“If God meant for us to carry baggage around, he would have made our skin have little pouches like kangaroos” ― Rachel Van Dyken
If Absolutely Everybody has Baggage (Fundamental Principle 15), and if we weren’t meant to carry baggage around, where did it all come from? We’ll have to peel that back before we can look at how it affects life, family, and, of course, our careers.
For an answer to the source of our baggage we’ll have to dig back into the Say-Do-Are framework (posted here) and decorate it with a little Cultural Influence.
At the foundation (Are) level in this framework we have our Values and Principles. Some of these are Innate, that is, we were born with them. Some of these one might also call character traits, because if we are born shy and withdrawn, we will probably value solitude, and if we are gregarious and outgoing we will probably value having plenty of people around. For simplicity, we’ll indicate this foundation thus (it’s a generalization, so it’s vague),
[Values in the Are level]
Almost immediately after birth we begin to be influenced by parents, family, peers, clan, tribe, and “village” (as posted earlier here). The lessons learned, or Acquired, add to and build our foundational Values and Principles. Again, for simplicity, (the squiggly line is just to indicate the positive, or negative impact of these acquired values), thus,
Most of these lessons are social lessons geared towards how we interact with each other and behave (‘Do’) in groups or in public. It appears possible to think in terms of the number of people we are interacting with in our simple sketch, with being solitary or in small numbers to the left, and in larger social environments to the right (i.e., we default to behaviors that are based on our more innate values in smaller groups (we can relax and ‘be ourselves’), but move to more expected or accepted ‘cultural’ behaviors based on our acquired values when in larger groups or in public).
[Behaving (‘Do’) in Public]
From experience, observations, and testimonies of others, it seems valid to draw a general hypothesis that positive, constructive lessons learned from Cultural Influence (originating with the social environment) lead to acquiring and/or reinforcing positive values and behaviors in our framework. This makes sense, as parents and others in the “village” give us positive feedback for behaviors and accomplishments that build understanding of common values being expressed in Practiced Behaviors, all for the good of Cultural Survival.
However, there are also negative, destructive lessons that we learn, either directly or vicariously. It is these lessons that contribute to if not create the baggage we accumulate.
There are event driven examples in everyone’s life, for instance, a child jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool to join his siblings and developing a fear of the water; fear of fire from getting burned; falling off a horse, etc.
But more specifically, consider cases of verbal, emotional, and/or physical abuse, and/or punishment or treatment for a culturally ‘unacceptable’ behavior or condition. I have no doubt that we each have experienced them in some form, but probably do not realize that they can also extend to very extreme but real examples:
- A Zero Sum (0∑) situation: Reactive Attachment Disorder in orphans, especially typical in Eastern Europe. This is often but not necessarily due to the child being mistreated, but certainly enhanced by being untreated, that is, through benign neglect that deprives a child of the opportunity to emotionally bond during a critical window in their development. If the window closes, the chance and ability to emotionally bond is markedly reduced, and this baggage is carried through life. Nothing beneficial overtly accrues to the benign caregivers, and the orphan does not realize the benefit that was not gained (0∑, the ‘win-lose’ situation, but where the loser (orphan) does not realize what is lost).
- Negative Sum (–∑) situation: When verbal, emotional, and/or physical abuses by a family member or a group’s leaders (supposed persons of trust) ‘take’ from a child or group members to fulfill their own needs. A demagogue or tyrant leader of an organization, cult, or society, for instance. More is actually permanently ‘taken’ from the victim(s), creating baggage, than temporarily accrues to the perpetrator whose need is never fulfilled (–∑, the ‘lose-lose’ situation).
- Positive Sum (+∑) situation: The Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, which is a psychological behavior where captives develop empathy/sympathy for their captors, essentially disregarding the risks (negatives) inherent in their situation and misinterpreting the lack of abuse as an act of kindness (positive). Temporary benefits are perceived to accrue to both captors and hostages (+∑, the ‘win-win’ situation), but the hostages acquire the baggage of being unable to reconcile their captivity with their ‘feelings’ for their captors.
There are any number of situations that can result in negative lessons, but the real devastating events are those where other people (as above), especially those we have been taught to trust, do things that create these negative, destructive lessons. These acquired lessons create baggage that may be difficult or impossible for some people to identify or overcome.
This baggage then, can become a behavior modifier. In other words,
The greater the negative, destructive event (or repeated events), the greater the potential baggage, which then reduces the number of ‘Do’ options (Practiced Behavior) available under various circumstances.
Added to our sketch above, it looks like this,
[Baggage limits Practiced Behaviors (‘Do’)]
Cultural Influence contributes significantly to this. Parents and immediate family generally respond to unacceptable behavior and attempt to correct it or teach socially acceptable behavior. Culture, however, when confronted with unacceptable social behavior, assumes the correcting and teaching attempts have failed and resorts to coercion, enforcement and/or punishment (shunning, excommunication, etc.).
Our individual desires for affirmation and to avoid enforcement and/or punishment lead us to follow culturally acquired acceptable group behaviors (to the right in our sketch) when in large or unfamiliar groups, although we would rather relax and behave according to our more predominant innate (and generally positively acquired) values (to the left) in more familiar surroundings. In other words, as the group size gets larger, the number of available Practiced Behaviors (‘Do’ options) can get smaller due to acquired baggage from negative experiences.
Some of us have learned behaviors that permit us to overcome or minimize small baggage;
Some of us have worked to recognize, deal with, and overcome greater baggage;
Some of us, while recognizing the baggage, still wrestle with how to overcome it; and
Some refuse to admit there is baggage and just avoid the provoking situations or people, or boldly stick to defensive Practiced Behaviors, including shifting the blame onto others or the situation.
It is possible to view these latter people as Serial Victims. They are the victims of one event or person after another. They would rather Fix the Blame than Fix the Problem by eliminating baggage.
To reach our full potential in life, family, and career, we must be careful to not avoid our baggage by hiding behind our Professed Behaviors (what we Say we would do under certain circumstances). This is because our baggage always gets revealed to people observing our Practiced Behaviors. In other words,
Practiced Behavior – Professed Behavior = Baggage
Yes, Baggage is negative.