Walking a Fine Line: Understanding Negative Social Forces

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In his attempt to rid an individual of a physical ailment, a doctor will first take stock of his symptoms, i.e. his “physical reality”.  Much in the same way, those trying to rid their communities of its various ailments have to take stock of its “symptoms”, i.e. its social reality.  And just like the doctor takes precautions against being infected by his patient, steps need to be taken to avoid being dragged down by negative social forces. Recently, some friends of mine have been wondering: can we understand the challenges that exist in a society where so many adulate Fifty Shades of Grey to building healthy romantic relationships if we don’t see it?

The question acquires further complexity when taking into account the two interconnected movements necessary to our collective advancement: personal and community development. While it is true that to contribute to the betterment of the world, we have to be aware of our social reality, it should not come at the expense of our personal development. In theory, we should know ourselves well enough to limit our exposure to media that negatively affect our personal development.  But in practice, it seems that we might overestimate ourselves or underestimate the strength of the exposure. It might seem easy to discount seemingly innocuous negative social forces.  But if others have succumbed to them, chances are that we, too, are at risk.

How can we balance the need to understand our social reality with the need to protect ourselves? Just like in so many other cases, there is most probably a spectrum of possible consequences to reading the books and seeing the movie, from being completely unaffected to not even being able to hear the premise.  This makes it quite difficult to come up with an easy to apply formula! I do think however that we can agree that we shouldn’t expose ourselves to things that have a lasting bad effect on us, even for the best of intentions.  While certain stimulations have such an obvious negative effect that we assiduously avoid them, the difficulty lies in the myriad shades of grey (pun intended). Being aware of our weaknesses, informed about the strength of the stimulation, and avoiding peer pressure will help make our decision to expose ourselves or not more judicious. To reach this level of awareness, we need to shake off the lethargy rampant in society which encourages unquestioned, quasi blind loyalty to the passing fancy of the moment.

While a clear cut solution to this challenge doesn’t seem to exist, there are tools we can use to help navigate it.  One is journaling; reflecting daily in writing on our understanding one’s true, noble nature can help gauge situations much more accurately. A specific exercise one can do while journaling is the age-old ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ list. Another one would be to retrace the steps that led to a certain decision combined with a list of potential outcomes. And whatever tool one uses, perhaps the most important is to approach the question with cautiousness; better avoid what you are unsure of, since what has been seen cannot be unseen.

Image credit: Chad Mauger.

First published on Sahar’s Blog on 14 March 2015.

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