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PersonalityThe Third Culture Kid Experience

Lorin Friesen, November 2013

The Third Culture Kid Experience by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken is an interesting book for several reasons. First, my childhood experiences resemble those of the third culture kid (TCK), therefore I found myself emotionally resonating with many of the descriptions in this book. Second, this book describes what it feels like to go through a process of personal transformation that is similar to what mental symmetry calls ‘the three stages of salvation’. Thus, this book explores the practical side of what mental symmetry describes in theoretical terms. Third, many TCKs are MKs (missionary kids), therefore this book explores religious experience from a psychological perspective, similar to the approach taken by mental symmetry. Fourth, the concept of TCKs is well-known in psychological and TESOL circles, which helps to connect the theory of mental symmetry with concepts used by psychologists.

Since my research was originally driven by a TCK-like childhood, I suggest that the theory of mental symmetry could be especially useful for giving TCKs a theoretical framework within which to place their experiences. Going further, as Pollock and Van Reken 1 say, “the TCK experience is a microcosm of what is fast becoming normal throughout the world. Few communities anywhere will remain culturally homogeneous in this age of easy international travel and instant global communications. Growing up among cultural differences is already, or soon will be, the rule rather than the exception – even for those who never physically leave their home country...Looking at the TCK world can help us prepare for the long-term consequences of this new pattern of global cultural mixing” (p.7).

TTCKE offers the following definition: “The third culture kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background” (p.19).

Summarizing, two factors are primarily responsible for creating the TCK. First, the TCK is not just in a multi-cultural society. Instead, he is repeatedly experiencing instant and total cultural change. TTCKE explains this distinction. “Children who grow up amid people from many cultures in one locality usually learn to be comfortable with the diversity. It is a relatively stable diversity. The child is not being chronically uprooted, and the unwritten rules for how the groups coexist and relate to one another are clearly defined and practiced. The difference for TCKs is that they not only deal with cultural differences in a particular location, but the entire cultural world they live in can change overnight with a single airplane ride” (p.39).

Second, the TCK experiences these global cultural shifts during the formative childhood years. “Although the length of time needed for someone to become a true TCK cannot be precisely defined, the time when it happens can. It must occur during the developmental years – from birth to 18 years of age. We recognize that a cross-cultural experience affects adults as well as children. The difference for a TCK, however, is that this cross-cultural experience occurs during the years when that child’s sense of identity, relationships with others, and view of the world are being formed in the most basic ways” (p.27). Notice that a person becomes a TCK when experiencing continual cultural upheaval as a child. That is why the term third culture kid is used. When a TCK grows up, these childhood experiences continue to affect behavior as an adult, hence the label adult TCK, or ATCK. As TTCKE points out, there is no such thing as a TCA, or third culture adult, because encountering other cultures as an adult after childhood development will not have the same profound effect that encountering other cultures during childhood development will have.

One final point about methodology before continuing. Mental symmetry is a meta-theory, which means that it ties together a number of more specific theories, such as the theory of TCKs presented in TTCKE. Saying this another way, the methodology is secondary research, which takes puzzle pieces described by many researchers and places these puzzle pieces into the general picture of mental symmetry. When independent researchers in unrelated fields make similar observations about human personality, this provides strong evidence that everyone is actually observing the same cognitive mechanisms.

It is easy to find a few surface similarities between one theory and another. The rigor comes from comparing the details. Therefore, in order to make the analysis of TTCKE as rigorous as possible, it is necessary to quote extensively from TTCKE, in order to place as many puzzle pieces as possible within the general picture of mental symmetry.

Personal Reflections

The theory of mental symmetry makes it possible to address personal issues from a theoretical viewpoint. Therefore, I normally avoid talking about my personal history in order to focus upon the theory. However, what creates the TCK is a certain set of childhood experiences, therefore this essay will look briefly at my own personal background in the light of the typical TCK.

When I was in grade 5, my family moved to Germany for a year, and this cross-cultural experience had a major personal impact. In fact, I remember almost nothing of my personal life before this age. In addition, during my school years, our family traveled to Southern California about half a dozen times for a whole month in the middle of the school year, allowing me to skip school in Canada. More generally, by the time I finished high school I had traveled to almost 20 countries. After graduating from high school at the age of 17 (I skipped grade 1), I spent the next year in England, France, and Austria, attending school and playing in an orchestra. These cross-cultural experiences were sufficient to awaken within my mind the thinking of the typical TCK, and I’ve always found myself attracted to individuals with cross-cultural experiences. In addition, I grew up in a conservative Mennonite home, my first language was German, my mother continually emphasized that our behavior was not supposed to be guided by the standards of the surrounding culture, and even though my ancestors came to Canada in the 1870s, I have never fully identified with the Canadian culture.

By themselves, these cross-cultural experiences are probably only barely sufficient to cause me to think of myself as a TCK. However, I also experienced three other instant and total cultural changes of a different sort (two during my childhood years) that reinforced the mindset of the TCK.

First, when I was in grade 6, my older brother had a mental breakdown and during the next 10 years home consisted of my parents, myself, and my schizophrenic brother (my oldest two siblings had already left home). Thus, even though I did not move to another country, the culture of my home was transformed instantaneously and totally. Only those who have spent extended time interacting with mental illness will know how completely this can affect the culture of a household. Second, I started playing violin when I was three, and I spent my first of three summers with the Canadian National Youth Orchestra when I was 17, as well as becoming assistant concertmaster of the Saskatoon Symphony at the same age. For various reasons, I chose not to join the musicians’ union, and as a result I was kicked out of the Symphony and became musically ostracized throughout the province of Saskatchewan. 2 When music plays such a major role in one’s life, being musically shunned at the age of 17 will provoke a cultural shift that is sudden and total. A similar situation occurred when I was 23. When I received my Bachelor’s degree in Engineering, I received the award for ‘most distinguished Engineering graduate’, and I entered grad studies on a government NSERC scholarship. Through a roundabout series of events, this is when I began doing research in the theory of mental symmetry. The end result was that I became academically shunned, again making an instant and total transition from NSERC scholar to ostracized grad student. While this third experience occurred after my childhood years, it did reinforce my earlier experiences. 3

Three other aspects of my personal background match the profile of the typical TCK. First, the typical TCK does not experience the painful experiences of suffering. Rather, what the TCK loses is a set of positive experiences. TTCKE explains. “Next to sorting out their sense of personal identity, unresolved grief ranks as the second greatest challenge TCKs face. ‘But what do TCKs have to grieve about?’ people often ask. ‘They’ve had such exciting lives.’ Yes many have. For that very reason, some TCKs refuse to accept the idea that unresolved grief could possibly be an issue for them... What is there to grieve for? While there is no single reason unresolved grief is a major – and often unrecognized – factor for countless TCKs, many of them experience grief because of the very richness of their lives. We only grieve when we lose people or things we love that matter greatly to us, and most TCKs have much they love in their childhoods. Much of what they love – and then lose – however, are intangible parts of their world” (p.165). Looking back at my childhood, I did not experience personal suffering. It was my brother who became schizophrenic and not I. Similarly, being booted out of the Symphony merely caused me to revert to being a normal person, as did losing my special status as a scholar.

Second, TTCKE says that “TCKs often live among cultures with strongly conflicting value systems. One culture says female circumcision is wrong. Another one says female circumcision is the most significant moment in a girl’s life; it is when she knows she has become an accepted member of her tribe...In each situation, which value is right? Which is wrong? Is there a right and wrong? If so, who or what defines them?” (p.83). Growing up in a conservative Mennonite home surrounded by a more liberal Canadian culture, I have always felt that there was a fundamental conflict between my personal value system and the values of those around me. This feeling intensified when my brother became schizophrenic, because our family was forced to deal with questions of morality and identity which the average family never faces. Thus, one of my primary motivations for studying mental symmetry has been to search for a value system that can transcend cultural groups. While others assumed what was right and wrong, I needed a more solid basis.

Third, TTCKE says that “members of specific third culture communities may be more directly conscious than peers at home of representing something greater than themselves – be it their government, their company, or God” (p.23). This also describes my background. I was taught as a child that it was my duty to obey God, and my initial decision not to join the musicians’ union was largely driven by religious convictions. Similarly, my initial decision to help my oldest brother (not the schizophrenic brother) study cognitive styles as well as my decision to continue working with the theory of mental symmetry after I had been academically shunned was driven primarily by a strong feeling that I was pursuing something that was greater than myself.

Childhood Development and Mental Networks

Let us turn our attention now to theory. I suggest that we can understand what is forming the mind of the TCK by looking at mental networks, how they develop in the mind of the child, and the relationship between mental networks and personal identity. Mental networks are described in more detail elsewhere. Modifying the explanation given in the essay on TESOL, if the mind contains a number of similar emotional memories, then these will coalesce and begin functioning as a unit, which I refer to as a mental network. Individual experiences have emotional labels of pain and pleasure. In contrast, a mental network generates emotion based upon consistency and inconsistency. In order to trigger a mental network, one of the memories within that mental network must be accessed. When a mental network is triggered, then it will generate positive hyper-emotion when input is consistent, and it will generate negative hyper-emotion when experiencing inconsistent input. (The term hyper-emotion is used to distinguish the emotions generated by a mental network from the emotions associated with the memories within that mental network.)

A habit is an example of a mental network. For instance, suppose that I have formed a habit of eating chocolate. As long as I am not thinking about chocolate, then my mental network involving chocolate will not be triggered. However, if I think about chocolate, see chocolate, hear about chocolate, or sense chocolate in some other way, then this will trigger the mental network, which will then respond with positive or negative hyper-emotion, depending upon whether my behavior is consistent or inconsistent with the pattern of eating and enjoying chocolate.

Mental symmetry suggests that the mind uses mental networks to represent people. That is because people emote, they generate experiences, and they behave in a consistent manner. Therefore, any form of extended interaction with a specific person, such as my friend Jane, or a type of person, such as a fireman, will cause a mental network to form. When that person comes to mind, then the mental network that represents that person will be triggered and that mental network will predict how that person will respond.

Jean Piaget described the stages of childhood development and noted back in 1926 that children are guided by schema. (A schema is similar to a mental network but lacks the emotional aspects). Piaget (1972) also observed that pretense plays a major role in the child. In the language of mental symmetry, the childish mind is filled with unrelated, partially connected mental networks, and the behavior of the child is being guided by the mental network that is currently active. Thus, the child may pretend to be a fireman, father, or an airplane.

Now let us apply this to personal identity. The mind uses mental networks to represent people. Mental symmetry suggests that personal identity is simply the collection of mental networks that cannot be ignored. For instance, a child may temporarily pretend to be an airplane, but the physical sensations and limitations of being a little child continually return the mind of the child to the mental networks that represent his actual identity. A child cannot consciously choose which mental networks will represent his personal identity. Instead, personal identity in the child will be determined primarily by the mental networks which the environment of the child has brought to mind. That is because the mind of the child is composed primarily of a disconnected collection of mental networks.

This childhood collection of mental networks becomes the foundation for further mental development. Using the language of TTCKE, the TCK turns into an ATCK. The TCK does not stop being a third culture kid when he grows up. Instead, adult thinking builds upon the foundation of childhood experiences as a TCK, turning the child into an adult whose personal identity is still largely defined by the experiences of growing up as a TCK.

As the child matures into an adult, there are two major changes in personal identity. First, unlike the child, an adult can choose which mental network will be active. Mental networks are still triggered by the environment, but in the adult mind they can also be triggered by the internal world of thought and choice. Second, the mental networks of personal identity themselves can be based upon internal content. If a person acquires knowledge or gains a skill, then this internal structure makes it possible to bring certain experiences repeatedly to mind. For instance, if I gain the skill of cooking, then I can reliably produce pleasant experiences of good food as long as the environment contains sufficient raw ingredients. I no longer have to depend upon mother’s cooking or go to a restaurant to satisfy mental networks of enjoying good food. Using psychological language, the adult mind becomes individuated. The individuated person can choose to focus upon mental networks that are not being triggered by the environment and he can acquire mental networks that are independent of the environment.

Going further, culture can be defined in simple terms as a set of common mental networks. As I mentioned in the TESOL essay, the mental networks of a culture are typically acquired in childhood as people grow up in similar circumstances, perform similar rituals, and attend similar schools. If a group of people possess similar mental networks, then each will naturally behave in a way that is consistent with the mental networks of others within the group, leading to positive hyper-emotion. In simple terms, people will want to be around those who are similar to them. Quoting from TTCKE, “When we first think of the word culture, the obvious things such as how to dress and act like those around us come to mind. Learning culture is more than learning to conform to external patterns of behavior. Culture is also a system of shared assumptions, beliefs, and values. It is the framework from which we interpret and make sense of life and the world around us” (p.40).

By the same token, people from different cultures will be driven by their mental networks to behave in ways that are inconsistent with each other. Thus, not only will people want to be around those who are similar to them, they will also want to remain separate from those who are different, in order to prevent triggered mental networks from receiving incompatible input. If a mental network continues to experience incompatible input, then it will start to fall apart, and there will be a strong emotional drive to protect the integrity of that mental network by retreating to familiar circumstances. This describes culture shock.

We can now see what happens in the mind of the TCK. The childish mind is filled with disconnected mental networks, and the mental network that is currently active is determined by the environment. A young child has no sense of culture, but simply responds to the current environment guided by his mental networks. As TTCKE says, “A British child taking toddling steps on foreign soil or speaking his or her first words in Chinese with an amah (nanny) has no idea of what it means to be human yet, let alone ‘British.’ He or she simply responds to what is happening in the moment” (p.39).

When the TCK moves from one culture to another, the mental networks that were triggered by the original environment will no longer come to mind. Instead, the childish mind will be bombarded with a completely new set of emotional experiences that will create a totally different collection of mental networks. Because the child cannot choose which mental networks are active and because the child does not have mental networks that are independent of the environment, changing the environment in such a sudden fashion will lead to a total shift in mental networks.

Some of the old mental networks will no longer be triggered. TTCKE describes this loss. “Every place that has been important, every tree they’ve climbed, every pet they’ve had, and virtually every close friend they’ve made are gone with the closing of the airplane door” (p.167). For the child, out of sight is out of mind. Therefore, the child will not fully realize what has been lost until much later on when some mental network that used to be significant is suddenly re-triggered. In the words of TTCKE, “TCKs may go through life without showing or consciously feeling any particular sadness and suddenly find to their great surprise that a seemingly small incident triggers a huge reaction” (p.181). Old and long forgotten childhood mental networks are often triggered when the TCK becomes a parent. “Often the first glimmerings of their unrecognized grief begin when they have their own children. Sometimes that’s when they first ask themselves, ‘If my parents loved me so much as I love this baby, how could they ever let me go away?’” (p.181).

