The role of socialisation in our success
Unfortunately many of us have given up ‘ourselves’ to become successful. In fact in many cases the more successfully we have been able to deny our own feelings and inner wisdom, the more successful we have become.
Technically, the process of giving up our own identities is called socialisation. It is the process by which children learn to deny their own drives and needs to become a ‘functioning’ part of society. It is through socialization that we learn to fit into a family, a school, a community and later a work environment. The more successfully we are socialised, the more successful we are likely to become in a society which rewards people for their ability to behave in socially sanctioned ways. Each culture has it’s own ways of socializing it’s members. Each way has its benefits and problems.
In our culture, the way we have socialised children has allowed us to build a civilisation that is more innovative and advanced than any before it. We have developed complex worldwide organisations and political systems and have created highly sophisticated and rapidly changing technologies that have allowed us to explore outer space, feed our rapidly growing population, achieve medical miracles and find computer applications that have revolutionsed every form of work and private life.
Our processes of socialisation has created people who can live, work, and manage others in an age of information explosion. We have learnt to look outside ourselves for challenges, new information and answers to a wide and varied range of issues and problems. As a society we are very problem and solution focused.
We learnt this early. We learnt if we did what our parents or caregivers wanted we were rewarded with attention, love or treats, if we didn’t do what the big folk thought we should we were usually punished by withdrawal of love privilege or freedom. We were sent to our room, frozen out or denied involvement in some favoured activity.
In each home the system of rewards and punishments and the criteria on which they are given out is different, but in every home the process of socialisation goes on. It’s the way that adults manage to live with the children they raise and how children learn to fit in. Those of us who are well socialised are those who know how to become successful, contributing members of society.
What Socialisation Left out
Increasingly, we learn from fields of psychology and psychotherapy that sound emotional health is based on the individuals ability to think for themselves, follow their own intuition and instincts to fully experience their own sense of being, even when at odds with what others dictate. To be a successfully functioning human being is to fully experience your emotional reality, to trust your own guidance, to follow your own path and thus to be self-determining. To do otherwise is to risk mental disorder, stress, emotional and physical breakdown and a lifetime of alienation from yourself and others. In social terms these symptom emerge as crime, social and family breakdown, emotional and physical violence and a whole range of illnesses such as drug and alcohol dependence, psychosomatic disorders, workaholism and phobias of every sort.
The same socialisation process that taught us to look outside ourselves for guidance as to what was appropriate behaviour has taught us to deny our own emotions, intuition and well being. We have been taught that success is determined by the approval of others. We thus measure success in terms of visible things such as a good job, a good-looking spouse, gifted children and material wealth. We see success as doing well at exams, achieving business goals and attracting public acclaim. While we pay lip service to happiness, family life and relationships, we tend to judge our success in all these areas by what looks good rather than by how we feel. Emotions are tangible and ‘soft’ and we accord them less important than external appearances. Many of us have forgotten the human gifts of experiencing life in our unique way as our own person complete with emotions, rich spiritual life and the zest and courage to seek and follow our own lead.
Enter rapid change
A system of socialisation based on external sanctions teaches us to put our centre of decision-making and power outside ourselves. Our decision-making criteria becomes dependent on the approval and reactions of others. In simple systems and at times of moderate change we can afford the luxury of playing the games of politics and approval seeking. We can abdicate power and responsibility for our well-being, our decision-making and our success to others. We can get to know the stable players and situations in our life, and learn who and what we need to influence and how we can best do it. Life is simple: we all know the games we are playing. Winning means playing better than anyone else.
Enter rapid change. The scientific revolution known as Chaos Theory has shown us that all the systems are inherently unstable. The more complex the system, the unstable it is. Due to this instability even the smallest change in any part of a system can lead to rapid change, even revolution, in another part of the system.
Change, instability and chaos are the norm, not a temporary aberration. The only constant is change. We are born, mature and die. Change is a part of the definition of life. The only thing of which we can be absolutely sure is that things will change. Our society, being so complex, is very susceptible to change. New information, changing relationships and the rise and fall of governments and organisatiosn all ensure that change is ever with us and always increasing. We are all experiencing family breakdown, company start up and failure, social, political and economic change, employment turnover, population increase and technological breakthrough such as we have never experienced before. We are in a time of rapid ceaseless and chaotic change. We can no longer count on having stable relationships, stable conditions of employment or stable social patterns. It’s not a matter of learning the game and playing it well. We now have to constantly learn new games, many of which are half conceived with changeable rules or no rules at all.
Dealing with changes
We have been poorly socialized to deal with change. Firstly, we are still looking outside ourselves for the answers. We are still looking for someone who knows how things should be, how we should act and what the right outcome should be. The more rapid the change, the fewer the people that really know and understand what is happening. Despite this, we all spend a huge amount of time looking for concrete evidence and authoritive people to tell us answers. Our socialiastion has been so successful that few of us will risk taking a stand based on our own experience of reality, what we believe to be right and our own sense of personal responsibility.
Secondly, for individuals to cope successfully with change they need to be able to fully experience and accept their emotional response to change. For the most of us, our socialisation involved a process of learning to discredit our own emotional response if it was different or unacceptable to our caregivers, that is, to experience reality as a function of what was acceptable to others, and deny (repress) any emotions that appeared to be at odds with the expectations of thiose we valued.
As an organisational change agent, I constantly experience that terror that rises in people when they are faced with change. Change removes our old signposts, makes it clear that we no longer know which way to go, who to follow or whose approval and support we need to gain. I learnt a long time ago, however, if I ask people about these fears the majority will deny they are experiencing any fear at all. Initially I thought that people didn’t want to admit publicly to what they perceived as a weakness, it took me some time to realise that most people were so emotionally numb they actually didn’t realise that they were frightened. Ironically, they were able to witness and understand the fear in others while denying the same discomfort in themselves.
William Webster revisited
For leaders like William Webster (click here for a link to my previous blog for more on William). Rapid Change poses some real problems. Firstly, William got to be successful by working out what others wanted and giving it to them. He learnt this at home where his father, a successful businessman, and his mother, a noted socialite, rewarded him richly for conformity to their standards of hard work, social etiquette and maintenance of public appearance. At school he learnt that these same values lead to acclaim and popularity, which were reinforced by the approval of his parents. Once in the world of work, William knew well how to ascertain his employer’s needs and meet them. He rose quickly to the top.
He’d been schooled from birth to lead. What William didn’t know was how to change. His way of being in the world was so solid and fixed and had been so heavily reinforced that William had difficulty in letting go of what he knew and moving through unknown territory to new ways. Moreover, because his way of being was so socially acceptable he had difficulty seeing that the set of beliefs, skills and personal characteristics that had led to his success were the same beliefs, skills and characteristics that were now causing him problems.
William’s single-minded focus on his objectives had led to achieving his goals. This same focus had stopped him from being present and available for relationships. William’s ability to suss out the needs of his superiors had led to his rapid rise to the top but had also robbed him of his ability to experience and handle his own needs with respect. His ability to fit in and to be socially acceptable had denied him the opportunity to experience his own emotions and inner guidance or to follow his own lead. William was locked tightly in the box of his own success. It was when this success was thwarted that he began to look for the key that would unlock him.
From my book – Peaceful Chaos available to purchase by clicking here
“It’s not the strongest of the species that survive. It’s the most responsive.”
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