Category Archives: Social Psychology

Teaching an old dog

Alexander Pope said: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring; There shallow draughts
intoxicate the brain; And drinking largely sobers us again.”

As children our minds are open.  We soak up knowledge like sponges and learn easily.  We are willing to see new view points and see the world only for the capabilities.  Do you remember learning to ride your bike?  I remember thinking of how far I’d be able to go, and the amazing things I could do once I just got balancing on these two wheels down.  Now when I learn new skills, I think of the everything I need to do to keep myself from getting hurt.  I don’t jump in to new experience with abandon anymore.  I consider, I ponder, and I worry.  If I had to learn the skill of riding my bike now I would struggle a great deal more, knowing what it is like to fall, and the pain that comes with it. 

I also don’t soak in knowledge as I used to.  I have opinions, beliefs, and even “gut instincts” that affect how I see the world. I am at times more resistant to new ideas because I believe I “Know” different.  I don’t like challenges to what I know, because I feel as though I look stupid when my beliefs are proven incorrect. 

We all have places where we are “rigid”.  Places where we don’t want to shift our view on the world.  We are comfortable with our beliefs.  We feel safe and comfortable in them.   We want to stick to what we know to be “The Truth”.  Because of this though, we are closed to new ideas and concepts.  I have worked with people who defend their beliefs to the death, sometimes even violently.  I have friends who have lost relationships with family members for challenging “The Truth”. 

The dot Indians wear on their forehead is to help open their third eye.  The chakra that see’s The Truth, knowing that at times our two eyes need a little help to see what is really there.  Believing you know keeps you from being able to learn.  The quote I started with discusses the place of learning where we believe we know all there is to know.  It seems as though this is a threshold that creates a road-block where we have so much information, and yet there is always more to learn.  In this place we struggle to learn more because we think we  KNOW. 

When we understand that there is always more, then we don’t get caught in the hubris of thinking we don’t need to learn anymore.  It allows us to keep our eyes open to new insights and new experiences.  It lets the world challenge our ideas and beliefs without insult.  When we drink deep from the fountain of knowledge, it allows us to become more flexible in our Truths and see the world in a whole new way.

Are you strong enough to be vulnerable?

In my yoga class yesterday the meditation
hit very close to home.  The Yogi began by discussing the current
lesson the university continues to throw at her.  We all know this
concept, when there is a lesson we need to learn the universe kindly
makes sure there are a plethora of opportunities in our life to learn
the lesson.  When she began discussing her personal struggles to find
vulnerability it hit home. 

After a divorce and a recent break-up I think about what I want in my
new relationships.  And ultimately I find that I want someone that I can
be vulnerable with.  The difficulty is; I struggle with allowing myself
to be vulnerable to others.  We all have these life experiences that
teach “vulnerability is bad”.  We grow shells over our selves, hiding
the light that is our tender heart from others, and at times even from
us.  The culture in America today is one where vulnerability is seen as
weakness.  I work with so many people who use the words “They used my
kindness as weakness”.  But what they really mean is “Kindness is
weakness”.  Allowing yourself to be open to another, to allow them to
see your tender, sometimes broken heart is seen as problematic.  And our
life experiences show us this.  Every break-up with a significant
other, every divorce, every time a kid is told to “man up” when he is
crying, we are give a clear message.  And that message is to harden your

But as your heart is hardened it makes it increasingly difficult to let
people in.  To allow people to have access to your tender, loving, and
yes sometimes broken heart.   I have yet to meet someone who does not
want a tender loving relationship with another person.  Even the kids
that I work with who have personality disorders, the sociopaths, we all
want that intimate connection.  We want to allow our hearts to connect
with another.    So what keeps us from being able to find these
connections?  Our fear.  Our shame.  Our fear of putting our hearts out
there and having them rejected or injured.  I can throw myself off of a
50 foot telephone pole (in a harness of course), I can face that fear of
heights, of falling, of getting physically hurt much faster than I can
face throwing my heart out there and facing the trauma of rejection. 
The shame of who we believe we are, our perceived imperfections that we
are so sure are black spots on our souls that we can’t allow other
people to see.  

An irony of our relationships is that our friends see us already.  They
see the parts of us we think we hide, that we are afraid will bring
automatic rejection. These things that we believe are black spots on our
soul, are often part of what attracts our friends and partners to us.
He try to hide ourselves, we try to keep vulnerable hearts secret and
convince ourselves that we successfully do so.  We build walls to keep
people out, but what these walls really do is keep us from being able to
connect on a deeper level, to love to our full capacity, and to let
others love us.

Brene Brown discusses her journey of finding vulnerability in her talk  She does a wonderful job of weaving the story of how she
finds her own path to vulnerability.

If your friends all jumped off a bridge….

As I have discussed in past posts, we are social people.  Part of living within groups of people means finding a way to meet the norm and the need to conform can be more powerful than people tend to realize. 

We all want to fit in to a group.  Even when we think that someone is not conforming, they are still fitting in to a larger group of non-conformists.  Once we find our niche within a group, we actually work very hard to continue to fit in within that group. The consequences of not fitting in can be as small as mild ostracism (teasing and jokes) all the way up to physical punishment, total ostracism, and in extreme cases – death.  When we ask questions about “how could a person do that”, it often comes down to the consequences of non-conformity.  When looking at “how could they do that” in relationship to things like the Holocaust, Dan Carlin,  in his podcast Ghosts of the Ostfront – a four part discussion of the atrocities of the Russian part of the second World War asks the question: “What would you have done in the same circumstances?”.  If the consequences of non-conformity meant your torture, your families torture or death, could you go against the norm?  What are you capable of when the consequences are extreme?  What about your neighbor?  

The concept of group-think can lead normally positive and peaceful people to become part of a violent mob.  A good example of this was theStanford Prison experiment. During the summer of 1971 (this experiment would never be permitted with today’s strictures) a group of Stanford students volunteered to participate in this informative experiment.   The participants were separated in to two groups, prisoners and guards.   All of the students were normal, healthy peaceful people. When they were put in to rolls with expected behaviors they fell in to these rolls with such fervor they had to stop the experiment before someone got hurt.

We are not snowflakes.  We like to believe that we are individuals and that we stand out from the crowd, but in reality there are millions of people who like or hate the same things we do, have the same experiences we have (good and bad), and have the same fears and joys we have.  It may bring those who have suffered a tragedy some peace to know that they are not alone.  There are support groups for just about everything, including Adult Children of Alcoholics, Adult Children of Abusers, Survivors of Sexual Abuse, etc. In the case of tragedy knowing that you aren’t alone often brings some relief, knowing that someone else can understand. 

Conformity is an important part of society.  The need to fit in to a group leads to the misguided participation in groups such as the KKK and the Crips and Bloods.  Advertising companies understand this and play upon it, as do our leaders.  Knowing about our need to conform, and how it effects us can be important.’s article on conformity has good information with some helpful links that can show where our sub-conscious need to conform can lead us.

10 rules of groups

We are social creatures and as part of that we are required to live and work in groups.  Even though we participate in many different and varying groups, it seems that all groups act in a similar way. succinctly discusses the 10 rules that govern groups. Once you read the article, keep reading as they have a lot of good information on human psychology.