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May 19, 2001
RESPONSES TO UNCERTAINTY
IN A COMPLEX, CHANGING
POSTMODERN WORLD
By Charlie Notess

    LOVELAND...(Colo) -- Persons respond in a variety of ways to uncertainty and to the stresses that uncertainty causes in their lives.
     This, in recent years, has led to polarization in: legislative bodies of government, political parties, school boards, religious congregations and denominations, and other social and political organizations.
     Frustration due to such polarization, has increased mutual distrust and has led to difficulties in appreciating and tolerating the responses of those with different worldviews or views of reality.
     The result has often been stagnation and a loss of faith in the effectiveness of those organizations. Much of the uncertainty and many of the frustrations are attributed to effects modernism and the postmodern era have had on our way of life: our expectations, our opportunities, our hopes and our fears.
     This paper presents several considerations aimed at helping to explain why uncertainty has increased and why responses to uncertainty can be so different among neighbors and even among members of the same family. Some of us have lost faith in modern (scientific) ways of thinking and in technology as ways of responding to opportunities and to threats in the social and human aspects of this postmodern age.
     In the search for more effective ways of responding, some place increased emphasis on traditional approaches that they feel have worked for centuries.
    Others see the world differently and create other (innovate) new, more flexible approaches if they have the freedom to do so. There are now many different ways of viewing the political and social realm; many different realities.
     These many realities add to the confusion. People ask: "Whom shall we believe?" Increasingly we hear the questions: "Who is right?" "Who is really telling the truth?" Such questions are especially prevalent in a presidential election year.
    The past presidential election has provided much evidence that political parties and leaders, with help from advertising agencies have created two different realities, a Republican one and a Democratic one. Leaders of both sides have presented too many half truths and appear to have been more interested in winning the election than in honestly informing and educating the public.
     To a significant extent, answers to the foregoing questions depend upon learning about the views of others and communicating with the others sufficiently so that one can understand the different perspectives upon which the different realities and founded. This idea leads us to the field of developmental psychology.
     The stages of psycho-social and moral development that people pass throuth as they grow from babyhood to adulthood influence how they respond to an increasing variety of realities and the frustrations caused by variety. As one progresses through these stages of development, they can better appreciate the different perspectives that other persons and organizations take toward important social and human issues.
     If the upbringing of young people is not adequate for handling this complexity, they surround themselves with groups of people who they feel have a workable solution to the problem of responding to complexity. What are these different groupings?
     Sociologists have classified responses to uncertainty in ways that differ slightly from those of the developmental psychologist. David Reisman, in his classic book "The Lonely Crowd" defined three social character types: tradition-directed, inner-directed and other-directed persons.
     There are limitations in our language and discourse that restrict and distort our perceptions and our thinking about the fair and just ways to respond to persons from different social and/or cultural backgrounds.
     Our thinking amd analyses are prone to suffer from dualistic divisions wherein one is either right or wrong and there is no in-between. Being aware of these limitations and discussing differences in perception and reality construction helps one understand the differences, and also helps one clarify ones own perceptions and views.
     This paper ends with an outline of seven levels of perspective-taking that provide, in this writer's view, a basis for explaining different standards of morality and commitment.
     Understanding what are the predominant levels used by different groups in contention over an issue, can help development of negotiated agreements among social groups which are engaged in seemingly unresolvable conflicts, such as over use of the land, environmental concerns, political styles and ideologies, or approaches to religious faith and values.


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