about how disappointed they were that more media was not present to cover the walk.
As soon as Mark gets to the table, he interrupts the conversation, “Did you hear Sarah closed on that house?”
Jim: “The one down on Trenton?’
Mark: “The very one, she should be ready to move in a month.”
Jane: “I hope she is going to put a security system in there.”
Mark: “Knowing her she probably get a big dog too.”
Jim: “Oh it won’t be that bad, I know of three other people who have bought in that area. With the housing market down it’s become really affordable.”
Jane: “Still, I would have waited until more people had bought, she’s just asking for trouble.”
Mark: “She’ll be okay, I drove buy and 5 of the houses are being rehabbed. They are turning out beautiful.”
Jane: “Well, it is a beautiful area, could be if there were just enough people who bought and moved in and had an interest in taking care of those places. It should really be a historic district.”
Jim: “I know Bob is trying to get a grant to do preservation. He wants to buy up some of those places and turn them back into the single family townhouses they once were.’
Mark: “Have to be a huge grant, they are all chopped up into apartments now.”
Jane: “Oh, could you imagine? Townhouses, I would be interested in that. I bet the light inside is beautiful.”
Jim: “Well, we’ll see. He has to get zoning approval first and there is going to be a town meeting. There is a pretty loud group of people against the idea and a bunch of requirements from the State and Feds he has to guarantee before he can get it.”
Jane: “How could you be against the idea? I mean look at it now.
Mark: “I bet if they rehabbed those places into townhouses and got buyers for them that whole area would turn around.”
Jim: “He’s working on it. In today’s market they would be within reach of many people I know. The state wants him to make some of the units section 8 and that is another problem.”
Jane: “That just pisses me off. Why do we have to go pay 100s of thousands of dollars for a house and then someone who doesn’t work gets to live next to me for free?”
Mark: “Well, they have to live somewhere.”
Jane: “I don’t see why anyone in this day and age can’t afford a house or find work. I work, I have a house. Everyone I know has a roof over their head and supports themselves. And because of a few people they are going to let a beautiful part of our history just get destroyed.”
Jim: “Well, I think once you become a part of the system and get taken care of there is no incentive to do anything yourself. I mean, why bother? If everything is handed to you, would you want to work?”
Mark: “Have you seen Noxon Street? They’ve been redoing all those as part of an affordable housing project. I had no idea those homes were so beautiful.”
Jim: “Noxon has always been a pit and no matter what they do to dress it up, if you put people who find living in a pit okay, they’ll make it a pit in no time.”
Mark: “But at least down by Noxon there are all the free clinics and community centers. It makes more sense for them to live near where they can get their services. Trenton is too far away from any of that.”
Erich Fromm, in a lecture given in January 1969 at a symposium of the Accademia Nacional de Medicina in Mexico City, said the following about the nature of systems:
“If one tries to change one isolated part of the system, the change will not lead to a change of the system as a whole. On the contrary. The system will continue in its own way of functioning, absorbing the change of any given part in such a way that very soon the effects of the change are undone. A concrete example may serve: In the attempt to change the slums in big cities, it is often suggested that the most efficient way to do so is to build new, low-cost houses. One discovers, however, that after a while the new houses have turned into slums again and the “the slum system” continues to function as before. The reason for this lies in the fact that if one only builds new houses without making fundamental changes in the entire system – education, economic, psychological, etc. – the basic structure remains the same and hence reproduces the slum system, reducing eventually, the newly built houses into new slums. A system can be changed only if, instead of changing only one single factor, real changes are made within the whole system so that a new integration of all its parts can take place.” (On Being Human, Fromm, 1994)
Jane and Jim and Mark are all frozen in the stage I talked about in yesterday’s blog. They are incapable of connecting to anything that does not directly affect them or, to grant validity to an experience that they do not have personal experience of. Mark, of the three, is the only one that begins to hint at possibly moving into the next stage of development – wherein doubt begins and there is an exploration of the meaning of experience that one does not have a connection to.
Jane and Jim and Mark, while in many areas of their lives they may choose to extend a helping hand or effort to those they perceive as needing or wanting help, are incapable of the mature, moral realization that they are as much a part of that individual’s problem as anything the individual is doing themselves. They are a part of the entire system that creates, maintains and supports the existence of poverty. Just as they are a part of the entire system that creates, maintains and supports the existence of global hunger. For until they can move into a place in which they accept the universal integration of all experience they are incapable of effectively offering help.
