The Role of Trust In Relationships

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*Note* Psychology, philosophy, economics, systems theory, etc. each have their own specific emphasis on the idea of trust. This outline loosely uses the social science lens, which deals with the position and role of trust in social systems. In other words, how trust affects human social relationships.

The Role of Trust In Relationships:

There’s no doubt that trust plays a crucial role in relationships. Trust, ranging from a completely broken trust to total trust is at the center of what defines social relationships. Businesses work hard to cultivate real and perceived trust. Their livelihood depends on trust, as do all relationships. Social relationships at all levels use the currency of trust to define the nature of relationships. Broken trusts are the cornerstone of high stress, warring, avoidance, and failed relationships while confident trust can cultivate a profound depth in the relationship bond that could be characterized as oneness -a trust that no longer needs to apply energy to question, but is sustained on the virtue of each party looking for the others needs and actively seeking to meet them.

It’s difficult to construct a accurate spectrum of trust for a number of reasons. One of these is the fact that there is a sender and a receiver as well as a perception and a reality in social settings. These do not always align. This confused mixture is a fertile ground for misplaced trust either toward too much or too little. Some are skilled at cultivating the appearance of trust or creating a sense of obligation to trust rather than the activities that produce a well founded reality that warrants trust. Depending on the effectiveness of the deceit, this false image can result in many a parasitic and predatory behavior that echoes long past the initial betrayal. We can develop suspicions due to past experiences that we project falsely into current or future situations. This can cause an inability to trust which in turn can cause other issues such as the pain of self inflicted social isolation. The bottom line, trust is a complicated climate that would take quite a bit of effort to unpack. This work only deals with a useful model of understanding in general how various levels of trust impacts relationships.

This model uses four levels of trust to present a picture of the lowest to the highest form. They are as follows: Deterrence, Calculated, Knowledge based and identity trust.

Trust in deterrence is the lowest level of trust. It is a deterrence based trust. It depends the credible threat of force and or punishment if something expected in not done. Slaves that fear being whipped as motivation for working is an example. People who obey the laws aligned with cultivating social order out of fear of the consequence rather than a commitment to that social order have a deterrent based trust. The fact that there is another way of relating to such laws is irrelevant. The individual or group sets the tone for how behaviors are motivated. If belief in consequence is the motivator that compels behavior, there is no commitment, there is only compliance. Deterrent based

Calculated Trust is based in projections and promises along with perhaps some facts such as reputation. It is a decision to engage in relationship based on a cost/benefit analysis, weighing the potential benefit of creating and sustaining the relationship against the projected cost. Generally, both parties are looking for some gain which the proposed partnership could yield, but deterrence is still a factor. If at any time if the cost is perceived as outweighing the benefit, the relationship is terminated. In this case, the party that perceives the harm must also be willing to follow through on severing otherwise the relationship shifts from trust to abuse. Engaging in a optional business relationship is an example of calculated trust. A partnership forged on mutual needs like the that found in danger situations, mountain climbing or certain critical business partnerships. Generally speaking calculated trust relationships can be fertile soil for higher trust in relationships to grow from.

Knowledge Trust can emerge out of calculation based trust once enough information from experience emerges. Predictability comes from a relationship over time. If that is seen to be of advantage, knowledge-based trust emerges. Control in the form of threats of deterrence diminish as more authentic trust bonds emerge. Less energy is applied to verification and more is applied to accelerating the potential that comes from sharing each others’ strengths. TIN is the range within the spectrum of trust relationships where the relational emphasis can shift from compliance to commitment. Both parties can begin to apply their full energies toward take advantage of each others strengths. This is where the full potential of emergent value can arise. (Where one party brings line, the other brings hooks ,so both can now fish.) Emergent values are those where the outcome is more than the sum of its parts.

Identification Trust happens when the relationship is fully committed – where both parties understand and fully endorse one another. Each acts as an agent for the others’ interests in a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. Identification Trust relationships are demonstrated by autonomous committed behaviors carried out by all parties. No one has to ask necessarily, each party inquires about the others needs and responds by actively seeking to meet them. The relationship is no longer based on promises, it is a fully realized intimacy. At this stage, if one party is hurt, the other feels the pain. Secrets evaporate in this climate because they are no longer necessary as a means of protection. The boundaries between the parties disappear as all parties assume a common identity. Co-location, joint development of products and services, shared vision, values, goals and the like are possible in this high trust climate. Compliance based on elements of deterrence disappear and full commitment defines the relationship.

In Summary:

The lowest form of trust is deterrence. Relationships based on deterrence are motivated by the fear of punishment for non compliance. Next up is relationships based on calculation. These use a cost-benefit analysis with a deterrence factor where the relationship will break down if the benefit is not realized. Next is relationships based on knowledge. These emerge from a calculated relationship once enough information from experience emerges. Knowledge is where the relational emphasis can shift from compliance to commitment. Both parties can begin to apply their full energies toward take advantage of each others strengths. Relationships based on identification happens when the relationship is fully committed – where both parties act as agents for the others’ interests. No one has to ask, each party is interested in the others needs and actively seeks to meet them.

