Sunday, March 16, 2014

You Don't Know Me, Fool! Wait, Maybe I Don't Either!

Hello everyone! In my last post, I spent quite a bit of time talking about the "soil that we've been cultivated in." I pointed out that in order to understand why we are the way we are in the world, it's important that we understand everything that goes into making us who we are.  And our soil is made up of all those things. But one of the major things that contributes to our soil, much more so than what country your ancestors were originally from, is our values.  Generally when people start talking about values the first things that comes to mind are religious values. We start thinking about things like morality and ethics (another post for another time). That's not necessarily what I'm talking about here. In this context, your values are your ideas about what is most important to you and your life. What you want to live by, and what you want to live for.  When we find ourselves watching a television show or a movie and saying "Wow, I don't like that!" Or "Oh yeah! I love that!" Or when we find ourselves looking at and judging other people's relationships (and you know you do), what are those silent forces that are behind your responses? The silent forces that often guide our decisions?  This is our values at work! These are hints of the things that we value bleeding through into everything that we do.
     But how often do we really exam what we value?  Are we even open to such exploration? I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, Carl, at a party this past weekend. We talked about a number of things, but one of the things that we talked about was the way people respond when they encounter others who either have religious views that are different from their own, or have religious views at all when we don't. One thing that I noticed about the way Carl responded was that on more than one occasion, he made the statement, "That's something I don't know anything about." And he would immediately follow it up with questions. Trying to increase his understanding. As a result, we both ended up exploring these topics that people often don't talk about.  I'm convinced I grew from that conversation because I value understanding. I value growth. And I value openness in friendship. 
     So here's what we'll do this week. Let's engage in a bit of a Values Clarification exercise!  The goal of a values clarification exercise is for the influence of each of these values to become fully conscious for us. For us to explore and honestly acknowledge what we truly value at this time in our lives.  In doing this, we can acknowledge what we truly value.  We can be more self-directed and effective when we know which values we consciously choose to keep an live by, and which ones will get priority over others. In this exercise identify your values first. Write them down in a list. And then rank your top five. Simple, yes? I'll provide a list of values below.

Being with people.
Being loved.
Being married.
Having a special partner.
Having companionship. 
Loving someone.
Taking care of others.
Having someone to help.
Having a close family.
Having good friends.
Being liked.
Being popular.
Getting peoples approval. 
Being appreciated. 
Being treated fairly. 
Being admired. 
Being independent. 
Being courageous.
Having things under control. 
Having self-control. 
Being emotionally stable. 
Having self acceptance. 
Having pride or dignity. 
Being well organized. 
Being competent. 
Learning and knowing a lot. 
Achieving highly
Being productively busy. 
Having enjoyable work. 
Having an important position. 
Making money.
Striving for perfection. 
Making a contribution to the world. 
Fighting injustice. 
Living ethically. 
Being a good parent or child. 
Being a spiritual person. 
Having a relationship with God. 
Having peace and quiet. 
Making a home. 
Preserving your roots. 
Having financial security. 
Holding on to what you have. 
Being safe physically.
Being free from pain. 
Not getting taken advantage of. 
Having it easy. 
Being comfortable.
Avoiding boredom.
Having fun.
Enjoying sensual pleasures.
Looking good. 
Being physically fit.
Being healthy. 
Having prized possessions. 
Being a creative person.
Having deep feelings.
Growing as a person.
Living fully.
"Smelling the flowers"
Having a purpose.

Doing this type of exploration can be intimidating. But it also can be so gratifying! It helps us understand ourselves. Helps us understand our opinions and our passions! So I challenge you to engage in this exercise with me. So many of us have heard people say, "I know you better than you know yourself!" Should that ever be true?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

My Soil Made Me Do It!!

     So I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the question of why people do the things they do. Why people make the choices they make.  I say "lately" but in reality, I've been thinking about that question for years!  In fact, it's what lead me to the field of psychology.  Growing up in the type of environment that I grew up in (North St. Louis, inner-city) I often found myself looking at the choices all too many people around me were making and asking, "Why are they doing that?" "Why do they think the way that they think?"  Back then I found few satisfying answers. Of course I heard all of the "conventional wisdom" (read that as "common sense" and you all know what I think of that!) which stated that we do what we do because it's what our parents taught us, or because it's just natural. Well, considering some of the behaviors I saw in my neighborhood, I am pretty damned sure that the parents weren't teaching that! At least not for the most part. And not on purpose. But I didn't have the answers. Not yet. 
     I started out by writing that I've been thinking about this question a lot recently. And I have. Though the questions haven't changed, I do have more resources, knowledge, and experience to tap in my journey to discover the answers.  As a psychologist, I have been trained to look for answers by engaging in critical thinking to develop the questions; and then to employ the scientific method to discover the answers. That method of inquiry and discovery has brought me a long way.  However, I've still found myself wanting answers that I simply have not found.  A couple of years ago, while doing course prep for my Abnormal Behavior course, I was at the point where I was preparing my lecture about why we study abnormal behavior and I had the thought that we study this so that we can explore why people function the way that they function or fail to function the way that they fail to function. And we do this with the goal of discovering what makes us function well.  It was then that it hit me. I am still asking the same questions that I was asking growing up in North St. Louis!  Seriously!?!  Picture a 12-year-old, poor, inner-city kid who was exposed to all of the things that go along with the stereotype of the inner-city (and probably much more) and who was often concerned about where his next meal would come from.  Now picture an upper-middle class Ph.D. This guy is a college professor and teaches at a well-respected private university. He recently had a home built in a suburb that he and his wife selected because of the outstanding quality of the school district. Hold the pictures of those two people in your mind. Now ask yourself if you think that when each of them is sitting alone in a quiet place, thinking about the questions that drive them, are they contemplating the exact same questions?  
     These two are both me. And yes, the questions have remained. But I have come to understand more as I open myself up to new ways of understanding.  I have come to understand that everything that I have experienced; everything that I have learned; every person that I've encountered; every church service I've attended; every pearl of wisdom dropped by my father, my reverend or my priest, my boxing coach, my theater coaches, or the guy who always hung outside the liquor store hoping for a quarter towards his next 40-oz; every book I've read; every political speech I've listened to; every story that I've heard that lifted my spirits or broke my heart; they have all had an indelible effect on who I am and how I respond to my world. They are all a part of my soil. The soil that I've been cultivated in. It's interesting to me that when I talk to someone about their soil, the first thing they tell me is, "Oh, my parents were _______ (fill in the blank: Irish, Germany, Chinese, Honduran, etc.) and they want to talk about their family tree. That is fine, but only in so much as that tree is a part of your soil. And only a part. If you really want to understand why you think the way you think and behave the way you behave, you must begin by exploring the soil that you've been cultivated in. Once we begin to understand that, we will come to know ourselves more fully. Happy digging!