Monday, July 02, 2012

Our situational mind



In my blog last week we have seen another instance of how important the situation is for what we do: In a certain sense it is the situation that steers the mind and so what we do. Of course, I do not want to say that only the situation steers our actions, but to a certain degree – and maybe to a high degree – it does. I think that most of us have an image of man, and especially of himself or herself, as a rational being finding his or her way through the world by his or her own choice as long as s/he isn’t hindered by other persons or by physical obstacles and the like. But is that a correct picture? If it was, why then would I have a creative block sometimes, for instance, that I can push away by changing my physical environment for a moment, for example by taking a cup of coffee or walking a few minutes in my garden? If I really had my creative actions in my own hands, why then couldn’t I reshuffle the data in my head or see them from a wider or more abstract perspective on my own, while just staying in my study? No, sometimes we have to change our environment for being able to go on. I think that this is just one instance that shows that the situation guides our actions and doings, at least for a part. Saying it succinctly: It’s not we who find our way through a situation but it is the situation that finds the way for us.
In my blogs we have met more instances that support my thesis. One of the most extreme ones has been described and analyzed by Philippe Zimbardo. While not denying that everyone is responsible for his or her own actions, Zimbardo showed that we do many of the cruel things we do because the situation makes us act that way. But the opposite is also true: Most heroes are not heroes by heart but because the situation made them to behave like a hero (more in my blog dated March 14, 2011). We get the same “situational effect”, as I could call it, when we place a person in a dull, non-stimulating environment. The most extreme case of such an environment is a room with white painted walls and without a window but only a single bulb on the ceiling. When a person stays long enough in such a room, s/he becomes mad. In other words: We need stimuli from the environment, anyhow, in order to survive but once they happen to a lower or to a higher degree these stimuli guide also the way we survive, so the line our actions follow, for the better or for the worse. The logic of our actions follows the logic of the situation. However, as I explained at the end of my last blog, once we are aware how creativity works we can create creativity. Here we have an analogue case. Once we are conscious of the way the situation influences us, we can employ this for influencing the situation and for avoiding the pitfalls the situation has dug for us, and bend the situation to our wills … as far as it goes.

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