What is social conditioning? Is it a consensus on how things should be- oftentimes, an unspoken one? Is it but one lens through which to view life? Is it a haze by which people live life narrowly and blindly? Is it a concept angry hippies use to blame the shortcomings of individuals on society?
Social conditioning is more than consensus or perspective: it is a collection of silent commands and norms impressed upon a person by other people throughout his life. The person perceives, by some means, that things are to be done a certain way; they are otherwise unacceptable, “weird,” or impossible.
Social conditioning is, by definition, a restriction. It is a restriction upon perspective and upon action. Social conditioning prevents a person from thinking or acting outside of certain boundaries. It is the antithesis of choice. It is a contributor to automatic, unconscious behaviors. The man who acts on social conditioning does not know why he does what he does; he simply does.
What is interesting about social conditioning is how subtly it tends to come about. For instance, no one may ever sit down and tell you explicitly that you must love one person and one person only. But you pick up this belief anyway from observing others’ anger at the defiance of this belief, such as when they are cheated on. So the belief is not fed to you per se; rather, it is a conclusion you make based upon observation.
It might be said that there are two (or more) phases of social conditioning. I cover this in You Write the Answers. Basically, the first phase consists of your initial beliefs about things, such as the religion your parents raised you to follow. For most Americans, the first phase is fed into by parents, schoolteachers, the media (TV shows and advertising), and perhaps peers.
The second phase “overwrites” the beliefs of the first phase, but these new beliefs are still largely the product of what other people have told you. These new beliefs might come from books, blogs, and podcasts. Roughly speaking, new beliefs are more likely to come out of the Internet than TV. Of course, in a few years’ time that comparison may be irrelevant.
Social conditioning is transcended once you consciously decide for yourself, based on thought and experience, what you believe to be true.
The line between phase two and transcendence is blurry—in fact, phase two will probably always be present in everyone to some extent.
What makes the difference is the effort you have gone through to view the world accurately. This effort consists of questioning your assumptions and routine observations and actions, deliberately viewing the world through different perspectives, and trying new things/doing things differently.
I cover perspective-exploration in both episodes (thus far) of my beautiful-sounding podcast. I make several key points. Perspectives can be chosen. The more perspectives you’ve explored, the easier it is to switch between and try new perspectives. A perspective can be assessed only from the lens of another perspective- that is, the outside looking in. At the same time, however, a perspective can only be understood by experiencing it, or the inside looking out.
All perspectives are equally valid, though they are not all equally useful. The more perspectives you explore, the more accurate your perception of reality is likely to be (and the less judgmental you might be, also).
Breaking with Social Conditioning
The break from social conditioning usually starts first in the realm of perspective (thought), then in action. This means that at first, your rebellion will only be internal. You will think about how you’d like to stop doing the conditioned action in question, though you will continue to do it. A belief that has been stringently held for years is not so easily broken.
In these thoughtful yet action-less instances acknowledge to yourself, “I’m only doing this because it is routine and/or is expected of me. I know I have other, more desirable options, but I don’t feel ready to choose those options yet.”
Each time you do this truthfully, you take one baby step away from social conditioning. With more and more confessions you take more and more steps, moving more quickly until you finally have enough momentum to take a leap—specifically, the leap of action.
This process at first may apply to specific aspects of life, such as your physical health. In time, you may see an overarching theme of conditioning-defiance in your whole life. This means that in almost everything you do, you question the conventional wisdom. It basically becomes impossible for you not to do this. To think independently integrates itself into your being.
How long does it take to make a total break from social conditioning? The point at which we can say that happens is not too clear, though you will know when you have relatively achieved it.
For instance, I know that I have achieved this point in diet. I’ve set fairly high standards for what I’ll put in my body, and I rarely defy those standards. This is in contrast to the past, when I just ate whatever other people were eating—even if that meant intense pain for me.
Sure, it’s arguable that I still am socially conditioned in that I choose to eat several meals per day, for instance (in contrast to once or less), but relatively speaking I would say that I have broken from social conditioning in the realm of diet.
