, Research Paper
The Current Nature of Human Relations
Group Project 1
Richard J. Sebastian
March 9, 2000
The nature of human relations is evolutionary. It changes over time as our society adjusts to our ever-changing environment. These changes can be positive or negative, and sometimes necessary changes have both positive and negative consequences on our lives. It seems that the overall nature of current human relations can best be determined by examining human interaction in a few key areas. Interaction in the workplace, the school, and the home, as well as interaction among strangers, can be analyzed to provide an accurate description. There are many factors that can have an effect on our interaction in each of these settings.
The workplace is an environment in which there is generally a high degree of personal interaction. Recent technological advances have made it much easier for people to communicate with one another. The emergence of the Internet in the 1990’s has forever changed the way that people will interact with one another. E-mail has become a way to connect with co-workers anywhere in the world. No longer is one confined to only communicating with people in their department or office. The increasing popularity of cellular phones had also changed human relations. One can now be reached virtually anytime, anywhere.
Although technology has made human relations easier in the workplace, it has also decreased the amount of face-to-face interaction. People are relying immensely on technology and it has become simply easier to send an e-mail to someone than to physically go and talk to them. Technology has also created the virtual workplace, where people can work from the confines of their own home. This has drastically reduced the amount of personal interaction between workers. This new type of workplace is only in its beginning phase and will continue to gain popularity in the next millennium.
The cultural diversity of the typical workplace has increased greatly over the last decade. This increase in diversity has come from a couple of sources. First, many companies were forced to diversify to comply with equal opportunity laws. Second, companies began to discover that people from different ethnic backgrounds were helpful in working with a wide spectrum of customers. Regardless of the reasons, this increasing diversity in the workforce has caused a change in human interaction. People are now being exposed to others with many different cultural backgrounds, beliefs and customs. This has forced people to expand their horizons and learn the proper ways to relate to people from other cultures. Many times language barriers exist, and it can be difficult to establish effective communication. Diversity has, for the most part, improved human relations within the workplace. It has made people friendlier towards others who are different and helped them to develop and improve the way they interact with co-workers.
Unfortunately, not all workplace interaction is changing for the better. The threat of violence has been an increased concern for many companies. Homicide is the leading cause of death in the finance, insurance, and real estate industries (McMurry, 96). Violence in the workplace is blamed for the decreasing quality of human relations in many companies. In the past, many people considered their co-workers as a kind of extended family, which gave them a sense of security. In today’s workplace, however, layoffs and downsizing have taken away that family feeling. Workers today feel as though they are just one part of a machine, and could easily be replaced. This has degraded the quality of personal interaction in the workplace. A co-worker who at one time may have been like a brother to you is now a competitor who could easily replace you. This feeling has lessened the friendliness between workers and has led to increased workplace violence.
The workplace is not the only institution in which we have seen an increase of violence in the 1990s. It seems that this trend toward violent behavior is crossing the generation gaps and invading our schools as well. Too often we are seeing children inflicting harm on other students in what should be a safe and supportive environment. The shootings at Columbine high school in Littleton, Colorado last year sent shock waves through the nation, and made it clear that school violence should be an issue of concern. Just recently, a six year old boy in Michigan shot and killed a fellow classmate at school. The fact that this first grade boy had access to a gun, and the will to use it to harm another student, shows that children of all ages are aware of this trend toward violent behavior in our society.
Schools today are changing in many of the same ways as the workplace. Advancing technology and growing diversity are having an impact on the environment of schools across the nation. These aspects of change are having many positive influences on the quality of education available to our students. Advances in computers and the internet make limitless amounts of information accessible to students. Cultural diversity in schools helps children to learn at a young age that there are many things that can be learned from other people’s cultures. These changes are very important to society as a whole because they indicate that future generations will be more accepting of differences and better able to accommodate others. These social skills that children learn at school have a strong impact on how they will relate to others throughout their lives.
Nearly everyday people face situations in which they interact with strangers. These interactions are very common, since one naturally meets new people while going about one’s daily routine. The nature of human relations between strangers is complex and dependent upon certain situations. Most of the time these interactions are polite or at the least non-committal. Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend in recent times towards distrust and outright violence in a growing percentage of these daily social interactions.
