Chapter 9: Plurally Speaking
Affecting Social Cohesion Through the Social Environment
Why Form a Society That Touts Cohesion?
In Chapter 1, we discussed the concept of “equivalence of form” saying that if you are similar to something, you can see it, identify it, reveal it. It will be easier for us to understand that concept if we consider how radio receivers work. A receiver can pick up waves only when it creates identical waves within it. Similarly, we detect things that seemingly exist on the outside—but only according to what we have created within. This is how we discover the Creator, the quality of bestowal, by forming that quality within us, thus also discovering it outside of us.
It is this principle, “equivalence of form,” that made Abraham’s method so successful. His group created that quality among themselves and thus discovered the Creator. That is, by moving from the “me” mode to the “we” mode, they discovered the “one” mode, the Creator, the only mode that really does exist.
In today’s world, the obtaining of social cohesion is of paramount importance to our survival. We might consider the revelation of the Creator an “accessory” of sorts, were it not for the fact that the Creator is the quality of bestowal, a trait without which we will never achieve unity, and hence never mend the global rift that is threatening to wrench the world into a global confrontation. This is why it is vital that we expedite the spreading of Abraham’s method for achieving unity through equivalence of form.
To do that, we must first abandon a common belief in our society—the idea that we have “free choice.” Science shows that there is no such thing, at least not in the way we normally think of it—that we do what we want by our own free choice. In recent years, data that proves our dependence on society has been piling up. These studies show that not only our sustenance depends on society, but even our thoughts, aspirations, and chances of success in life. In fact, even the very definition of success is subject to the whims of society. And last but not least, to a great extent, our physical health is significantly affected by society.
On September 10, 2009, The New York Times published a story titled, “Are Your Friends Making You Fat?” by Clive Thompson.[i] In his story, Thompson describes a fascinating experiment performed in Framingham, Massachusetts. In the experiment—which was later published in the celebrated book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives—How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do—the lives of 15,000 people were documented and registered periodically over fifty years. Professors Nicholas Christakis’ and James Fowler’s analysis of the data revealed astonishing discoveries about how we affect one another on all levels—physical, emotional, and mental—and how ideas can be as contagious as viruses.
Christakis and Fowler had found that there was a network of interrelations among more than 5,000 of the participants. They discovered that in the network, people mutually affected one another. “By analyzing the Framingham data,” Thompson wrote, “Christakis and Fowler say they have for the first time found some solid basis for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: that good behaviors—like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy—pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influenced one another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviors—clusters of friends appeared to ‘infect’ each other with obesity, unhappiness, and smoking. Staying healthy isn’t just a matter of your genes and your diet, it seems. Good health is also a product, in part, of your sheer proximity to other healthy people.”[ii]
Even more surprising was the researchers’ discovery that these infections could “jump” across connections. They discovered that people could affect each other even if they did not know each other! Moreover, Christakis and Fowler found evidence of these effects even three degrees apart (friend of a friend of a friend). In Thompson’s words, “When a Framingham resident became obese, his or her friends were 57 percent more likely to become obese, too. Even more astonishing… it appeared to skip links. A Framingham resident was roughly 20 percent more likely to become obese if the friend of a friend became obese—even if the connecting friend didn’t put on a single pound. Indeed, a person’s risk of obesity went up about 10 percent even if a friend of a friend of a friend gained weight.”[iii]
Quoting Professor Christakis, Thompson wrote, “In some sense we can begin to understand human emotions like happiness the way we might study the stampeding of buffalo. You don’t ask an individual buffalo, ‘Why are you running to the left?’ The answer is that the whole herd is running to the left.”[iv]
But there is more to social contagion than watching one’s weight or heart condition. In a lecture on TED, Professor Christakis explained that our social lives, and hence—judging by the previous paragraphs—much of our physical lives, depend on the quality and strength of our social networks and what runs through the veins of that network. In his words, “We form social networks because the benefits of a connected life outweigh the costs. If I were always violent toward you … or made you sad … you would cut the ties to me and the network would disintegrate. So the spread of good and valuable things is required to sustain and nourish social networks. Similarly, social networks are required for the spread of good and valuable things like love, and kindness, and happiness, and altruism, and ideas. …I think social networks are fundamentally related to goodness, and what I think the world needs now is more connections.”[v]
But we are not only affected by the people around us. We are significantly affected by the media, by politics, both national and international, and we are affected by the economy. In Runaway World: How Globalization Is Reshaping Our Lives, renowned sociologist Anthony Giddens succinctly, yet accurately, expresses our concurrent connectedness and bewilderment: “For better or worse, we are being propelled into a global order that no one fully understands, but which is making its effects felt upon all of us.”[vi]
In recent years, the corporate world has picked up on the notion, and trainings and courses galore have surfaced on the internet, offering to leverage from the new trend: social contagion. In Homo Imitans: The Art of Social Infection: Viral Change in Action, psychiatrist and business leadership consultant, Dr. Leandro Herrero, offers a witty summary of human nature in regard to the influence of the social environment: “We are intellectually complex, rationally stylish, highly enlightened, unsophisticated copying machines.”[vii] And to complete his irony on the merits of human nature, he writes, “The threads of the rich tapestry of behaviors of Homo Sapiens are made of imitation and influence.”[viii]
However, the problem is not with our behavior toward each other or toward Earth, not that there is much to pride ourselves on regarding our treatment of each other and of Mother Earth. And yet, our behavior is a symptom of a deeper change, an outburst of egotism at the speaking level of desire, to which no one has a solution.
