By Roland Watson

I will now continue to describe the process of social conditioning. This is because I want you to understand it really, really well. I am going to look at behavioral form in a number of different ways. Having this knowledge will help you become hyper-sensitive to when people are trying to influence you, so you can fight off their conditioning.

To begin, it is important to recognize that the imposition of form isn't always a conscious act. When people try to influence you, they are not always consciously implementing a plan of domination.

Instead, they may just be following a habit of looking at you a certain way. Every time they meet or talk to you, they assume this habit - this perspective of you - without really thinking about it.

Form as a simplification

This leads us to the idea that another way to think of form is as a simplification. What I am driving at here is that when people first meet, we cannot understand or even appreciate each other. No one can grasp the complex totality of another individual immediately, or even ever.

We don't know what the other person has been through in their life, and how this has shaped who they are. Hence, we simplify. We reduce each other to a manageable level, which in and of itself is not necessarily bad.

However, in the simplifying process a quick, summary judgment is often added. This is form, and in many if not most cases it is bad. It positions you relative to the other person in some way, and it is usually done wholly from selfish motives. In addition, such a simplification, or snap judgment, is almost always partially or even completely wrong. Unfortunately, this is not all.

To be exploited

Many people, and all institutions, take a further step. They convey - they impose - a message, which could be via the most subtle of suggestions, that you should be true to their simplification and judgment, that you should live up - or down - to it, and think and act in a manner that is consistent with it, in other words, in a way that satisfies their purposes.

This is fully-fledged form, and its selfish derivation is clear. Such people and institutions want only to be right about you, and to get you to do all manner of things, to conform to their wishes. And this, of course, is always bad, but - also unfortunately - it happens all the time.

Born to simplify?

I can also add that scientific research has shown that we are mentally – biomechanically – predisposed to make these simplifications. This is a quote from the book, A User's Guide to the Brain, by Dr. John Ratey.

"An act of perception is a lot more than capturing an incoming stimulus. It requires a form of expectation, of knowing what is about to confront us and preparing for it. … We automatically and unconsciously fit our sensations into categories that we have learned, often distorting them in the process."

The people that you meet simplify you, and distort you in the process. And, you do it when you meet other people, too. And, there's no way around this, but not because we can't ever control our brain; instead, because we can never understand each other fully.

The lesson here is to be aware that the people who you meet are immediately adopting simplistic, preconceived notions of who you are, and which images somehow benefit them. And, since you have this tendency as well, you need to learn to hold off making quick, initial judgments of other people.

I want to move onto another perspective on behavioral form, to illustrate a couple of more things. These points are: the process by which you present yourself to other people; how form is imposed moment by moment; and, how incredibly subtle it - social influences - can be. Said another way, to be able to fight off form you need to recognize exactly when and how you are being influenced.

Whose face do you wear?

In the first article in this series, I read a quote from the author Witold Gombrowicz, the true master of understanding form, which referred to the idea of "externalizing yourself." What he meant by this is that in every group situation, you choose a form to present to others, so that to them you appear recognizable and definite. You are externalizing yourself by presenting an image to the world, the image that you would like other people to have.

Even while you do this, though, inside, to yourself, you may feel uncertain and indefinite. But that - how you feel about yourself, isn't what is important here. It's how you show yourself to the world.

The reason for this is that what often happens is that this form, which you think you have chosen, and without your even realizing it, is a form - or "face" - that others, perhaps the very people in the situation, have actually chosen for you. They have done this either by directly influencing you to accept it - to put on the face - to look a certain way - or by doing so indirectly, by somehow making it the face in which you feel most comfortable. It seems like you are making a choice, but in fact it is no choice at all.

For the first - for direct influences - a blunt example of this is someone who is angry, and who raises his or her voice in an effort to get other people to be angry, too. The person screams and shouts in an attempt to get you to scream and shout, too. He or she wants you to wear an angry face.