An example is “road rage”, or aggressive driving, becoming more and more prevalent in our society. Dr. Arnold Nerenberg of Clinic Well-Being, who has established a road rage web site, claims that twenty eight thousand people died in 1996 because of aggressive driving. It is estimated that over two billion episodes of road rage occur each year. This is evidence that strangers are relating to one another in violent ways, but it has not become totally pervasive yet. Thankfully we still see many situations where drivers are courteous to one another, either by letting someone merge into traffic or by waving another driver to go ahead at a four way stop sign.
Besides those interactions strangers experience while driving, there are other incidents that show the complexity of these situations. There are many incidents seen on the news stations that show horrific, violent events. For instance, in Minnesota, there was recently a kidnapping and potential murder of a young woman named Katie Poirer. While she was working at a gas station, a man not known to Katie abducted her by gun point. Her whereabouts are still unknown, but what is known is that this is not an isolated event. There are many children kidnapped each year in the United States.
There are many other personal incidents that show that violence is becoming very prevalent in our society. While Craig was at the Red Carpet bar with his friends he witnessed a potential violent situation. His friend happened to look around the bar and made eye contact with a man who was glaring at him. The friend nodded his head to this stranger in polite acknowledgement. The man responded by asking, “Do you want something?” in a very belligerent tone. Craig’s friend knew that this person was looking for a fight and did not want to get involved in this type of situation. This is just one example of the growing amount of unprovoked aggression.
Even though these examples of random violence seem to be increasing at an alarming rate, things are not yet hopeless. In theory, people should be able to trust one another to be civil, even as complete strangers, and many times they can. Another trend in society today is situations in which people perform “random acts of kindness.” There was a movement in the 1990’s to practice random acts of kindness, utilizing television, radio and billboards to spread the message of caring and consideration of others. Oprah Winfrey’s television talk show had several segments on this topic, and there is now a web site devoted to the issue of being kind to strangers. Perhaps the most promising sign that there may still be hope is the overwhelming change in attitudes we see during the Christmas season. This is a time when people give gifts and money to those less fortunate, go caroling door to door to bring good cheer, and say Merry Christmas even to people they do not know.
Relations between strangers are different in face-to-face situations as opposed to interactions via technology. When strangers meet in person, they are likely to quickly make eye contact and then look away. According to William Gudykunst and Young Yun Kim, this situation can be explained because “in communication we seek to reduce uncertainty. Communication with strangers involves relatively greater degrees of uncertainty” thus people may feel higher levels of anxiety (www.colorado.edu).
This may explain the growing number of people who are choosing to interact with strangers via Internet chat rooms. In this situation there is no face-to-face contact, so people do not have to worry about how they are perceived if they were to make a mistake. Anxiety is reduced, making this interaction between strangers easier.
Another important area that has seen changes in the 1990s is the structure and role of the family. In today’s environment the traditional family as it was known in the past is no longer the norm. There are many factors contributing to the increasing number of non-traditional families. The ease of obtaining a divorce and the increase in teenage pregnancies have led to smaller families and more single parent families. Many single parents are overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising a child, and in some cases the parent is still a teenager, and not yet mature themselves.
Another growing non-traditional family type is a result of inter-racial marriages. This is a result of the growing diversity in our society, and is a positive sign of the growing acceptance of differences. Unfortunately, problems may arise in these families because of the mix of different cultural customs and values. There may also be disapproval and/or disrespect from other family members. Sometimes a bi-racial couple can be torn apart by pressures from a racist father and/or mother. Many mixed children have problems at school because they don’t know where they fit in at school and may be teased by other students.
Not only is the structure of the typical family changing, but the way children are being raised is changing as well. It has been referred to as a decline in family values by many people and is often an issue of political debate. The bottom line is that the dynamics of family interaction are changing, and the result is increased turbulence within the family unit. These changing dynamics include decreased quality and quantity of communication, decreased interaction and interest in the lives of other family members, and decreased ability of parents to manage and control the behavior of their children.
