What Hazing and Marketing Have in Common

Portrait of a smiling young businessman with gun.The phenomenon of bullying is dark and often traumatic, especially for those who experienced it. It is out there, present and reaching out with its greedy hands for all its potential victims. There are many web pages devoted to bullying, on which psychologists and trauma experts try to explain the psychology of a bully or provide their victims with psychological shields against them. Even so, this topic remains carefully avoided in every-day conversations being still on a top 10 list of stress reasons.

Why is it so shady a topic then? Because very often bullies grow into mentally stable, respectful members of our society, and who knows maybe your current interlocutor is one of them, and one does not want to poke a beast. Besides, it is kind of lame to admit that you were bullied as a child, isn’t it? We are, after all a bunch of out-grown children trying to play the game of adulthood, but possessively holding on to our past traumas that are believed to have shaped us the way we are.

One of the most common examples of bullying is hazing, which occurs in almost every social group formed as an in-group with distinctive purpose (military units, firemen, policemen,  etc.) or governed by distinctive set of rules (fraternities, sub-cultural groups, etc.). Perceived pejoratively, mostly due to many documented cases of extreme hazing that resulted in unnecessary deaths of its participants, it is undoubtedly one of the most interesting sociological phenomena that incorporates many psychological tools used on a daily basis by marketers, door-to-door salesmen and many religious groups which mission is to gain new church members by spreading their beliefs worldwide (Krishna religion, Jehovah witnesses, etc.).

Fraternities often offer their brothers or sisters-to-be the opportunity to live for a couple of days among the brotherhood/sisterhood just to “check it out.” Sounds innocent, but in fact it is a very common influence technique mostly practiced by traveling salesmen or car salons. By being allowed to use something or to live somewhere for a trial period, a bond is created.  This bond is a proverbial foot-in-a-door that creates a crack in a person’s mind, which later on can be easily widened and exploited.

The crack happens when your subconsciousness has already taken the decision and now your brain will do anything to stay loyal to it.  Why would it do such a thing? Just because it wants to be consistent with the rest of your body.

Every human being is driven by consistency. Despite Emerson’s well-known words that “consistency is a hobgoblin of little minds,” this trait of human character actually serves to protect our brain from too many stimuli by appealing to its ability of forming logical connections. Not bad at all, right?

It only starts to be bad, when it is used by people who know the right buttons to be pushed in order to exploit this ability for their advantage.

The more you use something the more attached you become. One day of using a hover with aggressively advertised super powers or driving a car that is clearly too big for your needs will probably make you forget about your initial opinion. Doubt will change its place with certainty. You will start to see things that diminish your original reservations. You yourself will become the biggest enemy of your logic.

And the same simple rule stands behind this sinister business of hazing. The harsher the hazing the bigger commitment to the group is created. The brain tries to justify the effort, and a person starts to see a particular social unit as unique, worthwhile and attractive. This psychological phenomenon is so deeply rooted in our subconsciousness that people tend to perceive groups without any initiation rites as boring, invaluable and unsatisfactory, what was shown by the research conducted by Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills in 1959.

They conducted a series of interviews with people who had just been admitted to some college groups. The researchers give an example of a woman who chose a sex discussion group, and based her choice entirely on the fact that she had to endure severely embarrassing initiation rites. She called this group far more interesting whereas the other ones that did not haze their participant “worthless.”

How to get rid of hazing while even participants vote for it? Subconscious or not, those are their choices after all…

William Styron, a writer and a former marine looks back at his own agonies of initiation rites as a collective of activities that made him “resilient, (…) braver and better.” He also claims that without hazing it would be impossible to achieve the same level of trust and camaraderie that exists among the marines. They all are aware of the fact that they all went through a “training nightmare” and this rough experience unites the in-group at the same time secluding it from the rest of the world by its uniqueness.

As much as many people hate hazing and are against it, I do not see it uprooted from our society any time soon, since it works almost on the verge of our subconscious selves, taking control of us if we want it or not, regardless of the side we are on: hazing or being hazed.

