Monday, July 28, 2014

Victoria III

Victoria and her grandfather have just departed for England. I may not hear much about Victoria in the future, so I'll attempt to sum up my thoughts about her now. I think that at heart Victoria is a relatively normal 17-year-old girl and that all of her aberrant behavior can be attributed to environmental factors. Her shyness, which is a common characteristic among English people, especially when compared to Americans, makes her weak points stand out more than they might otherwise, but it does not in itself signify any sort of pathology or disability.

According to the standards of educated people in developed countries, Victoria has been poorly raised. Within her household, there are no family discussions, people eat in separate groups, and most of the time spent at home is spent privately by each family member. Apparently the family never socializes in the sense of having visitors whom the family greets collectively or social occasions during which the family visits as a group. As far as I am able to determine, the only family activities, other than occasional visits to close relatives, are family vacations, which are planned by Victoria's mother without any discussion. This seems to explain why Victoria is unable to engage in the kind of sustained social conversation that most of the people I know consider obligatory. People who don't engage in it are rude, dysfunctional or ignorant, and the latter seems to be the case with Victoria.

What we noticed about Victoria is that if someone persists in pursuing her on various topics, she will simply ignore anything that doesn't interest her but become slightly responsive when something does interest her. Thus it takes a great deal of trial-and-error to connect with her at all. Then, after an initial connection is made, she has almost none of the follow-through that might put people at ease in the sense of acknowledging that some minimal level of communication has in fact been reached.

It is second nature to me, and I think to many people, to have a story line about yourself and your interests when engaging socially. It is also de rigueur to display some inquisitiveness about others, particularly when they are your hosts. Victoria was a complete blank in these two important aspects of social life. To say that she had no story line would be an understatement. We still don't know why she visited after spending hours trying to extract information from her. All of the activities that we planned for her were based on speculation about what we thought she might like, not on what she said she would like. During the visit, she did not express any curiosity about any aspect of the U.S. or any of the people whom she met here. Her cousin, Christian, was the most energetic in entertaining her and at least got her to participate in some outdoor activities. Otherwise she would probably have stayed inside all day without even looking out of a window.

Another part of the puzzle, which I alluded to earlier, is the world of electronic communication. On the surface, people of Victoria's age have simply found new ways to remain in touch with their friends on a more continuous basis than was possible in the past. However, I believe that an unintended consequence of this new technology is to draw people inward, not in a spiritual sense, but in an environmental sense. Their consciousnesses are less attuned to their physical surroundings than was the case for people of previous generations, and their sense of reality has been permanently altered. The danger here is that developing minds that are not looking beyond the soothing confirmations of a like-minded, immature peer group will be inhibited from gaining the broader experience that has historically been obtained through direct contact with the unmediated world.

At this stage in Victoria's development, on first glance it seems probable that she will follow a trajectory similar to that of her sister, Elizabeth. Her critical thinking skills may have been inhibited by her upbringing and her narrow social network. Based on her current demeanor, she would have little chance of success at anything that required an interview, from college admissions to jobs. Nevertheless, although it is hard for anyone to escape their background, there is hope for Victoria. She seems to have been a favorite in her family, which may have given her some self-confidence. She is also the third of three children, which means that she may eventually become more rebellious and less conventional than her siblings (read Born to Rebel, by Frank Sulloway). And one can still hope that by the time she has absorbed her experiences from this trip her horizons will have broadened a little.


  1. This set of posts was most interesting. I did not want to comment specifically on your niece's behaviours. I have young daughters as well and I have my thoughts. But moreover it was fortunate to be able to observe someone 'close up' who does not conform to our mainstream western behaviours. I do agree that the technology they have exacerbates these behaviours. So I think that if you noticed other people will as well and this is a tough world as anomalies to the expected generally stand out and are either not tolerated, or accepted or the person is left alone. I hope I am not out of line with this comment.

    1. This was an unusual situation for me as I am not familiar with people in Victoria's age group, especially in England. In this case we were simply puzzled by her behavior. According to the standards that we are used to, she behaved more like a 12-year-old than a 17-year-old.

      As indicated in my posts, I think Victoria is normal for her background and age. The two things that I was most troubled by were her eating habits and her lack of curiosity. I have since heard that picky eating is common in that age group and may be the result of parental permissiveness that did not exist to the same degree when my children were growing up (they're twice her age). In my age group (60+), practically everyone ate whatever was put on his plate and there were no options. I attribute her lack of curiosity to immaturity and insularity. Once again, in my cohort, an all-expenses-paid trip to the U.S. from England at age 17, with opportunities to choose parts of your itinerary, would have been astoundingly exciting. In contrast, Victoria didn't seem to want to be here, did no research, made no plans, and adapted poorly to the social requirements. Even if she fits in well in her home environment, without change she may lead a life that is extraordinarily narrow by our standards.

      If you take the position that Victoria is an indigenous native who functions well in her home environment, you may consider her fine. If you take the position that she is a family member whose culture is similar to yours and who can benefit from your experience, Victoria is a disaster. Frankly, if she applied to and was interviewed at a top American college, she would be judged to have poor communication skills and a lack of direction. Because it is possible to avoid the interview process at some of the top universities in England, she may be accepted and then flounder along like some of her relatives.

      I don't think that Victoria is to blame for this situation. Part of it involves social changes in her generation. However, I'm not letting her parents off the hook, because they clearly could have done a better job bringing her up. Although Victoria may eventually benefit from the trip, on the face of it there was no basis for her coming, except perhaps to help her legally blind grandfather negotiate the airports.


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