This influence is a form because they are appealing to your emotions. They are not presenting calm, rational arguments, which would convince you that something really is wrong, and that you should not only be concerned about it, but angry, too.

There are lots of terrible things going on in the world, and it is perfectly acceptable to be angry about them. This type of "legitimate anger," though, focuses on understanding and if possible ending the wrongs. People who scream and shout want more that this. At a minimum, they want you listen to them, and to act out. The underlying goal of many demagogues is to recruit a group of followers, and to get them to commit violence.

To recap, whenever you meet someone, anyone, they immediately impose form on you, their idea of who you are and how you should act relative to them. And, you do the same. We all see each other, at least initially, as simplifications and stereotypes.

People as objects

In this way, form causes us to devalue people: not to see them as flesh and blood individuals, with a wide and complex array of beliefs and feelings. Instead, it leads us to view people as objects, valuable only inasmuch as they can do something for us, or we can get something from them. Because of this, the potential for a power conflict exists, and is often realized, in every human relationship.

It's worth thinking about this for a second. Many if not most interpersonal fights arise from the clash of forms. We try to present ourselves fairly, but other people refuse to accept this, and instead stick to their preconceived notions.

What they doesn't realize, though, and what we don't realize when the shoe is on our foot, is that if they would just ask, rather than demand, a lot of the time we would be willing to do what they want. And, if we aren't willing, that's tough. A basic fact of life is that they don't have the right to force us to do what they want.

It all happens in the moment

What I am also trying to illustrate here is that form manifests itself situationally, in the moment, and also in the context of chance and universal chaos. For instance, suppose that by chance you see an advertisement, and its message registers on you, and you are not even consciously aware that it has. Later, in a store, you see the item, and buy it. What might appear to be a random impulse is in fact a programmed cause and effect relationship.

As another example, presume you are in a situation where you are part of a group. Almost by definition you will have a certain role to perform, if only because it is expected of you, or, more accurately, of someone like you. You will probably do what you are supposed to do. You will put on the right face, and thereby fulfill your role - and meet the expectations of your type.

There is a form in every situation. Actually, there are often many forms, sometimes as many as the number of participants, since everyone brings their own set of expectations with them. In any given situation there is generally a whole series of forms, as different things are said, and seen, for instance, a long string of advertisements on the TV.

At its most extreme, you can become identified with a particular situation. For example, if in a moment of crisis you act courageously, even if you do it on impulse and afterwards consider yourself a fool, you will be a hero. For the rest of your life you will have, and will have to live up to, this form. On the other hand, if in the moment you react with fear, you may well be branded a coward.

In a situation, anything can be a form: a word, or tone of voice, or glance, anything that appeals to any sense, including its context and timing - the way in which it is presented. Even more, a situation can have its own composite form, which transcends all of its separate elements, and which conveys some message, or messages, about how you, and perhaps other people as well, should behave.

The subtlety of conformity

It is essential to understand how subtle, even subliminal, the process of being formed can be. If someone asks you to do something, something with which you do not really agree, but this someone is a friend - or your parents or your boss - so you do what they want just to be nice, then congratulations, you have been formed. You are now the type of person who will do such a thing, when "formerly" you were not.

Suppose you are at a crossroads in your life, and you have a heart-to-heart chat about it with a friend. He or she may suggest that you follow some course of action, and since they care about you, only want what is best for you, this will likely be well considered and thought-out. But, for all their care and concern, it could still easily not be right for you. Only you can know what is right for you, and for that to happen you have to know who you are. You have to be clear about and confident in your identity.

This is the inherent or hidden conflict.You are trying to figure out who you want to be, and then how to be it. Other people and institutions, though, want you to be how they want you to be. They don't care what you want. They try to manipulate you in every possible situation, and using an incredibly wide range of influences, some of which are direct and even dramatic, and others of which are subtle and take only a second to inflict.

In the next article, I will examine some of the consequences of all of this.

© Roland Watson 2013