What are your relationships based on? Do you think you have a realistic view of the trust you should place? Are you authentic? How does integrity play in a field where there are well skilled posers? What do you think we can do to improve the climate of trust? What impact do you think this would this have on the world?

The Value of Emotional Bladder Control

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Can we choose our emotions? What, if any degree of mastery can we establish over what we feel? How would that change our life and society if we were more frequently able to calibrate our emotions so that the played constructive roles rather than governed behaviors such as overreactions and escalating cycles of disproportionate responses? Why is it we clearly see the value of encouraging people to practice things like – how to pronounce words, play an instrument, and so on as part of the learning process, but we rarely, if ever, focus on teaching the skill sets to get a cognitive grip on our emotional state? In fact, we live in a reactionary society that punishes a the behavioral results of a lack of emotional control at the same time we do little to prevent these situations from arising in the first place.

Emotions are like the bladder. We can learn a measure of control when and where we express them. Of course no measure of discipline can overwhelm the ultimate physics of the situation, but the point is, we have established social norms and the corresponding physical disciplines so that we as a society, don’t piss willy-nilly at the drop of a hat. Further; we have not given the same level of attention to the destructive consequences the result from the loss of emotional bladder control.

While there are some generally vague social cues that signal what emotions are appropriate for what situation; largely speaking, the way we typically mediate emotional expression is crude an ineffective as a foundation for crafting an intentional life and a more nourishing social behavioral profile. The crux of this is the idea that if we were to craft the disciplines of emotional control and implement them sufficiently across our social landscape, we would then have much more capacity to respond constructively to situations, or at least minimize the damage that happens in the wake of emotions gone wild.

This observation is not meant to suggest that developing and implementing these techniques would usher in some utopian hug fest, nor is it meant to imply that this is the only way to address the issue. Obvious circumstances exist where we know certain segments of society are, in effect, emotional pressure cookers that are fertile fields for preventative actions, rather than developing the social structures to mitigate the aftermath of that neglect to prevent. This is meant as a pointer to significant missed opportunity for something so easily identifiable and potentially powerful as a means of forming stronger bonds of social unity among us.

We humans have precious little capacity to use logic and sound reason as a steering mechanism to guide our lives. We must leverage our meager capacity to the fullest if we are to have any realistic hope to cope with the age we live in, where we can do so much more with so much less both constructively and destructively. As it stands, our capacity to apply theory breaks down the moment our emotional hackles are raised and we transform into wild eyed banshees dipping our fangs and claws into each others flesh that would be better handled with appropriately measured responses.

We leave many scorched earth relationship landscapes in the wake of our lack of emotional bladder control. These might otherwise be avoided if those of us concerned with crafting a more constructive social landscape were focused on developing the techniques for, raising awareness of, and implementing the skills to spread the notion and the discipline of the value of situational emotional calibration – so that we are less likely to be subject to the damaging aftermath of breaking out the cannon to swat the fly.

How Technology Affects Human Society

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An article July 27th 2015 in the Indiana Times identified a factory in China that is automated to the point where all the processes are operated by computer-controlled robots, numerical control machining equipment, unmanned transport trucks and automated warehouse equipment. This sparks the question; How are we going to value human contributions once machines are able to perform all the tasks? Are we ready to face these transformative issues that are on our near term horizon as a species?

Technology,Social,Cultural Impact,Economics,Future,Wisdom of Crowds,Social Systems,automated warehouse,automated,futurist,Automation (Industry),Society (Quotation Subject)

A Creative and Meaningful Life

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The relational model on which life is built is that of the seed. The collection of relationships that define each variety of life is carried through the seed to the next generations. Anything novel added to that collection of relationships that also adds value in terms of successfully relating to the larger environment, is replicated. Over time, only those things that offer sustained value are retained. Novel elements of relationship that enter the biological community but do not offer sustained value eventually fade to extinction.

If we define “creative” as something new and useful; something that enables some valuable behavior, insight, experience etc. that was not previously possible, we can then use this working definition to see biology as a mechanism for the capture, acquisition and preservation of creativity.

The relationships that define biology, as it stands today, are a living chronicle of the collected acts of adaptive creativity between biological entities and the shifting tides of the environment. Some of the values of these relationships are emerging, some fading, but together these valuable relationship entities are being preserved by virtue of the value they offer in the context of the entire community of relationships in which they reside. This is the recipe for a meaningful life: It is to add value in the context of community – to cultivate some valuable behavior, insight or experience and give it away to the whole community of life. To sow those lasting seeds.

The message communicated through this structure of life tells us that what we cultivate is of value when it offers strength to the whole of the community of life. It is the principle of the seed – that we can count the actions we take to contribute to life, but we cannot count the life in our actions if they offer something of lasting value. What we give to each other is the only thing that has the possibility of retaining lasting value. Everything we try to keep to and for ourselves alone is lost.

