Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cracking the Psychological Mindset of the Day (Rant) by Edwin L. Young

When I was young I saw the evils of wealth, status, and prejudice. I discovered early on that people did not always tell the truth and all too often gossiped and said bad and untrue things about others. Later in late my teens and in my young adulthood, I learned the lessons ‘be realistic; grow up; that’s the way the world is’ first hand from employers. ‘The way the world is’ that they were referring to meant that there are two kinds of people the takers and the taken, the cheaters and the cheated; it meant that if you get the upper hand then use it to crush your rivals, it meant money talks, you are how you dress, there are only winners and losers, liars and suckers, elbows are meant for getting ahead in line, fair play is for fairies. If you wanted to get ahead – and I was learning that that was all that mattered – it was who you know and not what you know.

I regularly went to church and it eventually sunk in on me that these people listened to sweet Jesus sermons on Sunday and on Monday went out ripped off customers with a smile and exploited the vulnerable with an air of entitlement. I wanted none of that crude, merciless, mendacity, that blatant worship of manna, wanted none of the hypocrisy exhibited by those to-the-manor-born, nor the greedy-grimy-filch-fingered merchants, wanted none of that so-called ‘good life’. Also, while growing up, I was repelled by my peers’ mischievous, arrogant, rebellious, bullying behaviors. I was appalled by their silly, juvenile attempts to model after adults’ wayward, self-indulgent, avaricious, hypocritical, and prejudiced behavior.

It seemed clear to me that adults’ double standards and their domineering and punitive reactions to their children were being emulated by their children. Oddly, while I veered dramatically from my peers’ behaviors, and therefore was somewhat on the fringe, I was still regarded as a friend by most of my peers, even the rebels. I suppose that blind fate was preparing me to regard the beliefs and conventions around me with skepticism and to not be too uncomfortable with going my own way.

Having gradually come to see the world from a point of view that was counter-materialistic and had come to be suspicious of consensual prejudices, I had my next, worst shock which confirmed the suspicions I acquired during growing up. This came after I went to college and was employed as a psychologist in a state mental hospital. There, I learned that what my university professors had taught me about philosophy, psychology, and religion was patently false.

There are intellectual and emotional challenges to following an alternative, questioning, and non-materialistic path in life. You have to learn to think for yourself and to accept being considered eccentric by the more conventional sort. The reward for my tendency to blaze my own trail began in earnest in 1968 when I saw the startling results of my restructuring the Admissions Ward at Big Spring State Mental Hospital in West Texas. Since then, I have had to seriously challenge one after another of my intellectual conceptions of the world and people, particularly with respect to the application of psychology. Consequently, I had to endure the social and emotional concomitants that came from my gradual reinterpretation of the intellectual conceptions I had been taught.

Having begun to learn to question academic authority, I was somewhat prepared for what was to come. For example, I had to question, in a massive way, everything I had learned in abnormal psychology and psychotherapy classes. What I was witnessing when I reformed that Admissions Ward was supposed to be impossible. This experience was repeated with incarcerated delinquents and adult felons, with education of those who hated school and were far behind their age mates, and with the extremely poor and undereducated Hispanics, Blacks, and poor whites, including prostitutes. I had to reinterpret the prevailing image of prison guards and even the justice system as a whole. Everywhere I worked I found that, when I applied my emerging natural systems philosophy to reforming these institutions, I had the same tradition-shattering positive results. Over and over, when reforming one institution after another, thirteen in all, I experienced these mind-altering, emotion-challenging outcomes.

From 1968 to the present, I continued to reflect upon and apply new insights while revising, tampering with, and improving my approach. This also required that I continuously expand and rewrite my natural systems philosophy that resulted from these experiences. I usually had some forms of performance measures with which to evaluate the degree of success of my methods. Those measures overwhelmingly supported my approach to each institution’s reform. However, I found that I needed to try to get scientific validation of my intuitive propositions regarding what was changing inside the residents of these institutions. These were speculations about the processes of intentionality that were embedded in my natural systems philosophy. These were forming in my mind as I observed the effects of external changes in institutional structure and systems. Over these years, I had been thinking and trying to systematically develop these propositions about inner processes in parallel with my reform efforts.

I was graduated with an MA degree in Counseling in 1962. Over the years from 1964 to 1982, I had been rejected from PhD candidacy five times. When, in 1982, I requested readmission to the PhD program one last time, I explicitly wrote that I wanted to test my unproven hypotheses about how the externally observed changes in behavior resulting from my reform approach were engendering enduring inner changes. In my last two years of my PhD program, I was allowed to do that and not only so but in my last year I was awarded one of two annual grants to PhD students to further their research. When I was told that I was chosen to receive the grant, I broke down and wept profusely in front of faculty and fellow students. Perhaps it was a mixed blessing that my dissertation committee did not fully comprehend the significance of the research I proposed. Nevertheless, they did understand that results like mine that came out of my research were unheard of. Out of about 10,000 tests of statistical significance, over eighty percent were significant. The norm was that research studies generally got quite a few significant results but some to not get any significant results.

I had a research topic that had been considered verboten up to that time. It had to do with ‘intentionality.’ This was very nonconformist for the behaviorist mindset of the day. Nevertheless, philosophers were now proposing that it was legitimate to explore this topic. The groundwork to broach this area of research had begun, but in philosophy, not psychology. I later discovered, however, that psychologists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany were doing somewhat similar research. I now suspected that my natural systems thought processes, which had been leading the way all of those earlier years when I attempted to pursue my PhD and was kicked out, may have been one of the reasons for my repeated expulsion. I also suspected that it was my reputation for being an intellectual maverick that all too often had unnerved my professors.

The results of my dissertation research, entitled “Testing a Model of Intentionality Using the Writing Process”, was to bring me, finally, respect, if not understanding of my theory. For me, however, all of those many years of sitting hour after hour trying to analyze what the external changes in institutions were changing in those inmates, patients, students, poor, and such had finally paid off abundantly. I think that even I was startled. I went on to apply these new additions to my natural systems philosophy to one more institution. That institution was the Harris County Youth Village, a correctional institution for juvenile felons[i]. This time I was able to fine tune changes in the structure of the institution to target very specific inner intentional processes in the youth. This time, the results were astounding beyond what I had anticipated in my wildest imaginings. Checking back after eighteen years, I find the program is going strong.

Increasingly, from 1968 on, I had had to cope with and to try to understand why the myths about society and its criminals and mentally ill were so far off the mark. I even had to rethink myths about what was right and wrong. I felt that I had to try to communicate the revolutionary way that I had been learning about how to raise children and treat their misbehavior. I had to try to explain to people why and how criminals, the mentally ill, the poor, the weak, the racially different, and the sexual non-conformists should be related to and treated. These challenges are still staggering to my mind but I care passionately about them more and more as the end of my life draws near.

It cannot be expected that anyone, no matter how smart and knowledgeable, could just drop the implicit assumptions about the world that they learned while growing up and in graduate and professional schools, assumptions they have had most of their lives. They hold these contemporary beliefs in common with most other modern-day humans. Consensus is such a powerful force shaping opinions. This is especially true when one believes their opinions were self-generated.

An ability to listen to, tolerate, and perhaps even consider and grasp my avant-garde, seemingly eccentric ideas, would be like walking out of a dark and dense forest into a safe clearing with friendly faces greeting you. Everything that was puzzling and frustrating would be bathed in the liberating light of this new insight. However, since I have been trying to understand my own inchoate theories for forty-three years now, I cannot expect anyone else to just suddenly grasp what essentially is a psychological paradigm shift.

No comments: