Growth & Learning

Growth is an important topic to me and I wanted to get my thoughts written down before I forgot them. I’d even like to think that this is a topic I will likely revisit, as it can manifest in many different ways and I strongly encourage all flavours of it.

Growth is the very same thing that babies and young’uns do so effortlessly, and — inspired by a slew of recent events — I decided to write about it for this blog post, as it is one of my favourite topics. The reason I consider it a favourite is because of my closely held belief that the single obligation every human has in their life is growth, and I dedicate a great amount of mental bandwidth to analyzing it. I think that in order for a person to function in a society whose culture is transforming almost every day, they need to grow at the same pace as their surrounding environment. If they don’t adapt, they’ll start experiencing friction with the people they interact with, and driving themselves toward unhappiness.

For the purpose of this blog I’d like to focus on a particular subset of growth and learning we all know and love as ‘Personal Development’ and more specifically, Social Growth. I want to clarify the importance of Social Growth, as well as the effects it has on the people around you when not properly tended to.

“… the staunch refusal to evolve socially comes from a perceived sense of justification in current behavior.”

Social Growth

When you watch kids growing up and learning to socialize with each other, you start seeing how they interact and make adjustments to their behavior according to who they’re interacting with. They learn to adapt to situations and contexts, and while they make mistakes, you will generally observe evolving behavior. For instance, if young Timmy’s idea of a fun time involves tossing his toys at Bobby, Bobby is likely forced to develop a way to prevent it, or avoid Timmy entirely, or even try to change his behavior. By doing so, Bobby is going through social growth, and Timmy might even alter his behavior in kind, hopefully in a manner that is positive (and also learning to grow socially).

An even easier example to digest is the change in behavior parents undergo when kids start growing up. Let’s pretend this time that Timmy is a young parent, and Bobby is an upset 5 year old. Timmy likely knows that the hour is late and Bobby is just tired, so he gets him his blanket to put him at ease. But as Bobby turns 15, blankets and binkies no longer to the trick, and obviously the parent needs to investigate a bit further, perhaps with some insightful conversation and inquiry. The parent has experienced social growth together with their child as their communicative relationship evolves.

These kinds of adjustments continue all throughout adolescence and eventually into adulthood. Or so I’d like to hope. What usually happens, however, is that at some point or another, people forget to continue putting effort into social growth. Their learning momentum wanes, and they settle for interacting with people in a manner that isn’t great because they’re satisfied with whatever social expertise they’ve accrued so far. In the example discussed with 15 year old Bobby this would mean that whenever something upsetting occurred, Timmy the parent would try to soothe Bobby with blankets again. This might sound like an extreme exmaple, but it happens all the time. People, even parents watching their kids grow before their very eyes, forget that their relationships with others are ever-changing and they forget to update their communicational strategy accordingly. The problem is that people assume their relationships have stopped evolving, and that people around them aren’t changing either. Sometimes, the problem lies in the fact that people stop improving and growing socially, and they then rely on the people around them to change or stagnate their behavior in a classic scenario of double standards. These two assumptions cause a lot of friction, especially as their stagnant understanding of social etiquette slowly grows out of date.

“Baby steps. No wait, a snail’s pace!” Change is always slow and incremental.

We as humans are many things, including incredibly adaptable. However we are also lazy, and that is why it is important to put a conscious, concerted effort into social growth and improvement at the cost of our interpersonal relationships.

I’m mostly focusing on conflict in our example, mostly because that’s what adulthood seems to be about; the minimization and resolution of conflict (also because that’s what prompted this blog post). The key to avoiding conflict is to be more like Bobby and adapting your behavior — or at the very least — learning lessons and drawing conclusions from particularly noteworthy interactions. Or in layman’s terms, continuously growing. However, if we were all Bobbies, this wouldn’t make for a very interesting blog post. Unfortunately we live in a world where every Bobby has an equal and opposite Timmy, and distinguishing them is a matter of perception and perspective.

So what do you do in a situation in which Timmy refuses to change his behavior, or worse, decides to redouble the zeal he puts in his incompatible conduct? My completely inadequate solution has been to avoid that person entirely. It is inadequate in the same way excuses, dry logic, even absurdity is inadequate: their lack of effectiveness. Also, the aforementioned methods definitely won’t work on someone who has all but given up on social growth. So the best solution is actually pretty obvious: healthy communication laced with empathy as well as a dab of logic, but boy is that easier said than done. People who have the propensity for social growth respond well to those things, but I get lazy sometimes (again, resorting to avoidance). I feel hopeless, drained of energy at the thought of having to teach an individual to be grow, and would rather maintain a dysfunctional status quo than put the effort in to change it. This is what I’ve been struggling with; I’m tired of being the bigger person, and I stoop to their lows by refusing to grow and learn. I need to overcome the fear of confrontation in order to ignite some real behavioral change, but I chicken out at the last second, every time.

My understanding is that the staunch refusal to evolve socially comes from a perceived sense of justification in current behavior. Perhaps at one point they felt slighted or victimized in a similar situation, and the vindictive sentiments are fueling the unwanted behavior and being misdirected to you. Or maybe they just haven’t considered your opinion or needs (intentionally or not!). Regardless of which one it is, all of these traits come from a lack of sympathy for your situation or needs. They simply have not yet seen the conflict from your perspective, and as the Bobby of the scenario, it is your job to help them. As human beings we know that sympathy and empathy are both powerful tools to be weilded to better your understanding of the people around you, but not everyone has the same capacity for such sentiments. In these disputes, it is your responsibility to make your perspectives clear, and to humanize your situation or thoughts to the antagonist.

To recapitulate, Unchanging Social Interactions usually come from:

  1. Lack of empathy
  2. Feeling slighted, therefore entitled and/or justified
  3. No awareness of wrongdoing (lack of introspection)

In order to kickstart someone’s social growth period, you will need to address all three characteristics of unchanging social interaction, and let me tell you, it’s a helluva lot of work. To do so, it is imperative that the person whose mind you are shaping sees you as a peer, as a fellow human, with equally valid opinions and experiences. That will help create a sense of sympathy or empathy, and will allow their minds to change when you present your point of view. It’s all part of humanizing yourself instead of being this villainous opposer, and despite its critical nature, you’d be surprised at how many times it gets skipped or overlooked. Your goal after establishing a sense of sympathy or empathy, is to broaden the objector’s point of view (or Definition of Success) so that it can overlap with yours and a compromise or mutual understanding can be found. (Definitions of Success are another incredibly interesting topic I’d like to discuss further, and you will definitely see it in a blog post of its own). Then, you can finally address the other person’s sentiments of being spurned at some point in their social lives, and explain to them that that is exactly what they are doing to you now. Even after all this, you are not even guaranteed the results you want, and therein lies the reason behind my onset motivational fatigue.

Conflict is overwhelming and exhausting, but if you manage to get to the other side of it you’ll be met with an equal amount of relief. Not only will you have seen someone go through an accelerated social growth (a wrinkling of the brain, if you will), but you — dear reader — will have grown as well. While they were busy playing catchup to your social expertise, you will have grown by learning how to interact with this person (How does it feel to be Mr. Myagi’d?). Sometimes even a new sense of respect blossoms from the resolution of that particular period of discord, the results are better than you could have imagined, and all that effort will not be in vain.

Closing thoughts

There are many ways to grow socially, but of course those opportunities can get lost for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we choose to grow in different dimensions including intellectually, and even emotionally, which means that growing socially will have to take the backseat for a bit while we focus on those other traits. Though when it comes to growth, I always recommend a well-rounded approach and never neglecting one subcategory for too long. It’s a lot of spinning plates to manage, but it’s our only responsibility as humans, after all.


PS — I know I have a few Timmies in my life currently, what about you? Feel free to comment with your stories and the resolutions you found (if any)!