The following is re-printed with the permission of Mark Goodkin of Conversational Shift.
The Fixed Mindset within the Individual
Often times, we attract certain people who can teach us something about ourselves. They may not know that they are teaching us. The lesson is more encoded in the overall experience and interaction itself. Usually, we have something to teach them as well.
These lessons help us to identify and confront our fixed judgments or mindsets, which are empowered and held captive by underlying charged emotions, formed in childhood. These fixed judgements and charged emotions make up part of what is referred to as Shadow Self, which each person possesses. First coined by Carl Jung, the Shadow Self refers to that part of each one of use which remains hidden, and which we would rather not acknowledge or deal with. On the other hand, the lessons allow us the opportunity to see aspects of our Shadow Self and diffuse the emotional charge, thereby releasing us of the judgments. We become liberated from the fixed perspective and free to explore new options.
For example, we may have constantly been given the message throughout childhood that we have to focus hard on schoolwork and grades, but are not allowed to have much fun. So, we may go through life with the fixed judgment that we have to constantly work hard and are not allowed to have much fun or relaxation. We curtail such an activity and feel guilty when we do have fun.
We may attract to us in one way or another, someone with the fixed mindset that having fun is way more important than working hard.
The encoded lesson here may be that we need to lighten up a bit and have some fun. We can still be a hard worker, but need to put it in balance with some fun once in a while.
We can learn to have more fun, while the person who always likes to have a good time can learn to appreciate working harder.
If we do not recognize this experience as an important lesson, we may criticize the other person as being lazy and narcissistic. Chances are they are judging us for being a workaholic and party pooper. The charged emotions behind the fixed mindset, here, will no doubt make it difficult for us recognize this valuable lesson. However, if we follow the lesson and release the fixed judgments and underlying emotions, we will become free of the compulsion of always feeling like we have to work hard, at the expense of fun and relaxation.
In another example, we may have constantly been given the message in childhood that we have to do everything correctly and never make mistakes. So, we may go through life with the fixed belief that we have to be perfect and never fail. Therefore, we don’t take risks or chances.
We may attract to us someone who is a risk taker and not afraid of failure. However, perhaps they’re a bit too hasty at times and don’t think things through enough before taking action.
The lesson here may be that moving forward in life is about taking risks and inevitably failing at times. We can strive toward excellence, while making mistakes along the way. Nobody is perfect. Meanwhile the other person can learn to be more deliberate before taking action.
If we choose to ignore this lesson, we may criticize the other person for being cavalier and reckless, while they judge us for being afraid to take risks.
The Fixed Mindset within Liberals and Conservatives
Such a dynamic works in encounters between groups of people as well.
As each of us grows up, we may be brought up to believe that people with particular political, social, or religious views are wrong or inferior. Our beliefs become fixed judgments backed by charged emotions, which make it difficult for us to explore and seek understanding or empathy with those views we consider wrong or inferior or our own.
We tend to belong to groups of like-minded people and battle it out with those in other groups with different points of view. We may be hard-pressed to identify the lessons encoded in the encounter, which would have us seek such understanding and empathy.
In the political realm, like-minded liberals battle it out with like-minded conservatives, along several dividing lines. Each political side believes itself to be right and the other side wrong, and makes no bones about it. The conflict never seems to get resolved, leaving each side to scratch its proverbial head and wonder why it can’t get through to the other side. Each side fails to see valuable lessons contained in the relationship.
An example of a dividing line between the two political sides is the following: Conservatives have consistently given voice to the virtues of individual responsibility and self-reliance. In contrast, liberals have consistently given voice to the plight of the disadvantaged.
Meanwhile, conservatives may have an underdeveloped sense of empathy or concern toward the plight of the disadvantaged, while liberals may have an underdeveloped sense of appreciation or concern toward the importance of individual responsibility and self-reliance.
People within each group may share the same views but their experiences for arriving at such commonly held beliefs may be different. For example a conservative member may have grown up in a family, in which the father worked three jobs to support them and taught them the value of self reliance and responsibility. Other group members may have arrived at that view through other experiences growing up.
On the other hand, a liberal member may have grown up, witnessing first hand the ravages of poverty and hunger, and how no one came to their aid. Other group members may have arrived at the same view through different experiences. The outcome is that individual members will have similar emotionally charged views, based on unique life experiences.
In fact, their emotionally charged beliefs become fixed judgments, which freezes their mind into a limited perspective. It ,therefore, makes it more difficult for them to empathize, much less see, the other side’s point of view.
With such charged views, is it any wonder that each side has a hard time communicating with the other side. Each side chooses to criticize the other side’s point of view. A polarized relationship ensues, with an us vs. them mentality.
A Shift Away from the Fixed Mindset
As in the case of individual interactions, each political side can make a more enlightened choice, if they choose. They can choose to see the encoded lessons contained in the experience.
Conservatives might come to realize that, sometimes, it is important for the community to address the plight of the poor and suffering. Not all help is bad or enabling. Meanwhile, liberals might realize, that, at times, tough love is necessary to foster self-reliance and independence. Perhaps too much help is enabling and perpetuates the condition.
The goal is not necessarily for both sides to agree on everything or even reach lukewarm compromises, but rather to defuse the strongly charged emotions behind their fixed beliefs or judgments. The charged emotions that fed into the stuck outlooks of each side toward “the opposition” will be replaced by a greater sense of peace, understanding, and good will. In addition, the mind will be free to explore new possibilities and more clearly distinguish the real threats from imagined ones.
The old “win-lose” paradigm will give way to a “win-win” paradigm. The two sides can now work together more harmoniously and cooperatively, without fear and distrust. There’s now less room for misunderstanding and a greater respect for the values and concerns of both sides.
When the values and concerns of both sides are addressed, the political conversation will be raised to a new level. More balanced and innovative solutions will come about, otherwise unforeseen.
So what can we take away from the idea that our interactions with individuals and groups may contain encoded messages? Let’s ask ourselves what lessons, if any, we can learn from the other person or side. Let’s begin to take ownership over such lessons, so we can reap the benefits they present to us.