Social Facts: Putting new thinking in old mindsets

By: Bruce Mann, TC Executive Director

When you and I read the Word of God, we read a lot about change, particularly of our thinking. Thinking differently provides new motivation, expands vision and changes behaviour. It’s all part of our transformation into the likeness of Christ.

By definition transformation involves change, and change is hard. In particular, changing the way an individual or a group of people think is incredibly challenging because it goes beyond providing new concepts or better ideas; sometimes you have to free people from influences that they may not even be aware are impacting them. One of these influences is a concept I’ve been studying called a “social fact”.

In sociology, social facts are the values, cultural norms, and social structures which transcend the individual and are capable of exercising social control. French sociologist Émile Durkheim defined the term, and proposed that social facts “consist of manners of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual, which are invested with a coercive power by virtue of which they exercise control over the person”.

In other words, social facts are influences from those around you to think and do the same things as them. If you were on your own you might not choose to think or do those things, but these social facts have the power to affect you because of your connection to a group. Closely related to the idea of social facts are “socioreligious facts”. As you might guess, these are thoughts or behaviours that combine religious and social factors.

Let me explain how this is relevant to you and me. In his book, Transformation, Ed Silvoso explains five pivotal paradigms for transformation (here’s a link). Many people will hear the message of transformation, be impacted, and yet still process the concepts through the values, cultural (or religious) norms, and social structures which transcend the individual and therefore exercise control over the person or group. It’s new information processed through an old filter or, as Jesus described in Luke 5:37, new wine in an old wineskin. Eventually the old wineskin will burst.

In Romans 12:2 Paul tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. It’s a very familiar passage, but he’s not just talking about new information. It’s about new thought patterns, new values and a new worldview. To truly see transformation personally and within our sphere of influence it is highly likely that we will need to disentangle ourselves from the structures, values and entrenched thinking that can limit our ability to envision change. Old social facts will also create roadblocks to relationships and actions that could be catalysts for a powerful transformational influence.

We live in a time where, as followers of Jesus, we will need to rise above the social facts of our day if we truly want to function as transformational influencers.

New wine in a new wine skin!

Over the next few months we will explore some of the social facts that may be influencing us that we may not even be aware of.

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