Making use of the insights offered by Wilfred Bion (1961) regarding the basic assumptions we hold about other people, the “Other” becomes an adversary that evokes a fight response (if they are not too strong) or a flight response (if they are very strong). We can combine the perspectives of Bion (a psychoanalyst) and the behavioral scientists by suggesting that Bion’s basic assumptions are deeply held (often unconscious) heuristics that can uncritically guide our actions and smother any formation of a theory of mind regarding the “Other.” As an adversary, the “Other” provokes this most powerful and primitive amygdala-based heuristic. The template of good/bad, strong/weak and active/passive overwhelms our own critical faculties. Our prefrontal cortex is shut off (or ignored) with regard to the validity and appropriate use of this template. Our theory of mind is abandoned. We find massive leakage of content and expertise from the middle burners to the front burners. We are no longer of much use to either our self or the community in which we live and work.
We can counter this tacitly held assumption of flight/flight—but it takes a lot of work. The hard work is worth the effort, however, for we are likely to find valuable access to our own personal expertise when we are seeking to understand what the world might look like from the perspective of someone we fear or hate. Are they just evil (with nothing inside their head and heart other than murderous intent) or is there something there that we might understand and even acknowledge residing in our own head and heart? This engagement of a theory of mind regarding the “Other” is indeed a challenge. Yet, the insights it generates regarding our own assumptions, biases and fears (that reside on our back burners) can be brought to consciousness (front burner) and tested against external reality as well as our own best instincts regarding justice and equity of treatment. We become better people when we take on this challenge.
Given the abundance of content and sources of expertise to be found inside our self, there is an important but often quite difficult decision to make on an ongoing basis regarding what we do with this content and attendant expertise. We propose that three options are available to us. First, we can adopt a solipsistic stance and rely solely (or at least extensively) on the personal sources. This stance is taken when we fail to trust any or the external sources of information and expertise. We believe that most, if not all, of the experts in our mid-21st Century world are biased, corrupt or simply ignorant. Why listen to the shouts (and whispers) that are saturating—and polluting—our environment. The media is not to be trusted and there is so much polarization and contradiction among the so-called “scholars” and “researchers” that there is nowhere to turn for the “truth” – so we choose to rely on our own internal instincts and knowledge acquired over many years of engagement in the outside world of warped reality.
The second option leads us in the opposite direction. We choose to rely exclusively (or at least extensively) on information and expertise coming from the outside world. We make this choice either because we don’t trust what is coming from inside our self or because someone in the external world offers a vision of reality that is fully aligned with our internal “truths.” We often do not trust our own internal sources of information and expertise because we have been wounded repeatedly in life and find that our internal wisdom is often based in nothing more (or less) than our attempt to cope with and potentially heal the wounds. Trauma distorts our sense of reality and often leads us to rely uncritically on some outside source that might help us with the trauma or at least not wound us once again. The external expert offers reassurance (you are not alone), hope (your trauma will not linger in you forever) and even treatment (I/we can help you heal).Download Article 1K Club