Many of the old mental networks that are triggered in the new environment will cause the TCK to respond inappropriately. For instance, in some cultures children are expected to look down when being reprimanded by adults, while in other cultures children who are being reprimanded are supposed to look adults in the eye. A child who grows up in one of these cultures will be driven by his mental networks to respond in a manner that is inappropriate if he moves to the other type of culture. TTCKE says that “most TCKs have some story about getting caught in an embarrassing situation because they didn’t know some everyday rule of their passport culture that is different in their host culture.” For instance, one TCK “was shamed by his visiting relatives because he came into the room and sat down before making sure that all the oldest guests had found their places” (p.88).

Mental networks form an emotional hierarchy. In other words, core mental networks will impose their structure upon lesser mental networks. In the typical child, the most potent mental networks are the ones that represent mother and father. This means that a child can always restore mental certainty by going to mother or father in order to trigger the mental networks that represent mother or father, so that these mental networks will reimpose their structure upon the rest of the mind. Saying this another way, the child will know that everything is OK with the world because mother or father is present. If a child has been raised by some other person, such as a nanny, the mental network that represents this caregiver will also act as a source of mental stability. TTCKE relates that “when Pearl Buck was a child in China, someone asked how she compared her mother to her Chinese amah. It is said that Buck replied, ‘If I need to hear a story read, I go to my mother. If I fall down and need comforting, I go to my amah.’ One culture valued teaching and learning while the other placed a greater value on nurture, and as a child, Buck instinctively knew the difference” (p.49).

Now imagine what will happen when the child moves to another culture. As we have seen, many of the mental networks that are being triggered will receive inconsistent input. When a mental network continues to experience inconsistent input, then it will produce hyper-pain and start to fall apart. Normally, a child can restore mental certainty by physically going to mom or dad in order to trigger the mental networks that represent mother and father. But what if parents are physically absent? Then a child has no way of restoring mental stability. One of the authors of TTCKE describes her first night in a boarding school away from parents. “When she was six and the lights went off at bedtime her first night in boarding school, she felt an immense sense of isolation, aloneness, and homesickness that threaten to squeeze her to death. To give in to that much pain would surely have meant annihilation. So, like most kids, she tried everything she knew to dull the pain, to control it somehow. Ruth’s solution involved ‘trying harder.’ She prayed with great attention to style – carefully kneeling, giving thanks in alphabetical order for everyone and everything she could think of. This so God would stay happy with her and grant a request that she would sneak onto the end of the prayer to see her family again. She tried to meticulously obey all the rules of school so she wouldn’t get in trouble” (p.279). Notice Ruth’s attempts to restore stability and consistency, indicating that she was not attempting to cope with painful experiences, but rather was trying to deal with the loss of mental certainty that occurs when core mental networks fall apart. Using philosophical language, I suggest that she was suffering from a form of angst.

TTCKE concludes that “as new findings continue to stress the importance of strong bonding with parents during a child’s early years, and after listening to so many adults struggle to come to terms with early separations, we believe it’s not wise, with so many options available, to send young children – particularly those as young as five or six – to boarding school unless there are absolutely no other alternatives...The feeling of abandonment expressed by ATCKs seems most often to come from those who say they were ‘sent off.’” (p.233).

Looking back at my childhood, my primary feelings of abandonment came from authority figures other than my parents. When I chose not to join the musician’s union, then I was abandoned by my fellow musicians. Similarly, when I gave a graduate seminar on cognitive styles and my supervisors refused to discuss the content of my research, I felt abandoned by academia. In both cases, authority figures who had been sources of potent mental networks turned their backs on me.

Everyone deals with excessive pain by attempting to block it off. However, because the childish mind is composed of disconnected mental networks, when a child suppresses unwanted experiences then they will often remain suppressed. This is especially true of the Mercy person. In the extreme, this suppression of unwanted pain leads to multiple personalities. When the original experience is blocked off, then its emotions have not yet been fully felt, therefore in order to integrate this memory one must re-experience it in a way that includes feeling the original emotions in all their intensity. Continuing with the previous example, TTCKE says that Ruth realized that she was not just re-experiencing her childhood feelings as an adult but rather feeling them for the first time. “When she picked up her pen at age 39 and wrote, ‘I want my mommy and daddy’ as part of the letter her six-year-old self would have written if she’d had the words, Ruth felt that same horrible squeezing in her chest that she had known as that six-year-old child. This time, however, she didn’t need to put it away or work against it. She had already survived and could allow herself to feel the anguish all the way to the bottom of her soul in a way she couldn’t have when the separation actually happened” (p.278).

Teacher Thought as Therapy

As this example illustrates, words play a major role in helping the adult mind to digest childhood trauma. In the words of TTCKE, “Experts emphasize that talking is a critical step in healing. If survivors of an airplane crash or victims of a hurricane simply describe what happened in detail, while difficult, it significantly hastens recovery from shock and helplessness” (p.318). As TTCKE explains, TCKs “can’t reclaim the sights, sounds, or smells that made home ‘home’ as a child. They can’t stop the war the displaced them or the abuser who stole their innocence. What they can do is learn to put words to their past, name their experiences, validate the benefits as well as losses, and ask for help from their families and others. For many ATCKs, putting a name to their past – ‘I grew up as a third culture kid’ – opens a new perspective on life” (p.270). TTCKE then takes several pages to describe ‘naming themselves and their experiences’, ‘naming their behavioral patterns’, ‘naming their fears’, ‘naming their losses’, ‘naming their wounds’, and ‘naming their choices’. Similarly, I found it very helpful to read Thomas Kuhn’s book on paradigms and paradigm shifts, because his verbal description of how the typical scientist responds to a new paradigm corresponded closely to my experience in graduate school.

Translating this into the language of mental symmetry, there are two cognitive modules that function emotionally. Mercy thought adds emotional labels to experiences, and collections of emotional experiences can turn into Mercy mental networks. Because we live in a physical world of experiences and inhabit bodies that fill our minds with experiences of pain and pleasure, Mercy thought develops first in the mind of the child. This explains why childhood existence is governed by Mercy mental networks. However, it is also possible to use Teacher thought to produce emotions. Teacher thought feels good when items fit together—when there is order-within-complexity. Teacher thought works primarily with words. Naming one’s experiences creates Teacher order-within-complexity, because it uses the Teacher element of words to bring order to the complexity of Mercy experiences. Thus, naming personal problems and talking about them generates positive Teacher emotions that can balance the Mercy pain.

Teacher emotion is based upon generality. Naming a personal problem leads to Teacher generality because words are being used to describe many situations and these words are being summarized by a name. Van Reken describes when she first encountered the concept of TCK. “I couldn’t believe it. This man is writing about me! As I continued to read, I was amazed at seeing expressed so many feelings I had experienced but never heard another person put into words...Here was someone actually naming some of these kinds of feelings – like always being a square peg in a round hole...I didn’t know it that day, but this was the moment my life took a new direction and changed forever” (p.xxiv). Teacher generality can be increased by using the same name to explain the experiences of many people. Van Reken continues, “Since then, I have talked to countless other adult TCKs, and heard of the moment when they, too, first learned they had a name...Since that time, I have discovered a world filled with TCKs from many backgrounds with whom I share a common bond.”

Mental symmetry suggests that it is possible to take this verbal healing further. If naming a set of experiences that is common to many people creates Teacher pleasure that can balance Mercy pain, then it should be possible to create even greater Teacher pleasure by coming up with a general theory that can explain all experiences that are common to all people. This is what mental symmetry attempts to do. Describing the experiences of TCKs is good. Describing the experiences of TCKs as well as the experiences of other individuals is even better. Describing TCK experiences is good. Using a cognitive model to explain these experiences is even better. Finally, describing the experiences of TCKs is good, but explaining these experiences as well as the organizational and religious beliefs that guide TCKs is even better.

When this level of understanding can be reached, then verbal healing becomes much more effective. First, Teacher theories that are sufficiently general will turn into Teacher mental networks that are even more powerful than the Mercy mental networks that created the original trauma. Second, a Teacher theory that is sufficiently general is capable of tying together all Mercy experiences, making it possible to build the mind around Teacher understanding rather than Mercy experiences. Instead of being an ATCK who understands what it means to be a TCK, the Teacher mental network of a general understanding makes it possible to fully digest childish Mercy mental networks, transforming the ATCK into a fully integrated human being.

Notice that both a general meta-theory such as mental symmetry and more specific explanations such as those given by TTCKE are required. Specific explanations add the details while the meta-theory ties these details together. A meta-theory without details is like a king without any subjects. That is why I say that Teacher emotion comes from order-within-complexity.

The Sending Organization

Now let us turn our attention to the sending agency and driving beliefs behind the TCK. As TTCKE points out, most TCKs grow up in foreign countries because their parents were sent out by corporations, governments, or mission organizations. This sending organization usually plays a major role in the life of the TCK. Quoting from TTCKE, “TCKs who grew up in the subculture of the parents sponsoring organization have a few extra factors to deal with in this process of establishing a sense of identity... There can be many strong benefits to living in a carefully defined system. In many situations, the whole system of the sponsoring organization serves to some extent as both family and community. It provides materially as a good parent might, with air travel paid for, housing provided, and perhaps special stores made available. In many cases, as mentioned earlier, it also provides specific guidance or regulations for behavior...Some TCKs have a deeper sense of belonging to that community than they will ever have with any other group and feel secure within the well-ordered structure of their particular system. Other TCKs, however, feel stifled by the organizational system in which they grew up. They may be straining at the bit to get out of what they see as the rigid policies of the system...They see their organization as an uncaring nemesis and they feel intense rage at a system that requires conformity to rules and regulations regardless of individual preferences” (p.159).

An organizational system is an example of Teacher order-within-complexity, and the structure of an organization is invariably conveyed using words to describe established procedures and policies. Growing up within an organization will have a major impact upon personal identity, which can either be positive or negative. Some TCKs see the organization as a major aspect of personal identity, while others view the organization as an enemy of personal identity.

Looking at this from the viewpoint of mental symmetry, for the average individual, Teacher thought and Teacher structure feel fairly distant. Therefore, Teacher thought tends to be assumed and ignored. The typical TCK, in contrast, grows up in an environment in which Teacher thought continually impinges upon personal identity. TTCKE describes what it means to live this close to authority. “Many TCK’s parents belong to sponsoring agencies that have special behavioral or philosophical expectations of not only their employees but of the employees’ families as well. This may result in situations that people in the home culture could never imagine...A child’s indiscretions (such as spraying graffiti on the wall of a public building) in a foreign service community might be written up and put in the parent’s file, forever influencing future promotions, while that same behavior wouldn’t cause a ripple in a parent’s career if it happened in a suburban community in the home country” (p.49).

Thus, I suggest that if the TCK wants to become emotionally free of his childhood, then he will have to use Teacher thought to understand his personal experiences. That is because, unlike the typical child, he already knows what it is like to live under the shadow of a general Teacher theory. However, this Teacher structure was imposed upon him as a child. In order to become free of this imposed, external structure, the TCK must replace it with a self-constructed, internal Teacher understanding. Even if the Teacher structure experienced as a child was totally benevolent, it still needs to be understood and internalized.

TTCKE describes what can happen when TCKs do not become emotionally free of their sponsoring organization. “The major that their sense of identity comes almost totally from an external system rather than from who they are deep within. If this type of conformity doesn’t change at some point, people in this group may become more and more rigid over the years in adhering to the system that now defines them. They fear that if they let any part of it go, they will lose themselves because they don’t know who they are without this structure to hold them together” (p.161).

The Missionary Kid

The TCK who is also an MK (missionary kid) will experience a religious side to this struggle, which can also be analyzed in cognitive terms. Mental symmetry suggests that a mental concept of God emerges when a general Teacher understanding applies to personal identity. Stated more simply, a concept of God is universality viewed from a personal perspective. In the same way that the mind uses Mercy mental networks to represent people, so the mind would use a Teacher mental network to represent God. Notice that this will happen whether a real God exists or not. Talking about God merely makes this cognitive process explicit. By focusing upon a person’s concept of God, it is possible to postpone the question of whether a real God exists.

Viewed from this perspective, the MK actually has two mental concepts of God. The first is the explicit concept of God that the parents of the MK are verbally preaching. After all, the main purpose of being a missionary is to tell others about God. The second is the implicit concept of God that is formed by living within the Teacher structure of the sending organization. As TTCKE points out, reconciling these two concepts of God can be a major struggle. “Often ATCKs are defensive in therapy when asked about the painful parts of the past. They don’t want to negate the way of life that is the only one they have known and is a core element of their identity. Missionary kids may have particular trouble acknowledging the pain because they feel that to do so will negate their faith. It is hard for many to know how much of that system they can examine, and potentially give up, without giving up on God in the process” (p.286).

That brings us to a set of questions that are implied by TTCKE but not explicitly stated. A missionary preaches a message of personal salvation. But who needs salvation, what are they being saved from, and how are they being saved? A similar question could be asked of anyone who travels abroad as a representative of some higher cause in order to help others. Reading between the lines in TTCKE, one concludes that it is the child of the missionary who needs to be saved, that he needs to be saved from a childhood that he shares with children of diplomats, soldiers, and corporate managers, and that this salvation comes through Teacher understanding.

TTCKE describes the anguish that missionary parents can feel when their children realize that they need to be saved from an environment that was partially caused by the missionaries’ desire to save people. “Almost all parents find it difficult not to preach, but this may be especially so for parents of adult missionary kids. These parents have spent their lives dedicated to a religious cause. There is probably no greater anguish parents can feel than when their ATCKs reject the system for which the parents have stood – particularly when it is the faith they have gone halfway around the world to share. Often, the sense of urgency to convince their children to believe in what they themselves believe grows as parents watch their ATCKs fall into increasingly self-destructive behavior: ‘If they’d just get their lives right with God, they’d be fine.’ To that we would respond with a ‘yes, but’ answer. Yes, what the parents desire for their children is valuable, but ATCKs who suffered within a religious system must first sort out their pain in terms of who God actually is compared with the rules and the culture of the religious system that seeks to represent God. Until then, preaching, or worse, words of spiritual reprimand, will only fuel the anger” (p.280).

Mental symmetry suggests that both the missionary parent and the ATCK are correct, and that the message that the missionary is delivering is getting confused with the attitude of religious self-denial that is motivating the missionary to deliver this message. Looking first at the message, if one uses mental symmetry to analyze the steps that must be taken to reach mental wholeness, they correspond in detail to the doctrines of Christianity as described in the Bible. The book God, Theology & Cognitive Modules, as well as the essays on Christianity, describe this correspondence for those who wish to explore this topic further.

Turning now to the attitude, if one places blind faith in the words of the Bible (or some other holy book) and if one teaches others to place blind faith in the words and doctrines of Christianity, then this attitude of religious fundamentalism will warp the Christian message in two major ways. First, it will lead to an attitude of religious self-denial. That is because blind faith believes truth because of the Mercy status assigned to the source of that truth, and blind faith will only continue to believe this truth as long as the source of truth is regarded as having far greater emotional status than personal identity. (Remember that the mind represents people as mental networks within Mercy thought.) Saying this another way, if God wrote the Bible, then religious self-denial feels that I am nothing compared to God and that I show my dedication to God by denying myself in submission to the word of God.4 Devoting one’s life to preaching the word of God in a foreign land is often motivated by a deep feeling of religious self-denial. Second, religious fundamentalism leads to a limited concept of God. That is because the concept of God is being based in the words of a specific book backed up by the experiences of a specific group of people.

