The Reality We Create with Others: Social Reality

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Grodnitzky, Ph.D.
January 19, 2023

Mental health professionals are obsessed with reality. So much so that certain diagnoses can be applied only if a person has “lost contact with reality,” meaning they can’t assess what is real and what is not.

For the past several weeks, I have written about different types of reality:

Today we’ll explore the type of reality that is actually cocreated: social reality.

Social reality is a way for us to share our personal reality. Because we cannot share our personal realities directly, we look for others who — based on their thoughts, words and deeds — appear to align with our own personal reality. Fundamentally, we create social realities that align with our system of beliefs and values. Beliefs and values are the thoughts that we prioritize over other thoughts. The thoughts we hold near and dear are the thoughts that become our system of beliefs and values. Social realities are created when we find groups of people who share those closely held beliefs and values.

Cocreated Social Reality

It has been said for generations, “Never discuss politics or religion in polite company.” Why?  Because nothing makes a person’s blood boil quite like God and flag – as politicians today well know – particularly when the person with whom you are discussing politics or religion does not share your beliefs and values. They have created a different social reality.

Christians share a social reality. While there are certainly different subsets of Christianity, they are tied together by a common set of beliefs and values. The same is true for Muslims and Jews. They share and cocreate a social reality. Politicians also create a social reality based on a set of beliefs and values around political parties as if they were stable and do not change. But they can change.

The antivax movement was historically led by liberal-leaning communities. In the year 2000, the World Health Organization declared measles in the U.S. eliminated because of the success of vaccine programs. To the surprise of many, in 2019 the U.S. recorded nearly 1,300 cases of measles. Where did most of the outbreaks occur? Blue states such as Washington, Oregon, California, New York and New Jersey. In 2020, the rapidly developed COVID-19 vaccine found rejection in conservative-led circles. So, the antivax movement is now purple. About 25% of people in the U.S. share this cocreated social reality, unified by a shared mistrust of the science of vaccines.

Complexity Influencing Social Reality

The world is a complex place. The greater the complexity of a process, the less likely people are to understand it. While many people understand why the sun appears to rise and set, a smaller number of people understand how photons warm the earth. An even smaller number understand how electrons flow through a computer chip to run a CPU. Complexity requires people to create a social reality with others they can trust based on common shared beliefs and values.

Our understanding of complex processes requires us to reduce the amount of information we are perceiving. Our perspective offers a lot less information than the actual thing. If you look at an object from its right side, left side, top and bottom, all will provide a different perspective, providing different information. None will give you all of the information about the object or situation.  

There is no way for anyone to capture all the information about a process or situation from a single perspective. Truly understanding our social reality requires transperspectivism. In other words, we understand social reality through understanding perspectives and traditions beyond our own and incorporating them into our own.   

Why Does This Matter?

The ability to consider multiple perspectives, find the truth in each and stitch them together into a cocreated perspective creates alignment in our organizations, culture and society.

As leaders we must realize that today’s workforce fundamentally differs from the pre-pandemic workforce. We must cocreate a social reality with our employees – a workplace culture – that appeals to them. There is no single answer or single perspective that will serve as “the answer” to what is right and what is wrong. We are still in a period of post-pandemic flux. We simply need to choose the right direction that considers multiple social realities.

For example, many senior employees want to work more days at home than at the office. Conversely, junior employees may want more days at the office than at home. A cocreated social reality (culture) doesn’t choose or favor one or the other. Instead, it considers viable solutions (using performance metrics) that embrace both. One size does most definitely not fit all.  

The most successful social realities will come from diverse workforces – those that consider the diversity of their employees’ needs and find solutions to meet those needs. The war for talent will be won based on the social realities leaders cocreate with their workforce. 

What are you doing to build a culture that embraces the cocreated social realities of your current and future workforce?

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note

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