Parents today are timid to punish their children physically because they are afraid that the child may claim child abuse. The current trend is to seek alternative approaches, such as counseling, as a way to alter behavior. Therefore many parents end up unable to discipline their children and let them do as they please. Parents need to be involved in their children’s lives and encourage schoolwork and involvement in extracurricular activities. Parents that show an interest in their child’s life will have a child that is more likely to develop good morals and make good decisions. Many of the “problem children” in our society are getting into trouble to gain attention because they lack this attention from their own families.
These changes in the typical family seem to be a major factor in the general decline in the nature of human relations. Without a strong family support system, children are growing up with weaker morals and increased susceptibility to peer pressure and violent or anti-social tendencies. The typical family has changed so much recently that it is difficult to avoid these problems. Family members are busy, schedules are hectic, and quality family interaction is consequently diminished. Rarely is it easy to get the family together for an activity as simple as dinner. Public service announcement commercials can be seen on TV reminding parents to talk to their children. When TV is needed to remind us that family interaction is important, it is obvious that there is a problem.
This brings us to another important cause of the current decline of human relations, namely the influence of television and the media. The issue of increasing violence in the media has become a heavily debated topic. Many people argue that the trend toward violence throughout society is caused, or at least encouraged by the violence we are exposed to in movies and television programs. Television manufacturers have recently installed a “V-chip” in television sets to help prevent young children from watching violent programs. Still, the parents have to be proactive in their children’s viewing habits, because the TV needs to be programmed or monitored on what shows are suitable for children.
A recent investigation on the influence of violence through TV programs showed that children behave differently after watching a violent program versus a non-violent program. The two programs that were contrasted in the investigation were “The Power Rangers” and “Barney”, two popular children’s’ shows. The test took place in a daycare setting. As the children were shown the “Barney” video, they were singing and dancing along with the purple dinosaur. However, when the video of the Power Rangers was shown, the group of children began imitating the roles of the characters, kicking and punching at each other and showing an increase in violent behavior. This is just one example suggesting that the more that children are exposed to violent behavior, the more likely it is that they will act upon the behavior they have seen. As these children grow up being continually exposed to violent images, it may have an overall effect on the way they relate to others, including strangers.
Other explanations exist as to why there is violence among strangers. One explanation is the diverse population of the United States. Our communication with strangers is influenced by the groups to which we belong. As a part of our socialization into these groups we are taught to avoid people from certain other groups. Because there is less acceptance among people of different cultures, problems may arise. Violence may also be attributed to the value that our culture places on individualism. Because people are focused on their own concerns, they are less likely to help others. This then creates a cyclical effect, in which people believe they are not cared about, and consequently are less likely to care about others.
This seems to be the overwhelming trend that is changing the nature of human relations in the new millennium; that people just care less about each other. Not only is this affecting interaction between strangers, but also interaction with those that we consider friends. Friendships are becoming more superficial, due to a variety of reasons. People change jobs more often and families move away, leading to shorter lengths of relationships and an inability to develop deep friendships. People find themselves with many acquaintances and fewer true friends.
All of the issues that we have addressed are obvious areas of concern, but can they be considered problems? Changes in diversity and technology have many positive impacts on our society and the way we interact with one another. There may also be a few negative impacts, but these trends really are not problems. On the other hand, the increase in violence in seemingly all venues of our society, along with the decrease in family values and communication, are clearly problems that need to be addressed. Unfortunately, there is no simple or realistic answer to these problems. These issues can only be dealt with on a personal level, each individual doing his/her part for the greater good of society. We must take it upon ourselves to be accepting of others, avoid violent behavior, and raise or contribute to our families in positive and nurturing ways.
Glaser, Tanya. (1998). “Communicating With Strangers: An Approach to Intercultural Communication”. Online. Internet. www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/example/gudy6816.htm
McMurry, Kelly. (1996). “In Harms Way: Workplace Violence on the Rise”.
Trial, September 1996, pp. 96-98.
Nerenberg, Arnold, Ph.D. (1998). “Road Rage”. Online. Internet.