Culture Push, Culture Pull

[Epistemic status: speculative, based off my interpretation of Kegan stage 3 -> 4 transition]

Sometimes you want to absorb the culture around you (like the first day at a new job, or when you travel to a new city). Other times you want to explicitly take part in creating the culture you're in (culture push). Culture push is an active process that you do through negotiation. Its hard and intimidating.

So lots of people (younger me included) have a tendency to use culture pull in every situation. But that has a danger - you might end up with shitty friends and then adopt their shitty values. So you solve that by being picky about who your friends are. In effect, because we know we'll adopt our tribe's values we get picky in choosing a tribe.

So then, how do you pick your tribe? And how do you get your tribe to accept you? Well, for my money thats where all of the junky resharing of banal posts comes from. You want to post things that are controversial enough that they signal ingroup. But not too controversial that anyone in your ingroup might take offence and revoke your membership card. Post about hating Trump. Post about how awful the Paris bombings were. Post about how you have an interesting opinion on star wars.

For the most part I don't think the twitter hate mob descends because of actual hate. I think the mob is mostly there for the experience of solidarity. Its a mob of people trying to signal their group membership to each other. What the nominal enemy thinks isn't actually important - the mob is only pretending to talk to them. I watched a video yesterday of celebrities reading out mean tweets people had written them. It was fascinating how strange it was. My interpretation is that the tweets weren't written for the celebrity at all. They were written for the tweeters' friends, who see hating on the celebrity as part of their tribe identity. That the celebrities in question saw the tweets is funny and jarring.

This is also why highschoolers think its cool to not care what other people think. If your only tool is culture pull, you can't create culture on your own. Having opinions is dangerous because you're in danger of doing it wrong and offending your tribe. You need people who aren't afraid of losing their membership to hold strong views. Then you can agree or disagree. Without that you just have an echo chamber. We need bloggers to tell us who to love and who to hate.

Culture push

This kind of culture pull thinking pulls the cart before the horse. Instead of having values / goals and picking a social group with similar values, you're picking a social group then aligning your values after the fact. Its probably developmentally important for your values - we don't figure out who we are in a vacuum. We decide that by trying different ideas on and seeing what fits.

But in the long run you want to learn culture push.

With culture push when you're in a culture you disagree with, explicitly take a stand to change the culture you're in. This requires a few things: You need to actually have personal values. You need to have the social skills to disagree. And you need to have the confidence that telling people you disagree with them won't make the people you care about hate you forever.

  • "I think this meeting has become unproductive."
  • "Hey the other day you said X, which left me wondering what you think about consent. Can we talk about that?"
  • "I know you might not want to hear this, but I'm worried about you." "Can we have a word? .. I'm nervous about the direction this company is heading."
  • "Before the meeting starts I want to quickly bring up an issue. I've heard people in the office using the term Z and that term is considered quite offensive."
  • "We need to talk about my pay."
  • "I want to debrief on what we did last night. What did you enjoy the most? What didn't work? Is there anything in particular you'd like to try?"

These are all culture push statements. Does the idea of expressing these statements seem scary? Thats normal and natural - misusing culture push will make people hate you. But using it well will make you strictly more capable and empowered. It'll make your groups and communities more supportive and more effective. And it'll make your relationships more loving. And it'll make you much more capable of change in your workplace.

I use the word culture here, but remember that culture is something that exists between any group of two or more people. You have a culture by default with everyone you interact with. The more you interact with specific groups or people the more you'll develop a culture specific to those groups. In effect, culture push is the skill of designing the kind of interactions you have.

The defaults often aren't very good.

Actually the defaults are often terrible. This is especially true in relationships when we don't have a lot of experience to draw from or mature leaders to model. My best relationship advice for young people is to read the crap out of Captain Awkward, and read it with your partner. Her work will both strengthen your culture push skill and give you better cultural expectations for relationships you create.

I'm not saying that culture push is the only tool. First day in a new country, of course culture pull. But as I've been getting more mature, becoming comfortable with culture push in all the different settings feels like a superpower. Its an essential part of Kegan's stage 4. Its scary but its an essential part of leadership.

Aside: This sort of mirrors the Exit, Voice dichotomy.