That said, many people already understand that the change must come from within us. Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), stated that “The real challenge today is to change our way of thinking—not just our systems, institutions or policies. We need the imagination to grasp the immense promise—and challenge—of the interconnected world we have created. …The future lies with more globalization, not less, more cooperation, more interaction between peoples and cultures, and even greater sharing of responsibilities and interests. It is unity in our global diversity that we need today.”[ix]
Indeed, Lamy is right in many respects. In recent years, neuroscientists have been abuzz over a relatively new discovery, mirror-neurons. In brief, mirror-neurons are cells located in a region between the prefrontal and motor cortices of the brain, and are involved in preparing and executing limb movements. However, according to Dr. Christian Jarrett, as published in Psychology Today, they also play a vital role in our social interconnection. “In 2000, Vilayanur Ramachandran, the charismatic neuroscientist, made a bold prediction: ‘mirror neurons will do for psychology what DNA did for biology.’ …For many, they have come to represent all that makes us human.
“For his 2011 book, The Tell-Tale Brain, Ramachandran took his claims further. …he argues that mirror neurons underlie empathy, allow us to imitate other people, that they accelerated the evolution of the brain, that they help explain the origin of language, and most impressively of all, that they prompted the great leap forward in human culture that happened about 60,000 years ago. ‘We could say mirror neurons served the same role in early hominin evolution as the Internet, Wikipedia, and blogging do today,’ he concludes.
“Ramachandran is not alone. Writing for The Times (London) in 2009 about our interest in the lives of celebrities, the eminent philosopher, A.C. Grayling, traced it all back to those mirror neurons. ‘We have a great gift for empathy,’ he wrote. ‘This is a biologically evolved capacity, as shown by the function of ‘mirror neurons’.’ In the same newspaper this year, Eva Simpson wrote on why people were so moved when Tennis champ Andy Murray broke down in tears. …‘Blame mirror neurons, brain cells that make us react in the same way as someone we’re watching.’ In a New York Times article in 2007, about one man’s heroic actions to save another, those cells featured again: ‘people have ‘mirror neurons,’’ Cara Buckley wrote, ‘which make them feel what someone else is experiencing.’”[x]
According to Jarrett, it seems that “mirror neurons play a causal (emphasis in the source) role in allowing us to understand the goals behind other people’s actions. By representing other people’s actions in the movement-pathways of our own brain, so the reasoning goes, these cells provide us with an instant simulation of their intentions—a highly effective foundation for empathy.”[xi]
While there are quite a few dissenters to the theories surrounding mirror-neurons, it is clear that our bodies dedicate portions of the brain explicitly for communication with others. In that manner, we physically connect with others without having physical contact with them, but only eye contact. In a sense, these cells validate the words of Christakis and Fowler, “The great project of the twenty-first century—understanding how the whole of humanity comes to be greater than the sum of its parts—is just beginning. Like an awakening child, the human superorganism is becoming self-aware, and this will surely help us achieve our goals.”[xii]
[i] Clive Thompson, “Are Your Friends Making You Fat?”, The New York Times (September 10, 2009), http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/magazine/13contagion-t.html?_r=1&th&emc=th
[v] “Nicholas Christakis: The hidden influence of social networks” (a televised talk, quote taken from minute 17:11), TED 2010, http://www.ted.com/talks/nicholas_christakis_the_hidden_influence_of_social_networks.html
[vi] Anthony Giddens, Runaway World: How Globalization Is Reshaping Our Lives (N.Y., Routledge, 2003), 6-7.
[vii] Dr. Leandro Herrero, Homo Imitans: The Art of Social Infection: Viral Change in Action (UK: Meetingminds Publishing, 2011), 4.
[ix] Pascal Lamy “Lamy underlines need for ‘unity in our global diversity,’” World Trade Organization (WTO) (June 14, 2011), http://www.wto.org/english/news_e/sppl_e/sppl194_e.htm
[x] Christian Jarrett, Ph.D, “Mirror Neurons: The Most Hyped Concept in Neuroscience?” Psychology Today (December 10, 2012), url: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-myths/201212/mirror-neurons-the-most-hyped-concept-in-neuroscience
[xii] Nicholas A. Christakis, James H. Fowler, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do (USA, Little, Brown and Company, January 12, 2011), 305.