“How should I start reading history?” was a question I saw posted on Quora, and I felt compelled to respond. I think many people out there have the same question.
I would suggest one of five approaches, and you should choose one according to which feels MOST INTERESTING to YOU.
Approach One. Start at the beginning. The book I’d suggest to start with is Jared Diamond’sGuns, Germs, and Steel. It’s a very READABLE book that talks about many developments which took place around the world in prehistoric times, which laid the base for civilizations, and how and why those developments happened. It’s a book which will add greatly to anything you read subsequently. It deals with effects of geography and climate, with early technological developments such as how animals were domesticated and how developments like that spread from one part of the world to another.
Approach Two. Begin reading historical fiction about time periods which interest you. You can learn a lot about history from these novels. Some authors I’d suggest starting with are Mika Waltari (you’d only find him now in a library) who wrote many famous books such as The Egyptian. His books will immerse you in the ancient life of whichever culture you choose.
Mary Renault wrote novels about Ancient Greece and Rome. Ken Follett wrote several excellent books about the Middle Ages. One book I recall from Middle School about American Revolutionary times was Johnny Tremain (still in publication).
Approach Three. Begin reading biographies of admirable people. Sometimes these people are famous and sometimes they aren’t. Speaking as a teacher, there are many interesting biographies written for children and middle school students which aren’t so voluminous in detail, but which do contain the most relevant and interesting details, and it’s a way not to get overwhelmed. Some easy ones to start with are even children’s biographies of such people as John Hancock, Louis Braille, Helen Keller, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Benjamin Franklin. These suggestions apply to Americans, but if you are from another culture, there are many famous and INSPIRATIONAL people whose biographies you could read.
Approach Four. Start with any time period which interests YOU and begin reading nonfiction books. Two books I recently read which I can highly recommend are The Stolen Villageby Des Ekin (very readable) and Pirates of Barbary by Adrian Tinniswood (more detailed but still extremely interesting). If you’re not used to reading history I’d suggest starting with The Stolen Village. Both are about the Barbary Pirates raiding white slaves all over Europe for 400 years.
Approach Five. If you still have no idea where to start, begin by watching some various historical fiction tv series. Here are some I can personally recommend.
Turn—about the lives of people in George Washington’s Revolutionary War spy ring against the British.
Reign—about Mary, Queen of Scots, young adult years being Married to Francis, the young king of France.
Roots Miniseries—the OLD one from the 1980s (about slaves captured in Africa and brought to America and continues through the lives of their descendants).
North and South—1980s Miniseries about Civil War times, which follows intertwining families in both sides.
Watching tv series will give you an idea about time periods you enjoy and wish to pursue more.
John is a commission-based salesperson who has his monthly sales expenses deducted from his commissions. These expenses include telephone expenses. One day he was called into the boss’s office, worried that the boss had discovered that he had made a couple of personal phone calls to relatives which were not actually sales calls.
Margie’s job involves preparing hundreds of folders and pen packets to be distributed to participants at various seminars. Margie feels guilty that she took a few folders and pens home for her own personal use.
Fatima is a maid. She regularly helps herself to things she finds in her employer’s workplace. She takes perfume out of bottles and puts it into other containers to take home. She uses her employer’s lipstick and makeup, and sometimes takes it. Sometimes she takes a tube of toothpaste or bottle of deodorant if she finds her employer has extra in a cupboard. She also makes long-distance phone calls on the employer’s telephone without asking. When confronted about these things, she says she feels embarrassed, but continues to do it. She feels entitled to these things, and doesn’t feel guilty at all. She has been fired from several past employers for such behavior.
The above three cases involve the same kind of feeling we get when finding a coin, or bill of money, lying on the ground. We pick it up with unexpected pleasure, like a treasure. When we find some unguarded resources sitting around in a public place, sometimes we decide to help ourselves, even though we know that they belong to someone. (Even magazine articles have suggested taking some blocks from a local construction site to make some simple bookshelves at home with boards.) Most people feel a little guilty when taking such resources, and wonder if money found on the ground should be returned to someone; yet, at the same time, have an equal small feeling of satisfaction at finding a small treasure.