Yes, there have been many cases of deaths, and that’s how generally nowadays people associate hazing with. Unfortunately, in every social group there would be a case of a mentally distorted brute acting out his/her aggression. So maybe the ideal preventive measure would be to try to root out those unhealthy cases of aggressors, instead of a tradition which fighting off is, I am afraid, like Don Quixote’s duels with windmills – futile in its enormity.

 

Reference:

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Robert B. Cialdini, PhD., ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Collins Business (2007), pp. 57-103

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Blissful Abyss of Ignorance

stockvault-washington-dc-famous-landmarks112207Ignorance is a flaw. It is an equivalent of suffering according to Taoism and Buddhism. It does not allow us to see the world fully as it is due to our perceptual blindness imposed on us by ignorance itself. Dr Wayne Dyer, a splendid motivational speaker, claims that “the highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.”

Sadly, I have to admit that this type of ignorance is the most hurtful yet the most common phenomenon in our society. We tend to rush with judgments that very often are no more than statements saturated with prejudice. The latter word can be broken down into a preposition pre and a stem judicial which signifies something that was pre-judged which means that it was given an opinion based on illusionary facts rather than direct experience.

Such ignorance spiced with prejudice creates stereotypes and discrimination which is highly infectious among people. Behavioural psychology states clearly that certain ideas combined with people’s tendency to conformity creates interesting mingle of behavioural patterns within and outside the society.

In the 1950s a psychologist Minard did a research on a miner community of mixed racial background. It led to rather interesting findings, that is, whenever miners went underground it was the mining community that counted, there was no place for racial demarcation; however, when the same group of people interacted outside the mine, there was noticeable race distinction to be observed.

Minard explains that the notion of conformity is highly influential when it comes to social life, meaning that the group of miners were sociologically forced to adapt their behaviour to the normal social constrains while being up on the ground, whereas those same rules were no longer applicable in the distinctive environment of the mine. Finally, the psychologist comes to conclusion that whether or not prejudice is present depends on the social context.

Ignorance gives a green light to stereotypes and pejorative opinions towards other people, organizations, ideas. But is that all that lures behind this infamous state of oblivion? Unfortunately, it is only a tip of the iceberg. Ignorance provokes dependency, which nowadays is promoted big time.

Current research shows that people in the U.S.A. who know little about economics are prone to entrust this issue to the government, and by doing so, they tend to feel dependent on the currently ruling government. And this beaviour goes further: such people, in order not to get disappointed with the current state of economy, nor to shatter their unshaken faith in government tend to consciously ignore the issue, choosing not to learn anything connected to economy of their own country.

Such dependence is used not only by politics in their campaigns but also by media feeding people with already formed radical opinions which do not give room for thinking about the issue. We are bombarded with ready-made solutions instead of being given a chance to ponder upon a subject and do it our way.

Somewhere on the Internet, among other quotes, I found a statement which says as follows: “you and you alone can salvage your life. You and you alone can walk the path. No one else can do it for you.”

This made me think of how dependent I am of the opinion of the others, of the life style that is promoted by the others. What importance I put into living the life according to the rules that were created by our contemporary consumptionist society. Why? Because it is more convenient for me to live in oblivion of my own needs, to adapt to everything, ignorant of my own individuality.

Why? Because I don’t want to be different, I want to be one of many, a part of something bigger than an individual isolated particle. The need to fulfill my sense of belonging makes me ignorant of my own self.  And in the long run I am glad, because I know that somewhere out there exist people that can finish a sentence for me, people that will emit the same amount of ignorance directed towards certain issues as I do.

I can talk for hours about today’s awful teenagers choosing to remain ignorant of sociological context that is usual an important marker, and of providing any kind of solution – that is my ignorance, I accept it, and I know that there are many people that I can share it with.

Healthy? For sure human …

Apart from this unifying qualities are there any other “blessings” of ignorance? Well, many thinkers and researchers attribute their best performance to this paramount moment when they realise the vastness of their ignorance. Thus, ignorance is considered to be the first important step in education. An American philosopher Will Durant claims that “education is a progressive discovery of your own ignorance.”

