As I have already talked a little bit about in previous blog posts, we can't know anything beyond our own perception. Everything that we perceive is a part of us, because they are all our mental representations, they are constructions of our minds based on our senses. We can think of this boundary between our perception and the world around us as a bubble. This is our individual bubble, the boundary between our perception and the world itself, as it is, independent of our perception.
We not only perceive the world around us, we also perceive one another, and we are aware that others are perceiving us. We are each living within the confines of our personal bubble and trying to connect somehow. To connect, we need to spend time together and go through experiences together. In a sense, we need to try to expand our bubbles to create a shared social bubble. We need to have similar experiences, which allows for some level of communication. The problem is that the way we interpret what we perceive is part of our own reality, which is constructed from the collection of all our previous experiences. And other people don't have our experiences, they have their own past experiences which create a lens through which they see others and the world.
Therefore, it is not enough to spend time together, sharing present experiences. In order to connect, we need to share past experiences as well. We can never share all our life experiences, so we can never connect fully, but we can share some experiences and create some connection, a social bubble that is only partially constructed from our individual bubbles. We can't erase the bubbles around us but we can get a glimpse of one another through them, as we build our social bubbles and our personal ones become more transparent. Transparency leads to connection. This is essential for communication, for all relationships, and for society as a whole. If we can't create an intersubjective reality that we all share, society is bound to break down as we talk past one another.
We also have walls around us that we cannot see. These walls are the social boundaries that we build to regulate our social relationships. These boundaries exist to keep us separated and to help us define ourselves in relation to others. They are also boundaries that we have built to protect ourselves and which others have built to exclude us.
Our social boundaries are a little bit like membranes. Membranes are porous, they allow some people in while keeping some people out. In this manner, they regulate our social interactions. On the other hand, we have a limited amount of time, energy, and attention. For that reason, our social boundaries tend to keep a lot more people out than allow people in. On top of that, even if we do let people in, we never see the world through their perspective, so the best we can do is get a sense of what they think and feel. These factors make the social boundary more like a wall than a membrane.
We all have a limited amount of time which we can use. We don't have time for everything and for everyone, so we must make choices about how we spend our time. We can always either spend time by ourselves or spend time with others. We also can't spend time with everyone all the time, so we must choose who to spend time with. Those who we choose to spend time with, we let them into our lives. Those who we don't choose to spend time with, we exclude from our lives.
The process by which we choose who we let into our lives and who we don't let into our lives is not very conscious. People often don't even know who they let into their lives and who they don't because all that they know is their perception of others, not others as they truly are. This is especially true about strangers. Most people aren’t even aware of the walls, let alone their choices regarding those walls. They make these choices almost unconsciously, and almost purely automatically, based on a collection of unconscious biases, many of which are socially created and transmitted.
Making conscious, intentional, choices takes a lot of time and energy. For that reason, we have evolved ways to automate decision-making processes. We develop habits and biases to speed up the process of selection so that we don't take too much time making choices. These biases are often the result of experiences that we have had in our lives. Unfortunately, these biases are often detrimental to us and they also can be programmed into us through certain social processes. Many biases are passed on to us by our parents and by society around us.
We ultimately choose who we let into our walls and who we keep out through a very unconscious and biased process. We may, for instance, choose to let in people who are harmful to us because, at a younger age, we got used to that kind of people. They are who we are accustomed to, so we let them in. Meanwhile, we may exclude people who would be beneficial to us from our lives because we make the wrong assumptions about them. These assumptions are often based on some kind of prejudice which we learned from a young age. For example, someone may choose to exclude someone who is black or someone who doesn't behave in a neurotypical way. Culture plays a significant role in this process, as culture teaches that certain people are desirable while others should be avoided. Perceived social value thus shapes who gets to be influential and who doesn't.
People are often not conscious about how their choices are influenced by culture and prejudice. They choose who to include in their lives and who to exclude virtually automatically. The more someone is considered socially valuable, the more likely they are to be included by others. The most extreme version of that is fame. Everyone wants someone famous in their lives, usually someone they specifically prefer. Most people are not famous, but they are generally socially included. Other people find them valuable because they are “normal”. They are “default human 1.0”. Then there are various groups of people who find one another socially valuable thanks to their perceived similarities, so they stick together. Some of those are subcultures, like people who like rock and roll, and goths. Finally, while some people manage to be included in communities of people like them, where the walls are lowered, others are often excluded from all communities and are left alone, with walls all around them. They are not considered socially valuable, so they are largely excluded from other people's lives. They end up spending most of their time alone, which has significant negative physical and mental health consequences. Some examples are people with mental illnesses, people who are very physically ill, and people who are considered disabled in some way, such as autistic people. Those people are generally excluded from social life.
The Impact of Social Exclusion
People often minimize the impact that our social lives have on our quality of life, but our social life has a significant impact on our lives. Our social lives include friends, lovers, and jobs. People with rich social lives have many friends, lovers, and good well-paying jobs. People with poor social lives have few to no friends, few to no lovers, and bad poorly paying jobs. The richer our social life, the better our lives are. The poorer our social lives are, the harder it is to survive, let alone thrive. The exclusion of some people from social life ends up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where their social skills worsen from the exclusion and then they are blamed for their own exclusion. Through this process, people can justify their prejudice and claim that the exclusion of certain people is necessary and fair. Walls are built all around those people and they become trapped. When they can’t break through the walls, they are blamed as if their condition is an individual failure rather than a social reality constructed by everyone around them.
Escaping is only possible if others see their social value. Only then they can be integrated and finally included in society. This is why it's important to recognize how society tends to actively exclude some people. People who are excluded often become invisible. Others can "see" them and even acknowledge their existence, but they don't include them in their lives. They don't spend time with them. Nobody does. Exclusion occurs not only from a process of active exclusion but also from a passive process of lack of inclusion. If some people are not let into anyone's lives, they are effectively excluded. They are not excluded because an individual excluded them but because many individuals separately excluded them and, thus, responsibility falls on the one who is excluded rather than the social structures that are causing the exclusion in the first place. If nobody wants to spend time with them, and if they always get turned down for good jobs, even when they have the qualifications to get a good job, they are effectively excluded from society. Only with the awareness that some people are, through no fault of their own, excluded from society, only then one may notice people around them who are not included.
The walls that we build to let some people in and keep some people out can be helpful to us, but they can also be harmful both to us and to others. We should pay more attention to those walls, and make more conscious choices about who we let in and who we keep out. We should reach out to others, especially those who might not be included, instead of making assumptions about them and keeping them out of our lives, because we don't really know them. We only see our version of others, we don't see who they are. And only if we let them into our lives, we can find out who they really are.
People are generally terrible at assessing value, and social value is part of the value that we assess. For example, marketing and personal branding are often used to manipulate people's perception of social value, to make leeches appear socially valuable while people who are actually far more socially valuable than the leeches are perceived to be socially worthless, or generally of lower social value than the leeches. We need to get better at recognizing the good people and including them, and recognizing the people who are not so good and keeping them out of our lives and away from power. Only then we can start improving society. As long as we have harmful people who are considered socially valuable and good people who are not, we will have a broken society. A big part of the reason why society is so broken is because terrible people are given a lot of love, attention, and power, while people who could really help make the world a better place are ignored and forgotten.
We all make choices about who we let into our lives, how much we disclose about ourselves to others, and who we exclude from our lives. To a certain extent, some will inevitably be excluded from our individual lives because we all have a limited amount of time, we can't all include everyone in our lives. But we don’t need to exclude anyone from society as a whole. At the end of the day, our finite time and attention only make the subject of who gets attention and influence in society even more crucial.