Indoctrination: or a few things we all agree on!
There are collections of small subtle ways we as a society train ourselves to be in agreement. I call this indoctrination. There are small thoughts we are taught as children that create an underlying assumption that later in life contributes to certain behaviour. The problem is as adults we attack the behaviour and not the root assumption. Cutting of branches rarely kills the tree but digging it out by the roots often does.
So I thought I'd share some root assumptions I've noticed and how they effect life by my reckoning. Firstly we have the ‘hierarchy of difference’, the second is the ‘necessity of a career’ and thirdly ‘constant competition’.
Hierarchy of difference:
It starts with colours. You see it’s very hard to ask a small child what the difference between red and blue is. I know many adults and philosophers who would struggle to answer this question. But we want to know that our children are learning to differentiate what they see and so we ask them ‘which one is your favorite?’
It is not enough that they can point and green, red and blue and say what they are. We want to know that they are learning preferences. But when we ask this question; we’ve taught them that differences need to be ranked. It’s not just how to tell two things a part but that when they can see these differences they need to pick the one they prefer and create a hierarchy.
Imagine instead we taught them just to see and acknowledge differences but never gave them the thought that when things were different you had to put them into an ordered list of better and worse. How would that change our subsequent thoughts?
It’s a long jump to say that learning favoritism as a child is what creates discrimination but I think I can safely claim it as a contributing factor. This is the original seed of thought that allows our bias to exist because now they don’t just see that men are different to women but try and figure out which gender is better then the other and in what ways. When we tell them they’re being childish we’ve denoted child as a lesser state then adult and they accept it. They believe that one thing can be better or worse then the other. We are not different; apparently we are better and worse.
And this is the ‘hierarchy of differences’, which we’ve agreed to.
Necessity of career:
I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up and yet I’ve been asked that question a lot. But when we ask a child 'what they want to be', aren’t there a lot of answers; happy, rich, pretty, smart, funny, less annoying etc. And yet we train them to respond with a career title.
Linguistically this teaches the individual that they are what they do. They want to be a thing that will earn them money. We reinforce it when we get older and are asked ‘what do you do?’ and you answer with your profession. Could you not say well I knit, sew, draw, cook, clean, surf, listen to music, watch movies, walk, talk, and breathe. Technically these answers are correct and yet what we ‘do’ is how we’re earning money.
The last and most obvious reinforcement is the word living. One definition is that this describes the period between birth and death and everything you do in between. Some would say that it is about exhilaration and moments you feel alive a.k.a. ‘This is really living!’ And yet it is synonymous with what we’re doing to earn money. So our life is now synonymous with our profession.
We are therefore trained to think that our job is the center of our ‘being’, ‘doing’ and ‘living’. And without a job you would be nothing… also broke, but that’s a separate issue.
We see our jobs as necessary to our lives and not just as a way of having resources we need to live our lives. It’s the ‘necessity of career’.
Have you ever played a game where ‘winning’ wasn’t synonymous with beating the other team and them having to lose? If you have it was probably a one off or at least not a common occurrence.
We play a lot of games as kids. Our classrooms and daily tasks are filled with them. We acknowledge that they are a great tool for teaching. And yet in every game we play there are winners and losers. So the whole time we are learning how to play anything from scrabble and monopoly to soccer and tennis and then over again to all the in school learning games… there must be a winner and thus someone must lose.
The problem with this (highly reinforced) way of thinking is it means that throughout our lives we’ll continue to approach everything in life with the assumption that we can win and thus someone else has to lose. We’re in competition. You don’t all win because you played together. There is a measurable outcome that will determine one side better then the other. This ‘game thinking’ allows for war to feel acceptable, for exploitation of others to seem normal, and for hoarding of personal gain to seem mandatory.
And yet we all agree to this idea that everything is in competition. Even when we do see cooperation as a necessary step towards success, it’s just that, a step. Not the whole and complete solution to us all winning. Because we can’t all win, someone has to lose. And once this group beats that group then they need to fight amongst each other to find the winner within their group.
So we are in ‘constant competition’.
All together now:
So what happens when we add up all these assumptions: well I am my job, which can be better or worse then your job and thus you or I is winning and the other person is losing.
Or to be specific, my friend is better then me because he's a lawyer and is 'getting ahead'. Or my poor neighbour is worse off then me because she's only a cleaner. And that guy over there is on government support so he's no one and has definitely lost.
When we learn favouritism we learn discrimination. When we know 'what we want to be when we grow up' we are now wholly and completely one tiny facet of our life. And when we compete we don't realise we're all losing.
Digging at the behaviour we would try and be less judgemental, stop working so hard and enjoy life more, and try and work together. All very noble goals.
If we dig at the roots though, differences are just differences and not better or worse. My job is just a thing that is there and has no effect on my self worth. And I can't win or lose, I can only be.
So rather then having to trim back the branch again next year and keep pruning our whole lives we can get rid of the whole tree if we stop planting these seeds or stop attacking the roots....
That was a tad metaphorical for me, sorry, I swear this is not a young adult novel!