Change and Identity, How Flexible Are You?

By: | January 9, 2017

What do you think of when you hear the word inflexible? Perhaps words like rigid, unyielding, and stubborn and immovable come to mind. Examine your community, workplace or a nation and ask, what happens when people or groups who hold differing identity perspectives are inflexible? Do you observe that often, the result is polarization and dysfunction both of which are paralyzing? Technology, demographics, globalization and identity dynamics continue to change which will leave many people at work and in communities feeling overwhelmed, confused and angry which may cause them to either fight back or retreat.

One day we may all reach our end point of adaptability. My mother refused to accept the era oft the debit card. No way, no how was she going to use one. She remained defiant and continued to go into the bank to conduct her financial transactions. Inevitably you will have to interact with people who are done adapting, they are who they are. Because they are “locked in,” you and they may rarely agree on values and standards. Some locked in people may live down the street from you, others in another zip code and some across the hall in another office. You’ll have to get along with individuals who are “locked” into their worldview.

Before you get too sanctimonious, accept that during your lifetime you will be on both sides of the change and inflexibility dynamic

How do we become so “locked in”?

Dr. Morris Massey, a well-known sociologist, described how people experience the process of getting “locked in” to our values and world view. Massey states that our core values develop in three significant periods:

1. The Imprint Period. This time occurs up to the age of seven when, as little children, we absorb our environment, accepting much of it as real and genuine, especially what comes from our parents or guardians
2. The Modeling Period. This period typically occurs between the ages of eight and thirteen. During this time, we usually copy the people we admire or who have authority over and our parents, teachers, clergy, and other adult role models.
3. The Socialization Period. This period occurs between the ages of 13 and 21. Now we have entered a time when we are influenced primarily by our peers. As teens or young adults, we begin to explore ways to break away from some of the earlier conditioning just described. During this period, we typically turn to peers who are more like us. Other influences during the teen and young adult phase tend to include the media, sports and entertainment icons, business and civic leaders, and great figures from history from whom we have learned.

Significant Emotional Events

The Key to Dr. Massey’s work is that short of a “significant emotional event,” we rarely – after the age of 21 – change, on our own, what we have previously locked in on during the earlier periods.
Think of the “Significant Emotional Events” of our lives as the moment or moments in our lives that shake us to our core, and thus make it impossible for us ever to see the world in the same way again. They cause us to perceive the world through new eyes, like finding out for the first time that there is no Santa Claus. Examples of other significant emotional events that can unlock us from our past mindsets include:

  • Falling in love for the first time
  • Breaking up
  • Having children
  • A serious health challenge
  • Losing a Jo
  • Being publicly humiliated
  • Losing a loved one
  • Sometimes an entire generation can share a significant emotional event, such as:
  • A World War
  • Landing on the moon
  • The September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United Sates
  • The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • The Great Recession of 2008
  • The Bubble
  • The Housing Meltdown
  • Massive layoffs due to bad economic times
  • Locked In

Remember that during the past age, what usually followed a disruptive period of change was a return to some form of predictable “normal,” before a new wave of disruption. Consequently the gap between the point of view and values that one had earlier “locked into” and the new perspective and values emerging in the society was never as big a leap as it is today.

Also, changes now occur at such an accelerated rate compared to the past, that the changes we experience that come in wave after wave, give us less and less time to come up for air. As a result, the societal values that you and your stakeholders “locked in” even five years ago are already changing.
Finally, the emergence of what will serve as “the new rules” will be messy – it will seem like they evolve on the fly. Because of the pervasive instantaneous social media, new social norms and boundaries will always be tested and renegotiated. And the increasing fragmentation will make it tough to achieve mass consensus or be in sync.

Today, there is no longer the possibility of returning to “normal,” no matter how much you and some stakeholders long for a return to “the good ole days.” In other words, there IS no “past normal” to go back to – it’s simply not there anymore.

However the stakeholders who so desperately and angrily want to believe that “normal” must be retrievable are still here, and leadership must engage them in order to achieve business and community goals.

So now what?

For the MultiDentity, it’s logical that to achieve success in a world in which stakeholders are polarized yet interconnected; the best choice is to figure out smart ways to work and live with others with whom we have fundamental differences. The Spirit of MultiDentity is a challenge to those who would just as readily cut the nostalgic stakeholders out of the picture as dinosaurs, and those who would brand advocates of faster social change unpatriotic and immoral. MultiDentity thinking starts from a higher level perspective; the realization that all stakeholders, whatever their worldviews or belief systems are stakeholders and must be engaged. Because of increased fragmentation and many social movements many more identity stakeholder perspectives will be a part of your reality. Most will feel strongly that their view is the right one. A part of the MultiDentity age is accepting people have many forums in which to broadcast, share, publish, and advocate for their worldview. The Keys?

  • Don’t become inflexible yourself
  • Listen actively
  • Get to the underlying values conflicts
  • Look for areas of agreement
  • Avoid harsh judgments
  • Increase your skills in conflict management
  • Hold people accountable when their inflexibility runs counter to clear performance standards, policies norms, and laws.
  • These attitudes and action will help you deal with the many of identity mindsets that you will face to accomplish mutual goals.

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