The Socialization Deception
- Wednesday, January 23, 2013
To illustrate this idea of underlying assumptions, let’s take a simple example. Imagine you’re in another town visiting a friend. You’ve never been to this community before, and your friend takes you to lunch at her favorite local restaurant. As you’re looking over the menu, you narrow your selection down to a couple of options. You turn to your friend and ask, “Which option is tastier, A or B?”
What is the underlying assumption behind that question? Simply that you believe that both options have a certain degree of tastiness or desirability—that you would probably enjoy either selection. If you fully believed that you would find either option repulsive to your tastes, you wouldn’t ask the question.
Now, at this point, your friend can respond in one of two ways. She can either agree that one or both is tasty and point you to the one she believes you would enjoy the most, or she can challenge your assumption and say, “Neither of those options is very good. Let me point you to something better.”
The assumptions behind some questions are easier to spot than others, but I would go so far as to say that every single question you can imagine has one or more underlying assumptions. Some are deep, others are more superficial. Some are universally acknowledged, others are more personal. Some are rooted in faith, some are rooted in personal history, background, and experience. Some are very objective, others highly subjective. They can take many forms, but ultimately we can’t escape it: questions come prepackaged with underlying assumptions.
Identifying the assumptions behind a question can be critical in giving the right answer. For example, if you agree with the underlying assumption behind a question, you can answer the question exactly as it is asked. However, if there’s another question that has underlying assumptions that aren’t true—that betray a worldview or set of beliefs contrary to your own—then you can’t even answer the question, and if you do, you’ll be implying that you believe each and every one of the incorrect assumptions behind the question. We can grant the validity of the underlying beliefs without even thinking about it.
Let’s take another simple example. Suppose your four-year-old were to ask you, “Why is grass purple?” Would you launch into a detailed scientific explanation of why grass is the color that it is? Certainly not. But why? Because if you did, you would be confirming in your son’s mind his inaccurate belief that grass is indeed purple. You would need to first challenge his assumption—tell him that grass is green, not purple—and then, if he was still interested, you could tell him why grass is green. But to simply answer the question exactly as he asked it, without clarification, would be to give tacit agreement to his misguided belief about the world around him.
This may be a simple example, but it illustrates the point. Questions have underlying assumptions, and if those assumptions are incorrect, we dare not simply answer the question.
What does all of this have to do with the old socialization issue? Simply this: when people ask us “What about socialization?” they also are holding a set of underlying assumptions. When we answer the question exactly as it is asked by providing a laundry list of all our kids’ activities, we’ve granted the validity of each and every one of our questioners’ underlying assumptions—assumptions that we might not actually agree with if we only gave the matter a few moments of thought.
When this happens, we’ve allowed our critics to define the debate according to their worldview instead of challenging it with our own. And worse, we’ve perhaps given ground in our own minds to the world’s ways of thinking.
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