This section is from the book "Principles Of Sociology With Educational Applications", by Frederick R. Clow. Also available from Amazon: Principles of sociology with educational applications.
The reactions which follow communication have been analyzed most fully by the psychologist, Tarde, and the sociologist, Giddings; to these two the writer is most indebted for the ideas contained in the three following paragraphs.
When communication is started between persons who are already much alike it tends to make them more alike; assimilation is the technical name for this reaction. There are two ways in which this takes place. Each is stated here in a paragraph but will be elaborated farther on in a chapter.
Mind like every other force in nature tends to follow the line of least resistance. When it is in condition for action and no habitual line of action offers, then it is likely to act according to some model which is presented to it; even the most original mind follows some kind of cue. And so imitation and suggestion play a great part in bringing about assimilation. If one boy in school asks for a drink, others will want a drink, too. The great importance of personality, just alluded to, comes in this way: in proportion as the personality is attractive it offers a model for active but unemployed minds to follow. Sympathy is a slightly different form of the same thing. You relate an experience to a friend; in proportion as the friend is constituted like yourself and puts himself in your place, he has the same feelings as yourself - gets into sympathy with you.
Socialization thus finds its tap-root in sympathetic emotionalism. - Jastrow, Character and Temperament, p. 198.
. . . The basis of any deep sense of relationship is the realization of a common experience. We expect sympathy and understanding only from those who have had experiences similar to our own. ... - Betts, Social Principles of Education, p. 236.
Three girls in conversation one day fell to speaking about their mothers. Two of them had recently lost their mothers; these two talked long and earnestly of this hard experience. Finally the third one interposed: "Girls, I don't want to be unsympathetic: it must be just terrible to lose one's mother. But you see we have never lost anyone from our family, so I do not know how to sympathize with you. I just can't understand what your feelings must be like."
Two girls were always alone at school. They did not seem interested in anything beyond school work. At recess they would stand and look at the others playing, with never a word to say. They seemed afraid to express an opinion on anything. The reason was that our small townis divided into two parts, and these two girls lived "across the pond." On the way home they walked in a different direction from the rest of us and they lived too far away to come and play with us after supper. But within the last three years they have surmounted this obstacle to their communication. They have taken part in all the social activities of the school in company with the girls of their classes.
Communication is imperfect unless it does produce sympathy. If the same experience is emotionally different to yourself and your friend, then neither can fully understand the other.
Sympathy is both the result of communication and the basis for more communication.
Kindness and the wish for the good opinion of others accomplish the same result in a somewhat different way. You receive a communication from another person. If you wish to please him and have him think well of you you will express agreement with him unless there be clear ground for opposing him. A certain lady, who is more than usually independent in thought and action, carries this tendency to such an extreme that it becomes a mannerism. In animated conversation she often repeats instantly the exact form of words spoken by another.
... In the first place, it must be recognized that human intercourse is far from being a complete mutual uncovering, inasmuch as converse is a social act implying a willingness to tolerate and a wish to please. Without assuming that "language is given us to conceal thought," we can yet safely say that only a part of the contents of one's mind is communicated to others. . . .
. . . The communication by which associates come to have ideas and ideals in common is carried on in a propitiatory spirit, and is more or less seasoned to the taste of the listener. If it be otherwise, if intercourse becomes an avowal of hostile intentions or a mutual hurling of defiance, all friendly talk is soon broken off, and association ends in flight or avoidance. This being granted, it is easy to see that a man will prudently lock within his own breast those notions and projects which are so egoistic and aggressive that nobody else can share them. He will cast into the stock of ideas circulating through the capillaries of intercourse only those which are not hateful or shocking to his hearer. - Ross, Social Control, PP- 342, 343-
In all of these cases we have assimilation by attraction; the bonds which unite are those of feeling. These bonds are strong because they are usually unseen and unfelt, and therefore arouse no resistance. No mechanism is needed to put them on beyond communication itself in some one of its many forms, though of course personal communication is more effective than impersonal.
