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From where come the surroundings we call culture?

I wrote this brief chronicle a few years ago. It was published in the magazine titled Meetings International.
Here is the text, and if you want to write any comment about what I wrote please feel free to do so.

“Culture is a reflection of the prevailing social structure, but not a dead, mechanical reflection. Culture is something that is used to systemise, explain and legitimise the world surrounding the individual. Thereby, it has continuous repercussions on the social structure. One could also formulate the relationship as culture being the medium, or filter, through which man creates his perception of reality.”
From Culture Builders by Frykman and Löfgren.

The term surrounding world
 is so complex and difficult to grasp that we as individuals lack the skills and perception to completely absorb and understand it in its entirety or its many fine details. Politicians are supposed to be public servants, but many people regard politics as being rife with contradictions and problematic inferences. Many young people in particular appear bewildered or just tired when interviewed on how they perceive politics.

If we cannot even understand the world we are surrounded by we suffer inner chaos that could lead to depression and weariness. We not only need orientation landmarks in our life but constant reminders of continuity and, not least, of belonging if we are to encapsulate sufficiently supportive feelings of security. This is why we attempt to makes things easier for ourselves by creating and nurturing culture.

Culture can be more or less reality based. It is like the furnishings in our home; the wallpaper brings to life what would otherwise be perceived as faded and dreary; the colour of textiles, furniture, cushions and lampshades gives rise to feelings of attractive movement; most things in the kitchen area and dining area contribute to the benefit of having a home. Not forgetting the people: family, friends, guests. The latter I choose carefully as they are the ones who will hopefully confirm the value of the world, or rather the image of the world, I have played a part in creating.

And that is what reality looks like, as seen through our rose-tinted glasses with lenses in the dioptres we have partly chosen ourselves. Partly, not completely. We do not, of course, completely create the culture. We are surrounded by off-the-peg costumes and conceptions. We try on that which seems to fit the frame of mind we find ourselves in, and in the never-ending interplay between that which surrounds us and that which springs up inside of us we form that which we believe to be reality.

This could hold for quite some time. But the complex and contradictory catches up with us in the end. The collisions could be soft or hard depending on the distance and speed. Sometimes it is a full frontal collision and we have to turn around and start again, which is never particularly easy. That which is especially difficult is the abandonment of the imprinted frame of reference we are all bearers of in our common culture, namely that which tells of the forces and powers beyond the control of mankind. Here are all the ancient texts, once printed on papyrus rolls and distributed for thousands of years, not least by churches, mosques and temples. Here is the mysticism; that which our modern science has still not commandeered and which has still not been given any logical or rational explanation. Success for the religions, or religion cultures, is due, in all probability, to its advocates using the carrot-and-whip method, where basically all criticism is prohibited and where, in a variety of ways, it is pronounced, even to this day, that man is a divine creation and that all sermons are in principal beyond the realms of debate.

German sociologist Norbert Elias (1897–1990) became known during the 1970s for his papers on the civilisation process. He maintained that the more differentiated and complex a society, the more problematic it is for individuals to keep control over their inner powers and desires. They could come to lack effective control mechanisms for handling all these inner powers, of which several could covert to outward aggression and violence. In remedying this extremely trying situation the following could happen:

With the help of others a new culture is rapidly built up. The carrying beam of this culture is the notion that the only authority with the right to use physical violence is the nation state. It is alone in creating armed forces and police forces and has sole right to forcefully take action against all and sundry found waffling around the cultural periphery seemingly not willing to submit to the general order of things, irrespective of where said order emanated from and what it is actually saying. Ordnung muss sein! With the hard line nation state, citizens are held in a new form of discipline in which religions no longer have sufficient power. (Norbert Elias released his major work on the civilisation process in 1939.)

Gradually, and not least after the fall of Nazi Germany, new meetings have been created and cultures have been changed. One could say that the degree of sophistication in cultures has been refined and developed. The armed forces and the Church still, of course, have a firm grip on individuals in a great many countries, but in the more modern democracies it is just as important to promote the role of education. The school’s primary task is to convey knowledge (whose and which knowledge?) but also, in consultation with the parents (if possible), to strive to provide the kind of upbringing that is generally regarded as being part and parcel of a civilised society. They learn, for example, that cooperation based on sensitivity and humility is a virtue. Expressed in another way: it is no longer regarded as acceptable for a nation state to have the monopoly on suppression and the use of violent forces. All individuals must be trained in better channelling their aggressions and more impulsive forms of dissimilar, not least sexual, expressions. In other words: self-control please!