Being conscious of how much each and every of us has yet to learn or discover is as essential as learning process itself. It makes us want to aim higher, reach for more, learn more efficiently. It simply keeps our mental self in shape. The need to know more and to go out of the shadow of one’s own ignorance stands behind our educational motivation.

So, after all, is ignorance a blessing or a curse? I leave the answer to you …

6 Faces of Empathy

stockvault-mannequin-close-up113938Imagine yourself being put in a situation that is familiar to you. Your brain recognizes the pattern, and you act according to the definition of reality dictated by your personal experience. Now, imagine somebody else in the exact same situation. Theoretically, you know the outcome. But what happens if the person responds differently? You lose control over the situation, because it is no longer your situation, it is unprecedented and perplexing to you. Now, there are two possible solutions: you can remain lost or you can expand your definition of the situation. Expanding the definition means going through mental effort of understanding motives and behavioral patterns of the other person. This process of putting your psychological self into somebody else’s shoes is called empathy.

Empathy is the key to control your reality by seeing a bigger picture, and accepting its existence. Using empathy in your personal and professional life can expand the range of your social roles, making your life a lot easier and certainly more fulfilling.

THE SOCIAL CHAMELEON

Empathic thinking can help you adjust to every social situation you find yourself in. You just observe people that surround you, and accept their presence. The more you pay attention to them, the more it is likely that you will involuntarily mirror their posture, even sometimes their accent. Unintentional mimicry is typical of people with highly developed empathic skills. The research has shown that the chameleon effect increases the level of likability, and allows every interaction to go smoother.

THE MAN OF PERSPECTIVE

Empathy allows you to mentally step aside, and observe the situation from a more objective point of view, which is very helpful in problem solving, because perspective thinking is a perfect tool for providing long-term solutions. When you detach yourself from the situation and look at it less emotionally, you are able to redefine it. Moreover, perspective thinking help you act, even if you are shy or indecisive. How is it possible? It is pure biology; perception and action have the same code of representation in our brain. Whenever perception thinking stimulates the brain, it simultaneously sends signals to the motor areas, provoking us to act immediately upon receiving a satisfactory solution. Marina Abramović, a Balkan performer, often uses this link to convey her artistic statement. ‘I want people to stop being the observers, I want them to be active, conscious.’  She does it by torturing herself or letting others to do “whatever they please” to her. There are people who hurt her, but there is always somebody who finally finds courage to stop the performance.

THE TEAM LEADER

Have you ever been to a meeting which ended up with everybody jumping to each other´s throats? It often happens when people just spit out their opinions not paying any attention to the aim of the meeting, nor to its participants. But what happens when people allow themselves to understand, and take into consideration more aspects? Their thinking is radically changed, they form a social linkage which units their perspective. The picture is bigger from now on, but it is more coherent, hence easier to manage. Great team leaders and successful negotiators use this basic feeling to achieve their goals. ´Empathy demonstrates accurate, non-judgmental understanding of another’s needs and interests,´ says Robert Mnookin of Harvard Negotiation Research Project. By detaching yourself from emotions and restraining from social or racial background, you can see more options, thus be more resourceful.

THE PEACE-MAKER

Being able to recognize emotions of other people puts you in a better position during every dispute that you might find yourself in. Naming the emotion lessens the impact which it carries. Your goal is to make a person think rationally, and provide a mutually beneficial solution. Emotions like anger, disappointment or despair are irrelevant to solving anything. They cloud the picture. People often forget about the aim, stuck in the phase when they just blame each other. Being able to put feelings aside and look at the problem from the perspective of both sides involved, allows you to deal with the unpleasant situation more efficiently – without having to pay high emotional costs of every quarrel.

THE STOIC

Recognizing emotions of other people can teach you how  consciously and objectively name your own feelings. Empathy is not only about other people, it is also about you. But recognition is not everything. Now you have to understand the reason, use your empathic abilities to research yourself, to understand yourself. Sometimes the reason you are angry or disappointed is minor or does not matter in comparison to the bigger picture. Upon understanding it, we are often surprised by our own emotions, and accordingly, we adjust them to the redefined situation. The more you detach yourself from the source of  bad emotion, the more objectively you can look into the situation. Such developed self-control makes your life better, since, according to Dr Kentaro Fujita of Ohio State University, with improved emotional responses you gain self-esteem and increased satisfaction from your life and from people surrounding you.

