Cultural and personality consistency patterns
I told her I had magical powers. I was standing in the kitchen of a colleague's house with his young daughter. The other adults were preoccupied so I decided to play a little game with her. I'd never been in their house before, but I told her I knew what was in each of the three drawers beside us. I covered my eyes and asked her to pull out the top drawer. "There are knives forks and spoons in that drawer" I said. She didn't seem very impressed.
I covered my eyes again. Open the second drawer I said. "Are there are cooking utensils, wooden spoons, ladel, egg flip, tongs, things like that?" "There are!" she replied, sounding a little more engaged.
OK, let's try the bottom drawer. "This will be a bit harder", I say, "I'll have to concentrate." I feigned thinking hard. "OK, open the drawer", I say. "Are there rolls of cling wrap, baking paper? Maybe some tea towels and oven mitts?" "Wow", she says, finally impressed, "How did you know that?"
Well, there was a risk I'd get it wrong, but cultural norms are strong, so I was pretty confident.
Change is of course possible and randomness is extremely formative in our lives. But for the most part our living is very predictable, based on relentless repetition. So much is predictable.
Some of this predictability comes with agreed social rules (such driving on the left (or right) side of the road.) These customs become part of our natural instincts so when walking on the footpath we are naturally inclined to veer left when someone is coming toward us. The countless examples of social norms help us navigate life with some semblance of order; the alternative would be utter chaos. I think of culture a bit like a plant: the seed contains the blue print, you cannot predict exactly what the plant will look like, but you know in broad terms. An apricot tree is an apricot tree.
The same is true for people. We like to think we are spontaneous and can change easily, but the reality is that, like a plant, much of who we are is predetermined. The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. It is certainly true for personality preferences and inclinations. If my desk is tidy, the chances are my garage and kitchen will also be ordered. If I am spontaneous in my social life, it is likely I will be reactionary and flexible at work. etc.
Which doesn't mean we can't train ourselves to grow in certain ways through discipline and training. As I recall someone saying to me when I was at uni: "If you don't want to be a dirty old man, don't be a dirty young man." Consistency in a particular direction.
I see the world in patterns. I find myself seeing beyond the individual roles people play in a social group, for example, to the patterns of behaviour that are recognisable in other forums. I walk into new spaces (built environments) and map what I experience to the patterns of what I know and have experienced in other comparable spaces. For better or worse it means I often react less to the actual person than the type of behaviour.
I have mused elsewhere about the dangers of putting ourselves and others in boxes that constrain rather than liberate. The knowledge of cultural and personality patterns may present that risk. Pattern intelligence will appreciate that patterns are not rules, but simply norms that help us navigate life. Pattern wisdom goes further and will be intentional about knowing how to maintain or break cultural patterns based on a broader set of values.
Pattern wisdom will allow us to move through the pattern and be fully present to the specifics of what we experiencing. In other words, the pattern offers a language to understand the particular, but then move past generalisations back to the specific.