Social Conformity and Situational Awareness
The Story We Tell Ourselves

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

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Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

From this place, situational awareness enables us to discern the influences that affect us both internally and externally. From those perceptions, we gain perspective. We can because we see the distinction between external realities and inner strengths. The external realities of the situation we are in seeks to control and absorb our attention. Our inner strengths are those qualities, so may say character, that enables us to move into a wide variety of settings without losing our sense of who were are.

External Realities - Inner Strengths 

Here's a depiction of this perspective that resulted from my engagement with a group of young women who are each in the midst of a dramatic life change.

ExternalRealitiesInternalStrengths
They identified the six eternal realities that they must address in their lives. Then from our exploration of them, we came up the ten inner strengths that would be most helpful for adapting to those realities with the greatest benefit.

The conclusion is that we need "tools" for coping with challenging situations. This is why situational awareness is a skills-based capacity, and, not just a tactic or an idea.

Here's an example of what I mean.

Like many of us, I often encounter people who are panhandlers, asking for some spare change for various reasons. They may or may not be homeless. They may or may not be telling me the truth about why they need the money. Their reasons don't really matter. What matters is the interaction we have at the precise moment of our encounter.

My values tell me that each person, regardless of their life situation, should be treated with dignity as a human being. That doesn't mean that I have to approve of their life choices, or whether they have the self-respect that should accompany that sense of dignity, or that I should even trust them. It is that without a belief in the inherrent dignity of each individual, we do not have a foundation for a relationship that allows for us to honestly explore what is possible between us.

If a person on the street, who asks me for help, is clearly not high or drunk, then I will do something to help him or her. It they say they are hungry, I will take the time and buy them a meal. If they say they are hungry, yet do not want the meal, but the money, then I know that there is an ulterior motive in their request to me.

I tell them that is all I am willing to do. (This reflects the boundaries that I have set for my interaction with this person.)

If they say they need a bus ticket, I may drive them to the bus station. If I am convinced that this is a legitimate request. I will ask them lots of questions to determine whether the story is legitimate. If I'm satisfied that it is, then I will help them.

If they are drunk or smell of alcohol, I'll send them to the local agency that works with people in need.

I hope you see by this scenario that I have constructed a way of being situationally aware that does not place me in conflict with the external realities are clearly designed to do so. Many of our interactions with people are intended to put us in a compromised position, so that we give against our wishes and our own interests. The key is being prepared to relate to the person or group as they present themselves to us right now, in this moment, not historically, or as may happen in the future.

I have decided that to treat people with dignity, who lack self-respect and feel no reciprocal dignity towards me, requires the kind of internal strengths identified above. 

To learn to do this brings freedom and peace of mind to our relationships, both those with whom we live and work everyday, and, those whom are strangers that we encounter outside of our normal environments.

Situation awareness is a type of intuition into a particular situation.

We see into it, connecting different observations, sensations with logic and past experience.

We see into the situation as a result.

Let's take this interaction a step further.

The dignity I offer to a person asking for help is to believe what they tell me. To respect them as a human being, and to establish a relationship of trust. Even if this is for a minute or two, it is important to do this.

Social conformity, which I wrote about in my previous post, is derived from the need for secure external circumstances. The goal is to minimize the internal discomfort that we may feel as we encounter all kinds of people every day. These feelings of discomfort are the ground upon which we build the inner strengths that we need for situational awareness.

There is a kind of natural co-dependency that occurs when social conditions are secure and constant. It is the picture of happy families and homogeneous communities in movies.

Times of social and economic disruption are more traumatic for people. Their emotional health and sense of self-worth become dependent upon the support and constancy of external circumstances. In other words, when personal security is found in conforming to some social expectation, we lose the best parts of our individualism, and become more resistant to change and social difference.

When a person goes through a divorce, loses their job, finds their children are disabled in some manner, or the nation goes to war, the community experiences a catastrophic natural disaster, or at a more superficial level, their favorite sports team fails to win the championships that everyone expected them to do, then these are not simply emotional blows to be weathered as better times return. Instead, these changes may be threats to one's own sense of self, or identity.

Returning to my scenario of the panhandler, if I give her or him, I then tell them the following.

"I am giving you this money trusting that you are telling me the truth. I have no way of knowing this. But you do. This money is a gift to you. In response, I only ask you that when you are given the opportunity, that you do the same for someone else. I am asking you to give to someone as an act of thanks for the gift that I am giving you right now."

The money is not the point. Establishing a rapport of trust, dignity and mutuality is.

To act in this way requires discernment that is learned at a deep level. It requires of us to be able to listen to the story behind the story, to ask questions that get to that story, and from that awareness, determine whether there is a possibility of establishing, even for a moment in time, an open, trusting relationship. If we can do this once, we can do it again and again.

The risk is that I may have totally misread the situation, and I have squandered the price of a bus ticket or meal on someone who is simply using me. That is the price I pay for treating people with dignity. I accept that, and am willing to take the risk because of the times when the response is one of deep gratitude.

The point is not the money, but the story we tell ourselves about who we are in social situations. My story is about dignity, trust and generosity.

In the next post in this series, I'll write about the story we tell ourselves. I've written about this before in The Edge of the Real: The Unfolding Story.

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