What happens when parents deny self in order to devote themselves to serving God—or some other higher cause? Children and homes will get left behind, both emotionally and physically, leading to the typical experience of the TCK. And what happens when a person has a limited mental concept of God? The tendency will be to think that serving God means limiting one’s world to some religious environment. Similarly, for the non-religious TCK family, serving the higher cause may be equated with being a member of a certain organization. For instance, the American soldier may think that he is spreading freedom and democracy by serving in the Armed Forces with. TTCKE describes this mindset. “The parents of many global nomads were involved in high-profile or morally weighty service professions. They were on a mission, representing the home country, a particular ideology, or even God. Sacrifice – of family or emotional stability, reliable friends or circumstances – was just part of pursuing the noble cause. We were trained from an early age to believe in the cause; to show our pain, to acknowledge the cost, was disloyal” (p.315).

Summarizing, I suggest that the primary conflict between the MK and the missionary parent is the result of equating the message of Christianity with the attitude of religious fundamentalism. The parent is preaching the message while assuming an attitude of religious self-denial, while the ATCK is rebelling from the personal side-effects of religious self-denial while also assuming that this is an inherent aspect of the Christian message. This conflict may be most obvious in the case of the missionary and the MK, but a similar conflict will arise whenever parents deny self in the service of some higher cause.

The solution, I suggest, is not to rebel against truth or reject God (or the higher cause) but rather to realize the inherent contradiction of basing truth in respect for authority as well as the contradiction of having a finite concept of God. These two concepts are also discussed elsewhere and will be summarized briefly here. Perceiver thought is the cognitive module that looks for truth, which it does by searching for connections that are repeated. Now suppose that some textbook or holy book proclaims truth. What makes this truth true, the fact that is contained in the special book or the fact that it appears repeatedly? For instance, suppose that a physics textbook describes Newton’s law of gravity. Is this law true because Newton said it and it is written in a textbook, or is it true because it accurately describes how all objects are attracted to each other? Similarly, suppose that a missionary is preaching the truth of God from a holy book. Is this revelation true because it is written in a holy book, or is it true because it accurately describes cognitive principles that apply to every person regardless of race or culture? Obviously, the laws of physics are universal because they apply everywhere. Similarly, the thesis of mental symmetry is that the Christian message is universal because it describes universal cognitive principles. Going further, if God is a Universal Being, as Christian doctrine claims, then it makes sense that a universal being will communicate in universal terms.5

In simplest terms, I suggest that both the educational process and the Christian message boil down to using Teacher understanding to transform Mercy identity. As we have seen, the childish mind is integrated around Mercy mental networks. As any parent knows, this leads to a mindset that is self-centered, deceptive, chaotic, lawless, and ignorant. Mental symmetry suggests that the only way to fully transform Mercy mental networks is by using the Teacher mental networks of a universal understanding to rebuild personal identity. If a concept of God emerges when a general Teacher theory applies to personal identity, then this is mentally equivalent to submitting fully to God. But what happens when one adopts the attitude of religious fundamentalism? The message of personal transformation will then be taught using the attitude of the child, which could be compared to a schoolteacher using rote learning to teach the universal laws of science. How can an instructor help students to go beyond rote learning to critical thinking if the instructor himself is mentally driven by an attitude of rote learning?

With this in mind, let us take another look at the TCK. If the goal is to use Teacher understanding to transform Mercy identity, then the culturally fractured, organizationally-driven upbringing of the TCK actually gives him a major head start. The TCK already knows that no specific culture has a monopoly on truth. He is also attracted to people from many cultures who are following a similar path of transcending specific cultures. He knows what it is like to be personally guided by the structure of a Teacher-based system. And he is far more likely to pursue higher education than the typical mono-cultural individual. TTCKE relates that “in 1993 a study of 680 TCKs done by John and Ruth Hill Useem and their colleagues showed that while only 21 percent of the American population as a whole has graduated from a four-year college or university, 81 percent of the ATCKs they surveyed had earned at least a bachelor’s degree. Half of them went on to earn master’s or doctorate degrees” (p.235).

Thus, the TCK, through no choice of his own, is being personally propelled along the cognitive path that leads to personal transformation. Unfortunately, he is being motivated primarily by the stick of cultural upheaval rather than the carrot of understanding, and his exposure to Teacher thought is occurring primarily through the external structure of his parents’ sending organization as well as the verbal message that they are delivering. What the TCK really needs is a general Teacher theory that can act as a carrot to pull him along the process of personal transformation, which the typical TCK is attempting to acquire with his pursuit of higher education.

Saying this more bluntly, the missionary may be preaching about God, the diplomat may be representing his country, the executive may be demonstrating how to run a corporation, and the soldier may be protecting his country from enemies, but all of these individuals need to be ‘saved’ by their TCK children, and that is a hard lesson for a parent to swallow—especially a parent who was sent out as an expert to save others. This does not mean that the message of the parents is worthless. Rather, it means that the mission of the parents will become much more effective if the parents learn through the experiences that they have inflicted upon their children.

TTCKE gives an example of adult experts refusing to learn from TCKs. “One ATCK sat through a meeting where a medical facility to be established in Brazil – modeled after one in the States – was being described and discussed. She knew from the beginning that the project would fail, because the philosophical concepts in which it was based were very different from those which shaped Brazilian thinking. When she attempted to raise a few questions, she was disdainfully put down. Three years later, after vast sums of money had been spent on the project, it folded, a complete failure” (p.265).

Looking more specifically at the missionary, the average missionary today conducts himself in a manner that is totally different than the missionary of fifty years ago. Missionaries and mission organizations are learning from their TCKs and they now function in a manner that is more culturally sensitive as well as more cross-cultural. In addition, young people will often go out on short-term mission projects where the prime purpose is to save the missionary from his cultural biases, while hopefully also doing some lasting good out in the field.

Cultural Dislocation

Now that we have looked at the general picture, let us turn our attention to some of the details, beginning with a closer look at the mindset of the typical TCK.

A culture is formed when a group of people share a common set of mental networks. Shared peripheral mental networks lead to surface culture, which includes “behavior, words, customs, and traditions”. Shared core mental networks are responsible for deep culture, which consists of “beliefs, values, assumptions, and thought processes” (p.40). As TTCKE says, “No group can be cohesive without its members sharing a basic consensus and the deeper dimensions of culture. Merely mimicking behavior – such as clothing styles or food preferences – will not hold a group together” (p.41).

Culture functions automatically and efficiently, with a minimum of conscious thought. It functions automatically and efficiently because when a mental network is triggered, then it will generate an emotional drive to think and act in a way that is consistent with its structure. It involves a minimum of conscious thought because most of the mental networks that drive culture were acquired in childhood through example. TTCKE refers to this flow as cultural balance. “Once we have stayed in the culture long enough to internalize the behaviors and the assumptions behind them, we have an almost intuitive sense of what is right, humorous, appropriate, or offensive in any particular situation... Being ‘in the know’ gives us a sense of stability, deep security, and belonging. Like Tevye [in Fiddler on the Roof], we may not understand why cultural rules work as they do, but we know how our culture works” (p.42).

Notice the traits of stability, deep security, and belonging. The stability occurs when everyone’s mental networks are driving them to behave in similar, predictable ways. The deep security comes from knowing that others will not behave in ways that violate core mental networks, while the sense of belonging occurs when a person is a part of a community that values his core mental networks.6

Now imagine the young child being dropped into a strange culture. All he knows is that he used to know intuitively how to act and think appropriately, but now he receives disapproval for his behavior. Similarly, all his friends and classmates know is that the new person is behaving in a way that violates How Things Are Done, and therefore they are driven by their mental networks to suppress this incorrect behavior. All of this is generated by interacting mental networks apart from conscious thought. The adult placed in such a situation can step back mentally and observe and analyze what is happening. The child, in contrast, is mentally submerged in a sea of mental networks. If his mental networks are all misfiring, then the child will conclude that he is at fault, because personal identity is merely the collection of mental networks that are inescapable, and the young child placed into a strange culture will find himself inescapably trapped within mental networks that do not function correctly. TTCKE describes this conclusion. “Through the years, many TCKs have told us they wonder what is wrong with them, because they never seem to ‘get it.’ No matter what situation they are in, they often make what looks like a dumb remark or mistake. Others wonder at their apparent stupidity, while they are left with the shame that somehow they can never quite fit in socially as others do” (p.43). TTCKE emphasizes that this is not a consciously controlled process. “Another factor for TCKs in finding cultural balance is that cultural norms are as unconsciously taught as they are caught. Parents, community, school, and peers are all part of the cultural teaching process, whether the members of those groups think about it or not. When everyone in a community such as Tevye’s holds the same basic values and customs, each group unthinkingly reinforces the next group’s instructions” (p.43).

One reason the TCK is affected so deeply by cultural dislocation is because core mental networks are being violated. As TTCKE says, “Not only do many people constantly come and go in the TCK’s world, but among these chronically disrupted relationships are the core relationships of life – the ones between parent and child, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and close friends” (p.169).

TTCKE states that how these core mental networks are treated will determine more than anything how a TCK responds to childhood experiences. “The relationship between parent and child must be as consciously nurtured as the one between parents. Research indicates that this relationship is the single most significant factor in determining how TCKs (or any kids) ultimately fare” (p.190).

As TTCKE points out, living in a multicultural society will not have the same effect. While each culture within the society may be driven by its own mental networks, these mental networks—as well as the mental networks that guide the interaction between the various subcultures of the society—are fixed and do not change. “Children who grow up amid people from many cultures in one locality usually learn to be comfortable with the diversity. It is a relatively stable diversity. The child is not being chronically uprooted, and the unwritten rules for how the groups coexist and relate to one another are clearly defined and practiced. The difference for TCKs is that they not only deal with cultural differences in a particular location, but the entire cultural world they live in can change overnight with a single airplane ride” (p.39).

TTCKE distinguishes between looking different and thinking differently. “TCKs either appear similar to and/or think like members of the surrounding dominant culture or they appear different and/or think differently from members of that culture. This means that there are four possible ways they relate to the surrounding culture...We have called these relational patterns foreigner, adopted, hidden immigrant, and mirror” (p.53). Remember that mental networks look for consistent input when they are triggered. Therefore, a person who looks like a local citizen will be expected to follow the cultural expectations of local society, while a foreigner will trigger the mental network of a foreigner and be expected to act like a foreigner. For instance, a Westerner in a Japanese society will not be expected to act like a Japanese.

The problem arises when the wrong mental networks are triggered. TTCKE explains. “When TCKs are in the adopted or hidden immigrant categories, however, the expectations no longer hold true. What those around them presume is not what they get. Sometimes adopted TCKs feel frustrated when community members overexplain simple things they already know or speak to them slowly, presuming they can’t understand the local language. On the other hand, community members look at the hidden immigrant TCKs, presuming they can do every common task others around know how to do” (p.55).

Saying this more clearly, what really bothers a person is not cultural differences but rather mental networks that receive inconsistent information. In the words of TTCKE, “As long as we look different from another person, or have some way to quickly and easily identify that we are different, we do not expect the other to behave or believe as we do...We are far more offended if people who look like us do not behave as we assumed they would than if we never have any expectations of similarity in the first place” (p.52).

We have seen that emotional experiences lead to the formation of mental networks and that culture is based upon a set of common mental networks. As a result, the TCK will find himself emotionally resonating with each of his childhood cultures. As TTCKE states, “TCKs usually have a sense of ownership and interest in cultures other than just that of their passport country. During university they run to the radio whenever they hear their host country named” (p.86).

Any conflict that exists between these cultures will become internalized within the mind of the TCK. For instance, TTCKE describes the situation of an American TCK raised in Argentina and educated in a British school. “I had a dickens of a time with my loyalties during the Islas Malvinas war (no, make that the Falkland islands war). After all, as an eleven-year-old I had sworn undying fealty to Juan Domingo Perón and his promise that he would free the Malvinas from British enslavement” (p.81).

Moral rules are internally reinforced by mental networks. Therefore, internal conflict between mental networks will lead to conflicting moral standards. TTCKE describes this dilemma. “As we said earlier, TCKs often live among cultures with strongly conflict and value systems. In each situation, which value is right? Which is wrong? Is there a right and wrong? If so, who or what defines them? Conflicting values cannot be operational the same time, in the same place. How do TCKs decide from all they see around them what their own values will and won’t be?” (p.83). I suggest that this problem is especially troublesome for the missionary who believes that truth is based in the words of some holy book. How can such an individual determine truth when faced with a multiplicity of religious and societal experts? We will examine this question further later on.

Higgins’ work on possible selves distinguishes between the ought self and the actual self. This distinction is discussed in the essay on TESOL. Mental symmetry defines personal identity as the set of mental networks that cannot be ignored. Mental symmetry suggests that the ought self emerges when core mental networks that represent other people impose their structure upon personal identity. As long as these core mental networks are triggered, a person will feel that these imposed structures cannot be ignored. For instance, suppose that my parents feel strongly that I should study to become a medical doctor. As long as my parents are around to trigger the mental networks within my mind that represent them, then I will feel that I need to be a medical doctor. In contrast, the actual self emerges when Perceiver thought decides which mental networks are always present. For instance, if I have learned how to play basketball, then this skill is part of my actual self, because it is always present no matter where I go.

Because mental networks of parents and other authority figures play such a major role in the mind of the child, the ought self will usually dominate. If the mind of the TCK contains conflicting cultural mental networks, then the TCK literally will not know who he is. TTCKE describes this lack of personal identity. “One of the greatest challenges she faced among her clients was that few of them had any idea what it meant to be a person. In particular, they had little sense of their own personal identity... Every person...has been created with specific, legitimate needs. These include the need for strong relationships; a sense of belonging, being nurtured and cared for, of internal unity, of significance; and a feeling of knowing ourselves and being known by others” (p.146).

Instead, TCKs will feel like chameleons, continually switching between different moral systems and alternate persona depending upon the current cultural demands. “Some TCKs who flip-flop back and forth between various behavioral patterns have trouble figuring out their own value system from the multicultural mix they have been exposed to. It can be very difficult for them to decide if there are, after all, some absolutes in life that they can hold on to live by no matter which culture they are in. In the end, TCKs may adopt so many personas as cultural chameleons that they do not know who they really are” (p.93).

Putting this another way, the average TCK has no sense of home. In the words of TTCKE, “For some TCKs, however, ‘where is home?’ Is the hardest question of all. Home connotes an emotional place – somewhere you truly belong. There simply is no real answer to that question for many TCKs. They may have moved so many times, lived in so many different residences, and attended so many different schools that they never had time to become attached to any” (p.124).