Our Hunger for Novelty

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We get bored with the same thing after a period of time because the novelty wears off. Hedonic adaptation is the term used to describe how things decrease in their ability to stimulate us over time. A strategy for a satisfied life must include being stimulated with a certain amount of novelty in order to be satisfied. Without, it the core of our sense of satisfaction begins to fade and trouble can arise out of that dissatisfaction.

Some of us are not socialized in such a way that we understand and behave in ways that satisfy our hunger for stimulation constructively. We may crave novelty but not recognize how to respond constructively to that hunger. We might expect others to stimulate us and blame and be disappointed in them when they do not feed our need for stimulation. Some of us destructively attempt to satisfy it by clawing at the fabric of our social environment – perhaps causing drama or reacting to drama. (which is basically the tic and tock of the same drama clock) Still others of us may risk danger and or lifestyle stability just because we’re bored and don’t recognize how to feed our innate need for stimulation.

We can also get caught in a destructive spiral of demands for increasing need for stimulation. Addiction is one form of an over stimulation spiral where an increasing spiral of hunger for stimulation can hijack our capacity to function. In these cases our lives become unstable and spin out of control. If we condense too much rapid change (novelty) into our routine we eventually may be unable to satisfy our own hunger for stimulation and cause a corresponding chaos and depression. The bottom line: It’s important to have a routine, but it’s also important to break it once in a while.

The Echoes of Trauma

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There are many “ifs” that contribute to determining what kind of life we’ll have. Assuming a baseline of physical health; if we’re raised in a social environment that is nurturing; – if we have role models that demonstrate how to deal effectively and constructively with stress; – if we have caretakers that nurture and model nourishing social behaviors toward oneself and others; – if the native talents we have are cultivated and directed toward contributing something of nourishing value in the context of the larger community; – and if we experience a fair amount of stability in our environment; then we have a fair shot at a positive and fulfilling life.

Our brain is a social organ that tunes our local biological functions to deal with the particulars of the environment it perceives it’s going to exist in. Our body builds its notion of “environment” from external signals. Particularly significant are the environmental cues we receive in the womb, at birth, and in the early formative years of life and later in adolescence. Not all of us get dealt a hand that inclines us to a high probability for success.

The perfect developmental environment is rare. The fact is, some of us are reared in an atmosphere laced with trauma and part of our developmental equipment is a biological profile that is inclined to have a well developed response to trauma. Fear is the primary response and the “fight or flight” behaviors that flow from fear shape our experience of life.

Trauma can be classified into two broad categories as situational or generational. There are also two types of intensite; single blow trauma (an acute sharp short duration type) and repeated trauma (a prolonged and repeated type):

Situational trauma stems from circumstances beyond control that either erode or explosively destroy the expectation of stability and/or manageable circumstances in life. Situational trauma can be acute or chronic in nature. Acute examples are things like a random shooting, a car accident, a house fire or a sudden death. Chronic situations can be a protracted health decline, a livelihood in jeopardy or other long term stressors.

Once trauma depletes or destroys of our sense of security, our body learns to replace the calm confidence we need to cultivate nourishing social bonds with fear. We develop defensive and protective behaviors that take many forms to compensate for the fear. Our reality becomes more reactive and stressed as a result. Our reaction to trauma can spiral into a self reinforcing prison of defensive and/or aggressive behavior cycles that trap us in a circle of stress.

Sometimes situational trauma is both acute and chronic like an accident with long term consequences. It can also be any number of life circumstances which influence our biology to divert large amounts of energy to protection and defense. In other words, our lives can be defined by overreaction to what is actually going on in the moment so we never get to live in the moment – we never get to simply smell the roses or enjoy a sunset because we are on edge. Trauma rewires our brain on a fundamental level. This rewiring can significantly change the face of what we experience for the rest of our lives.

Generational trauma is trauma of the institutional kind; it is a social tradition built of micro and macro traumas woven into the fabric of everyday social experience. Wars or severe environmental hardships can be the original source, but the response behaviors have become institutionalized as part of the culture. Because of our social nature, trauma can become a contagious way of life rooted in the social structures of families and communities. This generational and communal kind of trauma often takes the form of abuse, passive and active aggression, relational instability, destructive forms of acting out, addictions, toxic over protection, distortions of reality as a hiding place and magical thinking, hoarding, destructive enabling and relationships defined by broken promises that are embedded in the social climate.

Trauma shapes our view of the world. It may be that the notion of individual property rights arose as a defense out of historic traumas such as famines and the need to hoard in order to survive harsh winters, droughts, ice ages and the like. The common thread about culturally instilled trauma is that the social environment communicates clearly that nothing is certain – that abundance and stability are illusions and nothing can be counted on unless some extreme measures are taken. A harsh edge can develop in a person or culture that suffers trauma.