I made the break at the age of 16, about 2 years ago. I started questioning my food choices at the age of 14, though it took about a year and half for me to take any real action on those questions. The process from the start of questioning to the break took about 2 years. Now it’s 4 years from the start, and I’m still making changes: for instance, about a month ago I cut gluten and GMO corn from my diet. I suspect change shall continue.
Why did these things take so long, and does the process always have to be a matter of years? Upheaving my diet was probably the first major break from social conditioning I made in my life (well, unless you count self-harm. Hehe). At 14 years old I didn’t feel too powerful to make such a change: it just seemed I was stuck with eating whatever other people stuck in front of me.
Of course it’s ridiculously obvious to me now that this need not be the case, but when you’ve only seen the walls of the box that is social conditioning it’s hard to imagine that there’s anything beyond it.
In plainer terms, I was limited by a restriction of information. This is somewhat of a tragedy of humanity- at least, modern humanity. The Internet was up and well-functioning four years ago, and it probably contained all the information that would eventually guide my dietary changes. All I needed to do was to make a search along the lines of “unhealthy eating” and the deal would have been done. What stopped this? What prevents people from receiving helpful information that is right in front of their noses?
Or, an even simpler question: if I didn’t like my behavior and I knew it needed to be changed, why did I continue with it for another 2 years? Between my lack of money, perceived inability to transport myself to a food source (grocery store), and apparent “need” for sugary foods, I suppose change just didn’t seem possible.
I would suspect that for most people the first break with social conditioning will take a long time, just as it did for me. Of course, all the breaks following the first arguably take longer, since they come afterward. But the progression from serious contemplation to action will be shorter.
Certainly almost everyone has had convention-defying thoughts at some point, even if it’s as innocent as, “I wonder what it would be like to live without money,” and no other thoughts follow from that one. I would say that serious contemplation begins with a thought closer to, “Now, what if I were to try this whole money-less thing: would it be in my interest to?” The first example is just curiosity, though curiosity certainly does count for something. The second example introduces intention to curiosity.
I elaborate on this in the section, “Question Your Implicit Assumptions” (down below, man).
Are people naturally averse to change, or are we just afraid to look at what lies outside the box? I would think the latter.
Once an overarching break, to some extent, is made with social conditioning, change does not seem nearly as dreadful. In fact, it becomes something that is more often desired.
Sure, change can still be difficult. But it’s not nearly as much of a tragedy as it once was. How will I live without x? Simple- the same way you decided to live without y and z. You’ll go on just fine. You’ll still be you. You’ll take on new challenges and learn new lessons. In fact, you’ll probably become an even better version of yourself. You’ll probably enjoy life even more. What is there to dread?
Perhaps a lot of the time our averseness to change isn’t the product of our own fears about change as much as it is how we fear others will react. The people who have known you your whole life might freak out if you suddenly come out of the closet. They might disown you. They may not want to play with you anymore. They could post mean things about you on Facebook.
Just remember that these reactions reflect your own resistance to the change, as well as how you used to think. Remember that this narrow perspective others want to impose on you is precisely what you are walking away from. If nothing else, be grateful that you do not live this way yourself anymore- even if you can’t take your loved ones with you quite yet, or ever.
As you walk away from social conditioning and your perspective broadens, talking to people with a narrow perspective can feel useless and irritating. Partaking in their activities will leave you feeling drained and bored- perhaps even evil, depending on the situation.
When you look into their eyes you can see a disconnect between them and yourself—you know you’ll never really understand each other. Their problems and complaints are silly to you, and you are ridiculous and maybe even anti-social to them.
You’ll probably find yourself yawning and sighing quite often during such conversations. This might lead you to disdain your relative-enlightenment, thinking that your wisdom isolates you. Maybe you’re doomed to be a tacky, lonely genius.
Perhaps you can remain among your conditioned-beloved for some time, but things won’t be the same. Forging a deep connection with them will be nearly impossible. You just don’t have the receptors for all of each other’s needs and wishes anymore.
