The Psychology of a Point of Reference

By Stephen F. Myler

In this article I would like to explore the idea of how nationalism and internalized points of view arise from a position taken by people when subjectively analyzing a confrontational stand point. How people with only one point of reference cannot see the wider implications of their thought processes and actions. Nationalism is the evil that causes wars, political intrigue and racism at its most harmful. It is this cognitive fixation on topic, subject matter and perspective that allows racism to fester into discrimination and violence against the person with a more open free mind.

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Introduction

Travel they say travel broadens the mind. However much of modern travel is packaged, short and controlled. In Victorian times to be privileged in society meant taking the European tours, often taking several months in order to mature the mind and a civilized perspective. You could not be considered cultured unless you had experienced other countries, cultures and people. Some later would do the Far East journeys seeing the Orient in the raw. Today people arrive on a plane, go to a hotel, go to a beach, read the latest novel and finally get back on the plane home and all in a week. Of course some go on adventure holidays, packaged to allow in as short a time as possible the river trip, the mountain walk, the animal world and finally a certificate saying you went there and did that. Very few modern travelers really have time to know where they are, what the people are really like or the non-packaged culture of the country. I remember many years ago in Spain’s islands watching shows of traditional Spanish dancing and music. Seeing the quaint white topped villas, happy smiling waiters and travel guides with not a real person in sight? What I saw was tourist Spain not the people, not the culture of everyday, not the psychology of their mind-set, but the banal served up culture of materialism and souvenirs. The point I am making is we are actually less travelled culturally than in the past. Even the expatriate who works overseas often is excluded from the society in which he works. They have drivers, villas in foreign areas, special shopping areas away from the poorer districts and a life style out of step with the locals. Many expatriates from the first world see their third world colleagues as inferior in everyway. They put on the face of tolerance but in private can be vitriolic about their host country.

So how does a lack of travel, exposure to foreign cultures lead to nationalistic ideological thinking? What is a point of reference for everyday people? Using travel as our starting point we can see how those who have never ventured outside their own boarders can have cognitive fixation and a reliance on propaganda in order to inform their opinions.

Definition – Point of Reference.

When two people converse they are communicating from a social normalized perspective, only if they have grown up and experienced the same culture. Much of the conversation is implied, meaning they do not have to explain themselves fully about their point of view. The two nationals have a shared perspective about life and survival in their country, county, province, city and town. When a topic comes to conversation much is already presumed and so does not need to be aired. It is only the point of conflict that is discussed as to how one or the other perceives it. In psychology this is sometimes referred to as a mental set, which includes shared, parenting styles, education, work experience, social norms, traditions and the changing culture over their years of living. Each national shares this experience to differing degrees. Another important part of a person’s mental set is current affairs as presented in the media such as news, entertainment, sport, economics and politics, the main ingredients of almost every newspaper, internet and television content. The exposure to this propaganda only differs in the tastes of the selective audience that is attracted to the information presented. The reason we might have different opinions is only the degree in which we have been exposed to information that is readily available. We then take this information and assimilate it by incorporating the new knowledge to what we already know, or accommodation, when we have to adjust what we used to know to a new situation and perspective. (1. Piagiet 1952). It is by this process that new perspectives are created in which we have a point of reference when discussing new topics or changes to the social norms of the day.

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How do we use a point of reference in everyday communications? As above in most cases because people have a shared mental set in which to operate cognitively, with a common perspective. So as discussed much of the conversation does not have to be explained where a common background is experienced. If the point of reference is similar then arguments are not encountered but minor disagreements as to perspective. For example two Chinese at the same social level will often communicate agreement about social topics with only slight variations. When discussing the traditional view of marriage two girls of 25 with similar backgrounds will probably share almost identical points of view. However if one was young and the other older and divorced their perspective may differ. It is here that a point of reference comes into play. The older divorced women will see her earlier self in the young girl. She will know the naivety of her view but totally accept it and understand, even though now her perspective of marriage has changed through accommodation of her own life experience that the younger girl has not known. Therefore her point of reference is now different for the other girl. She will approach a second marriage from a differing perspective. Although she may blame the failure of the first marriage on her ex-husband and not her own views. She could remarry for the same reasons as she did as a young girl in which case her point of reference did not actually change.

Where points of reference differ mostly is in the area of travel. As stated in the introduction, not tourism but exposure over time to another culture and history. For example a person who has never left China, their hometown, their family will be closeted in their mental set and exposure to propaganda. If the person was sent to Taiwan for three months working experience they would encounter many differences from the mainland. They may notice a more polite, cultured people? The may notice a cleaner more environmentally conscious public awareness? Although historically similar in mental set there are important diversions such as democracy over dictatorship. On returning to the mainland the person becomes more cognitively aware of differences. They re-experience their own city, town and workplace from a new point of reference. For now they have known something different. They may start to feel out of step with those around them that have not experienced this exposure. Their point of reference allows them to compare and contract, which in the past their mental set would not have been capable of doing. Now in conversation they are equipped with an experience that gives them insight into traditional held views that no longer seem so iron clad in there surety.

Another example would be the returning Chinese from a foreign education known as the returning turtles. These returnees have spent over three years or more within another culture. On their return they feel superior to those around them that have not travelled but disadvantaged in that they are not part of the system of relationships that exist in Chinese privileged society. Their point of reference can enlighten but also handicap them from progress in that they are constantly in conflict with their western education and traditional working practices in China. They feel that the people who have a narrow point of reference are too traditional and fixated in nationalism. However in order to succeed have to keep their newly found perspective under control. Many of their colleagues and employers have the social norms engraved into their mental set and so have no point of reference to share with the returning turtle

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