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Finding Our Own Place in the World: Understanding Ourselves on an Individual and a National Level

by Margaret Bell | May 13, 2019

The "social me" is something very close to the heart of what we do at Chain Reaction and at Learning Ground. Without a social understanding of the self -- without understanding where we fit into this world of ours -- we cannot fulfil our potential and our responsibilities within the community.

From a young age, we learn that we should "do unto others" as we would have others "do unto" us. The social me is a more sophisticated version of this and is a recognition of the different connections and intrinsic links that make up a society like the one we engage with every day.

However, this does not happen by accident. Instead, there are several steps to take, as we move from our birth to our adulthood. As such, there is potential for missed opportunities -- for missed connections that leave us falling short in the development of our social understanding.

Let's take a look at some of the key milestones.

Recognising the needs of others

Writing in Psychology Today, Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., discusses some of the ways we can improve social intelligence and understanding, key elements of the social me. He describes how "developing an attentiveness to other people" is critical if we are to gain a social understanding beyond the immediate needs of the self.

Understanding our own behaviours in social situations

Dr Austin also recommends increasing the intensity of the scrutiny we place on ourselves and our interactions. For example, if we have a tendency to say whatever is on our mind when we get nervous, one needs to check this to avoid making a precarious situation even worse.

Of course, this is a critical stage of a child's emotional development. As such, this is an area we need to be focusing on as we seek to foster keen social understanding in the next generations.

Embracing expression

Author and family psychologist, Dr Laura Markham describes how important a child's first steps into expression are in laying the foundation for the social me. This means interpreting emotions and other direct psychological stimuli, and then expressing them in a way that is considered and careful. Without these tools of communication and expression, the social me cannot be realized.

Building the five components of emotional intelligence

Psychologist Daniel Goleman has expanded on the traditional Mayer and Salovey four-branch system of emotional intelligence -- another key part of the social me -- to create the five component model. The child needs to develop these components on an ongoing basis throughout their growth.

  • Emotional self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

Recognising differences and developing empathy

We need to understand that different people behave in different ways; this is what makes us all human. Whether these differences are of the minor and personal variety or deep-seated cultural oppositions, it doesn't matter -- the fact is, all of us must be able to develop empathy and actively work together if we are to foster a true understanding of the social self.

This last element is perhaps the most important, as it helps us to readjust our focus to look at our place in the world on a national and international scale. Research on immigration into Australia shows us that we now live in an international country -- particularly since the White Australia policy -- and we now work and co-exist with people who have origins from all over the world. This is what makes an understanding of the social me and the social self so important -- it's not just about finding our own place in society, although this is important. It is about understanding who we are on a far broader scale -- a scale that encompasses the whole world.

Margaret Bell, AM - Founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Foundation.

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