A Cross-cultural Culture

Remember that any collection of similar emotional memories can turn into a mental network. Thus, if the experience of changing cultures is repeated enough times then it will also turn into a mental network. TTCKE describes this. “‘How can any child survive so much cultural confusion and chronic change?’ Perhaps one of the strangest things about TCKs is that for most of them this type of lifestyle itself becomes normal. Even the mobility becomes part of the routine” (p.72).

We have defined culture as a set of shared mental networks. TCKs will feel a cultural bond with other individuals who have experienced similar cultural upheaval. TTCKE describes the apparent paradox of a cross-cultural culture. “Over and over people ask, ‘How can you possibly say people with such incredibly diverse cultural backgrounds and experience can make up a ‘culture,’ when the word culture, by definition, means a group of people would have something in common?’ This is one of the strange paradoxes about TCKs. Looking at the differences among them – of race, nationality, sponsoring organizations, and places where they are growing (or have grown) up – you would think TCKs could have little in common. But if you attend a conference sponsored by Global Nomads International and watch the animated, nonstop conversation of the participants throughout the weekend, you will not question the powerful connection between them” (p.19).

Because this TCK cultural bond is based upon the emotional experiences of cultural dislocation, it is independent of the experiences of any specific culture. TTCKE describes this bond. “TCKs around the world instinctively feel this connection when they meet each other. But why? How can someone from Australia who grew up in Brazil understand that inner experience of someone from Switzerland who grew up in Hong Kong?” (p.33)

We have seen that children will naturally experience rejection and feel rejected when placed in a different culture. We have also seen that the TCK experience can itself lead to a TCK culture. This means that TCKs themselves can look down on others who do not share their cultural awareness. TTCKE elaborates, “Unfortunately, arrogance is not an uncommon word when people describe TCKs or ATCKs. It seems the very awareness which helps TCKs view a situation from multiple perspectives can also make TCKs impatient or arrogant with others who only see things from their own perspective – particularly people from their home culture...It is often easy for a get-together of TCKs to quickly degenerate into bashing the stupidity of non-TCKs” (p.103).

Responding to Cultural Dislocation

We have described the mental effect which cultural upheaval has upon the young child. Let us turn our attention now to various ways in which a person can respond to this dislocation.

One option is to focus upon the past. We have mentioned that children naturally experience rejection and feel rejected when placed in a different culture. That is because the culturally transplanted child has the ‘wrong’ mental networks. Obviously, this rejection would not have occurred if the child had the ‘right’ mental networks. This feeling can carry over into adulthood and an ATCK may focus upon the ‘normal’ childhood experiences that they did not have. In the words of TTCKE, “Some TCKs feel deep grief over what they see as the irretrievable losses of their childhood...They wish they could have gone to school where they could have studied in their native language” (p.171).

Mental symmetry suggests that the error lies in assuming that there is such a thing as a ‘normal childhood’. The childish mind defines ‘normal’ as the same as those around me and rejects differences as ‘wrong’, because mental networks rule his mind. The solution is to look back as an adult and analyze the experiences of childhood. The childhood of the TCK was different, but in many ways it was probably better than a normal childhood. Mental symmetry suggests that this analysis is not easy, because it is difficult to use rational thought in the midst of emotional pressure. Quoting from TTCKE, “It is my conviction that being a TCK is not a disease, something from which to recover. It is also not simply okay – it is more than okay. It is a life healthily enriched by this very TCK experience and blessed with significant opportunities for further enrichment” (p.xx).

An ATCK can also focus upon the past by mourning childhood experiences that can no longer be revisited. “While some TCKs grieve the experiences they missed, other TCKs grieve for the past no longer available to them. People who live as adults in the same country where they grew up can usually go back and revisit their old house...but a highly mobile TCK often lacks this opportunity” (p.172). The assumption here is that mental networks need to be validated externally. This also reflects the thinking of the child. Remember that the childish mind cannot choose which mental networks are active. Instead, the child’s environment triggers mental networks and causes them to activate.

An ATCK may become trapped within childish thinking by continuing to allow the environment to determine which mental networks are active. TTCKE describes how this mentality develops. “TCKs usually develop some degree of cultural adaptability as a primary tool for surviving frequent change of cultures. Over and over TCKs use the term chameleon to describe how, after spending a little time observing what is going on, they can easily switch language, style of relating, appearance, and cultural practices to take on the characteristics needed to blend better into the current scene. Soon their behavior is almost indistinguishable from long-time members of this group and they feel protected from the scorn or rejection of others (and their own ensuing sense of shame) that often comes with being different from others” (p.92).

Part of the problem is that when a TCK does attempt to make personal choices, then these decisions are often overruled by the changing environment. As TTCKE explains, “The fact that life is often unpredictable makes it hard for many TCKs to make decisions. It’s hard to make a competent decision when the basis used to decide something is always changing. For these reasons and probably more, some TCKs don’t learn to take responsibility for the direction of their lives. They are more prone to just ‘letting it happen.’” (p.153)

As we shall see later, social adaptability is a valuable trait when it occurs within a mental context, however when the environment determines the mental context, then the TCK becomes a creature of his social environment. TTCKE explains. “Becoming a cultural chameleon, however, brings special challenges as well. For one thing, although in the short term the ability to ‘change colors’ helps them fit in with their peers day-by-day, TCK chameleons may never develop true cultural balance anywhere...Others may notice how the TCK’s behavior changes in various circumstances and begin to wonder if they can trust anything the TCK does or says. It looks to them as if he or she has no real convictions about much of anything. Some TCKs who flip-flop back and forth between various behavioral patterns have trouble figuring out their own value system from the multicultural mix they have been exposed to” (p.93).

Summarizing, in the child, the environment determines which mental networks are active. The chameleon TCK is protecting himself from disapproval by continuing to allow the environment to determine which mental networks are active. The result is that the TCK becomes developmentally delayed in learning how to choose internally which mental networks will be active.

The result is a combination of social adaptability and internal suppression. The ATCK adjusts the expression of peripheral mental networks in response to the environment while continuing to ensure that core mental networks that were wounded in childhood remain untriggered. TTCKE describes this combination. “Some ATCKs may outwardly continue to be successful chameleons, but inwardly the questions ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where am I from?’ ‘Why can’t I seem to move on in life?’ still rage. They can’t figure out why they have always felt different from their peers. Other ATCKs believe they are just fine, but spouses, children, friends, and coworkers know better. There is a shell around them that no one can penetrate – even in the closest of relationships... Often TCKs are stuck in one of the stages of unresolved grief without realizing it. All they know is that they are trapped in some place or behavior from which they can’t break free” (p.269).

TCK Cognitive Development

Saying this more generally, the typical TCK is both developmentally delayed and developmentally advanced. As TTCKE puts it, “People often tell TCKs, ‘I can’t believe you’re only 14 (or whatever). You seem much older.’ Equally often (and probably behind their backs), the same people marvel at the TCK’s lack of sophistication or social skills. TCKs feel this discrepancy too and soon begin to wonder which person they really are: the competent, capable, mature self or the bungling, insecure, immature self. That’s part of the problem in trying to figure out who they are: in many ways they’re both” (p.148).

TTCKE describes which aspects of personality are delayed and which are advanced. Let us look first at the delayed aspects. “Ironically, while there are many ways TCKs seem advanced for their years, there are also many ways they seem to lag far behind. Below are some of these critical developmental tasks. Establishing a personal sense of identity... Establishing and maintaining strong relationships... Developing competence in decision making... Achieving independence” (p.150) Notice that these are precisely the attributes that we have been examining in our discussion of mental networks and cultural dislocation. Who am I, and who am I in relation to others?

In contrast, “TCKs often have an ‘advanced for their years’ knowledge of geography, global events, and politics in other countries and are interested in topics not usually discussed by younger people and their home cultures...TCKs generally feel quite comfortable with adults because they have had lots of experience with them...Children who speak two or more languages fluently also seem like mini-adults... In certain ways, many TCKs have an earlier sense of autonomy than peers at home. By their early teenage years, they literally know how to get around in this world and enjoy functioning in quite diverse ways and places” (p.148). Thus, when it comes to more objective ways of interacting with the environment and other people, the TCK is far more advanced than the normal individual.

This combination of core insecurity and peripheral savviness is also seen in the communication style of the typical TCK. TTCKE describes TCK friendship in terms of the five levels of friendship that go from superficiality to personal disclosure. “For various reasons, TCKs seem prone to passing quickly through levels one and two and moving immediately into topics that fall into level three. In other words, while others are still at the polite stages, TCKs are offering opinions on and asking what others think about such topics as how the president’s term is going, what the government should do on its immigration policy, or whether the United Nations should intervene in some new world crisis” (p.134). Notice that the topics being discussed may be emotional issues but they do not deal directly with personal identity. In contrast, “Even TCKs who are regarded as gregarious, open, and friendly because of their skill at jumping into the second and third levels of communication often refuse to move on to the fourth and fifth levels of true intimacy. They manage to erect walls, usually without realizing it, to keep out anyone trying to come closer” (p.139).

We have seen how childhood cultural dislocation leads to personal pain that drives the TCK to suppress dealing with personal issues. This describes the negative side of being a TCK. Let us look now at the cognitive reasons for the positive side.

I suggested earlier that both the educational process and the Christian message boil down to using Teacher understanding to transform Mercy identity. I would like to expand on this concept. We will start with a few quotes from TTCKE and then use mental symmetry to explain these quotes.

One of the first steps in understanding personal identity is to realize that childhood experiences cannot be changed, but they can be analyzed and described. As TTCKE explains, ATCKs “can’t reclaim the sights, sounds, or smells that made home ‘home’ as a child. They can’t stop the war that displaced them or the abuser who stole their innocence. What they can do is learn to put words to their past, name their experiences, validate the benefits as well as losses, and ask for help from their families and others. For many ATCKs, putting a name to their past – ‘I grew up as a third culture kid’ – opens a new perspective on life... Somehow the concept of normality is very liberating” (p.270).

TTCKE warns that attempting to understand the TCK childhood will often lead to feelings of anger. “One word of warning: we have noticed that when TCKs first acknowledge some of their hidden losses, part of the grief process is a newly found or at least newly expressed anger at various people whom they feel are responsible for those losses. Lots of ATCKs (to say nothing of the people they’re angry at) are so upset by this phase that they back off from going further. Don’t give up on the process if this begins to happen!” (p.273)

TTCKE also warns that bitterness can prevent a person from moving beyond personal wounds. “Once we have identified a wound, we then have to make a critical decision. Will we hold onto our anger forever or will we forgive the ones who have hurt us? Some ATCKs we have met are living lives bound by bitterness. They have turned their pain into a weapon with which they beat not only the offender but themselves and everyone else as well. It seems that the hurt becomes part of their identity. To let it go would be to leave them hollow, empty” (p.274).

TTCKE suggests that comfort plays a major role in beginning this process of emotional healing. “Offering comfort is a key factor in any grieving process – even when that process is delayed by decades. Remember, comfort is not encouragement. It is being there with understanding and love, not trying to change or fix things” (p.280).

Now that we know some of the basic facts, let us put these pieces together using the theory of mental symmetry, looking first at the big picture. This essay has spent considerable time discussing mental networks, which may give the impression that the mind is constructed out of mental networks. This is not the case. Instead, what appears to be most fundamental is the seven cognitive modules and how they interact, as described by the diagram of mental symmetry. Mental networks are an overlay that functions on top of this basic structure. Mental networks appear to be fundamental because the mind of the child is driven by mental networks, and childish thought is the foundation for adult thought. This essay has focused upon mental networks because we are examining how a poly-cultural childhood leads to the mindset of the TCK.

One can illustrate the relationship between mental networks and cognitive mechanisms with the help of computers. If one observes a modern computer, one might think that a computer is constructed out of icons, apps, desktops, touchscreens, and mice. That is because these are the elements that a person usually encounters when using a computer. However, what a computer actually runs is far more primitive than any of these elements, and many lines of computer code are required to control icons, create desktops, and write apps.

Similarly, mental networks appear to be a basic element of human thought because these are what one encounters when interacting with people. Thus, researchers often think that if one wishes to understand the mind, then one should analyze social interaction. However, social interaction, like apps and desktops, is a high level of interaction that is based upon more fundamental cognitive mechanisms. Studying social interaction is useful, but it is not fundamental.

This distinction is also apparent when one examines the history of robots. Movies from the 1950s and 60s portray robots as mechanical humans, partly because it was cheap to place a human within a metal suit, and partly because people had no concept of the complexity of human interaction. Thus, the typical movie robot of that time was endowed with a personal identity and was portrayed as interacting emotionally with its environment. When researchers started building industrial robots in the 1960s, they quickly realized that it is very difficult to construct the type of humanoid robot that was portrayed in the movies. Instead, the first successful industrial robot was merely a mechanical arm that could repeat a sequence of stored movements. It has taken 50 years of research to reach the point where it is now possible to start building robots that act humanoid and appear to be driven by mental networks.

Now let us apply this principle to the topic of bitterness and forgiveness. A mental network of childish pain is like an angry dog guarding the controls of a machine. In order to reprogram the machine, one must get at the controls, but the guard dog is preventing these controls from being accessed. Thus, the first step is to befriend the dog, which will make it possible to access the controls. Using the controls, it is then possible to reprogram the nature of the dog, because the dog is an expression of the machine. Using the language of mental symmetry, painful mental networks prevent a person from accessing cognitive mechanisms. Thus, the first step in reprogramming the mind is to ‘befriend’ the mental network. This will make it possible to access cognitive mechanisms, which can then be used to rebuild the painful mental networks.

We will now restate this in more detail using the language of cognitive mechanisms. A Mercy mental network is composed of two primary elements. (Remember that Teacher theories can also form mental networks.) The experiences with the emotional labels are stored in Mercy thought while Perceiver thought provides the connections between these experiences. When a traumatic situation occurs, then Perceiver thought is overwhelmed by Mercy emotions into believing that the Perceiver connections of this specific situation are always true. This is the mental mechanism behind blind faith, which was discussed earlier. Thus, a mental network that is based in a defining emotional experience acts like a dog guarding the controls, because it imposes a set of connections upon Perceiver thought while the emotional pressure prevents Perceiver thought from analyzing these connections. 7

TTCKE says that for some TCKs the emotional pressure is so overwhelming that they never go beyond a focus upon the pain of childhood experiences. “Unfortunately, we have met many who continue to be so confused or wounded by the challenges of their childhood that they have never been free as adults to celebrate the benefits. Depression, isolation, loneliness, anger, rebellion, and despair have ruled their lives instead of joy” (p.269).

A Mercy mental network is reprogrammed by using Perceiver thought to rethink the connections that are embedded within that mental network. However, this becomes very difficult to do when a mental network is shutting down Perceiver thought, especially when this is a core mental network around which the mind has integrated. The person who responds to painful experiences with bitterness is insisting that mental networks remain intact. For instance, suppose that parents send their young child to boarding school. Bitterness focuses upon the mental networks that represent parents and the mental network of abandonment that was formed when the child attended school. Anger responds to this situation by using strong emotions to attack the mental networks that represent parents. TTCKE says that “parents may be stunned when suddenly confronted with feelings their ATCKs have never expressed before – especially when the ATCKs are in their 30s and 40s” (p.277). The important thing to realize is that both bitterness and anger result from functioning at the level of interacting mental networks. The bitter person will continually replay the trauma in his mind in order to preserve the integrity of the painful mental network. When a mental network of trauma is continually rehearsed and kept intact through bitterness, then, as TTCKE describes, it will become a part of personal identity.