But the art of self-control is not easy, as witnessed just about everywhere, not least on the city streets. Neither can self-control be imposed by the individual themselves without help from the surrounding culture. And because the individual is under the constant influence of the powers that be and the groups they have chosen to join, or just allowed themselves to be vacuumed up in, the whole thing becomes a very fine balancing act. It could go either way. It depends on how the culture, this dynamic creation, is built up and how it is anchored in people’s minds and thought processes.

Within a housing association, to take this modern, excellent example, it is quite easy to observe the cultural composition and any failings. When the association’s authority body (the committee and AGM) becomes weak and indiscernible, new wild shoots rapidly appear on the façade of self-control. Some members can take it upon themselves to act without any consideration whatsoever to common values or to other members’ wellbeing. When the association’s authority body becomes obtrusively strong in its disciplinary attitude it could lead to submission and caged passivity.

The tightrope between the outer force and the inner strength of the civilisation process must be constantly maintained, which is best achieved by endless meetings. One of the more important items on the discussion agenda should then suitably be culture, the culture we are all a part of creating. What do we actually create and what are the consequences?

Psychological investigations of Humans

There is nothing particularly odd about the investigation of Humans. Meeting a person you have never seen before is almost to pick out a new book from the book store. The thing is to start reading, carefully. And by carefully I mean that you´d better read the lines and the spaces in between the lines as well. Reading the spaces means that there are no empty spaces, even if the person in question tries to hide some important information, acting negligent or ignorant. All of us adults are acting trying to hide things. No one invites others to read all lines and all so called empty spaces in her or his book of life. So, as an investigator you have to listen carefully and to play around with your questions in order to find if not a front door so a back door or a more or less hidden window.

Some of my younger colleagues have learned that the best technique is to follow a pre-designed interview questionnaire that is called standardized (because it is developed and proven to follow a sort of exactness and precision). But this is not as good as it sounds as such interviews will be conducted in a stiff, insensitive way. Each person you meet could be regarded as a self-built, very special “house”, and there is no sense trying to become invited into those houses using exactly the same tools in the same spots. You have to become more creative than so, trying different keys in different orders to find your way in.

And how about test instruments? Are they not even better and more objective?
Well, I would generally say no. First: psychological tests are quite rough instruments. They are not that very precise. Second: as tests are constructed by Humans they are in fact not that very objective. They just seem to be objective as it is easy to present the results as a diagram or just numbers on a scale.

Good investigations require good meetings eye to eye and good opening tools that could, and should, be used in flexible ways.

Acting as a psychologist within recruitment and selection

A rose is a rose and a spade is a spade and there is not so much more to say about that (even though there are hundreds of different types of roses). But the man or the woman who applies to a position in a company or any other kind of organization may appear as he or she is exactly up to the requirements, but this could be “fake news”. Most Humans are early trained to become Masters of Disguise, meaning that several resources are used in order to convince other people that you are very kind even when you are not in the mood for that kind of feelings, and that your are very reliable, or very sustained, or very truthful or whatever even when you, yourself, have doubts about it all.

Anyway, when you apply for a job position that you really want, you will most probably straighten up and try your very best to stand out as the best of all possible candidates. Just looking at the surface is always tempting. Bright eyes, a good looking facial expression, nice clothes, hair dressed properly and we want really to find that this is the candidate looked for because we don´t like to stroll around with a generally critical mind. But, in the back of the brain, there might be some warning signs, leading to some doubts.
And this is quite often the corridor to the psychologist. “Could you please assist in this case”, is the start of the request. “Please try to come up with an answer of what kind of person this candidate is, not only in the recruitment situation, but later on, as a manager or a leader within this organization.”

For me this is a very well known situation. I have decades of experiences in detecting and uncovering several of all layers in humans, and yes, I quite often use test instruments, but as I do not look at them as completely realiable or valid, because there is no test that is complete in this sense, I have to trust my own senses when meeting and speaking with the candidate. And there is nothing mystical about my senses. I just have to be careful and as logical in my analysis as possible. In that respect I work almost as a judge in the court room: I have to interrogate and come to fair conclusions, and, most of all, I have to come up with clear statements based on facts and good enough arguments for my findings, and I can definitely not just refer to some points on a test scale, but I have to give a wide and deep enough description of the candidate to reach my goal.