After years of external and internal observation, I have found that the ease, satisfaction, meaning and inner peace with which life unfolds each day is greatly dependent on the level of awareness we apply at any given moment. This is one of the main reasons why I have decided to dedicate my time, efforts and passions to helping people expand their consciousness.
The more we grow, expand or develop our consciousness, awareness or mindfulness, the more we are able to understand how and why life (or things in our life) work as they do. The more aware we become, the less we cling to illusory ideas or false beliefs, or blame the self, others or external forces for our fate, or that of someone else. The more mindful we are, the more empowered we are to act for our highest good, and that of others.
When we live life from a limited point of view, based on conditioned ideas, unconscious habits, or based on the neatly prescribed to us status quo, we often jump to false conclusions in our daily life interactions. These unconscious reactions can cost us, or someone else dearly in all areas, be they relationship, career, health, safety, or just plain personal happiness. They can even be a matter of life and death.
To help us explore and integrate the above mentioned further, this month’s consciousness expanding resource is the newly released book from Sam Sommers, called Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World. The author may not directly say that his book is to help us be more conscious human beings, but he does encourage us to realize that the context in which things are thought, said and done makes all the difference in how we navigate through life. In his book he demonstrates that becoming aware of the context and therefore appreciating the power of situations, can be a valuable skill to increasing the quality of our life, and that of others.
About the Author
Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World is written by Sam Sommers and newly released January 2012.
Sam is an award-winning psychology professor and researcher at Tufts University, outside Boston. His research area focuses specifically on social psychology, with specialties in how people think, communicate, and behave in diverse settings, as well as psychological perspectives on the U.S. legal system.
Situations Matter is Sam’s first published book. He has published dozens of articles featuring his research, which has also been covered by various media outlets to date.
To learn more about Sam and his work, visit: SamSommers.com
About the Format
Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World is around 300 pages, but an easily flowing, non-intimidating, smooth read. It is composed of a prologue, 7 chapters and epilogue. The chapters are as follows:
Chapter 1 – WYSIWYG
Chapter 2 – Help Wanted
Chapter 3 – Go With the Flow
Chapter 4 – You’re Not the Person You Thought You Were
Chapter 5 – Mars and Venus Here on Earth
Chapter 6 – Love
Chapter 7 – Hate
Book Content & Personal Commentary
From a general overview, Situations Matter was an enjoyable and inquisitive read for me. Although today I come at the concepts the book addresses from more of a broader, spiritual and consciousness evolution perspective, there was a time in my life where I formally studied human psychology and found it to be one of my main interests. Social psychology is thus the foundation of this book, from which stem the author’s expertise, research and conclusions.
The main messages that the author conveys through this book are that we often fail to see the bigger picture, and that situations matter—a lot. Might not sound like a big deal to some, but as the author demonstrates through personal and third party research, it makes all the difference in how we conduct our daily lives. This in turn influences how effective we are in all that we do, our levels of happiness and interactions with others.
The world around us is constantly pulling our strings, coloring how we think and guiding how we behave. And yet we rarely notice.
Sam Sommers, Situations Matter
Chapter 1 was definitely my favorite chapter in the book. In it, the author dives into some interesting stories and statistics as to how much our immediate context shapes how we see and interact with the social universe around us. And I have to agree with the main findings; here in North America too many of us live on auto-pilot, or in some robotic trance. We have lost sensitivity to our environmental and survival cues. What you see, is definitely not always what you get. We become creatures of habit and routine, failing to see the richness of life and opportunities presented to us in each moment. We are quick to judge people, instead of understanding their actions given the context of the situation they are in. We are quick to react, even in the face of compelling evidence showing us other actions or choices would be better suited in a particular situation. And the main reasons why we are unable to see the broader context or bigger picture? We are too busy, tired or scrambling for time—basically preoccupied with things outside of the present moment that we are in.
Chapter 2, although very important, was least enjoyable for me to read, as I am sure it will be for many others. Here, the author goes through numerous examples (and way too many details about horrific crimes), as to how and why so much help needed by people, especially in life and death situations, goes unnoticed. The points presented and conclusions reached definitely are valid and give us all something to think about. Numerous direct and indirect calls for help each day go unanswered as most of us are either afraid to act, fail to see what is happening or simply take the inactive role due to the “somebody else will take care of it” crowd mentality. We are often apathetic in our everyday approach with others and our environment, self-absorbed in ourselves instead.