The key aspect of forgiveness is letting go. This means allowing the mental network of trauma to be processed rather than regarding it as a defining aspect of personal identity. Saying this another way, forgiveness makes it possible to use Perceiver thought to analyze a mental network whereas bitterness prevents Perceiver thought from functioning. Bitterness insists that the mental network is both fundamental and unchangeable. Forgiveness acknowledges that it might be possible to change this mental network and that there may be other mental networks that are more fundamental.

The first step in digesting a painful network is to accept simultaneously both the Mercy emotions and the Perceiver connections. This is what comfort does. Comfort does not judge or attempt to change the situation. Instead, as TTCKE says, it simply accepts the facts and the feelings. The message that is being conveyed in comfort is ‘I am there for you’. In the language of mental symmetry, comfort allows the painful mental network to express itself in the presence of another trusted mental network.

It is difficult to use Perceiver thought in the midst of emotional pressure, and it may take time to build the Perceiver confidence that is required to deal with emotional issues. This explains the advice quoted earlier from TTCKE. “Lots of ATCKs (to say nothing of the people they’re angry at) are so upset by this phase that they back off from going further. Don’t give up on the process if this begins to happen!” (p.273).

When emotions are sufficiently intense, then Perceiver thought will only be able to function when backed up by Teacher emotions. Since Teacher thought uses words, Teacher thought can be engaged by talking about the trauma. As TTCKE says, merely describing the painful situation in verbal terms helps to digest it. Notice the difference between comfort and talking. Comfort deals at a purely Mercy level. Nothing needs to be said and often nothing should be said. One is simply there in the presence of the pain. The goal in comfort is to allow a person to grieve—to feel the Mercy emotions of the painful situation in all their intensity. Talking adds Teacher words to this process. The purpose of talking is to use Teacher emotion to help Perceiver thought to know the facts of the painful situation. Talking does not attempt to change the painful mental network but rather simply tries to determine the Perceiver facts that are contained within this mental network. ‘Tell me what happened in your own words’. Merely using words to describe the situation will lead to Teacher emotions of order-within-complexity.

Comfort and talking do not solve the problem. However, they are necessary steps that must be taken to ‘befriend the dog’ in order to gain access to the controls. It now becomes possible to attempt to deal with the painful mental network. If one stops at this stage, then one will understand the personal pain and be able to describe the painful situation but the hurting mental network will still remain intact and be a defining aspect of personal identity. One will graduate from being a TCK to being an ATCK, but one will not go beyond this to being an integrated human individual. Using the computer analogy, comfort and talking help a person to realize that the ‘apps’ of mental networks are composed of more fundamental elements. It then becomes possible to reprogram these apps by dealing with these fundamental elements.

Building an Understanding

Let us look now at what is involved in building an understanding. We have seen that the wounded childish Mercy mental networks are based upon specific traumatic experiences. Thus, the hurting individual finds his mind continually returning to specific incidents. In contrast, a Teacher understanding is based upon universal principles. Thus, the individual who is building a Teacher understanding finds joy in discovering similarities, uncovering general trends, and being part of a larger group. This contrast is brought out in the introduction to TTCKE by Van Reken. “Somehow I had always thought to myself it was my fault for being so ‘out of it’ when I returned to the States from Nigeria for eighth grade. Or when I felt so stupid for not knowing how to swim in high school. But here was someone actually naming some of these kinds of feelings – like always being in a square peg in a round hole. Was I actually not the only one in the world to have gone through this? What was this third culture kid idea about anyway? Since then, I have talked to countless other adult TCKs and heard of the moment when they, too, first learned they had a name. That moment is a time to celebrate the many gifts of our backgrounds” (p.xxiv). Notice how the emphasis is shifting from specific to general. Initially, Van Reken thought she was the only one in the world with her experiences. She kept thinking about the shame that she felt when returning from Nigeria in the eighth grade. This changed to a focus upon generality. She became curious about the general idea of being a TCK. She talked with many other TCKs. She thought of her experience in the general terms of ‘always being a square peg in a round hole’. And, she started to think of our background rather than my pain.

Similarly, TTCKE says that an expanded worldview is one of the benefits of growing up as a TCK. “An obvious benefit of the TCK experience that while growing up in a multiplicity of countries and cultures, TCKs not only observe firsthand the many geographical differences around the world but they also learn how people view life from different philosophical and political perspectives” (p. 79).

The same focus upon generality shows up in the conversation of the TCK. We have seen how the TCK tends to move beyond polite talk to substantive issues. However, the examples that are given in TTCKE all involve generalities. “While others are still at the polite stages, TCKs are offering opinions on asking what others think about such topics as how the president’s term is going, what the government should do on its immigration policy, whether the United Nations should intervene in some new world crisis. When others either don’t seem to care about such things, or don’t want to express their opinions, TCKs deem them shallow” (p.134).

TTCKE quotes a Dutch ATCK as saying that “part of being educated is being able to talk about art, philosophy, politics, and so on...and argue your points if need be. This is very different with Americans, who seemed always to look for points of common interest. For example, how often when you meet someone do they ask where you’re from and then try to find some point of commonality like ‘I’ve been there’ or ‘Do you know so-and-so?’... Thus, a very common first impression of Europeans arriving in the U.S. is that Americans are superficial because they seem to have no opinions about even their own political situation, let alone what’s happening in the rest of the world” (p.134). Notice how the Americans in this quote are focusing upon specific locations and specific people in Mercy thought, while ignoring general topics such as politics and the rest of the world. In contrast, the Europeans are discussing general topics such as art, philosophy, and politics.

While the illustrations in TTCKE clearly show this distinction between specific Mercy experiences and general Teacher ideas, TTCKE does not appear to mention this contrast. Instead, the primary focus of TTCKE is helping TCKs recover from the personal of childish cultural dislocation, and the book is based upon the general definition of a TCK: “A third culture kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background” (p.19).

Obviously, a well-written book on TCKs will include a general definition of what it means to be a TCK, but I suggest that something deeper is going on here which needs to be analyzed.

TTCKE says that “In the end, many TCKs develop a migratory instinct that controls their lives. Along with their chronic rootlessness is a feeling of restlessness: ‘Here, where I am today, is temporary. But as soon as I finish my schooling, get a job, or purchase a home, I’ll settle down.’ Somehow the settling down never quite happens. The present is never enough – something always seems lacking” (p.125). TTCKE adds that “Some ATCKs can’t stay at one job long enough to build any sort of career. Just as they are anticipating a position of new responsibility and growth, that old rolling-stone instinct kicks in. They submit their letters of resignation, and off they go – again always thinking the next place will be ‘it.’” (p.126).

We have seen that mental networks attempt to impose their structure whenever they are triggered. A general Teacher theory can also turn into a mental network and this Teacher mental network will emotionally drive a person to think and behave in a manner that is consistent with the structure of the general Teacher theory. Suppose that one constructs a general theory of repeated cultural dislocation. Such a general Teacher theory will give emotional comfort to the TCK, but it will also create a general pattern that will attempt to impose its structure upon the life of the TCK, emotionally driving the ATCK with a migratory instinct. And there will be an emotional drive to use this general theory of cultural dislocation as a general strategy for dealing with unpleasant situations and people. “Any time we face a move from one place to another, it’s easy to deal with tensions in relationships by ignoring them. We think, ‘In two weeks I’ll be gone and never see that friend again anyway. Why bother trying to work out this misunderstanding?’” (p.200).

This needs to be repeated. Describing and analyzing the TCK lifestyle is vital and significant. However, if this analysis does not go any further, then the resulting general theory will end up reinforcing the migratory instinct rather than curing it. That is because whenever Teacher thought comes up with a general theory, then there will be an emotional drive to make this theory more general both by using it to explain more situations and also by applying it to more situations.

Thus, it is essential to place the TCK theory within the framework of a more general Teacher understanding. Saying this more generally, if the goal is to reach mental wholeness, then the most general Teacher theory must be a theory of mental wholeness, and all other theories of human personality, such as a theory about TCKs, must be subsets of this general theory. That is because a general theory of human personality that turns into a Teacher mental network will naturally attempt to squeeze all of human existence into its mold.

This conclusion is especially significant for the TCK, because the typical TCK already knows what it is like to have personal life driven by a general system that is bigger than himself. As we saw before, “Members of specific third culture communities may be more directly conscious than peers at home of representing something greater than themselves – be it their government, their company, or God. Jobs can hinge on how well the adults’ behavior, or that of their children, positively reflects the values and standards of the sponsoring agency” (p.23).

TTCKE devotes an entire chapter to addressing the question of how sponsoring organizations can make it easier for their employees to work effectively in foreign cultures. Most of this advice involves providing personal support for the TCK, his family, and the education of his children. This is helpful, but I suggest that behind this chapter lies a deeper, cognitive question. The mind represents organizations as general Teacher theories, because an organization organizes a multiplicity of experiences and places them under the guidance of a general structure. When a person is sent to another culture by a sponsoring organization, then that organization becomes a major part of the person’s life, and that person will mentally view himself as being guided by a general Teacher theory which has turned into a Teacher mental network. TTCKE describes this deep emotional attachment. “An organizational system is one of the places where the need for belonging can truly be fulfilled because there are clear demarcations of who does and doesn’t belong. Some TCKs have a deeper sense of belonging to that community than they will ever have with any other group and feel secure within the well-ordered structure of their particular system.” (p.159).

Submitting to this Teacher mental network is usually regarded as more important than personal Mercy experiences. As quoted before, “The parents of many global nomads were involved in high-profile or morally weighty service professions. They were on a mission, representing the home country, a particular ideology, or even God. Sacrifice – of family or emotional stability, reliable friends or circumstances – was just part of pursuing the noble cause. We were trained from an early age to believe in the cause; to show our pain, to acknowledge the cost, was disloyal” (p.315).

And the positive Teacher emotion produced by being part of a general Teacher structure can compensate for a lot of personal Mercy pain. “TCKs will be able to tolerate the most difficult adjustment challenges if the reasons are good enough. For many, seeing their parents’ work as significant and life-changing is a great asset of the TCK experience. They feel pride that their parents are involved in a career that can make at least a small difference in the world. They feel a sense of ownership in that work – and thus a sense of significance themselves – because their family has traveled the globe together to do the job. The challenges of their upbringing are insignificant compared with the sense of what is being accomplished” (p.195).

Mental symmetry suggests that this interaction between Teacher pleasure and Mercy pain makes personal transformation possible. The TCK is able to endure the Mercy pain of changing cultures because of the Teacher pleasure of being part of a general Teacher system. Similarly, the Teacher pleasure of understanding the mind makes it possible to endure the Mercy pain of reassembling childish Mercy mental networks. Thus, the TCK experience can be viewed in one of two ways. From a Mercy viewpoint, it is a source of deep personal pain. However, from a Teacher perspective, it is an illustration of the general process of personal transformation.

Now let us return to the topic of the sending organization. TTCKE says that “administrative decisions based solely on the interests of the international organization are shortsighted. Agencies should consider family needs as well as corporate needs when planning to send an employee overseas, for at least two reasons. First, it’s for the long-term benefit of the company...When agencies help employees meet their families’ needs – whether for schooling, travel, home leave – parents who work for the agencies are far more likely to stay with the company longer and be more productive...Second, sound corporate decisions and policies are for the long-term good of the family. When corporate or organizational decisions are made with families in mind, the family feels protected and cared for, a relationship that any organization should wish to cultivate as part of the organizational or corporate culture” (p.257).

Building a mutually beneficial external relationship between organization and personal life is important, however I suggest that it is even more important to build a mutually beneficial internal relationship between the Teacher mental network that represents the organization and the Mercy mental networks of personal identity. This can be restated in religious terms. I have suggested that a mental concept of God emerges when a general Teacher theory applies to personal identity. Using religious language, we are actually examining the relationship between a person and his concept of God. Whether a real God exists or not, I suggest that one must still deal with the question of the relationship between personal identity in Mercy thought and the concept of universality in Teacher thought, and I am also suggesting that the TCK is forced to deal with this issue at a very personal level, because his personal life has been massively shaped by a sending organization.

Again, one can look at this from either a Mercy or a Teacher perspective. A Mercy perspective focuses upon the experience of being controlled by an organization. TTCKE describes what this feels like. “Other TCKs, however, feel stifled by the organizational system in which they grew up. They may be straining at the bit to get out of what they see as the rigid policies of the system. They realize that they have had almost no choice in countless matters that have deeply affected their lives – such as when and where their parents moved, where they could go to school, how to behave in certain common circumstances, or how they could express their inner passions. They see their organization as an uncaring nemesis and they feel intense rage at a system that requires conformity to rules and regulations regardless of individual preferences. Some blame the system for ruining their lives” (p.159).

A Teacher perspective, in contrast, sees living within an organization as an opportunity to explore what it means to be guided personally by Teacher understanding. Exploring this topic is important for at least two major reasons. The first reason has to do with technology. Technology is a practical expression of the general Teacher theories of science. As technology continues to invade more and more aspects of personal life, we are all increasingly being faced with the question of what it means to live as an individual within a system that is guided by Teacher understanding. As TTCKE says, “The TCK experience is a microcosm of what is fast becoming normal throughout the world. Few communities anywhere will remain culturally homogeneous in this age of easy international travel and instant global communication...Looking at the TCK world can help us prepare for the long-term consequences of this new pattern of global cultural mixing” (p.7)

The second reason has to do with religion. I suggested that a mental concept of God emerges when a general Teacher understanding applies to personal identity. This means that living within an organization will form a mental concept of God. As I continue to examine different forms of religious thought, I have come to the conclusion that the implicit concept of God that emerges from a person’s Teacher understanding has a more pervasive influence than any explicit concept of God that a person preaches or claims to believe in. As I mentioned before, this conflict between implicit and explicit concept of God is felt most keenly by the missionary and the MK. On the one hand, the missionary is explicitly teaching and preaching a certain concept of God. On the other hand, the missionary is implicitly submitting to a concept of God by allowing his personal life to be guided by the sending organization. This conflict is felt particularly keenly by the MK, who grows up both as a child of a missionary and a child of a sending organization. TTCKE touches upon this struggle. Repeating part of an earlier quote, “Missionary kids may have particular trouble acknowledging the pain because they feel that to do so will negate their faith. It is hard for many to know how much of that system they can examine, and potentially give up, without giving up on God in the process” (p.286).

A Theory of Mental Wholeness?