The other method of assimilation is just the opposite of this. It is coercion. The stronger of two persons wishes to use the other for some purpose of his own, or perhaps he merely wishes to gratify his love of domination. He impresses his will upon the other by force, intimidation, command, deception, or any way that will bring the desired result; attraction may even be used to some extent. Petruchio's shrew of a bride was not disposed to go on horseback for their wedding journey, so he picked her up and set her in the saddle and started off. Two boys see a robbery; one of them wants to give information of it, but the other is a friend of the robbers and frightens him out of it. Then there is the ordinary command from an official: the teacher taps the bell and the class rises; but here, of course, the assimilation is superficial. Sometimes the coercion comes from the situation without anyone intending it. If I wish to be in the throng I must go the way the throng goes, though no one may care whether I go that way or not. A class is planning an excursion. Shall it be up the river or across the lake? A vote is taken and the minority yields to the majority. Each person in the majority has his wish, but it is probably no part of his wish to coerce anyone else; it is simply an individual preference. The coercion is in the situation: the class want to go together, the divergent wants must be harmonized; the communication simply makes the situation known. However, it is by using the situation that the coercive person usually gets his results: he may even represent the situation in such a way as to get his results by the method of attraction without any coercion being apparent, though of course if he misrepresents the situation he undermines his own influence.
But communication does not always tend toward assimilation. When the persons are very different to start with, then communication, if not long continued, tends to further differentiate them. You see a beggar, or a foreigner, or an aged person: you feel no attraction, you experience no inclination to do the same things - at least at first view, without regard to what a closer communication might reveal. Your feeling is one of repulsion; you avoid anything which seems like imitation. Instead of sympathy there is antipathy: the beggar's servility, the foreigner's displeasure with our customs, the aged person's love of quiet, are feelings which you cannot share. You may see the reasons for them and you may pity the persons who are so unfortunate as to possess them; but to see any exhibition of them prompts you rather to indulge in feelings of just the opposite character. You stand straighter after meeting a beggar, you love your own ways more after a glance at the foreigner's oddities, after seeing an aged recluse you plunge with more zest into some hurly-burly of action. The reason is that there is too wide a difference between yourself and these other persons; there is no consciousness of kind; there is no apparent like-mindedness; your world seems totally different from theirs.
Social repulsion is as characteristic of us as social attraction. - Lee, Play in Education, p. 323.
I know a girl who attends high school. She is peculiar in that she does not mix with the other pupils. She dresses in the fashion of her grandmother, or perhaps of someone farther back than that. There does not seem to be anyone like-minded from whom she could get her ways. She seems to persist in her peculiarities from choice; she likes to be different.
When the teacher exhorts a mischievous boy to study his lesson, calling his attention at the same time to the studious girl of the class, no assimilation results because the boy feels that both teacher and girl are beings of a different order from himself; their approval of study is really prima facie reason why he should not study, for he wishes rather to avoid becoming such as they are.
Then again persons may be so situated as to be rivals: two boys in love with the same girl, two competitors in business, two teachers applying for the same position. Or they may be outright opponents: the players in a game of tennis, the rooters on opposite sides at a football game, the buyer and the seller in a business deal, a bull and a bear in the market. Each is then keenly interested in any communication from or about the other relating to the matter in hand, but with antipathy running through all: what elates the one depresses the other, and vice versa. The necessary antipathies tend to arouse still others; this may go on until sympathy is crowded out and a feud established. Then any communication relating to the success of either party causes opposite reactions in each.
All that is said here, however, about these differentiating factors, is subject to one qualification. If the antipathies be not so strong but that they can be controlled, a working adjustment of them will grow up in time; if communication be gradually extended to other matters, some sympathies may be revealed; a relation which began with repulsion may end with attraction. Of course the growth may be in the opposite direction - from attraction to repulsion; but the point to be made here is that the common humanity in all people affords a basis for sympathy and assimilative communication, provided time enough be taken to find it and opportunity be given to build upon it. If teacher and pupil are working at cross purposes, it usually requires only a frank talk about their differences, or a chance to meet socially and let each discover that the other is human, or a bit of cooperative activity in which the more disgruntled of the two is genuinely interested, to find a common ground of sympathy. At the same time it must be admitted that there are some persons between whom antipathies exist so strong as to nullify whatever sympathies there would otherwise be ground for, even after long trial. The reports of the divorce cases give testimony to this. Teachers would best admit that such antipathies may be found in the school as well as in the home.
There was considerable trouble between the boys of a school and a farmer whose land adjoined. The farmer scolded because the boys trampled down his crop, while the boys insisted on the right to enter the field for their balls. The boys were not careful and the farmer was cross. Finally the farmer called at the school. Each side stated its case and an agreement was made. After that things were peaceful for a long time.