Tag Archives: Sociology

The Immigration Dilemma – Part 2

As the conversation about immigrants continues in the news, I would like to add the humanist view to continue our conversation. A psychologist in the humanist tradition is concerned with the discrepancy between our ideal and real selves. As an ideal American, we embrace the downtrodden, we allow anyone and everyone to pursue the American dream, and we are a melting pot of cultures. Our real selves – the Americans we are – might have some reservations about these statements. We may have fears that if we allow these things to happen, there will be “less” for “us” – fewer jobs, fewer chances to achieve the dream, and an end to whatever American culture really is. We fear that sharing what we have will result in our own destitution.

A humanist would examine these issues via the “shoulds” we say. We should help; we should look out for ourselves; we should help only the children. For a humanist, the dilemma is resolved, in large part, by changing the word “should” to “need” or “want”. We should help becomes either we need to help or we want to help. We should look out for only ourselves might become we need to consider our own situation as well as that of others.  The idea is for all of you to play with the spoken and implied “should” statements you hear and say. This will help to reconcile the ideal and real selves that make up the American you are.

In that spirit, I am connecting with a guest writer for my blog. He is an adjunct professor earning his PhD in sociology and he is my son. I hope his words will inspire you to think critically and humanely. I hope it will facilitate your exploration of the question of our real and ideal selves and help you to decide the kind of American you want to be and the kind of country America needs to be.

Thoughts on the Immigration Ban: A Challenge to the American Conscience

By Nicholas Urban, PhD Student – New School for Social Research

I very rarely speak out in a public sense because I know that the words we say to each other in public are often “empty”, and that the “verbal jousting” of political rhetoric that occurs at dinner tables, restaurants, and social media, are just a “game” that we like to play with our friends and families. But we have to stop playing this game and put down the ideological masks we use to play it in this moment.

These walls that are being constructed are not rhetoric. They are real.

As a American, a sociologist, a catholic, and countless other identities I could list out, I have been taught that empathy and compassion are requirements of membership in the human race. Empathy and compassion are at the core. Furthermore, they are the very essence of the notion of “human rights” in a democracy. In the United States, the phrase in our constitution “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is not a suggestion. They are inalienable rights.

I have read and studied for the effects that fear (both justified and unjustified) and instilling hatred can have on populations. I have read how, as a result of this fear and hatred, neighbors can – willingly – murder their neighbors in the name of an ideology, ethnicity, or culture. I have met holocaust survivors and Rwandan Genocide survivors. I have listened to them talk about their experiences. I have cried countless times as I struggle to comprehend how we as human beings can justify standing by and doing nothing as men, women and children are slaughtered in the tens and hundreds of thousands. I have grown disheartened as I have seen a growing sense of fear of the “others” around the world translate into walls and bombs.

I implore you to watch videos of “barrel bombs” being dropped on Syrian cities – bombs that are unguided and indiscriminate, and thus kill indiscriminately. I implore you to think what the conditions must be like for a person to risk their lives and safety to cross the southern border of the United States in search of a better life. I implore you to imagine your life as one of these people. I implore you to think of what it must be like for a person your age and gender, of what it must be like for a family, or what it must be like for a small child. Just for a moment.

And then I want you to think of why someone would want to become an American.

To those that say “what of the risks to our safety and security”, I reply that there are risks associated with every action and non-action we take in our personal lives and as a society. There are no guarantees that an immigrant will not become radicalized or a criminal, just like there are no guarantees that those of us who are already American citizens will not become radicalized or a criminal. Stating otherwise just creates a false dichotomy and inspires fear and hatred of the 134,000,000 people from the seven countries affected by the immigration ban, the 11,000,000 undocumented immigrants residing in the United States, and the 122,000,000 Mexicans that share our southern border.

There are real problems that we have with border security, immigration, and terrorism. But there are compassionate solutions to illegal immigration and the refugee crisis in Syria. We can achieve our safety and our security and simultaneously maintain our American values of compassion and empathy. Simply creating walls where there should be none because of fear and hatred of the “others” goes against every value and ideal that we have and hold dear not only as Americans, but also as human beings. It is just not the right thing to do.

If you enjoy reading my posts, please subscribe using the sign-up box at the bottom of the page. Once you sign up, you will receive a confirming email. When you respond to that confirmation email, you will get updates on any new items I post. It is my hope that these blogs are a starting point for great discussions and shared ideas. I look forward to reading the comments you post.

The Immigration Dilemma

The issue of illegal immigration has clearly become a contentious issue in our society. I hear people discuss the issue from a political point of view, an economic point of view, and a personal point of view. I see the arguments getting more heated as the stakes continue to get higher for all of us. When I listen to these arguments, I see that the arguments stem from two very different psychological theories and believe viewing the issue through this lens can help us resolve it.

On the one hand is a point of view that says those who break the law need to be punished; the immigrants need to be sent back to where they came from. On the other hand, is a point of view that says such an action will break up families, send hard-working people back to unsafe homelands, and wreck our economy. The first perspective is rooted in a behaviorist philosophy, the second in a cognitive one.