In our early years our brains attempt to assess and prepare us for the social landscape we will need to eek out a living. If our brain sees a climate of abuse and betrayal, it wires itself to live and function in that kind of environment. Toxic social settings of all kinds can damage and destroy the potential we have to negotiate our adult social environments in nourishing and effective ways. They can trap us beneath the threshold of our full potential. There is also a preservation effect as we project and perpetuate what we expect from reality onto our social landscape. We can become trapped in world where our vision is limited by our own prejudices. This can induce cycles of stress that not only come from external sources, but that we learn to cultivate ourselves.

The plain reality is; not all of us get what we need to realize a fulfilling and satisfied life. We may know people who walk upright and seemingly function in the adult world, wielding adult responsibilities, yet possessing the emotional frailty, nearsightedness, temperament, and crude self centered social skills of children. These are the descendants of trauma: People who live and cultivate circumstances characterized by defense and aggression on a regular basis. We can be structured to unknowingly reject anything that could bring stability to our lives so that our body can be prepared for the chaos we project on our future. We might reject those capable of loving us and are instead attracted to those that will reject us. The fact that this kind of behavior often brings the chaos we fear goes unnoticed. Instead the chaos we induce is seen as proof that our fears were founded. Our reality can become increasingly reactive perpetuating the trauma.

Trauma can wire us to live a life frozen in a state of stress. We may change the superficial paint job, but the emotional cycle repeats. Strings of failed relationships, addictions or destructive attachments to people and behaviors that destroy intimacy and stability become the norm. We simultaneously pass along our particular brand of reality and behavioral coping mechanisms to those unfortunate enough to come within our toxic sphere of influence. In effect; we unwittingly become the very toxin that once damaged or destroyed us.

Our biology is geared to deal with fear in specific ways. One common understanding of stress behavior is called the fight or flight response. This is when we instinctively avoid or confront fearful situations. Another lesser known strategy is called the “Tend-and-Befriend” response. This involves responding to fear by cultivating a protective social layer. This tend and befriend response is arguably another form of defensive flight.1 In all cases, we respond by either defensive or offensive behaviors. We might also blend these strategies bouncing between fight and flight or combining the two, but the foundation of stress responses are centered on fight and flight.

Trauma can lead to things like behavioral addictions and a wide variety of autoimmune diseases like arthritis, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and so on. A host of mental disorders like PTSD, anxiety and panic disorder are also part of the realm of possibilities. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is yet another party favorite of unresolved trauma. With an uncontrollable compulsive focus on things that do not resolve, but avoid the trauma, OCD is a classic avoidance (flight) technique.

Eating disorders are another common part of the behavioral repertoire of unresolved trauma. Cycles of conflict are also common to sufferers of unresolved trauma as is the practice of developing relationships based on an unhealthy demand for protection. Hoarding and becoming emotionally dependent on people or groups as protectors is sometimes seen. Conflict, avoidance or tend-befriend behaviors are a common thread that runs through the behavior and experience profile of unresolved trauma sufferers.

The fight response is often expressed through a compulsion to have excessive control over others, hyper competitive personalities, narcissism, hyper-dominance, or an inordinate drive to control in any other form as a means of cultivating the illusion that we’re in control is a fight response. Fighters often attract “flighters” (tend and befriend is a form of flight). The fact that our compulsions are in control often goes unnoticed by us. Response to trauma acts as a seed that produces more traumas.

The work it takes to rewire our brains to effectively deal with reality on reality’s terms is not easy. It is also not something a sane person would recommend we attempt to undertake ourselves if we have experienced life altering trauma. It is also unwise to attempt to get help from someone who shares the same pain. Unless an individual has experienced a resolution and is living a stable life, they are not fit to be healers even though they are often enlisted by trauma sufferers.

The potential for remedy does however start with a recognition within us that there is a problem. This recognition is the starting place. If we examine the relationship landscape of our lives and see repeating patterns of stress and out of control situations, or the erosion of relationships and activities that are necessary to sustain our life, this is a sign we need help to work through these residual echoes of trauma. As has been said in many ways; “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

The echoes of trauma are not typically something we can think our way out of. Remember; trauma rewires our brain to relive stress. Our brain becomes seasonally habituated to produce the chemicals that drive the defensive and aggressive behaviors associated with fear. Establishing the discipline to act our way out of trauma with behavioral and environmental changes is very difficult without outside help, and arguably it is also unnecessary. There are people well trained to guide others out of the prison trauma can lock us in.

Words can help us recognize, but they cannot typically bring resolution to trauma. We are not human knowings, we are human beings, and being is what needs to be re-sculpted to bring a resolution to self defeating behavioral drives that arises out of the soil of fear. Resolution takes action. The help of an experienced guide to deal with the real situation is essential because the echoes of unresolved trauma will reverberate for a lifetime as well as spread.2 The alternative to dealing with embedded fear is to relive the trauma over and over.