Boiling this topic down to one essential question, is the mental concept of God that is created by living under a sending organization consistent with mental wholeness or not? Let us look briefly at the four major kinds of sending organization experienced by the TCK in order to address this question. First, there is the ‘military brat’. Military organizations have come a long ways in caring for the personal needs of soldiers, however what is the raison d’être for an army? Why does an Army exist? It exists to impose government order through the application of deadly force. In other words, when there is a clash between Teacher universality and Mercy personal identity, then Teacher universality will impose itself, even if this means destroying personal identity. Saying this another way, the soldier is opposed to follow orders even if he ends up being killed. This is the implicit concept of God that is formed by any military organization. Obviously, this type of concept of God is not compatible with mental wholeness. Instead, the individual is a replaceable cog in the machine.

Second, there is the child of the diplomat. A diplomat represents a country. A country is a Teacher organization that is ruled by a set of ‘universal laws’ that were created by the government of that country. The implicit assumption here is that universal laws are created by specific individuals. In other words, Teacher universality is being created by Mercy personal identity. The essay on Tony Robbins explores this option further. What happens here is that those who have access to government will tend to pass laws that favor them and exclude others. This also is not compatible with mental wholeness.

Third, there is the child of the corporate manager. A corporation is driven by financial profit. The implicit assumption here is that abstract thought is the servant of concrete thought. In a corporation, abstract thought is expressed as the regulations and procedures of the company—the universal laws under which the employee functions. Concrete thought expresses itself in goal-oriented behavior, and a corporation is driven by the concrete goal of making money. Is this compatible with mental wholeness? Based upon observation, we can conclude that it is not compatible with societal wholeness, because most corporations will optimize their own profits at the expense of other groups, individuals, and society at large.

Finally, there is the child of the missionary. The goal of the missionary is to preach a message about God that is based in the beliefs of a specific religious group or specific holy book. The implicit assumption is that truth is revealed. We saw previously that this is incompatible with mental wholeness in two major ways: First, it leads to an attitude of religious self-denial, thus suppressing personal identity instead of transforming it. Second, it leads to a limited concept of God, thus contradicting the concept of Teacher universality.

I should emphasize that I am not saying that armies are always killing people, that governments are always imposing political power, that corporations are always exploiting individuals, and that missionaries are always preaching blind faith. However, I am suggesting that these each of these four kinds of sending organization carries within itself an implicit assumption. The natural tendency will be for the implicit assumption to influence the character of a sending organization, and a sending organization will have to work at not becoming more like its implicit assumption. Similarly, the natural tendency will be for the members of a sending organization to form a mental concept of God that is in the image of the sending organization and that is warped by the implicit assumption of the sending organization. The TCK who grows up under a sending organization will be especially vulnerable to this effect, because the normal influences of culture are continually being disrupted, while most of personal life is being guided by the sending organization.

Note that each of these sending organizations is both universal and specific. As far as the international employee is concerned, the sending organization is essentially universal. That is because most of his personal existence occurs within the structure of the organization and is guided by its regulations. As I have mentioned, this feeling of universality is much stronger for the employee who is sent abroad by the organization than the employee who remains within his home culture. And it is the feeling of universality that constructs an implicit mental concept of God. However, each of these sending organizations is in actual fact merely a specific group whose existence depends upon interaction with other specific groups. Without opponents, there is no need for an army. An embassy represents one country within another country. A corporation buys and sells from others and competes with other corporations. A missionary assumes that there are people who need to be converted. Thus, I suggest that each of these sending organizations, by their very nature, will program the minds of its international employees with inadequate mental concept of God, because they will feel universal while being limited.

The solution, I suggest, is not to get rid of the sending organization but rather to mentally place interaction with a sending organization within the framework of a more general Teacher theory of personal identity. We will now explore what this means.

TTCKE says that the TCK often struggles with questions of morality. “In each situation, which value is right? Which is wrong? Is there a right and wrong? If so, who or what defines them? Conflicting values cannot be operational the same time, in the same place. How do TCKs decide from all they see around them what their own values will and won’t be?” (p.83)

The key is to realize that universals do not come from specifics. A person, group, or sending organization cannot define what is universally true. Instead, if one wishes to discover universal values, then one must search for values that are universal. This may sound like a redundant statement, but it is significant because living under a sending organization naturally teaches the (incorrect) lesson that a specific group can define universal truth, and this incorrect lesson will turn into a Teacher mental network that will attempt to impose its structure upon the rest of thought.

Multi-cultural vs. Cross-cultural

The first step in searching for universals that really are universal is to use Perceiver thought to transcend cultural boundaries. Perceiver thought looks for connections that are repeated. When a person has experiences from many different cultures, then Perceiver thought will naturally compare these Mercy experiences in order to discover similarities. For instance, when I was teaching in Korea, I would often travel to neighboring countries during school holidays. I distinctly remember the mental processing that occurred when taking a taxi from the airport in one country that I was visiting for the first time. As I was observing my surroundings, Perceiver thought was comparing these images with experiences in other countries, noticing similarities, and building a composite image of the local culture. Even though I had never visited the country, it still felt somewhat familiar, because Perceiver thought noticed that many of the elements of the local culture were similar to elements of other cultures with which I was familiar.

TTCKE describes this intercultural familiarity. “In certain ways, many TCKs have an earlier sense of autonomy than peers at home. By their early teenage years, they literally know how to get around in this world and enjoy functioning in quite diverse ways and places” (p.149). TTCKE also mentions the benefit of living in safe surroundings where children can be allowed to travel alone and explore the neighborhood. This is true. For instance, I saw many more children traveling on their own in the megacity of Seoul than I see in the much smaller local city of Vancouver.

TTCKE also describes the type of thinking that occurs when a person has experiences from many different cultures. “As TCKs have the opportunity not only to observe a great variety of cultural practices but also to learn what some of the underlying assumptions are behind them, they often develop strong cross-cultural skills. More significant than the ease with which they can change from chopsticks to forks for eating or from bowing shaking hands while greeting is their ability to be sensitive to the more hidden aspects or deeper levels of culture and work successfully in these areas. For TCKs who go into international or intercultural careers, this ability to be a bridge between different groups of people can be useful in helping their company or organization speak with a more human voice and the local community” (p.108).

TTCKE also mentions briefly the thinking pattern of looking for cross-cultural similarities. “TCKs may well develop certain skills because of the basic human instinct for survival. Sometimes through rather painful means, they have learned that particularly in cross-cultural situations it pays to be a careful observer of what’s going on around them and then try to understand the reasons for what they are seeing” (p.110).

Looking at TTCKE in general, the cross-cultural experiences of the TCK are described in extensive detail, as well as the adaptability that this produces along with the ability to view a subject from many different viewpoints, but much less is said about the cross-cultural thinking that this enables.

This may be due to the emphasis of this book, however it is interesting to note that the previous quote describes cross-cultural thinking as a defense mechanism against personal pain while the quote before that mentions cross-cultural thinking as a means of assisting the sending organization. Thus, the reference point is still the pain of growing up as a TCK submitted to a sending organization. In other words, TTCKE portrays an attitude of recovering from being a TCK rather than heading towards mental wholeness.

Saying this another way, as was quoted before, TTCKE says that “Over and over TCKs use the term chameleon to describe how, after spending a little time observing what is going on, they can easily switch language, style of relating, appearance, and cultural practices to take on the characteristics needed to blend better into the current scene” (p.92). A chameleon is multi-cultural, and can easily switch from one culture to another. Looking at this from the viewpoint of mental symmetry, the personal trait of chameleon emerges when Facilitator thought mixes and blends between existing cultures and standards. In contrast, cross-cultural thinking emerges when Perceiver thought compares the experiences of various cultures in order to discover common connections. A social chameleon does not know who he is, and he doubts the existence of universal moral principles. Instead, he knows what is expected of him in each cultural situation and he generates the appropriate response by mixing between these various expectations. In contrast, the individual who is using Perceiver thought to discover cross-cultural principles does have a personal identity, and he is guided by moral principles that are independent of culture and that cross culture. Facilitator blending then makes it possible to apply these cross-cultural moral principles in a way that is subtle and culturally sensitive.

TTCKE gives an example of cross-cultural thinking. “One white ATCK living in suburban USA had an African-American repairman arrived to fix a leaky faucet. As the repairman prepare to leave, he said, ‘I can tell you been around black people a lot haven't you?’ Since the ATCK had grown up in Africa, she had to agree, but asked, ‘why do you say that?’ He replied, ‘because you’re comfortable with me being here. A lot of white people aren’t.’ And she was surprised, because she hadn’t been thinking about racial relationships at all. To her, they had simply been talking about fixing faucets and paying the bill” (p.98). Notice how the ATCK was not thinking in terms of racial qualities. Instead, she was focusing upon getting the task done and race did not even enter into her mind. Multi-cultural thinking attempts to treat the black person with respect, but is still aware of the color of skin. Cross-cultural thinking, in contrast, is colorblind, because it no longer thinks in terms of skin color.

Describing this in more detail, multi-cultural thinking is using Facilitator thought to blend between the mental networks of cultural expectations, whereas cross-cultural thinking uses Perceiver thought to discover principles that bridge cultural mental networks and then uses Facilitator thought to fine-tune the social response to suit the specific situation.

Remember that it is difficult for Perceiver thought to function in the middle of emotional pressure. I suggest that this explains the unequal maturity of the TCK that was mentioned earlier. When dealing with non-personal issues, Perceiver thought within the mind of the TCK will analyze the multiplicity of Mercy experiences and discover cross-cultural principles. In this area of thought, the typical TCK will be mature for his age. However, when dealing with personal issues, the mental networks of personal trauma combined with the bias of living under a sending organization will prevent Perceiver thought from functioning. Here, the typical TCK will be immature for his age, less independent, and have a less well developed personal identity than normal. Instead, a multicultural mindset will emerge as Facilitator thought blends between cultural mental networks without digesting these various mental networks.

However, the very concept of a TCK is based upon the fact that there are deep cross-cultural similarities within the mind of the TCK that transcend specific culture, because the TCK finds that he is similar to other TCKs, regardless of their specific cultural backgrounds. TTCKE regards this as a fundamental paradox. “Over and over people ask, ‘How can you possibly say people with such incredibly diverse cultural backgrounds and experience can make up a ‘culture,’ when the word culture, by definition, means a group of people would have something in common?’ This is one of the strange paradoxes about TCKs” (p.19). In my analysis of religious belief, I have frequently encountered doctrines that are described as paradoxes. So far, these paradoxes have consistently been the result of faulty underlying assumptions. I suggest that a similar principle applies here.

When Perceiver thought discovers cross-cultural principles, then there will be a Teacher result and a Mercy byproduct. I suggest that this relates to the concept of Platonic forms, which are discussed in detail elsewhere. Repeating part of this explanation here, we have seen that Perceiver thought organizes Mercy experiences into categories by looking for similar characteristics. Teacher thought will then bring order to this complexity by looking for the essential characteristics that define each Perceiver category. The result is a general Teacher theory that explains the Perceiver facts. This general theory will lead indirectly to the Mercy image of a Platonic form, which is an idealized experience that does not exist in real life. For instance, Perceiver thought will notice that Mercy experiences contain round things and come up with a category of ‘round thing’. Teacher thought will then come up with a general theory of ‘roundness’, leading indirectly in Mercy thought to the imaginary image of a perfect circle. This imaginary idealized image is the Platonic form of a circle. It does not exist, but it is based upon a generalization of items that do exist. Similarly, the Platonic form of a culture is an ideal culture that does not exist anywhere, but is rather a composite of existing cultures. Saying this another way, a utopia is both a ou-topia that does not exist anywhere and a eu-topia that is an idealization of existing cultures.

TTCKE describes one TCK’s longing for utopia. “Erica wished for just one moment she could bring together the many worlds she had known and embrace them all at the same time, but she knew it could never happen. This is at the heart of the issues of rootlessness and restlessness discussed later. This lack of full ownership is what gives that sense of belonging ‘everywhere and nowhere’ at the same time” (p.30).

This brings us back to the earlier discussion of restlessness. Whenever Teacher thought encounters complexity, it will be emotionally driven to bring order to this complexity by coming up with some general theory. As was suggested earlier, if the multi-cultural mental networks of childhood remain undigested, then Teacher thought will come up with a general theory of cultural dislocation. If this general theory turns into a Teacher mental network, then it will attempt to impose its pattern upon personal existence, leading to the restlessness of the migratory instinct.

However, if Perceiver thought is used to analyze cultural mental networks in order to come up with cross-cultural principles, then Teacher thought will come up with a general theory of cognitive mechanisms—an understanding of how people function that is based upon universal principles that cross cultures and are independent of culture. Instead of prompting a migratory instinct, this will drive a search for Utopia. Instead of continually moving from one culture to another, the goal will be to take the existing culture, whatever it is, and make it more like the ideal culture. This may involve traveling between cultures, but this will no longer be viewed as traveling from one culture to another but rather as exploring different aspects of the Platonic form of the ideal culture.

TTCKE describes this, but does not explain how it can be achieved. “The fourth foundation block is the child’s awareness that there is a stable spiritual core in their parents’ lives and in the life of the family as a whole. In a world where moral values and practices can be radically different from one place to another, this block is the key to true stability throughout life. When TCKs have a core personal faith and a stable set of values, they will be equipped to remain on a steady course no matter which culture or cultures they live in” (p.197).

TTCKE says that the TCK should not try to bring back the lost experiences of the past. When a person is guided by Platonic forms then the focus changes from trying to re-create the past to building a future that embodies the best elements of the past. Saying this another way, a focus upon childish Mercy mental networks tries to re-create the past while a focus upon Platonic forms learns from the past and create something that is like the past.

Let us look further at the process of discovering cross-cultural principles. I have suggested that Perceiver facts provide the raw material for general Teacher theories. If one examines the diagram of mental symmetry, one will see that there is no direct connection between Perceiver and Teacher. Instead, Perceiver and Teacher connect indirectly through Server. Because Server thought deals with sequences, this means that a general Teacher theory will always be composed of sequences—either a sequence of words or a sequences of actions. An organization combines these two, using written regulations (sequences of words) to describe permissible procedures (sequences of actions). Similarly, the migratory instinct also describes a sequence: The experience of settling down is followed by the experience of moving on.

Science has discovered that what is universal in the natural universe is sequence. For instance, the law of gravity says that all objects fall in a similar manner. Similarly, mental symmetry suggests that all human minds function in a similar manner. Thus, mental symmetry suggests that the mind is governed by universal cognitive mechanisms.

Universal laws of nature are not imposed by people, they are not created by people, they are not subject to people, and they are not revealed by people. Instead, they are built in to the fabric of the universe and they are observed and discovered by people. Similarly, mental symmetry suggests that cognitive mechanisms result from the structure of the human mind which can also be observed and discovered by people.

This principle is often forgotten in today’s postmodern world. That is because man-made laws shield people from natural law while social convention shields individuals from cognitive mechanisms. For instance, if a person jumps off a cliff, then the law of gravity will ensure that he plummets to his death. However, most cliffs that are easily accessible today are blocked off by man-made fences that prevent individuals from falling off the cliff. Thus, instead of encountering natural law, what is normally encountered today is man-made restriction. Similarly, we saw earlier that the mental networks of social convention act as emotional ‘guard dogs’ that prevent the individual from either discovering or gaining access to the more fundamental ‘levers’ of cognitive mechanism. Thus, in many circles science has degenerated from a study of how the natural world functions to a description of how a group of scientists study the natural world. Similarly, in many areas psychology is degenerating from a study of cognitive mechanisms to a description of social interaction. But, social interaction is driven by mental networks which function on top of cognitive mechanisms.

