“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.”
Learned helplessness is condition in which a person has learned to behave helplessly because of their circumstances and experiences in the past. Martin Seligman, PhD, and others have found that even when conditions change for an individual, they continued to believe that they had no ability to help themselves to a different future. What does this mean when it is applied on a cultural level, especially in places like India and Nepal, where there are lingering caste systems, or in any country of great social disparity?
Recently, I was listening to Anand Giridharadas, who was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, telling about an experience he had while visiting India. He was at a dinner party with several guests attended to by servants as is the custom in India. Later that evening he needed to deliver a mattress to his host. When he returned to the house he was wearing shorts and a T-Shirt. The house servant thought that he was a lower class delivery boy and addressed him as such. You can hear the pod-cast of his story here. The servant clearly had an image of his place and the place of others in this world while the American born Anand could slide easily between different stations in life.
Our world is going through an amazing cultural shift right now in part because of our sudden access to global information. Chavez said, that, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.”
Martin Seligman continued his research and found that just as you can learn helplessness you can also learn optimism. We all can. We should not allow ourselves to be limited by the expectations of others, nor should we restrict our future to imagined boundaries. Have courage and dare to dream big!