Study the Societal Emotional Process
And now we come to our final concept – Dating Wisely Concept #13: Study the Societal Emotional Process. Never did this concept make more sense to me than when I began dating Brad. I’ll tell that story later, but let me first explain the concept…and please bear with me because it’ll take a post or two before I can demonstrate how incredibly relevant and critical this concept is to the battle of the sexes and to your dating life.
The concept of societal regression emerges from Psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen’s observation that the emotional process in society reflects the emotional process in a family system. When a family experiences chronic, sustained anxiety, it begins to lose contact with its intellectually determined principles, and increasingly resorts to emotionally determined decisions to quell the anxiety of the moment. As we’ve seen, this generates immediate physical and emotional symptoms, and if the anxiety isn’t managed with emotional maturity, it results in chronic regression over time to lower levels of functioning.
Society does the same thing, just on a larger scale. After all, society is just a big group of family systems. When anxiety increases in a society, emotional reactivity also increases, reasonable solutions decrease in favor of automatic reactions, and societal dysfunction results. Just like in a family.
Bowen contended that the 1960s were a time of increasing chronic societal anxiety, and that the society was resorting to Band-Aid legislation, complicating the problem rather than solving it. He expected the cycle to keep repeating, with further and further regression. As Bowen conceived it, society goes through good periods and bad, and he postulated that the chronic anxiety of his generation stemmed from population explosion, decreasing food supplies and raw materials, and environmental pollution.
Bowen also suggested that the societal upheaval of the 1960s had begun after WWII and would continue its downward trajectory until society was willing to withstand the pain of long-term solutions over the short-term relief of stop-gap measures. He expected the regression to continue until the mid-21st Century, when he thought human beings would achieve a way of living that was more harmonious with nature.
The French Revolution
How this applies directly to your partnership may be more than a little elusive, so indulge me for a minute. In my view, the population issues that concerned Bowen began long before WWII when societies began to grow beyond the governance required for small tribes and villages. The larger societies get, the more conflicts occur, and the more organization is needed for people and people groups to (co)operate. Rather than tracing the evolution of human society over the entire span of recorded history, however, I think it’ll suffice to go back to a significant social turning point—the era represented by the French Revolution (1789-1799).
An amazing and exciting thing was happening in human history then. Until then, societies were governed by wealthy aristocrats who lived above the law. The French revolution, however, marked a seismic shift in the accepted order of things, triggering the global decline of absolute monarchies and replacing them with republics and liberal democracies. This shift expanded human rights, including those of non-wealthy people, such as non-wealthy men, women and slaves. “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” became a foundational document adopted by France’s National Constituent Assembly in 1789.
Three years later, Mary Wollstonecraft followed up with Vindication of the Rights of Women, arguing that women should have the right to education along with their male counterparts. After all, she contended, women were the teachers of the young and could be potential companions, not just wives, to their husbands.
Wollstonecraft’s work is considered to have ushered in the first wave of Feminism (we’re now in the fourth wave), which spanned the next century. Over that period of time, the rights of the general populace increased, although more slowly for women and slaves than for the common man, with suffrage being the most significant issue of feminists during that century. In 1920, the United States passed the 19th Amendment precluding sex as a legal restriction against voting.
That was the beginning of a societal process that impacted society and the battle of the sexes in important ways–ways that we’re now able to see more clearly with hindsight. More on that tomorrow. For now see if you can anticipate what I may have to say about the developments of the last 100 years and how relationships may have been impacted by those developments.