Tom is a quite well-to-do property investor. In his personal life, he has owned four successively-larger houses during different marriages. He likes to accumulate many things. He started out by collecting watches and fine clothes, and moved on to collecting fishing paraphernalia and guns. He now has a hobby of making his own ammunition and has a collection of over 3,000 guns. In spite of living in a 5,000 sq. ft. home, he has often had to rent multiple storage lockers for extra space. This is a case of being in the middle of the continuum–normal hoarding by someone with the financial means, and without a disorder, that has gone overboard enough to interfere with his life, but who is still able to provide space for all his posessions. He derives satisfaction from his hoard, but also feels the burden of caring for it.
Gabriel has a government position in a central African country and helps himself to public funds. He takes whatever he can and sends the funds to foreign bank accounts in case anything should happen. This is a type of having access to money resources (like finding a treasure) and hoarding it for oneself.
Graft and corruption in government is usually a result of three factors. First, if the prevailing morality in society is “don’t get caught,” rather than “don’t do it,” then the attitude that it is all right to take advantage of opportunities to cheat or steal will be pervasive all the way from small preschool children to adult government officials. Secondly, good procedures and public reporting of such need to be in place to watch and account for public money. Thirdly, WHO is DOING the watching and accounting? Are the foxes guarding the hen houses? Societies with a free press generally are able to better fulfill this guardian role.
What do all these people have in common with extreme hoarders? Scavenging for useful objects is a valuable human characteristic, in any environment (think about television series such as Island, with Bear Grylls, or the Ed Stafford’s Naked and Marooned documentary series).
Wild and stray animals in the city exhibit the same scavenging behavior. It’s much easier for them to get into a house or garage through a pet door or screen and eat the pet food, or the food left on unwashed plates, than it is for them to catch their own food. Garbage cans in the neighborhood are also useful for animals (and homeless people). These are further cases of looking for useful resources in the environment.
So why do people steal resources from the workplace? It’s almost like a treasure trove of unguarded resources. Even people who try to be honest find themselves tempted by small items and feel guilty about it afterward. The nasty ones take whatever they can find and feel n,o guilt whatsoever. This collecting of unguarded useful resources and pile them up for oneself is a useful survival characteristic, for both humans and animals, that can become theft in the workplace, and graft and corruption in government. Perhaps the better question is actually, “How is it that the great majority of people are capable of resisting this behavior, of stealing from the workplace?”
What we can conclude is that to stop theft in the workplace, opportunity needs to be reduced, resources need to be guarded, and good accounting and inventory proceduresthat are actually followed through on need to be put in place.
What do stealing office supplies and extreme hoarding have in common? They are two manifestations of a similar behavior at different ends of the same continuum line. One end of the spectrum is merely gathering useful resources; further toward the middle becomes obsessive graft, corruption, entitlement; still further becomes people obsessed with saving things which don’t even seem useful to others. Their behavior is confusing to others, and obsessive to the hoarder himself, as it consumes his life.
Hoarding itself is not an either/or proposition; it is a natural outgrowth of finding useful things in one’s environment, and the pleasure in making use of them. Yesterday’s “gatherer from nature” is today’s “shopper.” Normal shoppers are still in the normal spectrum of the continuum, unless they become obsessive shoppers.
What makes gathering turn into hoarding is when something goes wrong. This appears to be something gone wrong genetically, but generally environmentally triggered by stressful events, as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder seems to be).
While some people go over the brink and more or less become mentally ill due to hoarding disorder, others start down the road to hoarding but are able to pull back from it once they realize what is happening. These people are still somewhat in the middle of the continuum.
The next post in this series will explain why hoarders are resistant to getting rid of their hoards, and what needs their hoards are fulfilling for them.
Whole societies misunderstand each other because they are looking at the world from different paradigms. Generally speaking, a majority of Europeans have moved from a religious to a secular paradigm, while a majority of Americans (from the United States) have remained in a religious paradigm. Yet the Arab world has remained far more religious, and views both European and American societies as secular. This difference of religious viewpoint is one of the main reasons each society focuses different issues and has a problem with understanding each other’s focus. Let us look at a few examples of how paradigms affect individual thinking, and then how those same paradigms scale up into the overall society, affecting the entire society’s thinking.