Saying this in computer language, software runs on hardware. Hardware is more basic than software. However, because the software of society and research is so well developed, we mistakenly think that software is fundamental and forget that without hardware, software could not exist.

Continuing with the computer analogy, it is possible to write software that is inconsistent with underlying hardware, but this software will be very inefficient. Similarly, it is possible to use human effort to temporarily oppose natural law. For instance, the law of gravity can be temporarily opposed by lifting up an object. However, this is unnatural and requires the expenditure of energy. Likewise, it is possible to use human effort to temporarily oppose cognitive mechanisms. This happens when a government or organization establishes procedures that are cognitively unnatural. However, maintaining unnatural procedures will take energy and effort and the organization will continually find itself fighting to maintain these procedures as well as continually dealing with the consequences of violating underlying cognitive mechanisms.

TTCKE describes the costs that occur when sending organizations establish procedures that violate underlying cognitive mechanisms. “W. James states that ‘approximately 30% of managers from United States return home early from an overseas assignment.’ The reason? Personal and family stress...Since the cost of sending an employee overseas usually runs two to five times that employee’s annual salary, agencies benefit financially if they can keep their seasoned, internationally experienced employees from departing prematurely” (p.258).

I suggested earlier that the four major types of sending organization will naturally lead to flawed implicit mental concepts of God. This is important not just for theoretical reasons but because a general Teacher theory that turns into a Teacher mental network will emotionally impose its structure upon everything that it touches. One version of this principle applied directly to organizations is Conway’s law, which states that “organizations which design systems...are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” Conway’s law looks at the relationship between external systems and a physical external organization. Mental symmetry suggests that something similar is happening at a deeper cognitive level.

The solution is for both the sending organization and its employees to submit to a more general Teacher theory of mental wholeness. This may sound like an unrealistic solution, but mental symmetry suggests that such a theory already exists, it is already being enforced, and it merely needs to be understood and acknowledged.

To some extent, books such as TTCKE are already taking this approach. For instance, TTCKE says that “as new findings continue to stress the importance of strong bonding with parents during a child’s early years, and after listening to so many adults struggle to come to terms with early separations, we believe it’s not wise, with so many options available, to send young children – particularly those as young as five or six – to boarding school unless there are absolutely no other alternatives” (p.233). In other words, research has shown that there are inescapable cognitive mechanisms that will emotionally harm a child who is sent to boarding school at a young age. These cognitive mechanisms already exist but they need to be understood and acknowledged.

Mental symmetry suggests that it is possible to take this approach one step further. Not only are there inescapable cognitive mechanisms, but these cognitive mechanisms can be described as a general Teacher theory, and this general Teacher theory can guide the regulations of the sending organization as well as the attitude of its employees. Specific research can act as a constraint to limit specific regulations of sending organizations. A general Teacher theory can go further and act as a guide for all the regulations of sending organizations. Of course, a similar principle applies to all organizations and not just sending organizations. However, these principles are especially vital for sending organizations because so much of a foreign employee’s life is determined by the sending organization.

Looking at this more specifically, we have seen that the TCK experience, by its very nature, pushes a person along the path that needs to be taken to reach mental wholeness. However, this cognitive development will only occur if the TCK approaches situations from the Teacher perspective of understanding rather than the Mercy perspective of personal loss. Saying this more simply, the TCK or ATCK should not focus upon painful childhood experiences or the restrictive policies of a sending organization but rather should ask ‘what can I learn from this experience?’ and ‘how can this situation help me to grow as an individual?’ Similarly, the employee should view himself primarily as a servant of the path of cognitive development and secondarily as an employee of the sending organization. That is because, as a TCK or ATCK, he has been forced by circumstances to enroll in the school of cognitive development. However, he will only benefit from this forcible enrollment if he acknowledges that he is a student in this school and stops trying to rebel from it.

Similarly, the sending organization also needs to recognize that the TCK or ATCK has been enrolled in the school of cognitive development by acknowledging the skills that he has acquired from this school. Instead, because the ATCK is often in a foreign country away from the center of organizational power, the insights of the ATCK are overruled by decisions from head office made by individuals who lack an understanding of cognitive mechanisms. TTCKE relates an example given by one MK. “One day I poured out my bitter complaints to a senior missionary. I could not understand why the mission imported 30 Canadian and US young people to do famine work, when not one of the more than 15 resident MKs – experienced in language and culture – had been asked to help” (p.107).

In the extreme, home authorities may actually regard the ability to transcend culture as a personal defect. TTCKE says that “for citizens of some countries that have strong cultural traditions to which all children carefully adhere and in which the TCK is a new phenomenon, TCKs can be seen as a threat to the stability of the home culture. In one country, some government officials suggested reprogramming for TCKs because their new independent ways of thinking were unacceptable and disturbing for that culture” (p.254).

Theoretically speaking, the missionary is capable of applying this principle most fully. That is because if one uses mental symmetry to work out the path of reaching mental wholeness, it corresponds in detail to the doctrines of Christianity. Thus, the Christian missionary is officially teaching a message that is compatible with the path of reaching mental wholeness. A message becomes much more powerful when it is conveyed through multiple mediums. This is why educators try to engage many of the senses and use multimedia when teaching a concept. In the language of mental symmetry, these various forms increase the Teacher generality of the message. Theoretically, the missionary could convey the message of reaching mental wholeness in four different ways. First, he is explicitly teaching this message. Second, he is voluntarily applying this message as an individual. Third, he is involuntarily applying this message as a TCK. Fourth, the policies of the sending organization reflect this message. However, in order to exploit this potential congruence, Christian doctrine must be reformulated in terms of universal cognitive principles. I have attempted to do this using the theory of mental symmetry, and have posted several hundred pages of analysis on the mental symmetry website. To some extent, this approach is already being taken by missionaries, because most missionaries and missionary sending organizations are increasingly realizing that the goal is mental wholeness and they are attempting to help the whole person and not just address spiritual needs. However, most of this integration is occurring at the practical level of medicine and agriculture, as illustrated by the quote about the MK being left out of the famine relief project. This is good, but an integrated cognitive theory such as mental symmetry would make it possible to adopt an integrated approach at a theoretical level as well.


Moving on, TTCKE says that the most difficult time for a TCK is returning to the home country after spending a significant amount of time in other cultures under the sending society. “One of the factors that distinguishes the TCK experience from a true immigrant is the full expectation that after living for a significant period of their developmental years outside their passport culture, there will come a day when TCKs make a permanent return to that country and culture. Oddly enough, for many TCKs this is one of the most difficult transitions they go through no matter how many other moves they have already made. Commonly called reentry, for a great number this process more closely resembles an entry. How TCKs do or don’t cope with the reentry experience can shape their lives for years to come” (p.245).

Reentry is interesting from a cognitive perspective. I suggested earlier that personal transformation can be achieved by using Teacher understanding to transform the Mercy mental networks of childish personal identity. This is an indirect path that heads away from Mercy to Teacher and then returns back to Mercy. Saying this in more detail, Perceiver thought is used to discover cross-cultural principles. These universal principles are then formulated as a general Teacher theory, and working with this Teacher theory turns it into a Teacher mental network. This Teacher mental network is then used to guide personal behavior, and submitting to this Teacher mental network will result in the fragmentation of Mercy mental networks. To some extent, this process occurs naturally in the life of the TCK. Mental symmetry suggests that the ultimate goal is to use Teacher understanding to rebuild the Mercy mental networks of personal identity. This final rebuilding corresponds to what TTCKE calls reentry. If the ATCK lacks an integrated Teacher understanding, then reentry will be difficult, and the ATCK will feel personally fragmented.

TTCKE says that “one of the most basic, but unrecognized, reason for reentry stress has to do with unconscious expectations of both the TCKs and those in their home culture” (p.246). TTCKE explains that “For years they’ve known they were different but excused it because they knew they were Asians living in England, Africans living in Germany, or Canadians living in Bolivia. That justification for being different is now gone, and they presume they will finally be the same as others; after all, these are their own people. Wrong” (p.247). For instance, “When Krista first return to the States, she felt euphoric at finally being ‘home’. It didn’t take long, however, before Krista realized, to her horror, that she couldn’t relate to American classmates either. Somehow she was as different from them as from her English peers” (p.247).

Examining this from the theory of mental symmetry, we looked earlier at the ought self, which is the set of mental networks within my mind that other people are activating in an attempt to define my personal identity. Consider, for instance, the Canadian TCK living in Bolivia. Attending school in Bolivia, his mental networks did not match those of his classmates, therefore they responded negatively to him and labeled him as ‘the strange Canadian’. As a result, he thinks that when he returns to Canada he will no longer receive disapproval but rather be welcomed as a Canadian. However, his cultural mental networks match neither those of the typical Bolivian nor those of the typical Canadian. Instead, he is a third culture kid, a hybrid of Canadian and Bolivian. In other words, his Bolivian ought self may label him as a Canadian but his actual self is not Canadian. Therefore, when he returns to Canada, he will still feel like an outsider.

For instance, I come from a Mennonite background, a somewhat German ethnicity. During the 19th century, my ancestors lived in Russia as a German cultural enclave. My great-grandparents emigrated to Canada in the 1870s. However, a large group of Mennonites remained in Russia until the 1980s, when they emigrated to Germany. I remember one of these Russian Mennonite saying, “In Russia, we were called the Germans, but when we returned to Germany as ethnic Germans, the Germans called us the Russians.”

We have seen that when the TCK moves to a strange culture, then he will try to fit in by following the expectations of the local cultural mental networks. When the TCK returns home, then he may continue acting like a chameleon and attempt to fit in. TTCKE describes this option. Some “try to be perfect external chameleons. To fit in, they refuse to tell anyone of their past life. Where they have lived are grown-up becomes a well guarded secret...Basically these TCKs deny one entire side of their life to try and blend in with the new peers” (p.249).

Another option is for the TCK to attempt to equate the ought self that he acquired living abroad with his personal mental networks. For instance, the Canadian living in Bolivia was continually labeled as ‘that Canadian’. But when he returns to Canada, he will find that his personal mental networks do not match up with the cultural mental networks of ‘being a Canadian’. One option is for him to insist that his personal mental networks do define what it means to be a Canadian.8

TTCKE describes this attitude. “A cross-cultural lifestyle is so normal for TCKs that they themselves don’t always understand how much it has shaped their view of the world. They easily forget that others haven’t had the same exposure to different cultures and lifestyles as they have had. Also the easiest way for anyone to deal with the stress of feeling uncomfortable in a new situation is to put others down...At times it seems TCKs can be culturally tolerant anywhere but in their own culture. When people move to a new host culture, they usually keep quiet if they have strongly negative opinions about the culture. At most, they only express them to fellow expatriates. These rules seem to change however, on reentry. Some TCKs appear to feel quite free to express every negative opinion they can possibly think of about their home culture, no matter who is around” (p.250).

Another possibility is to pull back from social interaction. If mental networks are not triggered, then they will not experience inconsistent input. TTCKE describes this option. “Other TCKs, of course, simply withdraw. Some do it in obvious forms. They have a hard time getting out of bed, or they sit in their rooms and watch TV all day rather than joining any activities at school or church. These, too, are culture shock reactions” (p.250).

The moral of the story is that reentry does not really exist. The term ‘reentry’ gives the impression that one is returning back to a previous state, but the TCK will never be a typical mono-cultural individual. He has become something new, and he will have to learn what it means to be this new person. In other words, when the TCK returns home, he is actually experiencing an aspect of personal transformation. Therefore, it is important to place reentry within the framework of personal transformation. TTCKE emphasizes the inexorable nature of this change. “Whether you know it or not, when you decided to become a globally nomadic family and move to the United States (or any other country), you decided that your children would become third culture kids. That means they will be influenced by the culture they live in and become in some degree bi- or multicultural; it’s inevitable. Now the good news: it doesn’t have to ruin their lives. In fact, it will add a lot to them. It’s okay to be a TCK” (p.227).

We have suggested that personal transformation needs to be guided by Teacher understanding. TTCKE emphasizes the need for using understanding during reentry. “Instead of presuming it’s everyone else’s task to understand them, TCKs need to make an effort to understand the life experiences of their home peers. Asking thoughtful questions and listening more actively are great ways to learn more about the variety of backgrounds and experiences appears in their own country. It also helps them realize that their own story is simply one of many and to understand why others may not see the world exactly as they do” (p.252). Translating this into the language of mental symmetry, the TCK should treat reentry as another cross-cultural experience, which means using Perceiver thought to look for common cross-cultural elements in order to build a general Teacher understanding.

Reentry is an opportunity for personal identity to become transformed in a positive direction. But it is also possible for personal identity to become transformed negatively. As TTCKE says, “Reentry is the key period when they are most vulnerable to being swept up in a group of friends they would never have chosen under normal circumstances, and they can get into drugs, alcohol, and other behavior they previously spurned” (p.253).

Living under a sending organization has already taught the TCK what it means to be guided personally by Teacher understanding. This provides a possible solution for the reentry problem—but only if the sending organization has the right form and has been approached in the right fashion by the TCK.

We saw previously the inherent contradiction of living under a sending organization. On the one hand, the organization is a finite group that interacts with other finite groups. On the other hand, it feels universal to a member of this organization because it fills up so much of his personal life. TTCKE describes what it feels like to suddenly leave an organization that has placed such a large role in one’s life. “Many TCKs grow up within the friendly (a few might say unfriendly) confines of a strong sponsoring organizational structure, which becomes part of their identity. They have instant recognition as a member of this group. Then at age 21 the commissary card is cut up, the support for education stops, invitations to organizational function cease, and they are on their own as ‘adults.’ TCKs understand this mentally and probably maintain personal friends within the original system, but their sense of loss that they are no longer part of that system is real. In fact, some told us it feels like they were disowned by their own families” (p.171).

Why does leaving an organization feel like being disowned by family? Because both are represented within the mind as mental networks. What differs is themeans by which one leaves the mental network. People are represented by Mercy mental networks. One maintains Mercy connections through closeness. In the past, this meant being physically close to one another. In today’s world of global communications, one can stay in touch through other means. TTCKE describes this Mercy bond. “Because so many TCKs grow up with a strong sense that friends from the sponsoring agency or their international school are a part of their extended family, belonging to this group becomes part of their very identity. It may be the one place outside the family where they have a deep sense of belonging. They want to need to stay connected with the support system in some way. (p.264).

