Should the Child be more dominant than the Parent and the Adult?

Guest post by Venkat B., my batchmate in college, now living in USA, and a regular reader and commenter on my blog.

Before I explain the title of this post, I want to provide a little background. I spent the first thirty years of my life in India. I went to school and college in India and worked for six years there before moving to the USA. When I joined this big software consulting firm in the mid-1980s, I was exposed to many computer courses during the initial two-month training period. In one of the systems analysis courses, the instructor prescribed a book on “Transactional Analysis”. Since online screen based interactions on the computer are called “transactions”, I assumed it was just another technical book. When I checked it out from our company library and started reading the book, I realized that it was far from ‘just another technical book’. It was so interesting that I kept it for almost a year, reading and re-reading in bits and pieces whenever I found time. I do not remember the exact title or author of the book, but the subject can be found in Wikipedia.

“Transactional Analysis” was first started in the field of psychology to study and explain how humans behave and interact. It has many uses, but one is that it is a theory of communication that can be extended to the analysis of systems and organisations, which is probably why it was prescribed as reading material (though it was never discussed in the classroom). I found this subject quite intuitive since it talked about how every person has 3 ego states – Adult, Parent and Child. There are a couple of different sub-classifications for Parent and Child states, and these can be found on the web for those who are interested. Every child plays games of assuming “parent-child” roles. What is interesting is that this continues even through the adult life during everyday interactions in work and elsewhere. By analysing and discerning the “ego state” from which a person is communicating, the interactions could go more smoothly. If people who are communicating adopt “complementary” ego-states, we will not have “blocked” transactions which lead to many problems.

The real application of the book dawned on me when my company sent me on a couple of trips abroad. On my first trip to Europe, I realized in my interactions (apart from the culture shock) that most westerners were transacting from the “child” ego state, which normally acts on strong feelings of like or dislike, fear, spontaneous instincts and expressiveness.

In my very next trip to the Middle East, I realized that most Arabs were transacting from the “parent” ego state, which operates by domination, dogmatic ideology and/or nurturing.

These contrasts led me to arrive at the conclusion that Indians predominantly transact as “adults”. The “adult” operates out of reasonableness, processing data based on experiences and taking decisions.

I went on to analyse why “things work” for the west. The “child” is innocent and enthusiastically follows “rules” of the game. Rule-abidance is strong in the west helping the society want and seek progress. The “parent” also follows their own rules which they set in the first place. In the Middle East, this is more observed in religious ideology sometimes bordering on fanaticism. In contrast, the “adult” does not always follow the rules and reasons out when or whether it is convenient to follow them or not. Perhaps this attitude of ours has been contributing to the traffic, cleanliness and corruption problems in our country. But I must say that I have been noticing more enthusiasm and willingness to work in our younger generation during my recent visits. Not sure if this due to “aping the west” in everything including their “child” attitude. This is not to say that one ego state is better than another since we have all three in a person whether we like it or not. If “child” or “parent” goes out of control by following or making up silly rules and innocently or dogmatically following them, it is the “adult” who needs to use reason to rein them in. For a society to shed its ego and communicate and interact effectively to make progress, perhaps the dominance of the “child” is the best bet?!

6 thoughts on “Should the Child be more dominant than the Parent and the Adult?

    • I think the living conditions also have a significant impact. For example, we see Indians are generally law-abiding when they live abroad or go abroad on a visit, but revert to their original behaviour once they’re back. Similarly, would a European or American continue in the ‘child’ ego state if (s)he has to live in India under the same conditions as the common Indian, or would (s)he tend to change gradually to the ‘adult’ ego state?

      • Very true. I am sure those state transformations do happen. I have noticed that the western women who have lived long enough in the Middle East act more subdued and low key as they are forced to follow some local traditions ( like wearing headdress etc.). The weather may be a factor as we do not have those extremes in most parts of India.

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