Here are some useful articles on dealing with the aftermath of trauma:

References:

2Here is some additional information on how trauma rewires our brain.

http://soundmedicine.org/post/childhood-trauma-leads-brains-wired-fear

The Nature of Concentration And Creativity

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Most of the work our brains do is involved in the task of shutting out distractions. It takes energy to crowd out distractions in order to focus on a narrow band of things. This exclusion process performed by the brain is the very nature of what we call focus and concentration. When we get tired, we run out of energy to keep shutting other things out so we lose focus. This loss of focus is also why most creative and inspired moments happen when we’re tired. For many of us, being tired is the only time we get to see the bigger picture.

It is important to afford ourselves some time to wander the streams of consciousness.

Happiness is Inside-Out

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The whole world starts the lens through which we see it. Charles Swindoll once said; “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.” Some of us look for happiness on the outside, some expectation we overlay on our world. While the outside is of some consequence, it it the inside that shapes most of what we see and experience. The same way a seedling must first develop in the darkness of the soil before developing the strength to show itself to the rest of the world, the soil from which our public identity emerges largely determines what we experience. Happiness is an inside-out journey.

The Origins of Faith

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We are a species extremely well endowed with the capacity for faith. Faith is defined here as believing without necessary and sufficient evidence to hinge a particular position to reality. Instead of objective evidence, faith is supported with things like authority, popularity, wishful thinking, charisma, trust and force. Faith is sometimes a blend of reality and these other things, but the portion that is faith is defined here as the portion that is unhinged from objective reality. Along with the ability to dribble abstractions out of our face and other appendages to describe what’s real, we also use these abstractions to craft images that aren’t real, or that are so distorted they barely have a toehold in reality.

Even greater than our ability to craft unhinged ideas, we’re able to believe them with ease depending on circumstance. We may have the illusion that our senses produce a fairly accurate rendering of reality, but far more of our biological wiring is dedicated to produce a “useful” image than is dedicated to produce an accurate one. Accuracy is a surprisingly expendable commodity in the human biological framework.

Adelson-Checkershadow-Illusion01To illustrate the useful rendering factor of our biology we can look at this image; square “A” and square “B” are identical in color, but our brain renders square “B” lighter in color. Our brain doesn’t render things as they are, it interprets information and conjures up what it thinks will be useful for us to navigate. Our senses are notorious among those that study them closely for filling in the gaps. Accuracy is not a priority, useful is the priority. The fact that our brain renders useful, and not accurate, images has profound implications when it comes to what we can reliably believe with certainty. This is especially true when we consider how socially useful it is to believe the things our in-group does. It is also significant when we consider the social currency we gain from the ability to be influential in getting social traction for our own notions in the social economy.

Adelson-Checkershadow-Illusion03This “useful over accuracy” aspect of our biological senses is not confined to the relationship we have between the internal and external world. It is also true of the relationship we have within ourselves. For most of us, accuracy is a shadowy afterthought even when it comes to understanding ourselves or at best, a hard fought and tenuous discipline that requires extreme vigilance.

Faith can be seen as a one of the “useful” renderings of the mind. Faith and subjectivity are far more powerful players in the global social economy than is objectivity. Although we have many a trinket produced by technologies that are inseparably grounded in reality, faith still dominates our everyday lives. Most humans believe some set of ideas with no empirical grounding. One common faith based belief is that we are separate from the rest of biology, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Somehow we see ourselves as far superior. We support our superior notions with various abstract special endowment qualifiers such as we are of divine origins, or use our capacity for symbolic language as a means of generating distance between us and the rest of biology. The bottom line is our conversation with the unknown is a fertile spawning ground for magical thinking.

Maybe it’s a cosmic irony that the most essential questions about life are also the most elusive to answer with tangible evidence, but here we are, mining the dark for illumination. “Why are we here? Why do we die? Do we have a purpose, and if so, what is it?” As questions like these come into focus, we attempt to put some structure on them. So far what we’ve been able to extract from beyond the horizon of our senses are various flavors of abstract bubblegum – wordy wads we can chew on and blow a few abstract bubbles with, but that lose their flavor when exposed to the direct light of reality. The fact that reality doesn’t agree with and/or support our ideas doesn’t seem to deter us from believing them. A few of us attempt to brave the unknown using what’s real as the measure of truth, but globally speaking, our most common relationship with the unknown is to sacrifice the darkness on the alter of false certainty.

Our penchant for faith could be a quirk of evolution formed on a backbone of contradictory needs; one being able to respond rapidly and the other to gain the advantages that careful rational thought has to offer. This internal competition between the reactionary and the carefully considered may have set us up for a shadowy relationship with ourselves. This could have been the spawning bed for our love affair with the mystical.1

Any exploration we attempt on the parts of ourselves that defy analytic dissection would naturally bring about a litany of guesses. There is an inverse relationship between the level of rational insight we are capable of using and the perceived level of urgency with which we see a given situation. The more urgent we perceive a situation, the less useful the higher functions of our brain. Higher functions essentially shut down or are significantly diminished when we are under perceived threat.

