Thursday, June 7, 2007

Problems with Blank Slate Thinking

As I watch the news, read about proposed legislation and hear people voice strong beliefs that they know the answers to the problems of society I am amused at such naivete'.

In 2003 Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard, published, "The Blank Slate", The Modern Denial of Human Nature". (Google: The Blank Slate, click on the link for a worthwhile and articulate review of that work.) Understanding it will help the reader resist one size fits all approaches to governing. Yes, this is more Nature vs. Nurture stuff, and it is important.

For example: it's my nature to be drawn toward ideas, trusting my intuition, needing few facts to back it up. I want to introduce an idea to others, convince them to accept it and implement it. It's also in my nature to be impatient with, and frustrated by, those who want more information, either to validate the idea or be sure that it's worth changing the way things are done. The secular seven last words are, "We've never done it that way before".

What I have just written is a partial profile of my type, how I prefer to go about paying attention to what's going on around me, and how I prefer to make decisions about that which I've perceived. It's my nature. Since I've been fortunate enough to have that nature supported and encouraged by my parents, older sibling, teachers and others in positions of authority, I found a comfortable place in society to make the kinds of contributions which require those preferences.

C. G. Jung, psychiatrist and theoretical psychologist,whose major contributions came in the first half of the 20th century, published, among his vast written works, what has become known as his Cognitive Theory of Personality(Bollingen Series, Collected Works,Volume Six, Psychological Type). The mother/daughter team, Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers, studied his ideas and developed a way to make them useful to society. The Myers/Briggs Type Indicator(MBTI) has become the gold standard of personality assessment instruments in the world of human resource professionals.

My interest began when I stumbled across it during a very stressful time in life. As fate would have it I found a new career in teaching and coaching those whose careers had been interrupted by downsizings, rightsizings, and other euphemisms invented by employers who decided to jettison employees in the interest of making more money and impressing the stock market.

As a career coach, I have helped people understand how their natural nature should be acknowledged as important to decisions they make about their professional and personal lives. Over and over again, for 18 years and more than a thousand clients, I have observed the importance of this.

So, what's the problem?

There seems to exist in society a denial of human nature, and an assumption that individuals come into life a blank slate. This often comes about from sheer ignorance, and/or suspicion, of theoretical propositions. Based on ongoing analyses by organizations like The Association for Psychological Type, the frequencies of preferences are not equally distributed in society. (Specific data is available). Suffice it to say that a majority of individuals prefer paying most of their attention to what the facts, as revealed by the five physical senses, tell them. Since they are comfortable with this use of the mind, they develop it and use it well. The so-called sixth sense, intuition, is not as comfortable, and thus is not developed or used well. In fact theoretical and abstract ideas are often viewed with suspicion.

A minority of individuals prefer using their intuition and are drawn to the abstract and theoretical. They develop it more than the other senses, become good at it and make their contributions in fields and positions which call for it. Of course these folks have the same five senses as everyone, but they can be easily bored by them, and feel limited when they cannot go beyond what the senses tell them. Often they quickly see a new way to look at the facts, sometimes inventing brand new ways of seeing and doing things.

There are many publications which deal with this. My favorites include: "Please Understand Me", "Gifts Differing", and "Do What You Are".

Bringing this back to my reasons for the posting, I am troubled that there is a disconnect between those we elect and those of us who elect them. My specific concern is that those we consider for important positions have little, if any, understanding of, let alone appreciation for, the idea, now a proven reality, that their constituents cannot and should not be viewed as being of one mind, type or temperament.

Enlightened teachers know that all students do not learn, are not at their best, with the same approach. Most, 75%, respond well and prefer a factual approach, some, 25%, prefer a theoretical approach. This complicates life for teachers. Like left and right handedness, neither is better, one is more comfortable, and the preference is not equally distributed in the population. It follows that the more favored preference has a stronger influence on cultural acceptance.

For one who hopes to lead, it complicates the message of their campaign, one designed to appeal to all. One problem is that individuals of different temperaments or types can use common terms, but which can be interpreted to mean different things. For example, take the word "authority". Many will associate that word with someone in a position of authority. But others will associate it with a person who is an authority on something.

The more we come to acknowledge and think of ourselves as a global community, the more we need to pay attention to the differences in how individuals and cultures perceive their world. Personality preferences, along with cultural preferences, should be considered as strong influences on how different people behave and respond to events around them.

People tire of hearing about the old, but still relevant, Nature versus Nurture argument. But as long as most continue the view that we all come into life a blank slate, those in positions of authority are not as likely to be questioned in sufficient depth about proposing regulations and making law, let alone diplomacy or war.


Lighthouse Keeper


Anonymous said...

This is a test for Frank

Anonymous said...

a second test for Frank

Anonymous said...

testing a third time, this time showing a simulated signature.


Anonymous said...

This is a test by Frank

Site Meter