The paradigm an individual or society is in leads to the questions asked, and the solutions considered. First, let us look at some individuals and their points-of-view.
Individual Paradigms Considered:
Sara, a deeply religious person, spends time daily wondering whether a prophet’s revelations are truly inspired by God, or whether they actually come from another entity, and could therefore be a force of evil misleading the world. Tom, on the other hand, being an atheist, wonders how the same prophet managed to convince everyone that God was speaking to him.
Fatima’s life isn’t going so well and she keeps having bad luck. Her spiritual adviser has explained that someone she knows has put a curse on her. He told her to follow some particular rules (such as not washing clothes on particular days, among other things) for the next three months in order to break the curse. Fatima’s boss is unhappy with her work because she isn’t concentrating or doing a good job. Instead of thinking about how to do her work correctly, and paying attention to details, she is instead devoting all her energy toward being suspicious of everyone around her and wondering who is responsible for her bad luck. Fatima doesn’t get involved in trying to put spells or curses on others, but she knows many of her acquaintances do this regularly in order to try to control others.
Lisa, a scientifically-minded person spends her time wondering how so many people are gullible and easily fooled by superstition, by astrology, by religion, or by charlatans. She spends a lot of time thinking about what changes could be promoted through the educational system to create citizens who look at life with a scientific approach. Perhaps teaching children “the scientific method” would help people think and evaluate clearly, and make better life decisions.
Elena spends a lot of time wondering about how to pray. Is she doing it correctly? Is God listening? Could she be doing it differently or better? Elena sees all the evil things happening in the world and thinks constantly about why God isn’t preventing these bad things from happening. Is God letting bad things happen to punish people and societies for not following his laws and commandments? Is the devil, or are demons possessing people, making people do bad things? If people are possessed or influenced by evil supernatural entities, how can we get out from under their influence? Elena also spends time praying for the good of mankind, for God’s intercession in stopping wars, and for improving the health and well-being of others.
John thinks that the Church has too much influence over the people in his country. He thinks the church’s power needs to be restricted and limited. He spends his time promoting the idea that there needs to be separation of church and state, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of the press. Some of his friends think that religion itself needs to be outlawed entirely.
All of the questions above can be divided into TWO basic paradigm views: RELIGIOUS and NON-RELIGIOUS, although within each section, there are many subdivisions. How are these two paradigms defined?
Sara, Fatima, and Elena are approaching the world from a RELIGIOUS paradigm.
Tom, Lisa, and John are approaching the world from a SECULARIST (NON-RELIGIOUS) paradigm.
Bob doesn’t know if God exists or not, but he only thinks about it once in a while. Bob is in an AGNOSTIC paradigm.
Sam and Gina think that God probably does not exist, but even if he does, they don’t care. They just want to enjoy themselves and do whatever makes them feel good; they are both in a HEDONISTIC paradigm.
Now let us look at some societal questions and solutions. The following views, while general views prevalent in the societies below, are BY NO MEANS HELD BY ALL INDIVIDUALS in those societies.
Societal Paradigms Considered:
The United States:
The United States views itself as a secular society, with a clear separation between church and state. However, Europeans (including the United Kingdom) view us as a religious society, oddly focused on, and obsessed with, religious questions such as abortion, teaching of evolution, prayer in schools, and with politicians publicly speaking about God and their religious beliefs.
The United States’ population is split between great numbers of religious Americans, and great numbers of secular Americans. Strongly religious Americans would like for the Ten Commandments to be posted in every public building; for abortion to be outlawed under all circumstances; for evolution not to be taught as a scientific fact; for public art projects to not be permitted to insult God or religion; for prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance to be re-instituted in schools. Strongly secular Americans mostly hold the opposite viewpoints and view that religion must be an entirely private matter. They are also concerned about many of the same issues as Europeans, which are listed below in that section. These groups are in constant conflict in America.
The United States is mostly thinking about questions in terms of how the Constitution defines them; issues of patriotism; issues of capitalism and free enterprise; and issues regarding socialists/communists–who are viewed as almost identical by most of the society.
The United States is mostly thinking about questions such as:
—Should guns be restricted in some way, or does the Constitution prohibit ANY restriction on guns?
