Mere Exposure

2019-11-18

Recent experience is causing me to go back and check much of my training. And it especially calls out the mental models I believe about how organizations work. Several times during that journey, I found myself asking, 'Haven't these people even been exposed to this idea before?' Strange as it seems, it struck me then: No, they haven't! That's part of why they're acting the way they are!

While I was searching for a plausible story. Searching for why a reasonable, rational person would do XYZ. I failed to account for the possibility that said person didn't have access to the same models that I did. I failed to take on the other's perspective, and I had begun to take for granted the models I now hold. It got me wondering how I had acquired those models in the first place.

Mere Exposure.

Most of my models I learned from others, whether by explicit teaching or implicitly picking them up as part of life. I received my models through exposure. The ones I got from my parents, I got through mere exposure. I watched examples lived out over a long time. My parents even showed me how to reason using those models. I watched the model lived, and then I tried it out.

As I continued to ponder how I had acquired my models, I recalled another source: Stories. Stories, especially parables or moralizing stories, carry in them a worldview. The things that are valued by the characters, and the outcomes for the same suggest a value system. If we tell stories that honor loyalty to our children, is it any wonder they come up believing they ought to be loyal?

Stories, and Mere Exposure. We can pass down ideas through these two. One is an event, reasonably well controlled and somewhat directed. But it is also more limited. It can be difficult to tell a compelling story, that also explores the nuances of a value system. But Exposure is more passive. It relies heavily on the observer, and is a side effect of our behaviors applied over time. Given time, exposure allows one to explore those nuances. It even can give life to the platitudes of that value system.

After all this thought, I am left more with questions than with answers. Are the ideas I hold worth spreading? Am I living an example worthy of the calling, and of the training I have received? Do I have a system which values others enough to adapt to their needs? Does my system value the continued search for better models to guide my decisions? I don't know the answer to all these, but I hope that in the asking these questions might help you too.