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The Hard Science

Posted: February 3, 2014John van Bladel

We need an essentially new way of thinking if mankind is to survive.  Men must radically change their attitudes towards each other and their views of the future.  No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.  – Albert Einstein

My undergraduate experience was similar to that of many first generation college students. I experienced several majors including biology, a brief adventure in geology, and a couple of years as a physics major.  Instructors rarely mentioned another discipline outside of their own and when they did, it was often in a disparaging manner.  My wanders however served a purpose.  They planted the seeds that disciplines were not separate from each other though they were often taught as such.

A friend of mine insists luck has more to do with how things turn out in the long run than being smart. Fortuitously, I met an excellent psychology teacher who kindled my passion for the “science.”  I made the commitment to psychology during a discussion on obedience to authority, why people follow orders, even when it includes harming others. This topic addressed questions I had struggled with for a long time, in particular why we sometimes treat each other badly when it would seem more sensible to just be “nice.”  Why support life-negating conflicts instead of life-affirming dialogue?  Throughout the class the importance of listening, as the foundation for effective communication and conflict resolution, became more prominent. The simple act of listening, nonjudgmentally, with the express intent of understanding, has the potential to defuse negative conflict opening the door to compromise and even forgiveness and reconciliation.

Following my passion led to some conflict. Many of my peers criticized my shift from the “hard sciences” to psychology, a “soft science.”  This hierarchy remains as some “sciences” are awarded higher status than others. I propose a different perception.  I suggest the really “hard science” is getting along with each other.  Despite the presence of guidelines such as the Golden Rule, variations of which exist in almost every culture, we often struggle mightily at creating the conditions that lead to peaceful or at least respectful co-existence.  Although our general knowledge and technology continues to increase, our ability to communicate effectively lags behind. Seemingly simple conflicts between friends or co-workers often remain unresolved impairing future relations and undermining progress towards common goals on many levels.

Einstein, a Physicist, got it right. Our future as a species will be dictated by a change in paradigm involving how we view ourselves, our relationships with each other, and our relationship with the biosphere in which we are a part.  This shift begins with learning to communicate effectively with each other and developing the type of emotional intelligence that allows us to transform our relationships.  A good way to start is with the practice of Civility.  In essence, to begin treating others the way we want to be treated. It may seem simple but if we look at human history, it is apparently a lot harder than we think.

FM’s next Civility Committee meeting is on 2/3/14 during common hour in Room C-130.  You are invited to attend and share your thoughts and perceptions with us. Please join us in celebrating Random Acts of Kindness Week from February 10-16, http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/.  Each act of civility or kindness does make a difference.

John van Bladel is Instructor of Psychology at FM.

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