Perhaps the more recent arrival on our biological scene of rational thought means this system is as yet undeveloped, therefore gets easily swamped by emotion. It may also be that the slower speed of our rational capacities is the reason they’re so easily overwhelmed by the older, more quickfire and far more established portions of our biology.2 It could be that our slower functions cannot grasp the chaotic rapidity with which our reactionary functions operate. Like the particle trying to understand the wave, we cannot know the position and the velocity at the same time so we are left with generalized pointers and probabilities.

We’re also biologically equipped to focus on novel events. When we face novel things we’re triggered into a heightened state of awareness. It’s not difficult to see the survival value of this, but this heightened state is not a fertile environment for processing new things using our thin and questionable capacities for critical thought.

When we are young, we are highly plastic. The need to adapt to new environmental conditions specific to us is thought to be the foundation of this early developmental plasticity. The same way a fight or flight situation diverts energies away from immediately unnecessary functions to the ones that serve our urgent needs, we adapt to the perceived relationship climate during our developmental stage. If the environment is stressed, our biological faculties will be more inclined to be reactionary. As we age, in mass the generation takes hold of the social narrative and uses the established channels to react. The general aversion older adults have to the new could explain the mechanism by which traditional ideas and rituals are preserved. Because that segment of the population operated the controls, perhaps it strives to maintain relevance. This can also cause a situation where the ante to get in the game is to lay claim to observing the status quo.

No matter the cause, we use faith to defend against the fear that comes with dawning awareness. Faith stands in when evidence is lacking, or is inconveniently destructive of what we’re emotionally invested in. We may find the idea of expiring into nothingness upon death unbearable, so we invent abstractions as a coping mechanism. Our compulsive tendency to explain the inexplicable overwhelms our capacity to be rational. The irony is that the things we use to defend ourselves may become the enemy of clear vision. We become emotionally attached to ideas that we then defend as we would any other part of our person.

Perhaps the faith based ideas that crop up from the soils of the unknown initially caught on as a means to reassure our young somewhere back in time. Children by nature are profoundly inquisitive. Parents are inclined to give them some kind of grounding so they can function in the world. Quenching fears would be one of the priorities. Couple this parenting drive with a dim awareness of cause and effect and we can see how comforting lies and misperceptions could eventually morph into widely accepted and largely unquestioned facts.

The way ideas take root in both individuals and cultures is like the campfire that crosses a threshold from unviable without direct support to one increasingly hungry for fuel. It can be difficult for an idea to catch on, but once it does, we tend to embrace and spread it. After it’s well established it becomes part of the social currency. We generally accept the ideas we are bathed in from youth as fact. If threatened, our ideological identity is social flesh, we protect and defend it as we would our body. Tradition is only one of the ways false ideas are transmitted and perpetuated; authority, popularity, among other social pressures are mechanisms that propagate and perpetuate myths.

An “availability cascade”3 is a social phenomena where a self-reinforcing communication loop causes certain kinds of collective beliefs to take root in a culture. When an idea is expressed simply and seems to explain something complex, it rapidly gains social momentum. The more popular, the more it generates a feedback loop of further spreading and acceptance within a culture. After it reaches critical social mass, people adopt it because other people have already adopted it.

The reason it spreads is due to a combination of its unique nature and new found popularity. We are genetically prone to pay attention to new or unusual things. We are also prone to do things to fit in with our group. Availability cascades cause widespread acceptance of ideas regardless of whether the people in fact fully believe in the idea they now express. The need for social acceptance overwhelms our critical thinking capacities.

It’s possible we cling to unfounded ideas out of a need for axioms by which to navigate. We act on ideas we believe are true, not necessarily those that are true. This can make the skill of persuasion an extremely valuable social currency. As a result we may have developed the skill to deceive a means of protection or establishing an elevated more secure place in the world.

If our goal is to avoid the hazards that arise when we drive blind through life we might want explore why we feel so compelled to fill in the gaps in our awareness. We might also want to explore what weakness in our sensory faculties enables us to so readily confuse words with reality?

We are tickled by the unknown, unable to stop responding unless we do something to scratch the itch. Maybe comforting delusions provide protection from primal fears that would otherwise distract and cripple us. Once we’ve established illusory control with our words we seem to feel better. In the absence of evidence, we build mental castles fortified with abstractions to maintain our sense of safety and right.

Another function of abstractions in human culture is that they serve as a means of persuasion. Social construction is a phrase used to describe how people are grouped into categories using the language a culture uses to communicate. This categorization trait of linguistics has an enormous impact on lives and relationships of the people within a culture. While classifications can be descriptive of existing realities, they can also have a prescriptive power when fueled by faith. We use language to describe reality, but we also use it to prescribe it. The more people believe in and evangelize a particular stereotype categorization, the more influence it has to shape attitudes and behaviors within a culture. Social constructs can do things like confer artificial privilege to certain segments of a population while oppressing others, all powered by faith in the ideas.

