• Posted: Jul 01, 2010 19:45:07
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A friend of mine recently returned from ten days in the South of France. Her comment: "They are just so civilized." I get the same feeling of timeless comfort whenever I visit the quiet rural areas of Southwest Texas and New Mexico. At the same time, there are other more densely urban parts of the U.S. that leave me feeling bothered, drained, apprehensive, like being forced to fight off swarms of bugs in uncomfortable heat. What is it about certain social environments that leaves one feeling "all is right" and others that leave one feeling decidedly "ill at ease"?
Humans are homeostatic systems. In other words, our bodies strive to maintain certain internal conditions, such as blood pressure, temperature, body weight, and chemical composition. And we do that by moving, eating, drinking, seeking shelter, manipulating our surroundings, and cultivating social cooperation and exchange. We may imagine we have certain freedoms, but in large part we do not. Our bodies dictate the agenda. When my friend comments that the French are so civilized, she is pointing to a presumption of and accommodation to the reality of her homeostatic needs. In France, she finds a social reality that accepts, understands, and is willing to provide accommodating service that allows her to feel comfortably human.
But there is a bit more to the story. There is a psychological layer to human striving toward homeostasis. We all entertain certain ideas about who we are and what kinds of reciprocal behaviors make us feel recognized and accepted, even liked. If someone points a gun at us, we do not feel recognized and accepted for the benign person of good will we imagine ourselves to be. If someone rudely cuts in front of us, we do not feel among friends but instead commandeered into a competitive game wherein we need pay astute attention or risk being shoved aside and stepped on. Alternatively, a smile or hug, offer of a chair and refreshments, and a show of interest in news from our travels could make us feel quite welcomed and accepted.
The world will definitely seem distorted if wherever we look nowhere do people seem in comfortable accommodation either to our presence or to each other.
Sunday, December 20th, 2009
8.1 mm 38 mm