Monday, March 22, 2010

a small crisis of psychology conscious

So I was talking to my small WWA group after Unit 2, going off on my typical rant regarding the impossibility and non- necessity of building consensus amongst a group of 31 individuals and how we should not be suppressing individuality because 29 or 30 of us agree, so we might as well make that person or two people negotiate and cooperate for the sake of all of our sanity. I was saying how I think it's fine that one or two people have their own opinions and the group can work well with those varied views. 

This is where I started doubting my entire college career. If I am such an individualist, why do I love to study psychology, where we work to group people into categories and classify and describe people as if they're all the same based on certain characteristics? 

That lasted me an few mildly sleepless nights, or sleepful, but where I just dreamt of psychology backfires (analyze that, Freud) until I realized the beauty of psychology over dinner a few evenings later. I mean we're trying to classify people, but if it's done right, psychology is presenting theories that unify humans despite individual differences. If sampling is truly random and representative, individual differences, although endlessly important, will pale in comparison to what we can determine about the human race, as well as different groups within our species. Individuals can flourish within the framework of humanity. 

This was confirmed three-fold over my short trip for Unit 3, from which I just returned. These examples probably don't seem very direct to you, but I'm sure you know how my mind works in some pretty stretchy ways:

For just one night, I went to visit with Rasi Salai dam community to discuss possible next steps for project period for their community. A dam was built in Rasi Salai that is pretty useless - 400,000 rai of wetlands were flooded and destroyed for 10,000 rai of land to benefit from an irrigation system- and the villagers are trying to preserve their community, as well as fight for rights and compensation. we will be returning to work with them next unit, so more to come on their issues. (bee tee dubs, we stayed in a hotel because they couldn't accommodate us for a night or i don't really know, but we're talking continental breakfasts with eggs, toast, croissants and cereal, but a bummer that we didn't get to connect to a family). The villagers are interested in developing a Learning Center with CIEE students- they want to include spaces for agricultural experimentation, a nature walk/ description of local flora and fauna,  demonstrations of local crafts, skills, and traditions, a children's section, and education regarding the area's history, struggles, and legal rights. Hello, CMEE/ Junior Ranger Programs/ Carrabassett Children's Museum? This concept of Environmental Education, which I have now experienced in many capacities within the US, Canada, Costa Rica, and now Thailand, has somehow infiltrated beyond any international borders, and has seemed equally important to people who have never met or discussed any of these theories, and people who have most definitely not read the literature that formal educators may have. What is it in our human nature that makes these issues of preserving local history, tradition, and nature important? It may seem basic and obvious, but when you really think about it, culture and its preservation is an international human phenomenon, that other species really may not have and experience as universally. 

Throughout my journey, I read a book called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. True story, autobiography. William grows up in a poor farming village in Malawi, with no electricity, running water, and barely enough money to send him to school. When famine hits the country and the government does not respond properly, William must drop out of school because of fees and he must work on his family's farm. (sound familiar? sounds a bit like my last post regarding education in Thai landfills and slums...) Here's the kicker- what does William do once the famine has receded? Instead of getting involved in crime, drinking, and accepting his impoverished fate, he spends all day in a library teaching himself English, reading books mostly about science and electricity, and builds his family a windmill to generate power to provide electricity. Eventually, people in the international innovation community find out about his project, and William is provided with a higher education and the financial support to provide electricity and irrigation to his entire town. Sorry for ruining the book, but you really should all read it, because you need to experience the story for yourself. My point here is raw intelligence. No education after primary school, no opportunities or awareness of a life beyond poverty and farming, mid- famine ----> self- taught electricity lessons? windmill? There is some human capacity for us to acquire knowledge despite the circumstances in which we were born and the opportunities with which we were provided. Some of us have more of this capacity than others, and much more importantly, some of us have a higher motivation to promote this capacity than others. Whether or not we have the opportunity to attend school, the motivation to learn is going to play a role in shaping our future. What else could you say kept William in the library and fighting for his education other than a raw desire? His parents, although concerned, were not able to provide him with the education he wanted. His government, although able, were not concerned with providing him with education. I have a strong feeling that motivation is genetically- determined, and can be tampered with within environments. I remember having this hunch during Psych320 last semester, so maybe it's true. The nature/nurture debate can never be solved, I know, I know, but I think, because of examples such as this, raw motivation, desire, and intelligence may be leaning toward the side of nature. Nature vs. nurture is human psychology. 

Lastly, I've determined NO ONE can escape the basic psychology of the acculturation curve. Like any reaction range, you can either be mildly affected or you can get dominated by it, but I have just witnessed the accuracy of that specific psychological theory. As prepared as we were for the doom of day 45, as hard as we worked to avoid it's harm, day 45-60, pretty much on the dot, were just a wee bit harder than day 1-45 and day 60 on. Imagine 31 people just walking along on flat ground for 45 days, and all of a sudden they reach a small depression in the earth and walk along lower ground for 15 days before rising back to where they began. We all became snippier, more skeptical, harsher, more nitpicky, and quickly divided into smaller groups of friends in order to vent and complain. Just as everything was bubbling ready to pop into mass chaos comes a set of personal days, a one-night trip, and day 60, and things seem to be back to normal if not better. Our surroundings are not nearly as foreign and we've learned to work well with each others' differences as opposed to fighting against them. We've become much more understanding of how one another processes information, and the benefits of our program. Anyway, what happened doesn't matter; the fact that it happened to all of us, and Molly in Spain and Morgan in Namibia- psychology. 


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