Primary socialization is a type of conditioning.

What does it mean when something – or someone – is “conditioned”?

Merriam-webster defines conditioning as follows: “to adapt, modify, or mold so as to conform to an environing culture.”

Primary socialization is one reason why the universal norm doesn’t exist. It is the period during which culture is formed within each individual, when a child learns not only what is acceptable in his society, but what should motivate him or her.

To illustrate this cultural conditioning in stark contrast, let’s take a look at the motivations taught to an American child as opposed to a Middle Eastern child.

The American Child

Primary conditioning for young Americans is largely based in individual ambition, success, and self-determination.

The American Dream is the basis for this – the idea that if you work hard and put your mind to it, you can do anything you want in life.

You can be a teacher, a doctor, an actor, an astronaut…even the President of the United States.

As historian, James Truslow Adams, writes in Epic of America: “The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

In general, this is what American children are taught; that they are the masters of their own destiny. Entrepreneurs and people who’ve “come from nothing” are highly esteemed in America. The self-made man reigns supreme here.

An American child is exposed to plenty of examples of successful folks who came from nothing and became successful. They have motivational speakers in school. They are often told that goal-setting, discipline, and hard work are the keys to success.

This is the conditioning an American receives from childhood: that they can do anything, be anything. That nothing stands in their way.

The Middle Eastern Child

Primary conditioning for a Middle Eastern child is quite the opposite. It’s largely based in communal success and a “destiny” that is out of their hands.

Middle Eastern children generally grow up in large close-knit families. Although school is important, the wise elders of the community are even more highly respected educators of life. A Middle Eastern child would likely bend an ear to the wisdom of old, rather than to a textbook.

While the American Dream is more career-centric, the Middle Eastern dream is family-centric. Building a happy family is the most important thing. As I mentioned in last week’s post, traditional African families place similar value on family as a large, connected unit.

Unlike the American, the Middle Eastern child will grow up with the concept of a fate that they have no hand in. Their destiny can’t be forced, so there is no need to place great emphasis on goal-setting and discipline. If the child’s destiny is predetermined, then success will come in time…if that is God’s will.

Cultural Clash

So what happens when these cultures clash? Tune in next week for Primary Socialization V: What Would You Do?

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