THE ACHIEVER

Empathy forces you to rethink, and redefine the situation by widening your point of view through other possibilities. Those mechanisms prevent you from automatic decisions and actions, that you are accustomed to. When you stop acting automatically, you start acting consciously, meaning, you are aware of your goal, and you are working toward achieving it. Having a precise aim helps you achieve it quicker, saves you a lot of energy. Upon understanding what you really want to gain, you can set a conscious and short path for obtaining your goal. Defining the goal makes you feel better about yourself.

Empathy improves the performance of a social group. You don’t have to change the world, but you can try to change your personal environment by changing the way you think. You are the most important person in your reality, but at the same time you contribute to reality of others and vice versa. Remembering this simple truth can in fact change your world.

Homo Demotivatus

demotivated_2Lack of motivation affects almost all of us from time to time. We don’t feel like working, not even doing things that we like, and we look at happy people with the uncanny mixture of hatred, jealousy and unhealthy fascination. How do they do it? How can they achieve such a high level of ignorance towards the world’s general awfulness? Is it possible to tune out the reality and trick yourself into being unquestionably happy? Is ignorance new happiness? Many questions of similar intense self-pity go through our heads when we reach the infamous peak of demotivation.

I reached this peak not so long time ago. I questioned every step that I had taken in my life, and I evaluated everything in such a negative light that my boyfriend afraid of my intentions offered to stay home to talk this through.

So he stayed, we talked, I felt better.

It was not so long time after when I stumbled across a minor problem which resulted in an unstoppable fountain of tears and a series of sobs so loud that I almost caused my cat to suffer a fatal heart condition. The state of demotivation, protectively wrapped in my boyfriend’s sweet words of love and compassion, broke free to mock me and my so-called stability of mind. Why? I was doing so well! I recognized the importance of surrounding me love, I understood that I have to fight for every goal that I want to reach, and revised again the theory of success achieved only step-by-step with time. Dammit, I talked it through! I got better! So why does the feeling of being powerless haunt me again? Why do I feel so empty and deprived of energy?

I brooded long over cups of coffee so strong that after my musings I had to go for a walk to lose the shakiness of my limbs. I sat on a bench within the protective grasp of the ancient city walls of York, took my phone, and started jotting down all my fears.

Fears are not all so bad; they protect us from taking too hasty decisions, force us to think twice before we leap.

As it came out, my fears weren’t so terrifying after I gave them name and brought them into bright daylight. I came home, googled “types of demotivation,” and came across an article written by Cath Duncan who very wisely compared the state of demotivation to snow: many people see it as a general idea just like they perceive demotivation as broadly-speaking lack of willingness to live; but just like Eskimos who can observe different kinds of snow and name it accordingly, in the same way there exist different types of demotivation. Labeling your state of mind helps you to overcome it, as you are able to apply appropriate preventive steps or/and healing processes.

I learned a lot about myself that day. I discovered that most of my fears derive from the general unclearness of what I really want. Do I want to live in England or go back to Poland? Develop my career as a writer or go back to teaching? I operated within those ambiguities and inscribed them all in my long and short-term goals, instead of focusing on one of them, and developing only one of the possible choices. After my revealing aha! moment, I decided to focus on my present situation: I am an aspiring writer living in a beautiful city of York.

After defining my roles, I felt more self-assured, as if my body, floating in space of uncertainty gained weight and pulled me back on the path leading to a clear goal. I started to feel more real, more alive. Focusing solely on a chosen narrow goal made it far more achievable. I can almost see the end of the path – and it does not matter if I succeed or fail, because both outcomes are finite, and both of them enable me to move on to my next goal, to my next big dream.

In other words, I will continue to dream big, but I’ll resign from dreaming wide.

Will it work?

