3/18/15

Social Skills =Survival Skills




No one would talk much in society if they knew how often they misunderstood others.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
We try to prepare our boys the best we can, as we teach them how to deal with the different challenges they will face in life. Before we place them behind the wheel of a car, we teach them about safety and about driving rules and etiquette. Before we take them out into the boonies, we teach them basic survival skills. Even as they head off to college, they are required to take an intro class to college life. We don’t just drop them off expecting them to simply “figure it out as they go along.” That would be really irresponsible on our end as we are basically setting them up to fail. 

So, if we do this for most of their lives, why don’t we do the same with something as critical to everyday life as social interaction and social living? We cast them off into the world expecting them to survive unscathed a world of social nuances. We then spend years wondering why they became introverts, or develop social anxieties, or anti-social behavior, or why something as simple as how to express themselves and understand the needs of others becomes so difficult for them.

Keep in mind that I am not blaming any of society’s ills on bad parenting, as bad kids can come from good parents just as often as good kids come from bad parents. Also, with the available resources within today’s hyper-connected society, anyone can learn what they need or want from anywhere. A man should understand that if he has to deal within an environment; wouldn’t it be in his best interest to have the proper tools and skills to thrive within that environment?

Just consider the world we live in today, where your life and your behavior are pretty much in constant public display. Consider the amount of dysfunctional relationships and the amount of people who live in a constant state of social aggression. How much of our problems are simply that people are incapable of expressing themselves in a way others can understand? How much of our problems are simply that we are unable to understand the needs of others? How much of our problems are that we simply don’t know how to react or behave within a given situation? How many of our anxieties, our frustrations, and even our violent reactions are directly related to these issues?

We want to assume we know what we are doing in most social interactions as a way to keep up the illusion of knowledge, to others and to ourselves. As a defense mechanism we either shut out those who get too close or infer that the problem lies in the other person to avoid confronting our own shortcomings, as we assume that social skills should be simple. We want to think that talking to each other or expressing ourselves is an instinctive ability.

It’s not instinctive at all. Social skills are just as much a learned skill as riding a bike. If anything, social skills are learned to subdue and discipline our instinctive “fight/flight” reaction in many situations. We need to understand how important these skills are to teach and to learn. Only then can we avoid assuming cheating ourselves from them or picking them up only for questionable reasons.

Take the time to learn, starting by assuming you need to learn. Sometimes it’s good to assume you don’t know what you’re doing. It’s easier to realize you were right all along than to admit you were wrong. Learn to listen to others, especially when its things we don’t want to hear.  Learn to talk about yourself without bragging, but without selling yourself short. Learn that everyone is different and you can learn from everyone, no matter how much you might disagree with them. Learn that being social is both, about being sympathetic as it is standing up for yourself. Empower yourself by defining your boundaries and empower others by opening up those same boundaries.