Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The social aspect of human nature

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Our species is intensely social, and yet our US culture is curiously individualistic, worshipping at the shrine of the rugged individual—John Wayne or Randolph Scott or Joel McCrea or some other hero who stands alone and sets things right. The result, I think, is that we are bombarded with messages that we must achieve things on our own or "it doesn’t count." Yet when we look at the how things really work, we constantly see that the "lonely individual" who achieves great things is not only standing on the shoulders of the giants who came before, but she or he is also generally assisted by a team that includes various specialists. I’ve written previously about the way that even a modest family will find its efforts supported by teams—in addition to the family members, the family is likely to have also the assistance of doctors, a dentist and dental care team, teachers, coaches, accountants, lawyers, yard-helpers, house-cleaners, a banker, baby-sitters, and so on.

Rather than tackle the lonely task of building his house, a modern person will go far beyond the barn-raising assistance offered by rural neighbors to hire an architect (who is likely in turn to hire an engineering firm) and a general contractor and build his house in that manner, while still feeling strongly that he (or she) maintains control of the process.

Similarly, I believe, with fitness: one often will require specialized help in this arena (a doctor, trainer, diet counselor, and so on) without surrendering the locus of control: it remains the person’s decision to seek help, to strive in this direction, and to follow (or not) the advice of the professionals.

Steve raised the issue in this post, and you’ll find more discussion there.

All this is quite apart from the issue of social contagion, discuss in this article in the NY Times Magazine: the strong tendency for friends and acquaintances to exhibit the same behaviors (regarding things like smoking, obesity, alcohol use, loneliness, and the like). We are more influenced by our social circle than we realize, and my goal right now is to start a benign contagion of fitness (and proper shaving methods and so on): my own fitness efforts are likely to have more effect than I realize in influencing people who know me, just as I was influenced by them.

Since we are social creatures anyway, it makes sense to exploit this social nature in order to achieve our goals in a way consistent with our nature. As Aristotle observed, a man who lives alone and likes it is a beast or a god.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2010 at 10:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Fitness

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