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A Dab into Social Psychology: The Obviousness of Why We Do What We Do (sometimes)

Are you familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment?

The experiment was conducted by Professor Phillip Zimbardo. It had a simple purpose to identify how subjects (college students) behave in a prison environment after being randomly assigned their roles. Some were assigned the role of guards and the others of prisoners; to be incarcerated publicly, and transferred to the make shift prison in the basement of the university. No rules or codes of conduct were set forth for either roles and the experiment showed hard results. Mainly, brutality and sadism ensued from the previously determined psychologically healthy guards, and depression and rage from the similarly tested innocent student prisoners.

Professor Zimbardo had to end the experiment after one week because of the adverse effects that environment was causing the participants. And the biggest finding was that environment heavily impacts the behavior of humans. The statement sounds like an obvious one, but it can go farther into why we choose to do what we do, say what we say and behave negatively or positively.

Many Americans thought of the Obama presidency as the clear line propagating the United States into a post racial world; where equality, equity and freedom would no longer be influenced by color, race, gender or religion. Except, people’s behavior was somewhat a function of that specific environment. Racist remarks where not accepted because the face of authority said and showed otherwise. However, fast forward to today, and a lot of the skeletons in people’s closets have stepped out into the sun and all kinds of discriminatory slurs have become to some extent no matter how muffled, tolerated but not without contest. Why? Because the current environment allows it, it actually is built on it. Triumphant political discourse dismisses opponents based on how they look, how they speak and other attributes that have no relation to political merit. The fact that the face of authority is President Donald Trump who is publicly against political correctness and an improved social contract, the stage is set for an environment of negative social interactions.

So, this is not about blaming our environment for our behaviors whether positive or negative, but it is about acknowledging its power to influence us. Values tend to be taught, and acquired over long periods of time, and we favor those who have values that coincide with ours, because we have an inclination to believe that we are doing what is right to some extent. Except, our environment determines how right we are, not due to the innate quality of our intensions but because of what our values mean to others who share our environment.

It is then not strange to find social bubbles that are birthed by individuals aware of the influences of the environment and who distrust how it can change them with time. So our environment is not an absolute situation, we can operate within it, but we must be careful. Sometimes minute changes occur over time in our behaviors just because we were trying to fit in, get comfortable, or be less controversial, slowly then surely, our environment impacts our behavior. We then become what our environment allows us to be; someone we didn’t think we could be.

Do you want your behavior to be absolutely determined by the environment you live in?

It is a question many people get to ask themselves as they practice some soul searching. Those who have the power to step out of the comfort of being similar, tend to grow perspectives and start recommending change that might not be acceptable but often necessary. The key is to start with one’s self and understand that most environments will change, sometimes slightly and other times completely. So we must remain mindful of why we do what we do, how our reasons for certain choices play out and what we expect in return.

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What is your life purpose?

Have you at some point in your life wondered, perhaps after an equally uncomfortable and inspirational event: What is my purpose? Why am I possibly here and not anywhere else? Why is my life so geared towards proving itself worthy?

Perhaps you have, and possibly you have not; either way, watch this clip Rick and Morty- You Pass Butter, its a great opening to where I am going with this, and it might make you laugh- or slightly dislike my growing references to the show- and we will continue after you have finished.

One of the primary, and most automatic functions of a conscious brain or intelligence, is to serve a purpose, first and foremost living life; surviving. The purpose beyond that could be anything, literally; even passing butter.

The scene linked above, readily mocks this intelligence, by having Rick create a robot that once ON; looks up at its creator and directly inquires about its purpose. The first time around it was OK for it to serve butter; the second time around it expected a higher purpose; and was met with the same ridiculous task: Serve butter. The robot throws its mechanic arms in the air, drags its head down and says Oh My God. The existential frustration of Is this it?

I suppose many of us have felt that way at some point; expected something greater and were met with a frustrating response; and surely almost always no response at all. Try it: Look up, down, around, inside, at your mom and dad, at a chimpanzee (wherever your faith lay; no judgement here) and ask your creator of choice: What is my purpose? Almost all (except your parents) will have no audible answer for you. Does that mean you need to listen to your parents? Well, of course. Does it mean they know something you don’t? Possibly, but not abstract enough to be your metaphysical purpose on this planet.

And so, we go with the easiest, we let mom, dad, society and religion at large tell us what to do because that answer is the loudest when we ask relentlessly about our purpose.

But, let’s tone it down:

What if purpose is an absolute sham of the mind (intelligence), and the ego? Do we question our existence in the years before we develop egos and personalities? Not that I know of. We open our eyes when born, and BOOM consciousness. We are aware of life but we are not anxious, we are flowing through our early infancy and childhood. Yet, we start developing character traits, and personality tricks and glitches as we get exposed to a list of factors. Our egos start becoming, we are then incapable of separating our consciousness from our egos. We think, OK, now that “I” am here on this planet, what is “my” purpose?

Let’s make it a little simpler now:

Your purpose is the purpose of your ego. Have you had a slight complexity with the way you look? or the way you speak? or how you may have been perceived in certain occasions? Have you grown up rich or poor? With or without two parents? The options are endless for the factors that affect who “we” are, or who we think “we” are.

We do not need a purpose, we can do something we love, for a number of reasons, we can go through living a good life for a set of goals to be achieved. We might even excel at something enough to be thought of as born to do it. At the end of the day, a purpose for existence is an object of the mind, something to serve the deepest existential insecurity in your intelligence and your ego. Why the hell am “I” here?

As Rick puts it: “Yeah, Welcome to the club Pal.”

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Where is the White Space?

Rolling through YouTube’s suggested list, I come to realize one very important effect of our modern life and access to the internet.  I noticed that all that music almost sounds the same, just as most influencers look the same, and bloggers (sometimes including myself) are saying the same things. As easy as changing our lives seems to be through marketing campaigns, it actually is immensely difficult because every click we make, and every decision we take molds us into certain people, possibly not the people we really are, but mere consumer personas. Comfort zones are created around us so organically, that reaching out of those spaces becomes hectic sometimes even impossible.

I was inspired this morning listening to an interview on InsideQuest (IQ) between Tom Bilyeu and Jim Kwik. What really kicked me right in the gut was the concept of White Space. And my mind automatically went into overdrive “I NEED WHITE SPACE”. All my spaces are inhabited by thoughts, people, objects and generic content, some introduced by me, and others suggested, and I am overwhelmed and anxious.

How can anyone really think with all that noise? Where do we hide in this bombardment? When hair style x is going make me more daring, and brand y is going to make me sexier, and person z is telling me how to tie my shoelaces… the list goes on and on with people telling me things, buying out every ounce of attention I have; FOR FREE!

In our pursuit of well-lived, exciting, and constantly educational experiences, we end up being victims of our own choices in this self replicating noisy space. It appears to me that our social fondness for grouping is an ultimate and absolute construct. It might be that attempting to break free of all groups will eventually land us with yet another one.

All that brings me back to my absolute infatuation and fascination with the concept of whitening out a page and starting again, purposely leaving everything and beginning again, as dangerous, unaccountable and anti-social as it sounds. But, there are more family friendly versions of this attitude. One thing that really works but requires countless practice is a form of meditation, essentially allowing the creation of white space inside your own mind, and then moving on from there.

Becoming the creators of our spaces can happen in two ways, either building over and modifying  pre-existing constructs, or annihilating them and starting over. Yet in annihilation one cannot escape the wisdom preceding the experience, actually one would be foolish to ignore it.

So where is the white space after all, and do you really need it?