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!

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