Learned helplessness and false entitlement alike can emerge as social constructs in a culture. Once established, the faith process can sustain itself without the participants being aware of the drivers undergirding their experience. This can lead to something called “pluralistic ignorance” where a majority of group members may privately reject a particular view, but they incorrectly assume that most others accept it, so they go along with it.

While physical wealth might be measured by the amount of resources within the control of individuals or groups, social wealth can be measured in terms of the capacity of individuals or groups to influence the culture. The two are often intertwined, but like length and width are to the area of a rectangle, one cannot exist without the other. There is a largely unspoken social contract based on faith that keeps notions like property and class in vogue.

Character could be measured by the nature of what we spread with our capacity to influence. Money is social construct as is the concept of leaders. Leaders, without the currency of social influence are nonexistent. Social constructs may not be strictly the domain of faith because we could objectively describe the real world implications, but this impact is built on a foundation of faith.

One of the more serious downsides of embracing ideas unhinged from reality is their stagnating effect on developing greater awareness. If we operate with the belief that we’ve arrived at the truth, it comes with a side dish of “no reason to explore further”. The illusion of a complete view of reality can be rendered by virtue of the vision limiting capacity of an ignorant perspective. We can be unknowingly locked in a prison of self induced self perpetuated ignorance.4 Our current beliefs can act as projector onto reality rather than a lens through which to see it clearly. As a result, many, if not all of us live in a world of our own making, blind to the one that is.

Cultures and persons with ideological positions that are significantly detached from the fairly glaring realities of everyday life also tend to be the ones that produce more elaborate webs of ritual display. Maybe the fact that faith based ideas have such a tenuous hold on reality is the self same reason they must be elevated from mundane to sacred – to protect them with shrill emotions from the jaws of reality which would otherwise devour them. Elaborate ritual display is also related to how much a particular ideology is perceived to be under threat from outside influences. The greater the perceived threat, the more social energy goes into demands for oaths and other symbolic commitments to the faith.

Once we develop an established baseline of beliefs about the world, any additional perspectives we’re bathed in can only influence us from the frame of reference we already hold. As a consequence, evidence that counter our belief systems tend to be dis-confirmed by that same belief. Belief can be a powerful anchor for delusion because our vision is shaped by ideas we already hold true.

The ideas we pull out of the dark can start their lives as known symbols and later morph into a perceived reality. We can begin confuse the map we once drew in our minds with the actual landscape. We can then live in a world of partly our own making, semi-detached from the realities that persist despite our inabilities to see them.

Another of the unpleasant side effects of believing ideas unhinged from reality is our tendency to defend them with more passion than ideas that are solidly planted in everyday evidence. Generally speaking, we don’t rush to defend the ordinary if it’s challenged. If someone makes the argument that the earth has no water, it doesn’t typically draw a sharp defensive reaction. We can see touch taste and experience the water for ourselves. When a faith based idea we hold is challenged, we’re far more likely to unsheathe a fat roll of theological duct tape and begin the process of spinning a dogmatic cocoon to contain the heresy.

In some of the more seasoned and gentle organized faiths, the overt intent of spinning verbal cocoons around heretical thoughts and behaviors is to “correct”, “evangelize”, or at least to protect the believer from evil thoughts. Should the theological cocoon be effective at containing the target, it enables a metamorphosis of the wayward to believer. In the absence of a successful conversion, some alternative approaches include demonizing the offender, punishing and/or expelling them from the social circle.

Certain brands of faith come wrapped in a particularly harsh variety of intolerance. In more extreme cultural mindsets, there is no evangelistic step, the expectation is ideological purity and the move is from recognition of “heresy” to expelling the heretic from their own life. Many a squabble and war have been catalyzed or powered directly by ideological fuel. This might stem from the fact that the cost of holding a faith based idea requires a certain denial of reality in the first place. Although denial almost always a factor in supporting all forms of faith, there’s more to it than denial alone.

One reason we’re intolerant of perceived heresy might be found by looking at how our communal social bonds are built. Our integrity as a community is built on a framework of similar entities that collectively nourish each other. Shared symbols are part of what communities are built on. We use shared ideas as social DNA to bind our community identity into a coherent order. If faith is part of the social bonding process, we share and replicate faith. Whatever the social currency is, that’s what people tend to trade in. Acceptance and rejection of the shared ideas define who’s in and who’s out of the tribe – what is “self”, and what is “other”.

The fact that we distance ourselves from, assimilate and/or destroy faiths outside our own may be a cultural echo of the fact that we must devour other forms of life to survive. Our lives depend on sacrificing the “other” so that the “self” may live. We may have unconsciously ritualized our understanding of our nature by crafting myths that we then use to consume each other, expelling some waste farming others as food and so on. Culture may be essentially participating in an interpretive tribal dance that expresses our understanding of our environment and nature.

