Are People Taught to be Helpless?

April 10, 2009

What is learned helplessness? In short, it is the idea that society teaches you to be dependent on others and not self sufficient in some important way. Some sociologists argue modern cultures indirectly teach people to be helpless by socializing them to rely too much on others. There are many examples cited in such research.

Let’s review some of them now. Do you remember Katrina? Most of the middle and upper class residents of New Orleans left the city before the hurricane hit. They used their own cars. Most of the poor were dependent upon public transportation—city buses and the trolley system—which broke down. The dependent poor were stranded. But this didn’t just happen in New Orleans. How often do you hear about people getting stranded in snowstorms and dying in their cars waiting for help?

Now think about yourself for a moment. What would you do if your house was on fire? What would you do if a burglar was breaking into your house? What would you do if someone close to you became very sick? Did any of your responses consist of calling or going to someone else for assistance?

Would you like to discuss this issue? If so, respond to one of the talking points below:

1. Do you think people in America are becoming too dependent on community or government? Why or why not?

2. Do you think interdependence is a natural state in advanced societies? Why or why not?

3. Do you think interdependence among a population is a good or bad thing? Why?

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One comment

  1. This article is ridiculous – I don’t think a ‘dependence’ on public transport equates to ‘learned helplessness’. The car owners had a ‘dependence’ on their cars. Had for some reason their cars ceased to function as a means of getting them out of the area (e.g no gas, roads washed away, cars hijacked by the carless) they would have been stuck too. But then in that situation help from the ‘authorities’ would probably have been quickly available as they would have been deemed ‘worthy’.

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