 

Autobiographical Listening

stockvault-bus-stop-toys114619I am absolutely positive that at a certain point of your life you experienced a conversation with somebody who almost miraculously everything that you said referred to his/her own personal life. Somehow, and you were not exactly sure how it happened, the conversation began to look suspiciously like a bunch of autobiographical short stories of your supposed-to-be listener. Every sentence that you uttered was summarized with: “oh yeah, that reminds me of that time when I…” So at the end, you were left with this clinging unpleasant feeling that you had wasted your time and more importantly breath, as nothing what you said was in fact heard. You were viciously used as canvas for all the stories your listener threw at you as a response; which, consequently, cannot be defined as a conversation. So how can we define this crude experience that you had to endure?

My dear friend, you were and also quite probably will be a victim of a chronic autobiographical listener. This curious species live among us incognito until they hunt us down to flood us with Wikipedia-worth trivia about themselves. The term blabbing is very much adequate when describing the way an autobiographical listener talks. Moreover, it does not matter if you know the person well or have just met: stories will flow out of their mouth nevertheless.

Thinking about it made me realise that in some situations I also tend to listen autobiographically to others. Like for example listening to a friend talking about her relationship and in response giving her examples of my own – it is a real pickle why didn’t she punch me in the face back then… You may ask why I did it. Well, I thought that real-life examples would be better than empty words. As for now, I grew to question that teacher-like attitude. Why should anybody feel better after me dragging my life in front of them? When I am sad or have a problem, I want to get it off my chest. I want to be heard. Autobiographical listening leaves us with feeling of being ignored or used as a background.

Of course it does not mean that upon hearing some sad story I should emphatically cry and be equally depressed. Of that I am sure. How can a person listen actively? For many years I mistook active for advice-giving. But now I stand corrected before my potential listeners. I, hereby, vouch for my listening skills: no more autobiographical gobbledygook!

I will rephrase, nod, and ask additional question, I will name feelings and mimic the content while taking part in heart-to-heart. And only after such conversations galore I would be able to tell you how many punches I received for listening not the way I was supposed to…

… or proudly present a medal for the listener of the year 🙂

Anatomy of Charity

stockvault-passing-the-load116304

‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others’

                               /Mahatma Ghandi/

Every January one of the biggest charity organisations in Poland unites thousands of volunteers to help gather money to buy hospital equipment. This charity event lasts only one day but it joins together an extremely big amount of people driven by one aim: to help people in need. Organizers themselves admit that it is a curious social phenomenon: there has never been a case of stealing money by any of the volunteers; moreover, year after year there are more and more people willing to sacrifice their time for a greater cause.

What makes us this way? Why are we so driven to make somebody else’s life better? Are we purely altruistic or is there any hidden profit lurking behind every good deed?

Well, the answer as usual is ambiguous. There are many profits one can gain from helping others, but those beneficial properties of charity are cloistered in our brain, influencing us without our immediate knowledge.

Many of us asked about reasons for helping people answer that it just feels right or that it feels good. I would like to lobotomise this feeling and get to psychological core of it.

There is no denying that charity brings emotional benefits to people involved in it. People feel useful and that satisfies their feeling of self-fulfillment. Researchers from the University of Australia took further the analysis of this particular feeling and its impact upon our self-development. They all agree that self-fulfillment significantly increases the ability to seek creative solutions to problems, making a person more self-assured and more competent in stress management.

There have been many studies concerning impact of charity and volunteering on people. It has been discovered that apart from such obvious profits like reinforced pro-social behavior, it also allows people to take different perspective to their own lives. Experiencing problems of others helps us appreciate our own life with all its ups and downs. Therapeutic properties of helping yourself by helping others were used in group therapy sessions (starting from 1960s) by social psychologist Frank Riessman who activated addicts, alcoholics and law abusers to help people in need or another member of a group to overcome obstacles that life brought them. This approach called ‘helper theory’ was successfully implemented by many support groups, and it is still used as one of the most successful therapy tools.

As much as I liked all those theories, it still did not fully answer why people experience so many benefits from helping others. I had to dig deeper into the topic, so I decided that it was time to reach for medical explanation.