You’d think that after years of your rebellious wackiness the people who know and love you would be used to you shocking them or even consider your ways of doing things, but that doesn’t seem to happen much. Maybe getting used to shock is too paradoxical—at least, for the narrow-minded. :P
Eventually you’ll have to go. You will know when this time comes. You may dread this at first, but you will then be wise enough to know that it’s part of the adventure. You’ll be okay, and your loved ones will be okay without you—even if they do indeed freak out.
Perhaps someday some of them will even join you. Of course, this is something that only they can choose to do on their own: to force someone out of conditioning is to make them none the wiser. If anything, it’s probably just another form of conditioning.
I think change is typically necessary to an enjoyable, fulfilling life. Change is inherent to growth. If you aren’t changing, you aren’t growing, and if you aren’t growing then what are you doing? Sucking up this world’s resources for fleeting pleasure—and to subject yourself to meaningless pain? You cannot, I would like to think, waste the resources of the physical world without wasting your own.
Roughly speaking, it might be said that the more you change, the more you grow. Perhaps from there you could say that the more you differ from the norm, the greater your potential to grow.
However, excessively-constant change might not do much better than barely changing at all. If you do something new each day and then never partake in those activities again because they are now, after one try, too familiar, what much will you learn? You won’t become competent at anything.
There is something to be said for mastery: certainly it is a sign of growth over time to be so skilled at something.
Change your activities and change the way you do these activities every now and then, but changing everyday might be a sign that you’re lost.
If you are indeed lost, you don’t have to beat yourself up about it. It’s probable that you should even expect this at first, since you’ve lived your whole life pursuing what you thought you’re supposed to want. So now you float from one new thing to the other to find out what you really like.
Aside from some journaling, what other way is there to do it? Clarity tends to require action. If you don’t move, fog will build up around you once again.
Question Your Implicit Assumptions
Start the process by simply observing what you do on a regular basis. Each day, I go to work. I eat three times per day. I hang out with my girlfriend named Cthulhu.
Then break down those observations. Each day, I go to a building to “work” for a larger entity known as a corporation, and at the end of the week I get pieces of paper called “money” for doing this “work.” For some purpose, I put objects known as “food” in my mouth on three separate occasions each day. Several times per week the same girl comes to my house, where we talk, kiss, and bang when she’s not mad at me.
Then ask why you do these things. Why do I “work”- is it for the “money”? Why do I “eat” three times per day- because that’s what other people do? Why do I have this “girlfriend”? Heck, I have no idea.
Next, consider whether the parts of your observations have meaning to you which you consciously decided on. In other words, decide whether you agree with your actions. If this is not the case, the actions you are observing are likely the product of social conditioning. I don’t like doing this “work” at this place. Maybe I don’t need to “eat” three times per day. I don’t think my “girlfriend” is even a human.
Now, consider how you might do things differently. What would be meaningful to you? Where might it serve you to choose to buy into social conditioning, if anywhere?
I don’t like to “work,” but I think it would be helpful to have this “money” stuff. How else could I get “money” aside from this “job”? Could I find another “job”? Could I “work” for myself? What sort of “work” would I do? Would I want this “work” to be valuable to other people? Could I take “money” from other people?
I’m not sure that I need to eat three times per day, but I think I should still eat sometimes. Could I take a day once a month to not eat anything? Could I eat more often some days than others?
I don’t like Cthulhu, but I’d still like to have one of those “girlfriend” things. If I just stop talking to Cthulhu will she stop hurting me? Are there actual women out there that would talk to me, and maybe even bang me instead of threatening to destroy me? What would I want this woman- or these women- to be like? Would I want them to instill the fear of God in me, or to “love” me? I wonder what that “love” stuff is. Maybe I should find out.
Social Conditioning, Subjective-Style
Remember that you always live In Your Own Private World, and nowhere else. No one has access to your thoughts, and you don’t have access to anyone else’s thoughts-- that is, if they even have them.
Make the story of your life awesome by choosing to write it yourself. Perhaps other people hold the pen right now, but they don’t have to forever. All you have to do is slip it out of their hands. Once you choose to be powerful they will practically be powerless against you.
Their hands, in fact aren’t even real: they are but a reflection of your own resistance to taking responsibility for your life. Once you do take that responsibility, no one can influence you unless you allow them to. You may walk away if and when you please.
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