The world is an amazing place. It’s so complex and diverse that it can seem like there are infinite possibilities for who we are, what we do, and where we live. But the truth is, if you take a step back and you compare your culture to other cultures, the similarities will become clear.

What this tells us is that our environment shapes us tremendously. We’re not just born into a certain ethnicity or nationality. These things come about based on where we live in relation to others who have the same beliefs, the same customs, and the same resources available to us (such as language).

1. What is reciprocal shaping or co-creation

Reciprocal shaping is the idea that our environment shapes us, while we shape the world. This act of shaping is reciprocal because it happens in both directions (environment shapes person and person shapes environment).

There are three actors in this process: the environment, the person, and the mind (or beliefs). The second way of looking at it would be that there are two actors: an external environment and a person. Whichever perspective you take, one thing is certain-our world acts back on us and designs us.

Environment: The physical world that we live in. This includes our neighborhood, community, work, city, country, and the planet as a whole.

Person: The human being who is acting back on their environment. This includes our habits and behaviors, but also our choices and how we behave towards others. It relates to what we do inside of this physical world-how we invest our time, energy, and money.

Mind: The aspect of a person that may or may not have anything to do with the physical world. In other words, it’s the part of us that thinks about what we’re doing-our mental processes, thoughts, and beliefs. This includes our morals, sense of identity, and spirituality.

For example, we grow up in a certain environment and we’re shaped by that. Then, as we mature and our mind begins to take hold (especially around adolescence), we begin shaping the world based on what we believe. This circular process of reciprocal shaping is what determines who we become.

2. How does our environment shape us

I really wanted to talk about society and this post is my way to stop and look at the bigger picture. Ashamed to say, it isn’t a nice picture. Please keep an open mind and know that this post is in no way intended to target or hurt anyone or any group.

It is just the way my mind works and it goes philosophical when breaking things (like society) down to their core.

Today we see a clear dualization at every level of society. Politics, media, social media, work, transport, environment, … every facet of our lives is becoming more and more polarized. 

What is polarization?

Polarization is thorough us-them thinking. It is a division of society into groups. In camps. Those groups can be very real. For example, there are Americans and Chinese, Democrats and Republicans. But the polarization arises when one pole starts to attribute characteristics to the other pole.

Then you hear that the Chinese are socialists, the Americans are greedy, and the Democrats are out of touch with the people. This is not based on anything real.

Polarization also arises when one side says that there’s just one way to do something. Now you have Republicans saying that being gay isn’t normal or Democrats saying that anyone who watches Fox News is stupid.

The Dutch philosopher Bart Brandsma sees polarization as an abstract thought construction that is not based on facts. For example, the Germans are punctual, the Dutch are frugal, the French are jovial, one group is lazy and the other racist. And of course that applies to all Germans, Dutch, French at any time and everywhere.

Fueling polarization

Such a construction constantly needs fuel, otherwise, the polarization will quietly die out. Compare it to a fireplace where you regularly have to throw a stump to keep the fire from going out.

The fuel for polarization are statements about ‘our’ or ‘their’ identity. These are often statements that are repeated and reinforced at regular intervals.

Although the us-them differences are presented as factual truth, facts have only a limited effect on polarization. This is because it is pre-eminently an emotional dynamic. Polarization is not a rational, but an emotional process in which the gut plays a major role.

Why is it hard to get out of polarization?

The fact that our environment shapes our doing and our believes, makes it hard or even impossible to get out of this polarization. When we take away the fuel for polarization-the statements about identity-we abolish the reason for polarization.

However, by doing so you just shut down the process that is driven by emotions. That’s why it will always win in the end because emotions are more powerful than rationality.

People don’t want to polarize… we somewhat get forced to do so

Why do so many people walk into the trap?

I’m sure some people see benefits in polarization and they fuel it on purpose. Leaders like Trump and other populist politicians have learned (from being in such an environment) how to use the dualization. How to divide and conquer in the short term.

If you want to get your message on traditional media, you need to make it different from other messages. By polarizing you stand out, you make sure people know what you stand for.

Social media makes it even worst. Studies have shown social media is fueling polarization from within its core. We need to get likes, we have a short detention span, we can boldly spit our guts on anything and anyone. We like to make bold statements and get noticed by others. Some will like it, some will not. We can discuss all night and form 2 camps.

Vicious circle

It’s a vicious circle. You are stuck in a world of polarization. You see it, you hear it, you might get influenced and do it yourself. Social media and modern politics make it easy and help you do so. That environment (created by us) shapes us more every day.

Each day more of our environment is shaped by polarization. Politics, job market… From your own profession, you can see how people are polarized. Just take a look at journalists. They seem to be the worst these days… and who can blame them. They need a top-notch article or interview and they know it gets more viewers or readers when they play the “we VS them” game.

Each day your environment makes it harder for you to change direction. There are now more people who think like you, fewer people who don’t. We can now find each other easier on social media. That way our own polarization becomes stronger every day.