—Should SCIENCE or RELIGIOUS PRINCIPLES be more highly respected whenever they come into conflict? Should PUBLIC schools enforce teaching of SCIENTIFIC principles, or should people’s INDIVIDUAL RELIGIOUS RIGHTS be placed above the “public” interest of scientifically educating the voting public?
—Should taxes and government regulation be MINIMAL so as not to impede maximal capitalism; or should taxes and regulation be increased to protect the public (or is that the dreaded socialism)?
—Should people who were either lazy in school or work, made poor spending decisions in their lives (or spent money on leisure activities because they felt entitled rather than scraping and saving every penny to get out of poverty) be helped at the public expense through taxes (robbery of the responsible)? To what extent do people need a temporary (not permanent) helping hand? Health care reform is viewed by many as stealing from the “responsible” (subsidized through taxes) and giving to the lazy and irresponsible. Some think that if people were lazy in school or work and didn’t get a good education, that being poor is their just reward. Other members of the society vehemently disagree.
—Who is with us, and who is against us?
In France, the power of the Church was overthrown in the French Revolution. France today is a strongly secular society and religion remains a private matter. Liberty, equality, fraternity, and science are the ideas permeating France today. In Britain, religion is viewed as an entirely private matter, churches are nearly empty, and anyone speaking publicly of religion–including politicians–would be considered to display poor upbringing and bad taste.
European secular societies are thinking about such questions as:
—How can we use our scientific knowledge to save the Earth and save animal species?
—How can we stop governments from oppressing people and promote human rights?
—How is it that a modern country such as the United States, the leader of the free world, has turned against science in climatology, and still has people fighting against the teaching of evolution in schools, etc?
—How can we promote equality and fairness between all members of society? How is it that a modern country like the United States doesn’t have a system of health care for all of its citizens? Why are people fighting against that? Are people there selfish and don’t care about the welfare of others?
The Arab World:
The Arab World remains strongly religious and views both the United States and Europe as “Godless” places. The Arab World views religion and religious law as above any other considerations, and that every facet of the society–including human rights questions–must be subservient to religious law. In these parts of the world, religion is not a choice, and dissenting against religion is not tolerated. Non-believers keep quiet for their own safety.
Extremely religious societies, such as the Arab World, are thinking mostly about questions such as:
—How can we make sure the people follow all religious traditions (or at least don’t break, or object to, such traditions) in public?
—How can we be sure that all of our newly proposed modern laws comply with religious laws and traditions, so that we can maintain our political authority (complying with religious law confers political authority / breaking, flouting, or ignoring religious law destroys political authority). This is one of the reasons (not the only reason) the Shah of Iran lost his authority, as he was seen to flout religious tradition in his modernization program.
—When we are religious and follow religious law, HOW IS IT that the West has become so powerful, when they are not “following God’s laws” as we are? We are angry about that, and we want to redress the balance of power!
Different paradigms frame the questions asked by individuals, and by society as a whole. Most societies imagine that other societies are thinking about the same issues they are, and that is NOT necessarily the case.
Wherever we go on the globe, people are very different in their views and lifestyles. In order to better understand people and cultures, how can we categorize people according to their varied opinions, different ways of thinking, and myriad lifestyles?
As it turns out, there are TWO BASIC CRITERIA, or “Life View” filters, into which all lifestyles and ideas can be divided: Existence vs. Nonexistence, the most important; and Empowerment vs. Disempowerment, the second most important.
The EXISTENCE paradigm believes that we have a soul, and that the soul is NOT the same thing as the body; that the soul SURVIVES death, and that our existence is ETERNAL.
The NON-EXISTENCE paradigm believes that we ARE our body, and the self is identical with the body; that there is no separate soul, nor any part of ourselves that survives death; that the world is finite, and that THIS LIFE is all we have and ever will have.
The EMPOWERMENT paradigm believes that our actions DO make a difference and that we all have many choices in our lives which we can use to improve our lives, no matter in what circumstances we find ourselves. People living in this paradigm feel their lives do have meaning. They have hope, make plans and take large or small steps toward making their goals materialize in reality. They usually believe in discipline, practice, and perseverance. They believe we create our lives through our habits, perspectives, and attitudes. Even when faced with the worst outside circumstances.
