“Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World” by Sam Sommers

“Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World”
by Sam Sommers
Read by Joshua Swanson
Published by Penguin Audio (2012)
8 hours and 24 minutes

I have always had an interest in psychology and sociology, specifically I’ve always wondered what makes people tick and how can you make them tick differently.  In fact while in college In my general ed. psychology class, my professor and his T.A. kept trying to get me to convert my major to psychology, I seemed to always have the best questions in class, I guess, and the grasp I always had for the concepts behind what makes the mind work impressed them.  But I was determined to change the world by becoming the best audio production person the radio world has ever seen.  Maybe I should have listened.

Anyway, I saw this audiobook in the new releases from Penguin audio and wondered if this could help me with my copywriting.  Yes, just like any other copywriter I use psychology to try and make the audience realize that they need the product I’m writing about.  Sneaky? yeah, but it works.  So I saw this book, and after reading about the book I thought, well this sounds like it is probably a self-help book, and really I don’t subscribe to all this Dr. Phil self help junk.  In actuality I probably would have been a thorn in the side of the Psychology department because I feel that Freud ruined Western Civilization. In my humble opinion, I believe therapy is just a way to not have to take the blame for any of our own actions.  Knowing all this, you can probably see why I almost didn’t give this book a chance, but, I’m glad I did.  It seems that the author, Sam Sommers is also not a fan of the self-help genre, he even goes as far as saying so in the introduction.  This book explores not how you can improve yourself but rather how the invisible forces influence your life, in turn this shows how understanding them can improve everything you do.

Sam Sommers is an award-winning teacher and researcher of social psychology at Tufts University outside Boston. His research specialties include how people think, communicate, and behave in diverse settings, as well as psychological perspectives on the U.S. legal system.

The book is presented in a factual yet easy-going and at times humorous manner that shows through personal examples from the author and through various studies world wide about how the world around you shapes your instincts and sometimes most private thoughts.  Through this easy-going manner the book expresses the ups and downs that are the human experience.  Our lives are full of situations that are humorous and serious and this is perfectly reflected in the tone of this book.

The presentation from the reader, Joshua Swanson, makes this an audiobook experience that emphasizes the humor and easy-going presentation written by Sommers.   Swanson reads the material in a manner that keeps the listener listening and makes the presentation of some of the statistical studies not merely a presentation but as though you and the author were sitting down and discussing the concepts presented.   This actually makes it so that the learning is fun or rather as Bill Cosby used to say in the Fat Albert show, “And if you’re not careful, you may learn something before it’s done.”  I know I finished the book with a clearer perspective of my fellow 3rd rockers.

Some of the examples of context affecting our attitude are pretty dark and include such cases as a man dying on a subway and no one notices he is dead for several hours, the 38 witnesses to an abduction of a child and no one steps in to question the situation, and several studies where the test subject relies on those around to decide how to act.  In the listening of the different cases and studies, I found myself saying, “Not me, I would have checked the man to see if he was okay, or I would have not paid attention to those around me and would pull the fire alarm if smoke was coming in under the door to a roomful of people.  But according to all the cases and studies the facts point otherwise.  And looking at some situations, I tend to agree when in a crowd, and there is an emergency, I do find myself thinking someone closer to the emergency will do something.

As the author says, “Just as a museum visitor neglects to notice the frames around paintings, so do people miss the influence of ordinary situations on the way they think and act. But frames – situations – do matter. Your experience viewing the paintings wouldn’t be the same without them. The same is true for human nature.”  By understanding the powerful influence that context has in our lives and using this knowledge to rethink how we see the world, we can be more effective at work, at home, and in daily interactions with others. He describes the pitfalls to avoid and offers insights into making better decisions and smarter observations about the world around us.

Sommers covers several issues throughout the book from gender differences in society, how we react to emergencies in different situations and even racism.  I will say the section on racism was the most eye opening for me.  I won’t go into this chapter, because I want you to be able to experience the eye opener presented for yourself.  I will say that the overall message behind the book I took out of it, is that we are not who we think we are, because our selves change through time and in context.  Just knowing this can alert you to maybe in the next situation you can do something to help or just make your life easier.