Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

“Clues of Trust and Common Values”

Originally posted on November 2, 2012

A recently-published book by Prof. Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in England, is titled Wired for Culture: origins of the human social mind (London and New York: W. W. Norton, 2012). I was struck by his conclusion:

“The key (to the message of this book) is to provide or somehow create among people stronger clues of trust and common values than might be otherwise suggested by the highly imprecise markers of ethnicity or cultural differences that we have used throughout our history, and then to encourage the conditions that give people a sense of shared purpose and shared outcomes.” So, let’s unpack that a little:

First, the middle part—highly imprecise markers… throughout history: I interpret this to mean that in an urbanized culture I don’t have access to tell your daddy that you cheated me; we don’t have face-recognition and name-recognition cultures. This dilutes social influence, so that for a while there was a sense that more than others, you could trust your own countrymen, but this too became too diluted.

So the clues of trust and common values? What could they be? I suggest that in certain classes—mainly the “creative class,” or middle class plus some college education, or those with psychological and social privilege—psychology is evolving towards the mainstream. People with communities where we laugh at ourselves a bit, are not in competition with each other so much, and have the spirit suggested by Alfred Adler’s notion of “Gemeinschaftsgefuehl”— a feeling for community—are closer to it. You are likely to feel trust and common values when you feel safe and happy, and you sense that all around you people are trying to keep not just themselves but all of us, each other, safe and happy!

Okay, how to build that kind of community? Well, it involves leaving the intrinsic socio-economic ethos of competitiveness that is drilled into us through an overwhelming emphasis on competition in play (sports and games), and in school (grading on a curve), and business—so that few people have ever dared imagine a non-competitive context for life. It involves building up actual experience—it can’t be just conceptual—“head” stuff doesn’t translate to visceral feelings. But indeed, this shift is happening as more companies recognize that good-hearted, almost altruistic teamwork is what is needed.

In promoting creativity, the game is to share ideas back and forth, and writers such as Jonah Lehrer alludes to this in his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Also, because of my background with encounter groups, therapeutic role playing, and applying these principles beyond the medical model, I have some notions of how to achieve this end. It’s a mixture of several developing technologies:

– Make creativity a core value, in place of attempts to find “right answers” that were known to authorities or ancients or others. This is more open-ended, demands exploration.

– To recognize that the pursuit of creativity requires improvisation, lots of openness to re-doing it, re-thinking assumptions, trying again, taking it over, exploring far-out possibilities, thinking outside the box.

– From group psychotherapy and depth psychology, through the encounter group for people with no identified distress (not at all in the sick role), there’s an integration of some of those elements such as mutual self-disclosure and vulnerability in ordinary life, teamwork, etc.

– An addition of a measure of playfulness, lightheartedness, acceptance of this as the nature of creative exploration.

– A modest amount of task orientation beyond the group just exploring and addressing its members’ own hang-ups. (That’s how it’s not just “therapy.”)

– But an openness to making sure that encouragement and enthusiasm are highly valued elements in this process—in contrast to secrecy, one-upsmanship, competitiveness. Teamwork instead of the hyper-individualism of the 20th century. Valuing “we-ness,” as in “we’re all in this together.”

This is already happening in many contemporary organizations. This is in effect the message of those who are bringing to the role of consultant and coach the medium of dramatic improvisation, as, for example, many people affiliated with the Applied Improvisation Network, many sociodramatists, social action coaches, many who are using experiential role playing in education, and so forth.

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