The DISEMPOWERMENT paradigm believes that personal efforts and actions have no effect whatsoever on helping one reach their goals. People living in this paradigm feel like angry, helpless, hopeless, depressed VICTIMS; not respected, without energy, and without goals or plans. Most of all, they BLAME OTHERS (circumstances, people, events, bad luck, or even God) and REFUSE to take any positive actions because THEY DON’T BELIEVE THEIR EFFORTS WILL MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE.
Some people try out one paradigm and then another; some people are raised in one paradigm and make a switch to another as adults. When they do that, sometimes relationships with family members and former friends or spouses cannot survive that transition. The WHITE DOTTED-LINE CIRCLE in the center of the diagram above indicates the people who are, as yet, uncertain where they belong, or who are still bouncing around trying out different ideas, new types of friends and lifestyles.
To see how the categorization on this diagram works, see if you can guess in which Life Paradigm Quadrant (diagram above) the following individuals are living (answers at the bottom of this post).
Eileen believes in a higher force, as an organizing principle of the universe, and that “there is an existence on the other side,” although she doesn’t follow or believe in any organized religion. Eileen does believe that there IS a reason for all the difficulties that we are experiencing in life, even if the reason is not yet clear to us. She believes strongly that our actions DO matter, both now, and eternally. Every day she tries to be kind to others (she doesn’t always succeed)–NOT in order to “shore up good points with God,” but in order to pass positive energy forward in a “pay-it-forward” sort of way. Eileen believes our lives make in difference in the values we hold ourselves to, and in our actions toward others.
Hamid lives in North Africa. He has a university degree but cannot find a job in his field, or a job that pays well. “The rich and powerful are controlling my country,” he says. “I don’t have the right last name or right family connections to get ahead in my society, because here, nepotism controls everything. I’m a victim of the system. Anyway, I’m poor because God wanted me to be poor. If he wanted me to be rich, I would be rich. It’s all ‘written before my birth in the book of life’ so that’s why I don’t work hard, or waste my time learning new skills. There is nothing I can do to improve my life. I don’t have good luck. Other people are successful because they are lucky.”
Sam is a selfish and dishonest white-collar criminal, although he is able to hide it well because he has a great deal of personal charisma. Not only does he have a high salary and corporate jet-setting lifestyle, but he often dates models in various cities that he visits. His friends and acquaintances are jealous of his lifestyle. Sam works very hard and appears successful; he is successful, but it’s not enough for him. So he embezzles funds and stashes the money in offshore bank accounts. He doesn’t trust people and thinks it’s only a matter of time until he’ll have to skip out to a country where there is no extradition treaty with his home country, so that he can continue living his rich lifestyle. Sam doesn’t believe there is anything beyond this world, and that he’s got to get everything he can out of this life. Sam feels no guilt for anyone he defrauds.
Laura is a scientist and environmentalist who happens to be an atheist. While not believing in God, she spends her life helping others and saving the environment and animals on the planet. She volunteers her time with humanitarian groups, as well as animal groups, and donates small amounts of money regularly. Laura feels her actions really make a difference to others and she gets great personal satisfaction from that.
Bob is very poor and lives on the street. He scrounges through trash bins to find food each day. Bob doesn’t know why his life is so difficult, but he thinks there must be a reason. He believes that his actions make a difference. Each day he tries to brighten the spirits of other homeless people like himself by saying hello to people he passes daily, and sometimes stopping and talking to them to ask how they are doing. Bob enjoys being kind to animals. If he finds food in the trash, he always tries to share at least a tiny bit of it with the street animals. Bob finds daily satisfaction in his life in spite of his poor circumstances.
Lucien lives in a mansion surrounded by a high wall and security apparatus. Lucien worked hard all his life, and he also saved every penny. He is very careful about spending his money. Lucien is negative and critical of everyone around him, and he trusts no one. When asked, Lucien says he is agnostic, and thinks that God probably does not exist. Lucien doesn’t believe in giving to charity because other people are lazy and did not work as hard as he did or save as much as he did, scrimping instead of wastefully spending money like others do. Lucien’s bank account is huge, but he lives a miserly, secretive life, with few friends. Most of his conversation revolves around either what faults others have, or how “others” (the government, other people) are “out to get him” or “take his money through taxation.” He feels like society and other people are all against him, and keeping him from being able to be happy.
