Ideal vs. institutionalized

What’s it mean to be socially adept, or well-adjusted socially? I’ve looked upon the word “social” with disdain, but maybe my lack of value-belief in it is because the “social” has been translated badly into my personal vocabulary. It’s another word like feminism or religion or altruism that means different things in the ideal and the institutionalized sense.

What do I mean by this?

  • One of the main goals of religion is to encourage people to be more compassionate towards others. However, in the modern world, “religion” is often used to draw boundaries between people and to make moral judgments on people. (See also my post on personalized spirituality.)
  • Letitia Baldrige, an expert in manners and etiquette says the following: Etiquette is the set of techniques you use to have great manners. Manners are the way you want to behave, and the way you want to make people feel. Etiquette is the granularization of that desire to treat people with grace and warmth.” (from A Curious Mind, p. 88) However, etiquette makes me think of rules that are rigidly followed by an “in-group” to put them in a higher class than an “out-group.”
  • Most people would agree with feminism if it’s framed as the general idea that women should have equal opportunities as men, but they may not agree with the practices of specific feminist movements.
  • Altruism is almost by definition a good thing, but it’s gotten a bad rep in recent years because people are afraid of moralists who want to take a moral high ground over other people.

(Note that it’s easy for values, in going from an ideal to an institutionalized setting, to be hijacked by the tribal instinct – to draw boundaries between ourselves and other people.)

“Social” got translated into my personal vocabulary as show-show, and it’s been about projecting a kind of persona. That was the impression that people gave me when then talk about being social, and from my own thought that I have to act different around other people.

But maybe the right, ideal-version of social is, how can I make other people feel comfortable, and have interesting connections/learning exchanges with them? That is the ideal social and the institutionalized social is projecting “I’m a funny, cool, interesting person that everyone wants to gather around” at a cocktail party. When I say “I don’t care about being social” I mean I don’t want to be institutionalized-social, but I do want to be ideal-social. In this way ideal-social is closer than institutionalized-social to a lot of other values like kindness, open-mindedness, and learning that I hold important.

So my personal definitions of very abstract words like “social” are important, because each such word is no one thing but a circle of concepts, and what I determine as the core essence of the word taints that whole circle of concepts. If I determine it’s negative, then I discount the related concepts even though they’re good, and the opposite if it’s positive.