I’m borrowing the phrase “other-directed” from David Riesman’s 1950 classic, “The Lonely Crowd.”
Riesman argued that different eras nurture different personality types. The agricultural economy nurtured tradition-directed individuals. People lived according to the ancient cycles, customs and beliefs. Children grew up and performed the same roles as their parents.
The industrial era favored the inner-directed personality type. The inner-directed person was guided by a set of strong internal convictions, like Victorian morality. The inner-directed person was a hardy pioneer, the stolid engineer or the resilient steelworker — working on physical things. This person was often rigid, but also steadfast.
The other-directed personality type emerges in a service or information age economy. In this sort of economy, most workers are not working with physical things; they are manipulating people. The other-directed person becomes adept at pleasing others, at selling him or herself.
The other-directed person is attuned to what other people want him to be. The other-directed person is a pliable member of a team and yearns for acceptance. He or she is less notable for having a rigid character than for having a smooth personality.
In more recent past, others observing this kind of "other-directed" person have used the phrase, "external locus of control," meaning that the "externals" including people, events, circumstances have more influence over the person than the principles, values, thoughts and feelings from within.
While Brooks is writing about Mitt Romney, in a sense we all face the dilema of balancing our need to "please" and our need to set boundaries.
We have, in many ways, set in place strategies and tactics that encourage and develop "other-directed" people....
- In schools we ostracize the eccentric and romanticize the people who "fit in" and do not "raise any feathers.
- In our parenting, we tell boys,"Don't cry, be a man!" so that little boys learn that emulating other men, (most of whom never let themselves be seen "tearing up") is one of the ways to earn positive attention, reinforcement and how to "fit in".
- In our parenting, we tell little girls to "play fair" and to "play quiet" so that they learn the "rules of the game" include repressing their honest feelings, as a pathway to social acceptance.
- In our churches, particularly, we literally drive all poorly dressed and poorly "combed" and poorly "spoken" from our midst, believing that God would not want us to be associated with such "trash"....so all of our children who attend with us learn that such people "do not fit in"
- In our families, we point out all the local characters who "don't work" or who "drink too much" or who "aren't reliable" painting another picture of "fitting in " to our youth, by demonstrating the opposite appearances to those who fit it.
- In our advertising, and in our economies, we learn that 75% of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer purchases, and all of these are designed to "fit in" whether they be clothes, autos, toys, tech devices or vacations
- In our job interviews, we are told to research the culture of the workplace, its history and its hiring practices, in order to "fit in" for the purposes of the interview, so that, if hired, we will not cost too much in asking too many questions, will fit into the "flow" of the operation and the HR department can mark another "star" on the file of the hiring interviewer for "picking" the right candidate.
Those who make their own way, by arguing, by questioning, by doubting, by dressing uniquely, by designing new ways of doing things....are, in many cases shunned by their peers....unless and until their unique "creation" generates buckets of cash, and then "we" want to "fit in with them".
Manipulating others, then, has become the "password" for social, politicial and professional success. If we are able to do this, successfully, we will rise higher and higher in the conventional and highly paid salary grid.
Little wonder, our culture lacks innovation, creativity, eccentricity, and authenticity in our people.
Of course, you are thinking, this is all "relative" and your scribe seems to be painting a picture of the extreme.
Exaggeration ironically is one of the best recipes for satire.
However, when we compare different "images" from the television screen, once again, the "pro" has no awkwardness in front of the camera. S/He looks directly into the camera "naturally", and uses the teleprompter "naturally" and read the text "naturally" without evoking the doubts, fears and scepticism of the viewers. In interviews, there is a standard of performance that includes "engaging" the audience, speaking to their level, interacting as if over a beer in the backyard patio. In fact, during political campaigns, we often hear, "I would like to have dinner with that person; but I would never 'go for a beer' with that person."
It is our intuition, and our reading of body language and our "gut feelings" that tell us how we react to a person, especially a person in the public eye. Recently, a piece was published in several publications, documenting the positive co-relation between the doctor's body language and our attitudes to our own health.
Having an "inner locus of control" is one of the definitions of a spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically healthy individual. S/He is in touch with the emotions generated by most circumstances, and is able to express verbally a clue to those feelings without offending "the other;" s/he is also able to contextualize most new situations, from a bank of remembered and treasured experiences, either direct or imaginative (including vicarious), in order to "make sense" of the situation, in ways that mesh compatibly with the intepretations of those around, in a way to enrich the experience of all in the room .
In Canada, we have a prime minister who is "stuck on the external locus of control button"; he is highly manipulative, generating ideas and measures that seek, blatantly and unapologetically, the applause from his political base, without regard to the other 70% of the population who did not vote for him and his party, and whose contempt for his government grows hourly. "Other-directed" leaders are emotionally dependent on the approval of their sycophants; they thrive on hero worship, and thereby engender infantilized followers.
Such leaders are not interested in opposing opinions, becuase to hear such opinions, they would have to adjust their hardened picture of the universe, to which their every move is intended to sacralize, in the perverse hope that the applause will validate them.
I recall one employer who admitted, candidly at a public dinner of his corporate employees, "I do what I do for the applause! And I can never get enough!" My heart sank, as I considered how truly bankrupt his life had become.