Eileen: Quadrant III. Paradigms: Existence/Empowered.
Hamid: Quadrant IV. Paradigms: Existence/Disempowered.
Sam: Quadrant I. Paradigms: Nonexistence/Empowered.
Laura: Quadrant I. Paradigms: Nonexistence/Empowered.
Bob: Quadrant III. Paradigms: Existence/Empowered.
Lucien: Quadrant II. Paradigms: Nonexistence/ Disempowered.
During each decade of our lives, if we continue to grow, we must all reevaluate our paradigms and either make changes, or decide that we still belong where we are. Life experiences and people who challenge our core beliefs force us, both through processes of questioning, as well as open conflict, to either move into new paradigms, or reconfirm the commitment to the paradigms we are already living in.
Family is often the largest source of conflict. Just because one is born in a family does not mean that one thinks as, or accepts, the lifestyle and values of the other family members. In our birth families, parents try to impose their own values on children. Some children accept these values, while others rebel.
When we marry or form a significant relationship, power struggles begin, as one partner attempts to impose their own paradigm, which the other partner does not accept. Often, two people marry, without even realizing for a considerable time, that they are living in completely different paradigms. This situation can be even more exaggerated in intercultural, interracial, and cross-class marriages. Sometimes, a couple can set aside their separate paradigms, only to find those paradigms reemerging, and causing problems, as the couple’s children reach their teenage years.
Children are initially exposed to other paradigms (seen in lifestyles and values) when visiting neighbors’ and school friends’ homes, when interacting with adults outside of the family in these settings–and in the modern world, now from television and movies. Parents work hard to override the influences of these other paradigms, and are usually successful until the teenage years arrive. Then children begin trying out other paradigms, usually to the great consternation of their parents. This period usually continues until one has finished their education and entered the working world.
Young adults in their 20s are usually operating out of paradigms which have come from three areas–from their birth families; from friends and activities they themselves feel comfortable with; and the paradigms their life partner operates out of.
After a decade or so in the working world, many adults come up against the fact that they may no longer find their paradigms working positively in their lives. They may become depressed or despondent, or feel that their life no longer makes sense. At this stage, we often begin to see career changes, affairs, divorces, moves to other parts of the country–or even overseas–or questioning of one’s religion, values, and beliefs.
Some adults succeed in making changes or improvements over a few years; others do not. For many people, the late 30s and decade of the 40s are a time of depression and problems. Things aren’t working, but it takes time to figure out why, and what can be done about it.
For those who succeed in making changes, the 50s are a time of renewal and certainty about which new directions to take. For those who do not succeed, the 50s become a time of descent into bitterness and unhappiness.
The process of “growing up” is not something we finish in young adulthood. Instead, life is a series of changing circumstances, people, and events. Our reactions to these changes shapes which paradigms we are in subsequently. Anyone who is in the same paradigms at the age of 50 or 60 as they were at 25 has probably not been doing much with his life, and is probably not a very happy person. Happiness comes with repeated questioning and reevaluation of circumstances with changing life events.
What are the earliest paradigms we are are given, and where do they come from? They come from our parents. While there is a wide spectrum of parenting styles, two contrasting versions of parenting are given above. These paradigm lessons are the earliest training in values the child receives, before he comes in contact with neighbors and the wider society.
Generally, the higher classes and ideologically conservative groups in most societies go more for the “controlled” style of parenting; while the lower classes, and ideologically liberal groups in most societies go more for the “free” style of parenting.
The process of growing up is partly about coming in contact with a wider variety of paradigms, trying some of them out, and choosing the ones we are attracted to.
As adults in Western societies, we are free to choose our own paradigms and lifestyles. Society’s laws support us in this, even if our families and communities pressure us not to leave the group paradigms we were raised with. In the West, we are free to turn our back on the way we were raised. Society says that all adults have the right to GO where they want, LIVE where they want, live HOW they want (as long as they are not hurting anyone else), and BELIEVE what they want.