Jane, Jim and Mark are unaware that they need poverty to exist. For them, the existence of poverty and slums provide a measure of safety and security that they otherwise cannot give themselves. Crime is seen as being mostly concentrated in those areas and created by the culture of poverty – there is no need to begin to contemplate the ambiguity of human choice and no possibility of being able to see how property crime and personal crime are related to the types of crimes committed in “their world” which may take the form of bullying, gossip, exclusion and so on. Crime is only recognized as something that happens to certain types of people that those persons created.
The presence of poverty also assures them of their own status and stability. It gives them proof that they are doing well in their mindset. It presents them with possibilities of having more, gaining more and consuming more in their life. Our cultural attitudes toward home ownership as proof of success and stability require that there always be a source of potential ownership that is within possible reach. It is the promise of extra security.
And Jane’s unfortunately very common attitude of “if I pay for it why should someone who can’t have the same as me?” is the essence of the Synthetic-Conventional stage and Narcissism. It means that unless someone measures up to her personal experience of a given situation, their reality is called into question and doubted. There is no room for ambiguity in Jane’s world. She is the center of the universe and acts the role of a punishing God in passing judgment. For her, there is no possibility of universal love and unity because she is the standard by which everything is measured. And, she also perceives herself as the moral compass for the world yet misses the fact that global morality is not something that can be defined by what is consumed and acquired, nor can one person towards another define it.
I am mid-stride in teaching another session of “Writing Your Self into Life” and part of the exercise we do involves defining what is a hero and what is a villain. Evil is in the eye of the beholder and the good or bad of an action is defined by the group in which the individual belongs. It is an ambiguous thing. Lacking a global morality, individual groups define right and wrong. What is the basis for global morality (such as “thou shalt not kill) has become corrupted by a consumer mentality. It has become – thou shalt not kill except in certain cases necessary to validate our social beliefs. Heroism, as well, is in the eye of the beholder. However, in both cases the person committing the acts is not the person who decides whether what they have done is good or bad.
In the Synthetic-Conventional stage, the person is defining their own acts because they are incapable of mentally, spiritually and emotionally handling ambiguity. Safety and surety are primary motivators for their beliefs and actions. Adherence to either a herd mentality or a very black and white perception of problems and resolutions is characteristic. If someone is poor, then they have not done the right thing to become “unpoor.” If someone is overweight, then they have not done the right thing to achieve a healthy weight. Characteristic of this stage (and this is why Narcissism is so tied to it) is a lack of a sense of responsibility towards others with whom the person has no direct tie or experience. A common verbal interchange with someone in this stage would be one person telling the SC person of something horrible a mutual acquaintance did to them that has them quite upset and the SC responding, “That’s not my impression of how they would act.” The SC cannot process or validate someone else’s experience except through the lens of their own, nor can they suspend that need even for a few moments to respond to another person’s emotional state, their worldview must be met first. Empathy, sympathy and compassion from someone in the SC state is dependent on their conditions for acceptance of reality being met first. Another common verbal clue is the use of the phrases, “I don’t understand. That’s not my experience. I don’t see why…” All I statements that require the other person to offer up evidence and proof, which negates the validity of their experience and switches the focus of the conversation entirely on the need to provide evidence to the SC before they will engage with the potential effect the situation has had on a person. People in SC are incapable of listening and participating in discussion because they are always seeking validation of their prejudices and assumptions (safety and surety).
Like the walk Jane and Jim and Mark were a part of. Participating in a global movement to bring awareness to ending hunger was not important. Participating with the group of people that they know and are involved with in a manner that was most accommodating to their life style was. In this stage, there is a characteristic lack of willingness to sacrifice something of yourself to move towards a good that will impact people not known and often, happen after their lifetime. Another characteristic is a lack of sense of mortality. People in this stage cannot connect to the reality of life continuing without them. Death around them is only felt in relation to how connected their experience was to the person. Tragedy in other places will only get lip service because…
It doesn’t apply to them.
c.2011. Cassandra Tribe. All rights reserved.