Unconscious ritualization could explain why cultures that developed in environments that require male dominance to survive tend to produce masculinized rituals, myths and patriarchal bellicose social norms.5 This may also be why hunter gatherer cultures with a variety of food sources tend toward polytheism and pastoral cultures with a narrow band of food options tend toward monotheism. Ritualization could be the outward expression of necessary things like population control for an island nation. The occurrence of feast and famine, seasons geography and so on would also impact the nature of the myths, the language and the rituals that define a culture.

The ideas we hold as “true & false – good & evil” may be symbolic stand ins of our unconscious understanding of our natural biological drives. Drives like food, water, relationship and reproduction are strong themes in this natural mix, and show up in our cultural rituals and surrounding myths. With this in mind, we might be destined to be in conflict with each other as a kind of unconscious acting out of our drives.

Intolerance may be part of our cultural immune system. Our language words and behaviors may be a cultural echo of the various relationships we must have with the environment and the rest of biology. Consequently we may ritualize the devouring and digestion process of “other” in relation to the cultural “self” on our social landscape. The irony here is that we would need to spread a set of pluralistic values in order to craft a sustainable equilibrium that involves the peaceful coexistence of differing cultural ideologies.

The fact that we lack tangible evidence for the questions we find so essential to life may be why we make more frequent ritual displays of our faith once it’s established. Rituals may be the mechanism by which we express our understanding of what is real, but they may also be how we reify the unreal. Because our faith is made real in our minds through ritual, we subsequently defend our cultural traditions as if they are vital organs. Perhaps it’s because they are vital social organs, perceived as necessary for the cohesion and survivability of a particular group.

Religion is by no means the only domain of faith. We make solemn pledges to national flags, ritualize patriotism, take oaths, hold parades, join clubs, fraternities and organizations with shared faith as part of the social equation. Some of us have attachments to political parties with the same fabric of faith and the same levels intolerance, the same evangelical fervor and the same dehumanizing dichotomy between “us” and “them”. We also develop many forms of personal faith. Some of us use the ritual of getting other people to believe a story as the impulse to count that same story as real. Addicts are notorious for this type of propulsion into chaos, as are their counterparts, the enablers. Even though the paint job is different in these two cases, the same underlying engine is based on faith – belief without tangible evidence.

The down side of the way we develop and sustain culture is that it is slower to adapt than the the technological climate we now live in demands. We have been quite used to using everything at our disposal to tame nature and each other. We have now crossed the threshold of development where we need to ask more than “Can we?”, we must now ask “Should we?”. The side dish of aggression that comes with cultural hegemony threatens the network of cooperative relationships we now need to sustain a global culture. We could destroy ourselves with our attachment to ideas that no longer serve to strengthen us, but threaten to destroy us. Faith may have been the womb that protected us through our early development, but like any other womb, it nourishes development to a point, then strangles its inhabitants if they don’t break free of it’s confines.

1For more exploration on this topic, read “The Origin of Faith” by Reg Morrison http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/THOC/GeneticSpirituality.pdf

2Two parts of our nervous system are especially significant in taking command whenever it sees fit; the limbic system and the autonomic nervous system. The limbic system is a group of forebrain structures including the hypothalamus, the amygdala, and the hippocampus among others. These are heavily involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory. The autonomic nervous system is a control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates things like heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal, but it is also the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response. When we react, these systems are at work.

3For more information read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman or

4For a deeper perspective on how this happens from a historical perspective read “Confirmation Bias: What is it, why is it important, and what can we do about it?” thewisdomoflife.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/confirmation-bias-what-is-it-why-is-it-important-and-what-can-we-do-about-it-2/

5For more information on this perspective look up the term; “Cultural materialism”.

The Wisdom of the Tree

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A tree simultaneously stretches itself downward into the soil to draw the water and nutrients as it stretches up and outward toward the sky to capture the glow of sunlight and drink from the atmospheric delights that waft past its swaying branches. In so doing, the tree stitches the elements at its disposal together and if they are sufficient, it uses them as a vehicle to propel itself toward its full potential. A tree breaks the prior symmetries of certain structures, not for the sake of destruction, but to reassemble them into its own likeness – in its own form.

At its crest, the wave of self assembled organization that is the tree matures to relate with other trees and the creatures that call it home, and to cast its offspring to the wind in the hopes of making even more like itself. Like the tree, we need draw from places of nourishment to realize our potential. Like the tree, if we do not stretch ourselves to reach those nourishing places, we are destined live beneath the threshold of our full potential.

We have some measure of choice in where we stretch ourselves. Let’s make sure these places we cultivate our own assemblies are also those that nourish our potential – that contribute substance and strength to the canopy we all live beneath – this community of life we both live in and depend on.