Bonded To What?
Bonded to What?
by Michael Mendizza
Mainstream parenting, compulsory schooling and organized religion share a common goal – conditioning, modifying and training the hearts and minds of children – quoting Alice Miller, for their own good, of course. To accomplish this each and most every other cultural institution employ the same tactics – comparison, threats, praise, punishment and rewards, done primarily to maintain that institution’s place in the social order - often at the expense of the child’s true development.
The spinal tap of these high stakes strategies reaches deep inside and gains power by triggering our most primal survival reflex – fear of not being wanted, rejection and abandonment, for life is relationship. Not being related is suicidal.
But what is it that is being compared, praised and rejected? It is the image we create and maintain about our self and this image reflects our status in the prevailing culture just as the cultural institution maintains its position by conforming to its image. Everything is caught in the same net and remains caught by identifying itself with its cultural image. And in the struggle to live up to that image - we forget it is an image.
New human beings are born prematurely, compared to other species, to accommodate our large brain. Most species begin to walk in a few days. Human babies don’t achieve this level of self sufficiency for a year or more. Belonging and bonding is a matter of life and death, a visceral fact and never forgotten.
Babies observe and mimic adult gestures and later behavior. Matching modeled behavior wins smiles, hugs and implicit praise – bonding and belonging. Not matching is frowned upon - rejection.
As each accepting-belonging and rejection-abandonment gesture is registered in the developing brain a cultural image of self begins to emerge. Constantly gazing in the mirror of relationship, the baby is drawn and shaped by its interpretation of approval and rejection. The mature self-image is no different. Who we think and feel we are is not what we really are, rather it is, most often, a reflection of how we experienced our behavior being accepted or rejected by others.
Nature’s wisdom runs deep. She assumes that the adult has mastered his or her environment. For the young mimicking the adult’s mastered response is a quick recipe for survival. That is nature’s design and it worked for millions of years.
50,000 years ago, more or less, something changed. The new brain (neocortex) grew dramatically and with it came adult behaviors based on abstract beliefs rather than concrete sensory experiences, pleasure and pain, and the feelings these experiences generate, affection and fear. Patterns of knowledge, belief, and behavior were based on symbolic thought and social learning; in a word, culture emerged. And with that emergence the bonding-belonging survival reflex, approval and rejection, and most importantly the self-image spawned by this reflex, began to reflect abstract cultural values, beliefs and behaviors. We began bonding to culture as much or more than to people, the behavior of people in this sense expressing and representing a particular culture. And all of this has been taking place beneath the level of our conscious awareness for centuries.
The curious thing is the way the bonding-survival reflex acts upon cultural beliefs morphing them into our self image. Attack Christianity and a Christian feels personally assaulted. Cultural images and beliefs have a way of seeping onto our personal identity. It is really not a mystery. That is the way our personal image of self was created and this curious fact is the source of centuries and centuries of insane and violent behavior. And it is here that hope for real transformation rests.