Behaviorist’s focus is on behavior and its consequences: a behavior that is rewarded is repeated; one that is ignored is reduced to the point of elimination. The most scientific of all the psychological perspectives, behaviorists consider only what can be observed and measured. That simple principle leads them to focus on behavior and eliminate thought and emotion as factors that must be considered. They demonstrate that a rat or a dog will greet us at the door, sit by our feet, walk by our side, because we train them to do so by feeding them. In other words, behavior is the consequence of rewards. There are no shades of gray.

What does this have to do with illegal immigration? Well, for a behaviorist, we must provide consequences for an action or the action will continue to occur. A behaviorist’s view would go something like this: If America allows the illegal immigrants to stay, then we reward them for breaking the rules of entry into our country. Behaviorists contend that they will simply continue to do what we’ve trained them to do. In other words, this “law breaking” behavior, once rewarded, would be generalized, resulting in other laws being broken. In order to prevent this, all who have come illegally must have a consequence so that they (and others) learn to obey the law.

On the other hand, the cognitive perspective believes that a person’s thoughts about the future determine current behavior. For example, if a person believes s/he will succeed in college (a future goal), s/he’ll enroll (a current behavior). If a person believes s/he will not succeed, s/he will not enroll. For cognitive psychologists, everyone is a scientist collecting evidence to confirm or disconfirm their beliefs. The world, consequently, is always a shade of gray.

From this perspective, illegal immigration can be considered a series of thoughts. Americans holding this view think that we do not have to punish those who came illegally; we can instead control current illegal immigration by giving a reasonable goal for future entry. That is, if people know that the process will be streamlined and fair (if we give out enough work visas, for example), they will stop coming illegally. Cognitive theorists would consider the emotions involved in separating families. They would consider the thoughts that were involved in choosing to come illegally – the decision to leave their families behind, to risk all the danger in getting across several borders, the thought that their only chance for a better life was to come to America. These thoughts lead to the idea that illegal immigrants are a part of our heritage; we draw in those who are in search of a better life.

While I have a theoretical preference, I respect the other side. Both have valid points and both have arguments that are worth addressing. It is not until we develop a cognitive-behavioral perspective that the issue can be resolved.

It is time for us to solve this issue – to decide if we believe that humans are the sum total of repeatedly rewarded behaviors or if humans are the sum total of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It is time for us to stop the name-calling and finger pointing and move, instead, towards working to find a solution that addresses the very real problem of violence so severe that humans would go to such extremes to escape it. It is time to come up with a humane plan.

 

 

If you enjoy reading my posts, please subscribe using the sign-up box at the bottom of the page. Once you sign up, you will receive a confirming email. When you respond to that confirmation email, you will get updates on any new items I post. It is my hope that these blogs are a starting point for great discussions and shared ideas. I look forward to reading the comments you post.

 

The Day After

statue-of-liberty

The day after.

Although not a complete sentence, it does conjure up immediate associations in us. Some of those associations are filled with regret (the day after an argument, the day after a night of excess, the day after a night one can’t remember) and some are filled with joy (the day after meeting someone special, the day after a big win, the day after a night one will remember forever). It seems to me, the words “the day after” mark an association with a passion for something or someone.

For many of us, this election was marked with passion.

Now, on the day after, we need to wash off any regrets we may have and focus our passion on the future.

Democracy is not really about Election Day. It is about involvement. It is about the daily passion of working toward making our nation the best it can be today, tomorrow, and in the years to come. The only way to have leaders who lead with integrity, commitment, insight, and awareness of the needs of the people is to be actively engaged in the process.

So, in the “days after”, write to your legislators. Write to your President. Tell them how you feel, what you think is the right choice on issues. Tell them your story. They cannot, and do not, make decisions in a vacuum. They make decisions based upon the information they receive. If you do not participate in the dialogue, then you cannot complain about the outcome.

No one person, not even the President, determines policy in our country. We have an awesome system of checks and balances. So, today – the day after – channel your passion into a commitment to be involved in forging our future. Volunteer in your local political party, attend meetings held by your local legislators, write to your elected representatives. If all that seems like too much, then commit to watching more than one news channel or reading more than one newspaper so that you are committed to achieving a balanced view on the issues we face through an open mind. Regardless of the extent to which you do so, make involvement in our democracy an important part of your life.

We, the people…the day after – and every day – determine the present and the future. Embrace that responsibility with the degree of passion commensurate with the challenges that lay ahead.

If you enjoy reading my posts, please subscribe using the signup box at the bottom of the page. Once you sign up, you will receive a confirming email. When you respond to that confirmation email, you will get updates on any new items I post. It is my hope that these blogs are a starting point for great discussions and shared ideas. I look forward to reading the comments you post.

You’ve Got to Be Taught to Hate and Fear

Over the last few days, I have heard random people list their hatreds. People hate (insert food). They hate (insert weather). They hate (insert animal).   They hate (insert political candidate/person). They hate (insert religion). They hate (insert ethic/cultural group). They hate (insert sexual orientation). They hate (insert occupation). “Hate” is an incredibly strong word and while it may seem okay to use it when describing momentary discomforts (like the weather) or preferences (such as one food versus another), the word has much more significance when used to describe characteristics that one cannot choose (such as place of birth) or the core values of others (like religion).