Traditional societies, in contrast, do not usually give people the freedom to leave the paradigms they were raised with. People are NOT usually free to MOVE AWAY, to live a FREE LIFESTYLE (especially if one is a woman), to CHANGE (or be free of) RELIGION, or MAKE ONE’S OWN DECISIONS. Some traditional societies even go so far as to kill those who try to leave the paradigm they were raised with.
Why is society becoming so polarized? We are now almost daily confronted and bombarded with those living in different “paradigms” from ourselves. Through increased travel and mobility; multicultural neighborhoods, schools and workplaces; media exposure, and particularly the internet aligned to our own particular viewpoints, many people wonder what happened to the societal cohesion of the groups they grew up in one or two generations ago.
Consider–are you liberal, or conservative? Are you religious, agnostic, atheist? Do you follow astrology, tarot cards, or psychic phenomena? Are you more interested in money, people, fashion, lifestyles, or ideas? Are you in business, law or medicine, minimum-wage work, or unemployed? Do you have a good education? Are you proud of it? Are you married or single? Are you a parent, or intentionally childless, or taking care of an elderly parent at home? What race are you? What nationality? What general society? Are you a traveler and open to new ideas and lifestyles, and tolerant of others’ actions and beliefs? Do you feel that other people’s lifestyles are “wrong?” Do you try to work to limit others’ lifestyles through fighting to change laws and working through the system? Or do you spend your time worrying about someone hexing you, and how you can control others through manipulating them?
All of these things, and more, go into making up our own personal view of life, which we can call our own paradigm. Most of us make the mistake of thinking that the majority of people around us share our basic assumptions about life. This used to be more true in the past; however, with every generation, it becomes less true, as societies have greatly opened up and intermixed. This trend was previously accelerated by newspapers and wars; then radio, television, and movies; and now by the internet and increased global mobility. In fact, our very neighbors, fellow office-workers, people we interact with every day, and even our close and extended family members, may very well be operating out of completely different paradigms, unknown to us. It’s always when we come up against this that we feel most shocked. We suddenly feel, “How can he/she POSSIBLY THINK THIS WAY???”
Our birth families initiate each of us into the group of paradigms we are raised with. These become part of our unconscious view of the world, of what is right. For most of us, the views, opinions, and lifestyles we have are well- formed before the age of ten, and we subconsciously carry these ideas with us for the rest of our lives. This is why every age group separated by about five years has a somewhat different outlook, or paradigm, on life–despite being raised in the same family, or same culture and society. By the time twenty years has passed, those incremental five-year changes have added up to a full generation of change, thus creating the oft-cited “generation gap.” These five-year cultural paradigm shifts occur as demographics and economic conditions change; as fashions and social conditions change; as domestic and international events influence cultures and societies.
The process of growing up is largely comprised of two processes. First, we need to be fully brought into the paradigms of our natal families and natal culture and society, whatever subgroups our natal family participates in. Intercultural families face special challenges as children choose between paradigms offered by two cultures, and they don’t generally choose the ones their parents hope for—or they choose the “easier” paradigm rather than the “best.” Secondly, during teenage years, we are exposed at school, as well as through peers and media, to alternate paradigms and subgroups. Teenage and young adult years often consist of rebelling against family paradigms, and “trying out” new paradigms which may seriously disturb our natal family, peer group, or even our wider society. Somewhere between the ages of 22-35, adults finally settle on the paradigms they choose for living their own lives.
Sometimes people accept the natal family’s paradigms, marry and have children, and then go through a later revolt against these paradigms at the time of mid-life crisis. Mid-life crisis is essentially a new questioning and exploration of previous paradigms; sometimes it’s a trying out or commitment to new paradigms, and less frequently, a recommitment to old paradigms.
Sometimes natal families, former friends and acquaintances, just cannot accept our new paradigm shifts, or paradigm groups. This causes splits in families, losses of former friends, and searches for new groups and friends.
One of the major differences between Western societies and traditional cultures is that in Western societies, we are FREE to choose new thoughts, new groups, and new ways of being. In traditional societies, this is not the case, and can lead to being an outcast, being severely punished–or in extreme cases, even to the death penalty. Some traditional societies are changing slowly as women are educated and as the workforce modernizes in the global connected world.