How are you being influenced?

Besides being an energy system, you are also an information system. How you interpret and give meaning to information you encounter is determined by your unique cognitive structure – your experiences, knowledge, beliefs, perceptions and assumptions. As an information system, you are constantly integrating and splitting up pieces of information in unique ways to create new meaning. This is the fundamental nature of consciousness.

Information cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs an interpersonal context that offers meaning and value. There is no absolute truth when it comes to ideas and perceptions. Instead, there is a movement towards truth which is dependent on a process of unspoken consensus.

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A contrast between rock and water

In the scientific community, there are strict protocols to follow for ideas or hypotheses to be accepted and considered worthy. In such a community, no piece of information is immune to being scrutinised and re-evaluated over time. This is because technical and scientific information is evolutionary by nature, moving towards more complexity over time.  

When it comes to social contexts, information and influence are intricately interwoven. Who is saying what to whom, how is it being said and received, when and why is it being conveyed, are all aspects of the dynamics of influence. In social contexts, ‘truth’ is determined by the dominant opinions that exist in the community in which the information is exchanged.

In today’s information age, one needs to understand the influential power of how peer groups participate on social media. Over coffee when discussing his difficulty dealing with his teenage daughter, a friend reacted with surprise when I mentioned that his daughter’s peer group probably had more influence over her thinking and behaviour than what his opinions, values and family norms had. 

Social platforms can become all-consuming and addictive. This is largely due to the need to be accepted and validated by the social group that one is part of. On all of the social media platforms there are influencers, shaping the thinking of those who follow. There is an illusion of having an individual perspective on these platforms. However the need to fit in and conform are actually the deeper processes at play.

Due to the nature of the information flow on these social platforms, opinions and judgements are usually offered immediately without censure. In addition, these opinions unfold in the public domain, which in turn, activates further comments from those who need to add their voice to the story (see Discernment, drama and deception).

Social platforms offer a 24/7 service to those who want to offer their opinions and judgements on any issue. They cater for the immediate desire to ‘have your say’. These platforms spew out information at an alarming rate. For those involved, there is no escape from the drama of the process, especially if there are personal, contentious or sensitive issues at play.

Due to the malleable nature of informational feedback loops, ‘like attracts like’ when it comes to what you say. Given this principle, aggression will be matched with aggression. If what you say, is driven by a feeling of entitlement and arrogance, you will probably get caught in a cycle of constantly trying to prove your importance.

One of the major concerns regarding these platforms is how information can get distorted and vindictively used to emotionally bully others. Despite his age and standing, Donald Trump, is an example, of how a person uses social media to feed an insatiable desire to be worshipped and validated. This, coupled with his propensity to bully and divide, if his opinions and desires are opposed, are at the heart of of how destructive these platforms can become (see Trump trumps politiciansDealing with an aggressive, self-opinionated energyLeading a Divided States of AmericaStruggling to gain credibility).

The height of stupidity

After the recent mass shooting in a school in Florida, there has been an intense debate in the USA regarding gun control and school shootings.

The tragedy in Florida has not been an isolated event. It has been reported that in the seven weeks of 2018, there have been eight school shootings resulting in injury or death.

Mass shootings are proliferating in the USA in an uncontrollable way. On a broader societal scale, 2017 has been reported as the deadliest year for mass shootings in the history of the USA. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 345 mass shootings in 2017.

The frequency and/or ferocity of the mass shootings can be viewed as a measure of the emotional and psychological health of a society. Given these number of shootings, one can draw the harsh conclusion that American society is at war with itself.

Politicians are reluctant to (a) impose any restrictions on gun ownership and (b) get to the societal and psychological reasons of these horrific events.

Many politicians have been funded by The National Rifle Association. In fact, it has been reported that Trump was the beneficiary of $30 million in NRA spending in the 2016 election. Given that the NRA, politics and finance are so tightly interwoven, it is no surprise that many politicians will not support any form of gun control.

Two days after the Florida tragedy, insensitive and inappropriate photographs of the president of the USA (with thumbs up and narcissistic grin), with (a) law enforcement and (b) medical personnel in the hospital where victims were being treated, were officially released by the White House.

A week after the event, the president has now suggested/proposed that teachers need to be armed as a solution to stopping school shootings.

Pointing the way – To where?

In line with this stupidity, maybe the following should also be considered:

  • all 18 year olds need to undergo weapon training in order to protect themselves in times of crisis,
  • every 18 year old student should be legally required to carry a weapon at school for protection and as a deterrent against possible attack,
  • a parental roster needs to be drawn up for at least 10 armed parents to patrol the perimeter and corridors of the school at any given time to protect the children,
  • at least two snipers need to be strategically positioned on school roofs in order to eliminate any potential threat,
  • two police patrol cars and an ambulance permanently stationed at every school so that the 1st response time to crisis is almost instantaneous.

While this may all sound ridiculous it is not out of the realm of possibility, given the type of thinking from the president and the politicians in Washington. The simplistic logic of trying to solve mass shootings by adding more guns to the gun problem is the type of ‘more of the same’ thinking that escalates and intensifies the problem, yet also avoids the fundamental societal issues that are at the heart of the issue.

Mass shootings are an attack on the system. From a psychological perspective, a student or person who embarks on a shooting spree has been dealing with an unresolved interpersonal issue that gets projected onto the group.

On a fundamental level, the perpetrator is generally dealing with one or more of:

  • an intense build-up of anger that eventually cannot be contained,
  • a masked depression that gets expressed in a hostile way,
  • alienation, isolation and exclusion, with no sense of belonging,
  • severe emotional pain that dulls sensitivity, compassion and remorse,
  • rigid and excessive prejudice towards those who are perceived as being different, and therefore considered a threat.

These feelings cannot be taken out of a family, community or society context. Without considering an interpersonal context, behaviour has no meaning.

Perpetrators of mass shootings have a deep anger and resentment towards the group/society in which they exist. Turning onto the group in a violent way is a counter-balance to feelings of helplessness. On a historical level, many of those carrying out these acts of violence have had to deal with being bullied, acts of unfairness, exclusion and/or alienation at certain stages of their lives. On a family level, little or no emotional support may have been available to help encourage the individual to resolve conflict in a healthy, constructive manner.

The president of the USA is known to be a bully and bigot, who unleashes processes that divide instead of unite societies, and who supports legislation that excludes and alienates minorities. Maybe the statistic of 345 mass shootings in his 1st year in office is just a reflection of how his personal methodology of resolving conflicts is playing itself out on a societal level? But there again, deaths of innocent children at school may actually be nothing more than fake reporting by the fake news!

As I conclude, I want to acknowledge my sadness at the loss of innocent lives in all of the mass shootings that have occurred world wide and my anger at all of the inept, self-serving politicians who are reluctant and afraid to address the real issues that are tearing societies apart.