Chapter 3 addressed some more important themes in how much conformity plays a role in our lives, leading us to various unfavorable action or inaction. Too many of us prefer the follower mentality and will do whatever it takes not to “rock the boat” or attract attention to ourselves, even if it means betraying ourselves in the process.
We so often fail to see ourselves for who we really are.
Sam Sommers, Situations Matter
Chapter 4 was a fantastic read which allowed the reader lots of opportunity to examine the concept of self, who we think we are, and where our personal sense of identity really comes from, given different contexts. This was a chapter where I definitely would not agree with everything the author shared given our differing perspectives on the topics mentioned, but it made for a very thought provoking read nonetheless. The major downfall of the information presented here for me, was a bit too much generalizing, almost belittling the topic of self-help, personal introspection, and perhaps even the field of spirituality, etc. What the author describes as the illusive “true self” is I know for a fact not how most spiritual teachers see the true self. The Ego-identity so called “true self” is definitely dynamic and very context dependent, and not something one should cling to for dear life to define who they are. However, the spiritual or energetic true self is beyond all limits and identities, encompassing the everything and nothing, and context independent. Ultimately as the author points to, and with which I wholeheartedly agree, the reality experienced is very much based on personal perceptions.
Chapter 5 was another great read, which will no doubt open many people’s eyes and minds to new ways of seeing the world with regards to gender differences. As the research presented proves most of the ideas we hold about men and women are highly context dependent and culturally influenced, rather than having any biological or genetic basis. The author debunks commonly held ideas like men being more aggressive or women being worse at math. An outstanding theory that he presents, and with which I and the field of quantum physics would greatly agree with, is that we observe, what we expect to see, and what we expect is culturally set. We have been so conditioned to think that what we see is a result of some set rules or constants, but the truth is quite opposite. For example how we treat a baby or child who is a boy changes their behavior towards a particular tendency, rather than them being born a certain way. We then get, what we expect to get. The same holds true for girls.
Men and women are more similar than different.
Sam Sommers, Situations Matter
Chapter 6, on what makes us attracted to particular people or situations, was based on the big role that familiarity plays in our choices. It wasn’t the strongest or well developed chapter in the whole book in my opinion, but like the others, shared some valuable insights to help expand our awareness of how and why we relate to some people as we do. If nothing else, the author gave some great tips for those who are single and looking to find a partner.
Chapter 7 has a surprising title—Hate—and what will be an equally so surprising conclusion for many. Prejudice and racism are explored in this chapter, as well as how we form divisions against certain group differences. The most profound part of this chapter is how influential our subconscious attitudes towards others are, and how they shape the context in different situations.
Categorization leads us to exaggerate small differences between groups and overlook big differences within them.
Sam Sommers, Situations Matter
The book is written in an easy-to-read format, with a fair use of humor and personal anecdotes interwoven throughout to keep things fairly interesting. A large part of the book is comprised of various research studies that were done, which prove or disprove various thought patters we hold. It definitely will not cater to everyone’s tastes, as it is written from a scientific and rather left-brained perspective, but there are many who will appreciate the research and observations it presents. I can see it being most appealing to those who enjoy books like Malcolm Gladwell’s, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which weave together stories based on various social scientific findings.
So in the end, one may conclude that by being aware of context and situations, it would automatically make one a better person. Knowing that there is a bigger picture or often unknown-to-us-in-the-moment reason, we may no longer honk when someone cuts us off or yell at the waiter when he gets our order wrong. But as the author states, that is not necessarily true at all. His goal in writing the book was to “shake up assumptions” that we hold about the self, others and our world, and to make us more effective human beings in knowing how to use situations to our advantage. The truth that goes along with this is of course that such information can be used for good or harm. We already know (or should know) that a lot of it is used by marketing companies, the military or even cult leaders to manipulate the unsuspecting ones amongst us. This is where fostering awareness and increasing the consciousness with which we live is priceless, and allows us to avoid many of the pitfalls that come with common situations each day.
The book is great at making us both stop and think, as well as expand our awareness. Each day as we rush through life, we often miss the bigger picture; we miss the context of the millions of situations we move through and in turn react in unfavorable ways. These unconscious patterns fueled by various fears, biases or conditioned beliefs end up affecting us and often those around us in negative ways.
The good news is that just by reading the different case scenarios Sam presents, we become aware of what we may have been blind to all along. And once we are aware, awareness usually cannot be undone. The next time you are in one of the situations mentioned, you are that much more likely to act with more mindfulness, making you a more effective, and I dare say, better human being. I know that all that Sam presented in his book has definitely expanded my awareness to be even more conscious of the daily situations in my own life, for which I am very grateful.