For example, if you’re born into an environment that is poor and doesn’t provide access to quality healthcare, you’re more likely to have health problems.

If you are raised in a household with homophobic parents, you are more likely to have anti-gay beliefs or behaviors because there’s no exposure to gay people or exposure to healthy interactions between gay and straight people.

If you grow up in a culture with rigid gender norms, you might decide that being female is less desirable than being male. Or if your culture puts emphasis on romance as the main goal of courtship, then it’s likely that there will be higher divorce rates.

3. Ways we can use this knowledge to our advantage in life and business

You can use this knowledge to your advantage. There are two ways of doing so. The first is by understanding the emotional dynamics of polarization and trying to come up with a solution that doesn’t bring attention to one’s identity. The second would be by symbolizing their identities, but managing them better.

The first way would be to use an example from business. Brands should focus on what they offer rather than who their customers are. Foundations, for example, need not mention “for women or girls” or “against boys or men.”

The second way would be to avoid the trap altogether by practicing mindfulness meditation that helps you understand how you feel before you act on those feelings. This is especially true for people who are constantly in

4. Why it is important to be open minded about other cultures and beliefs, as well as different ways of living

It is important to be open minded, not only about other cultures and beliefs, but also about different ways of living. One example is in the area of housing. For decades, cities have been zoned so that people choose between living in affordable single-family homes on quiet streets or noisy apartment buildings near transportation hubs. As a result, families are often forced to live far away from their jobs in suburbs where the cost of owning a home is too expensive for them. Younger professionals are also pushed to these areas when they can’t afford to buy a home in the city where they work.

The lack of housing options in these major cities has created an environment in which certain groups dominate neighborhoods, leading to social isolation within these enclaves.

This is an example of how the environment shapes us. It’s not only poverty that can influence your life. Look at people who are obese because they eat too much, or smoke several packs every day… The list goes on and on. We live in a world where we need to be very careful about what kind of food we eat, what kind of people we come in contact with. There’s a lot going on…

Through reciprocity, what shapes us influences our environment and what shapes our environment, in turn, shapes us.

5. How this phenomenon can be used in marketing and advertising

As well as shaping people’s behavior, the environment has to be taken into account when considering effective marketing campaigns. Sustainability is one factor that affects how consumers make decisions about what products or services they buy…

When it comes to advertising, the environment is one of the strongest forms of influence. Everything around us shapes who we are, what we believe in, and how we see the world. People who grow up in poverty are affected by it while people raised with healthy family relationships aren’t.

Advertisers should be mindful of how they portray themselves within their ads. For example, a company that is trying to depict what it means to be “green” in order to appeal to an environmentally-conscious demographic should take care not to come off as advertising only for the wealthy who can afford to buy hybrids and solar panels. This would alienate a large number of potential customers instead of appealing to them.

6. Can Society fight back

In society, there are forces that make things balanced. In the 1940s polarization got its peak, but after WW2, people’s minds changed. You could no longer be proud of making war… people started making love and peace.

Today, we see people attempting to moderate the polarization. Some are more successful than others. We recognize that even noble causes may contribute to the polarization due on account of how the world influences us.

Black lives matter, #metoo, climate youth, vaccinations, WOKE… we saw all of them turned into riots. Into massive ugly discussions on television and social media …

It’s always win or lose, we against them, with us or against us, …

Can we fight back. Yes, we can. We can change our world be being the change. Start with yourself and only yourself. Don’t preach to others, don’t point fingers… lead by example. Nothing more, nothing less. Because, before you know it you’ll be fueling polarization yourself.

I know it is a bit of a cliché… and that could be the reason why it might first need to get worst before it gets better.

7. What strategies can break through harmful polarization?

You want to intervene in (interethnic or social) polarization that threatens the social fabric. But how? The Dutch philosopher Bart Brandsma summarizes this in four game changers.

  • First, focus your attention on the large group in the middle. Pushers also target this middle group, increasing the pressure on them to choose sides, for or against. You can only effectively depolarize by adopting the same strategy, moving your attention away from the poles and investing in the middle.
  • Second, you change the subject. Shift the debate, and look for the desire of the middle. Do not emphasize how people differ, but what they have in common.
  • You can only find out the right subject by really entering into a dialogue, instead of standing above the parties. Any good dialogue starts with listening. You can only listen if you change position yourself and stand between the people in the middle. That’s the third game changer.
  • Finally, you also change your tone. If you’re in the middle, you don’t judge. You do interact with people in a connecting way.


Polarization is a hot topic in the world today. There are many ways we can see it-from protest movements to marketing and advertising campaigns. Regardless of whether you’re working on an ad campaign or just trying to live your life, understanding polarization is important.

Knowing how it takes shape will help you be more mindful when making decisions about what kind of content to share online, with friends and family members offline, etc. With this article as a guide for where to start looking at polarizing forces in society (whether they be social pressures or environmental factors), hopefully, you will find yourselves less polarized by these societal dynamics than before reading!

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