Saturday, June 30, 2012

Accommodation, Assimilation and Normalization

 I was reading about concepts related to learning today and came upon these two terms: accommodation and assimilation. As I understand them, they might be explained this way: accommodation is the adjustment we must make when a new reality is discovered that changes a “held belief”, whereas assimilation is incorporating new information that just adds to our belief.

For example, if, as a child we have a pet cat that is gray in color we might assume that all cats are gray. Then we come across a cat that is black and we modify our belief to “not all cats are gray”. That is accommodation.

Then, along comes a third cat that happens to be Siamese and is neither black nor gray. We have already determined that cats come in different colors, and including this new information just adds to our already established belief. This is assimilation.

(I suppose I could also maintain my belief that cats only come in gray and that the black and Siamese are not cats but other species. But I would be a strange child.)

With these concepts in hand I was trying to determine if my acceptance of mental fatigue as normal was accommodation or assimilation. Then I realized it was neither. It was normalization. Duh.

We can normalize behaviors as a result of familiarity. If I grew up with a rageaholic in the family, then yelling just seems normal to me. So I might never question whether it is healthy. If I marry a noisy angry person I might just accept that that’s how people are. Hopefully somewhere along the way I will discover my misconception and accommodate the new reality and respond appropriately. If I do not, I will just become part of the transmittal of multigenerational family problems.

We can also normalize behaviors or states of being when we repeat them so often that we just adjust to them. Sleeplessness and metal fatigue is like that for me if I am not careful. After a while I begin to rationalize that this is how I am wired and so I determine that it must be normal for me. But it’s not healthy.

For me it takes a couple of good nights of sleep and a break from my work routine to realize that I have slipped into some unhealthy adjustments. If I am smart, I try to correct the circumstances under which I might slip back into my bad habits. This is why vacations and “days off” are so essential for me.

How about you? What have you or others around you normalized that are creating personal or relational difficulties? Sometimes it takes courage and fortitude to make the necessary changes.     

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