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Monday, April 14, 2014

The 'Village People'

Just the other night, I was regaling a group of parishioners with my various crazy stories and whacky theories, when I decided to share my theory about the 'Village People' and how this affects alcoholism and addiction.  Now, this group of listeners was a mix of people, but in particular there was a Mexican-American, a Pennsylvania German (close the Amish in lifestyle) married into a traditional Russian family, and an Arab American.

All of them agreed that this described their family lives and the communities they originated in.  So, this is not aimed at one particular racial or religious group.

So, who or what are the Village People?

Well, we start with looking at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which another parishioner introduced me to from her experiences in working with Haitian women and their children in Port-au-Prince.  She was involved with trying to get mothers to care for their children, whom they would routinely abandon at orphanages.  The women had difficulty empathizing with their infants, and had such low levels of intellectual development that almost all forms of abstract thought were lost on them.

Maslow describes a world where people develop various levels of abstract thought that emerge from basic needs into the realm of highly-abstract world of religion and the Divine.  A lot of it is culture, and how we are brought up.

While American culture is all about the higher levels of abstract thought and self-fulfillment, most of our immigrant folks come over here as Village People.

What I mean by Village People is that they think like a person from a traditional village.  They are very low on Maslow's scale as far as thought, and don't understand highly-abstract concepts.

Their lives are about food, work (to get food, really), and relatives (to share the food and resources during hard times).  Anything else is lost on them.

They can make it to work on time, because they know they will lose their jobs if they are late, but they don't understand the concept of 'punctuality' and are late to everything else (including church).  No matter how much you plead or yell, they will always be late because they never developed that type of thinking growing up.

They also have a pretty low level of empathy.  They may have lots of emotion, but it is usually about themselves.  At a funeral, they really are crying for themselves, and they do so with gusto (I have LOTS of stories from my own experiences  of tipping caskets and whatnot, but now is not the time).  Self-indulgence is not embarrassing, because it is expected.

These people are highly prone to alcohol abuse and alcoholism, in large part because they don't know how to handle problems that involve abstract thought.  Humans have a natural capacity to think in an abstract manner, but when a culture loses this, it will not imbue its members with this important way of thinking.

Circumstances like war and political oppression, famine and uncertainty, produce people whose sole interest is basic survival.  Now you have Village People, peasants if you will, who can think of nothing but getting the next meal by any means necessary.

This leaves them vulnerable to extremist political and religious opinions, because they cannot comprehend the wider implications of their beliefs.  They will also seek the easiest solution, even when that involves harming a lot of people, because so long as it benefits them, they really can't empathize with the suffering of those outside their close-knit network.

In addiction, the natural selfishness and shallow thought-life of the Village People means that they will indulge themselves in such harmful thought patterns as self-pity.  All they know is what they need, and everything beyond that is a fog.  Yet, their humanity leaves them naturally yearning for something greater.

So, while they can often be much happier than more 'complex' people (intelligent people have the hardest time being happy because they tend to overthink their problems and circumstances), they also have a dreadful time with addiction because they don't understand how destructive their behaviors are.

They also have a very pagan view of God.  To them, He is the Fertility God who gives them things, and that's about it.  They know He is appeased with certain rules, and they will keep them to the extent that they understand them.  The rest is utterly meaningless.  A few of them, with the help of religion and natural intelligence, will rise above and become 'spiritual' in the sense that they can understand the implications of the Gospel.  Most of their family won't.

Addiction treatment with these people requires a much slower process.  Those who are on higher levels of Maslow's Hierarchy will be able to trade bad thoughts for good ones.  When counseling the Village People, you first have to teach them how to think.  This is a slower process.

That's not to say that we in America only get our 'Village People' from immigrants.  Our schools are producing a new form of 'Village Mind' which I will describe in the next post.

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