I remember my earliest days in the psychology field, when we were discussing cognitive development from birth through adulthood. As any social science undergrad would know, one cannot have a discussion about cognitive development without diving into the work of Jean Piaget. Piaget is credited as being one of the first scientists to show that children do not simply think less when compared to adults; they think differently. Their ability to perceive and deconstruct the world around them is a function of their development through the early life span.
In his work, Piaget found that during their early years, children show a pattern of egocentrism. This is an inability to infer another person’s mental status and perspective. Stated more simply, children were unable to see the world through another person’s eyes. So if, for example, you asked a young child to show you a picture she had drawn, the likelihood was high that the child would show you the back of the paper. She herself could see the picture, so you obviously could as well.
As they grow and mature cognitively, most children learn how to reconcile their egocentrism and see the world through various sets of social lenses. They develop empathy, understanding, patience, and logical reasoning. Unfortunately, many in this country (and in our own community) seem to be mired in persistent egocentrism.
We see this quite often from members of the community who have become more upwardly mobile than most folks. In many cases, their assumption is that they achieved such upward mobility solely out of their own hard work and rugged individualism. Similarly, persistent egocentrism is evident amongst folks who believe that their own personal achievements (and the reasons behind them) can be extrapolated to entire groups of people. We see this in the attitude of many who obtain college degrees. For example, rather than arriving at the logical conclusion that college is an expensive investment that not all can afford (particularly on account of widespread systemic poverty), they instead adopt the attitude of, “Oh, well I got into college because I worked hard, so that’s all it takes; if another Latino can’t go to college, it’s because they are just lazy.”
Similar perspectives are adopted when lashing out at Latinos who cannot speak fluent English. But if we assumed that there really was a one-to-one correlation between hard work and success (as measured by financial wealth), then we would expect a normal distribution of “wealth” across all demographics (since “hard work” is a pretty universal ability). Of course, this normal distribution of wealth does not exist.
Such egocentric mindsets do not bode well for galvanizing the community under a common vision and common goals. Instead, they lead many Latinos to support measures that are against their best interests, or to disparage efforts that promote an overall greater quality of life for all. If we are to be serious about being a global force, we must seek to properly understand the complexities of human behavior and motivation.