Every time I hear the word, I think of a song from the musical “South Pacific”. The musical is set during World War II, a tumultuous time that defined my parents’ youth and early adulthood. My father fought in the war. My mother watched her brothers, cousins, and friends go to war. So, the musical (and its lessons) stuck with me.  One song in particular declared, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear…You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are 6, or 7, or 8…. You’ve got to be carefully taught” (Rodgers & Hammerstein). I grew to understand that hate was a strong word, a word that caused “terrible things” and I carried this lesson into my professional understanding of hatred.

Psychologically speaking, hate and fear do go together. They are both emotions and as such, they are both physiologically based. They are set in motion by the hypothalamus and trigger our autonomic and endocrine systems to activate. In essence, they both involve the arousal of our “fight or flight” response. Our respiration changes, our perspiration changes, our muscle tension changes, our digestion is impacted. They also both have a cognitive or learned component that helps us cope with the “fight or flight” response. The physiological responses are similar: the cognitive element is based on how we define the situation we are in, and the definition is based, in large part, on what we are taught by our families, our friends, our society as a whole. Just as Rodgers & Hammerstein warned us in “South Pacific”, our culture and our own experiences can teach us to fear or to hate just about anything.

Yet, fear and hate do have their differences. Fear is defined as a response to a serious threat to our well-being. Hatred is defined more loosely – as we can see by the number of ways we are able to use the word in a sentence. Fear is a closed system, by that I mean it often turns us insular; the goal is to protect ourselves. Sometimes, this may include protecting those we care about, but in either case, it tends to reduce the size of the circle. We must protect ourselves and those we love from what is “out there” – an idea that blends well with the development of hatred. Hatred is the justification for reducing the circle: we must keep those things/people out because they will hurt us. As the circle tightens, the mechanism for keeping others out must be enhanced.

Before you know it, we consider building walls, believing they can keep us safe. Humans have been doing this for centuries. We have built forts, castles, and electric fences – all designed to keep “us” safe and “them” out. In this physical sense, walls are seen as a way to protect us and enhance our sense of well-being. Clearly, in some ways this is true. It is better to live in a home than on the street. However, psychologically speaking, walls have a very different connotation. Walls keep us from sharing who we are, they stunt our growth, and they keep us from going outside of our comfort zone. They are things we hide behind. They are things that block us from our emotions, from our ability to see inside (or let others see inside), or from moving to a new or better place. By building these walls, we limit our ability to achieve our full potential. In a psychological context, walls isolate us, make us feel that the only one we can trust is ourselves, lead us to feel more fear because we KNOW we cannot survive on our own.

I can go on and on about psychological walls, but I think Paul Simon gave a remarkably good summary of what it is like to live inside the walls we build: “I’ve built walls, a fortress deep and mighty, that none may penetrate. I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island…A rock feels no pain, and an island never cries” (Simon, Paul. EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group). Whenever I hear that song, I feel sad. Ironically, even though Paul Simon doesn’t want to care about anyone, the words evoke empathy and I share the pain of his situation. If we were all to build walls, we would block out that key human quality of empathy, something even infants are capable of experiencing. If you have ever been in the presence of a group of newborns, you would know that when one cries, they all begin to cry. It would seem to be a collaborative effort setting out an alert for the adults “out there” to come and do something to help. Toddlers will share their blanket with others who are in distress. The fact that these behaviors are present without training speaks volumes about their survival benefit; our instincts tell us we need each other.

Fear of other humans is not innate; it is, as I said before, taught. The fact that we must teach “stranger danger” speaks volumes. I am not suggesting that we eliminate teaching our children about the danger of some strangers, but I am cautioning about how far we have taken this. We need to consider how the fear of others has grown too expansive. We need to evaluate the criteria we are using to define strangers and question the validity of these criteria. We need to carefully consider how much fear we instill in children when we tell them that physicians, police officers, teachers, babysitters, relatives, all possess some element of danger. We must consider what this level of fear is doing to us. When our neighbors become defined as strangers, when we don’t look at the people we pass in the corridors at work, when we assume that most people are evil, we create a world where our fight or flight system is always on, where our bodies are physically taxed, and where our emotional life is drained. We add to our stress because when we do need to reach out (we are sick and need someone to get our medicine; we lost our wallet and need money for public transportation; we are lost and our phone is out of battery), our circle is so small that those within it may not be able to or available to provide the needed assistance.

It is crucial that we expand our thinking and come to recognize that there are billions of good people “out there”. We cannot be fooled into thinking that the “bad” we see on the news on a daily basis represents all of humanity. We know that is not true. My heartfelt belief is that we need to develop mutual dependence and recognize that we are not meant to survive on our own; we are meant to survive and thrive as a group.

 

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  -Edmund Burke

 

If you enjoy reading my posts, please subscribe using the signup box at the bottom of the page. Once you sign up, you will receive a confirming email. When you respond to that confirmation email, you will get updates on any new items I post. It is my hope that these blogs are a starting point for great discussions and shared ideas. I look forward to reading the comments you post.

Bricks-Stone-Wall-with-Red-Love-Heart-625x417