After hours of googling I stumbled upon a book written by a medical doctor Stephen G. Post entitled Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by Simple Act of Giving. Part of the book treated about underlying neurological causes for charitable acts.

According to Doctor Post, good deeds like helping others, giving money for a good cause or volunteering activate mesolimbic pathways in our brains.  This particular part of brain is responsible for feeling joy and pleasure. Upon having an appropriate stimulus like eating, sex or precisely an act of charity, it releases dopamine which is more widely known as a happy hormone. That is the reason why some people who have problems with balancing emotions can even get addicted to giving, as Doctor Post explains.

Moreover, thanks to charity not only are we more content, but also we can enjoy longer and healthier life. A body of a charitable person produces large amount of oxytocine which is considered a compassion hormone and which lowers our susceptibility to long-term stress exposure. Less amount of stress makes miracles to our immune system, which inevitable leads to healthier life with higher longevity.

Both scientists and psychologists unanimously agree that charity as much as it helps other people also has an incredibly positive impact on our own lives. It is emotionally rewarding, it connects us with others and allows us to make use of any talent that we are willing to offer.

Consequently, this whole anatomical approach to charity can be summarized as follows:  be good to yourself by being good to those in need.

Here’s to New Beginnings!

Another Nestockvault-splashing-drink116328w Year has approached, and another thousand of New Year’s resolutions were uttered by millions of lips all over the world. I was one of them: I promised myself to start a blog, write regularly with the intention of motivating me and my future readers to follow the rocky path of self-development.

Will I be successful with my resolution? Time will tell, as time is the main factor to consider upon taking up a resolution. No change happens immediately. Given time and an adequate approach change is nothing more but a logical next step.

New beginnings are tempting, because they offer people a blank slate that is not yet ruined by reality. It is our tabula rasa that is waiting to be filled with our dreams. It gives us motivation and this is why Google Resolution map is so full of wishes, most of them concerned with self-improvement.

So now, at this point, my resolution is pure and unspoiled by further thoughts. My blog will be ideal: educational, thus helpful. I am excited by this idea, and it makes me feel good about myself. I am highly motivated.

But then, there comes the infamous Next Day Syndrome – doubts and many what-ifs. I start to question the sanity of the resolution: it is a huge endeavour after all. What if people will not like it, what if my writing style is unacceptable, what if I will be too cliche instead of being educational, what if I will fail in every possible way? Yes it is natural, and yes that brings us to the next step: acceptance of possible failure, and forthcoming relapses.

Failure is a natural step in development. We fail, we draw conclusions, we avoid past mistakes, we progress. But deeply rooted fear of committing errors exists in most of us, and it very often prevents us from trying out a new idea. People very often and very wrongly associate making mistake with embarrassing themselves. However,  if you look at mistake as another way of acquiring knowledge and experience, it will no longer resemble a nightmare, and you will be able to shake off this devolving fear and get down to work on your resolution.

No matter how big is your target change, you should not be scared of the overall size of it, but rather divide it into many small tasks, and step by step make it happen. However, your resolution cannot be too vague because you will have problems with preparing a schedule for it.

The base of every good resolution is to proceed with it by preparing a good plan. A plan makes your resolution more tangible, hence more manageable. It should contain your aims, deadlines, actions that together will contribute to the fulfillment of the plan. We also ought to include possible problems that we can encounter in order to be aware of them.

Only when our resolution is properly quantified and limited with deadlines, we can advance with its implementation. It is very important that we also invent a system of reward for every step that we manage to complete. Upon completion of this post I already know that I will reward myself with a relaxing cup of coffee over a book that I am currently reading. Since I am a lost cause of a bookworm, I cannot wait to finish and start reading. This thought elevates my motivation, and prevents me from taking any other unnecessary break.

Motivation, being a crucial factor in fulfilling any resolution, is something that we also should monitor regularly. We have to know what keeps us motivated and what decreases our devotion to a task. Keeping track of our progress is extremely healthy for maintaining a high level of commitment to the resolution. Once you start to see progress, you want to progress more and more, you feel excited almost as much as you were at the beginning of your endeavour.

So, without further ado: here’s to new beginnings!