To metamorphose is to transform. This site is an exploration of change (why we avoid it, how we can achieve it, who inspires us along the way) and the conditions required for transformation. Founded and curated by Simran Sethi.

Power of the Powerless

Excerpts from Vaclav Havel:

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves.

It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class.

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Why We Don’t Change (The Theory of Social Dilemmas)

It is said that society is in a moral crisis. And, what is worse, it seems to be deteriorating at an ever increasing rate. We all agree that something needs to be done. Our politicians and preachers say we need to help each other more, we need to have “family values”, we need to contribute to society and we need to have high moral standards. But there is a fundamental logical reason why none of this is going to happen. This article will explore that reason in detail.

 A few nights ago, my wife and I were driving along one of the lesser traveled highways. We came upon a person with a broken down vehicle in obvious distress. My wife said, “Maybe we should help”. But I said, “I think not - it is not worth the risk”. She responded, “But what if someday you were stranded and needed some help. Wouldn’t you want someone to stop?”


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The Loose Ties That Bind

Although social scientists study many kinds of social interactions, they tend to focus on a subset of dyads consisting of people already known to each other: husband and wife, supervisor and subordinate, parent and child, dating partners, and friendships. Relatively neglected are long-term interactions involving the exchange of money, such as between a hairstylist and a regular customer, or physician and long-term patient. Furthermore, there is little research comparing interactions between strangers with interactions between people known to each other. An examination of an interaction between two strangers may seem unworthy of study, unless it examines the way friendships or romances develop. Yet we are creating a society in which millions of strangers interact with each other every day and for the most part, these interactions are safe for both parties and relatively predictable, and many are even pleasant (see Hochschild, 1983). By ignoring these interactions involving the exchange of money for goods or services, social scientists are omitting an increasingly large segment of human interaction in our increasingly consumerist society.”

From: The Social Psychology of Service Interactions

Photo credit. 

Where Does Generosity Live?

According to a new UC Berkeley study, “People in the lower socio-economic classes are more physiologically attuned to suffering, and quicker to express compassion than their more affluent counterparts. ‘It’s not that the upper classes are coldhearted,’ said UC Berkeley social psychologist Jennifer Stellar, lead author…’They may just not be as adept at recognizing the cues and signals of suffering because they haven’t had to deal with as many obstacles in their lives.’”

"It has not escaped the researchers’ attention that the findings come at a time of rising class tension, expressed in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Rather than widen the class divide, Stellar said she would like to see the findings promote understanding of different class cultures. For example, the findings suggest that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds may thrive better in cooperative settings than their upper-class counterparts."

More on empathy here

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