In contrast, one remains connected with a Teacher theory by being within its domain. Mercy closeness is not the same as Teacher domain. For instance, the international school at which I taught in Korea was a few hundred meters from the Yongsan American army base, which was basically an American town transplanted into the middle of the metropolis of Seoul. On the base one can find lawns of grass, buy root beer, eat at Taco Bell, speak English, and when one crosses the street the cars will politely stop.(However, you can’t get sushi or Korean barbecue on the base.) Even though I was close to the Army base in Mercy terms because it was only a stone’s throw away, I was distant from it in Teacher terms, because I was outside of the domain of the sending organization of the US military, both organizationally and literally.

The domain of a Teacher theory may be limited to a certain physical region. For instance, the government of a country rules over a specific region of land. A domain may also be limited in application. For example, if a religion distinguishes between religious and secular, then the domain of that religion is limited to the religious realm and does not extend to the secular realm. Similarly, the domain of a corporation is limited to the goods and services that it provides. The point is that when one is living abroad under a sending organization, then it will feel as if that sending organization has a universal domain because of all the additional support that the organization is providing and all of this extra support will cease upon reentry.

Even if an individual remains with his sending organization after reentry, he will probably find that his relationship with it changes. Instead of helping him, it will now hinder him. TTCKE describes what this means. “20 to 25 percent of expatriate families leave the company within one year of repatriation. Repatriating, or returning home, is frequently more difficult than moving abroad in the first place. Many, especially corporate employees, have been out of the loop while they were overseas. Their old jobs have been filled by someone else, their careers are off track, and the company doesn’t know what to do with them or how to use the international and cross-cultural skills they’ve acquired. Also, overseas these employees may have had a good bit of autonomy as decision-makers or leaders, but at home their position is subordinate. Plus, they no longer fit into old patterns – not only at work but also at home in their former community” (p.263).

Part of this can be attributed to the culture shock of encountering incompatible Mercy mental networks. But most of what is being described here involves Teacher thought. The returning employee finds that while he may still be officially part of the company, unofficially he no longer has a place within the Teacher domain of the company. There are two main reasons for this. First, when the rules of an organization are created by people, then personal contact is required to remain within the organization. Second, when an organization is limited, then there are only so many jobs to go around and employees will have to compete for the better jobs.

A Better Sending Organization

Before we continue, let us remind ourselves of where we are going. The general theme is the process of personal transformation, in which one submits personally to a general Teacher theory in order to disassemble the Mercy mental networks of childish identity so that they can be reassembled in adult form. We have seen that the life of the TCK naturally includes the first two components of ‘submitting personally to a general Teacher theory’ and ‘disassembling the Mercy mental networks of childish identity’. We are now examining whether the general Teacher theory to which the TCK personally submitted is capable of reassembling personal identity at the end of the journey. That is why we are examining how reentry is affected by the nature of the sending organization, and we have seen that instead of reassembling personal identity, the natural tendency is for a sending organization to abandon personal identity, either officially or unofficially.

Mental symmetry suggests that the ultimate solution is to submit internally to a Teacher theory of mental wholeness that is based in universal cognitive principles and to view the entire TCK experience as an aspect of the larger process of personal transformation. First, one cannot leave or be excluded from a Teacher theory that is based in universal principles. Second, when one submits internally to a theory, then it does not matter whether one is an official member of an organization or not. Finally, a theory of mental wholeness will always end up helping a person whether he is at leaving home, living abroad, or reentering.

It may seem counterproductive or unnecessary to look beyond the TCK experience for some deeper meaning in personal transformation while one is in the midst of the journey, however eventually reentry will occur and one will then discover that one has gone through the first stages of a process of personal transformation, whether this was acknowledged or not, and one will then face the task of reassembling personal identity.

For instance, when I began doing research in mental symmetry, I assisted my oldest brother who was then studying biographies and giving seminars about cognitive styles. Because he is fifteen years older, it was natural for me to be the junior partner, and we had many years of fruitful collaboration. Eventually he abandoned the theory of mental symmetry and came up with another general theory to explain cognitive styles.9 Even though I found this separation emotionally difficult, it eventually proved to be liberating, both intellectually and personally. That is because when we were collaborating, my primary goal was to understand the mind in order to experience personal transformation, and I assisted my brother as a means of pursuing the greater aim of reaching mental wholeness. Therefore, when collaboration with my brother ceased, rather than preventing me from interacting with Teacher thought (my brother has the cognitive style of Teacher person), this separation made it possible for me to be guided more purely by internal understanding.

TTCKE describes some of the elements of a healthy reentry. “One of the ways to help TCKs resettle in their home country on a long-term basis is to provide an opportunity for them to revisit the host country where they feel most deeply rooted. It’s easy for that past experience to become so idealized or romanticized in the transition to their home culture that it grows to larger-than-life proportions. Going back can help put it into perspective. Going back does something else as well. It connects the past and present worlds of TCKs and reminds them that their past is not a myth or totally inaccessible. In addition, such a journey reminds them that things never stay the same, and ultimately the past is now a foundation for the future.” (p.254). Notice the various aspects being mentioned here. First, one is revisiting a location that will strongly trigger childish Mercy mental networks. This connects the present with the past. Second, when the past is revisited, then one will realize that people and places change and do not remain the same. Third, whenever Mercy memories become disconnected from the external world, then Teacher thought will tend to modify these memories so that they appear more simple, idealistic, and perfect. This is driven by the same mental mechanism that leads to the formation of Platonic forms, and explains why the past is remembered through rose-colored glasses.

When the overall goal is personal transformation leading to mental wholeness, then I suggest that reentry will contain these same elements. Like the host country, the home country will also be remembered in idealistic terms. Therefore, returning home will always be somewhat of a disappointment because reality will always fall short of expectations. Mental symmetry suggests that this discrepancy should be regarded as something good and not bad. That is because mental wholeness makes a distinction between values and goals. Values are based in Platonic forms and they describe ideals they can never be fully realized in real life. Goals, in contrast, are based in real experiences that can be fully achieved. Long-term growth is guided by values but strives to achieve goals. This distinction is discussed in more detail in the essay on Tony Robbins.

We saw earlier how the reentering TCK may criticize his home culture as inadequate. Every culture is inadequate; no real country fully expresses the Platonic form of the ideal culture. The challenge is to use this discrepancy as a motivation to take steps that will make the real culture more like the ideal culture. The reentering TCK is uniquely qualified to spearhead this task. The mono-cultural individual is driven by his mental networks to assume that everything will continue the way it always has. The returning TCK knows that experiences can change, and his idealized internal values allow him to see how things could be improved.

As TTCKE mentions, it is common for sending organizations to ignore the expertise of the reentering TCK. “It’s ironic to see an organization bring in experts about a particular subject or country while ignoring the wealth of knowledge and experience of their ATCKs...Perhaps all prophets are without honor in their own country, but an agency shouldn’t overlook the great resources they have in their ATCKs” (p.265). That is another reason why one ultimately submits to the process of personal transformation and not to the sending organization. It may not be possible to improve the sending organization when one reenters, but it is always possible to improve some aspect of local society in order to make it more like the ideal society.

One MK makes the following general observation in the final appendix, part of which has already been quoted. “A curious phenomenon happens when global nomads are called upon to talk about the past, especially in more formal situations such as a panel discussion or interviews. Invariably, they end their already very positive accounts with ‘...but it was great. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.’ There is a subtle defensiveness in this kind of summary that begs the question: What is it that they feel needs this reassertion? Or are they reassuring themselves? The parents of many global nomads were involved in high-profile or morally weighty service professions. They were on a mission, representing the home country, a particular ideology, or even God. Sacrifice – of family or emotional stability, reliable friends or circumstances – was just part of pursuing the noble cause. We were trained from an early age to believe in the cause; to show our pain, to acknowledge the cost, was disloyal. But acknowledging grief or anger does not invalidate the positive aspects of an otherwise cherished experience” (p.315).

This quote illustrates the inherent tension that exists between the explicit message and mission of the TCK and the implicit path of personal transformation that being a TCK forces one to travel. One could summarize this tension as “We went out to save others but in the end we learned that we were also lost and in need of salvation.” Thus, the one who has traveled abroad in the service of some high mission may fear that admitting his own inadequacies will invalidate his cause. This would be the case if truth is revealed by people. If Perceiver truth is based in Mercy status, then truth will only survive as long as emotional status is maintained. Thus, the messenger of truth must be strong and not show any weaknesses. As the quote says, “We were trained from an early age to believe in the cause; to show our pain, to acknowledge the cost, was disloyal.” However, if the ultimate goal is personal transformation, then only the individual who has experienced personal transformation can teach this message in an authentic manner. Therefore, I suggest that the solution is not to reduce the high-profile mission to a cherished experience in Mercy thought, but rather to recognize that the painful experiences of being a TCK can be part of the loftiest mission of all—the mission of personal transformation. The traumas of the TCK do not disqualify him from being an ambassador of this message; rather, it is precisely this life story that makes him qualified to tell others about this message.

What the TCK has learned through cultural dislocation needs to be taught to the rest of the world. That is because the TCK is a forerunner of what is to come. “the TCK experience is a microcosm of what is fast becoming normal throughout the world...TCKs of the late twentieth century are ‘the prototype [citizens] of the twenty-first century.’ Experts are trying to predict the outcome of his cultural juggling. Looking at the TCK world can help us prepare for the long-term consequences of this new pattern of global cultural mixing” (p.7).

Minimizing Cultural Dislocation

We have examined the TCK experience from the larger perspective of personal transformation. Many of the elements of this larger perspective are mentioned in TTCKE, however TTCKE does not put these elements together to form an integrated understanding. Instead, TTCKE focuses upon steps that can be taken to minimize the disruption that a TCK will experience in Mercy thought. We will finish this essay by examining this Mercy-based advice.

Much of this advice could be summarized as giving a child Mercy mental networks that are stable. After all, if the TCK is being traumatized by disrupted mental networks, then it makes sense to minimize this disruption.

As we saw earlier, TTCKE strongly suggests that children should not be sent away from home at a young age. “As new findings continue to stress the importance of strong bonding with parents during a child's early years, and after listening to so many adults struggle to come to terms with early separations, we believe it’s not wise, with so many options available, to send young children – particularly those as young as five or six – to boarding school unless there are absolutely no other alternatives” (p.233). Instead, homeschooling is recommended for younger children. “An increasing number of internationally mobile families use various methods of homeschooling, particularly for younger TCKs...It’s fine to use these options of homeschooling or correspondence schools as long as steps are taken to ensure the children maintain the standard that would be required of them in a more structured school setting” (p.223). Given today’s globally interconnected world, it is possible to homeschool and maintain educational standards.

Similarly, the TCK may be constantly changing cultures, but it may be possible to create stable Mercy mental networks by repeatedly returning to the same location when visiting the home country. “Whenever practical, third culture family should return to the same place each time they go on home leave...when staying in the same physical house isn’t possible, family should try to locate nearby so TCKs can have the same school, church, and friends” (p.240).

Mercy mental networks are based in emotional experiences. As we saw earlier, children need to find emotional security in the mental networks that represent their parents. TTCKE describes this need. “Children need to know beyond all doubt that their parents love them enough to protect them from unnecessary hurt or harm and that Mom and Dad will be available to comfort and console them when painful times are unavoidable” (p.193)

However, remaining physically at home with parents is not enough. If children are to find emotional comfort in the mental networks that represent their parents, then they must share common emotional experiences as a family. TTCKE warns that this basic emotional need can be neglected parents who are representing some cause. “So many parents are involved in important, high-energy, people-oriented jobs that it’s easy for TCKs to feel they are less important than the people their parents work with. To help prevent the sense of being orphaned or abandoned that we’ve heard some TCKs express, parents need to make sure that amid all the busyness of their schedules, there are spaces reserved for their family to spend time together” (p.193).

One effective way of creating family memories is by stopping at interesting locations on the way from one location to another. “As families go back and forth between host home countries, they need to get off the plane, find a place to stay, and tour the countries in between. Making stops along the way not only expands the TCK’s world; it also creates memories that last a lifetime” (p.241).

Obviously, following a mobile lifestyle will mean that Mercy mental networks are continually being disrupted. This disruption can be minimized by basing mental networks upon emotional experiences that are transportable. One alternative is to define culture in terms of personal relationships rather than physical locations or local culture. Repeating an earlier quote, “Because TCKs often cope with high mobility by defining their sense of rootedness in terms of relationships rather than geography, many TCKs will go to greater lengths than some people might consider normal to nurture relational ties with others – be they family members, friends with whom the TCKs have shared boarding school years, or other important members of the third culture community” (p.131).

Another option is to bring special objects along the journey. For instance, “A favorite teddy bear pulled out of the suitcase each night during the travels from one place to another reminds the child that there is one stable thing in his or her life amidst the general chaos” (p.205).

TTCKE describes this more generically as ‘sacred objects’. “Everyone in the family needs to carry some treasured items to the new location. These become part of the collection of sacred objects that help connect one part of the global nomad’s life to the next” (p.202).

TCKs may use ‘sacred objects’ to define home. “During her childhood, ATCK Sandra acquired a set of carved ebony elephant bookends, a lamp,...feather paintings, and other ebony carvings to hang on the wall. At university and in the sixteen locations where she has lived since her wedding, when the bookends are in place, the paintings and carvings hung on the wall, and the lamp turned on, she’s home” (p.242).

TCKs may also use ‘sacred objects’ to define personal identity. “Did you ever look around a group of TCKs or their parents and see how many of them were wearing some article of clothing or jewelry that connected them with their past? It might be a Taureg cross hanging on a gold chain or a V-ring on a finger. Perhaps they’re wearing a sari instead of a sweater. Often an ATCK’s home is quite a sight to behold – with artifacts gathered from around the world, all proving that ‘I was there! It’s part of my history.’ Each sacred object serves as a good reminder that the current moment or scene is part of a bigger story of that person’s life” (p.205).

Mentally speaking, a ‘sacred object’ can have two primary functions. First, it can function as a sacred object—without the quotes. Second, it can function as a memento. We will take a few paragraphs to examine this first function before looking at the second function. An object becomes sacred when emotional experiences with the object form a mental network within Mercy thought and this Mercy mental network has sufficient emotional power to mesmerize Perceiver thought into believing truth. In this case the sacred object is acting as an idol. When an object is being regarded as an idol, then it will be given reverential treatment and it will be kept separate from normal objects. An idol may be a holy relic protected in a church shrine or the T-shirt of a sports star displayed carefully in a glassed frame. If the goal is to use Teacher understanding to rebuild Mercy mental networks, then idols are counterproductive, because external objects are acting as a source of emotional integration rather than internal understanding.

Notice that the problem with an idol is not with the object itself but rather with the fact that this object is the source of a Mercy mental network that is integrating the mind. A rare, fragile, historical artifact needs to be separated from normal objects and protected. But that is because of the uniqueness and fragility of the object itself. With an idol, the object is not being venerated because of its fragility but rather because of the fragility of the mental network.

Destroying an idol does not stop idolatry because the focus is still upon the offending object. Mercy mental networks are necessary and historical artifacts add to the richness of human experience.Destroying history does not remove idolatry but instead makes life emotionally sterile. Because idolatry uses emotional Mercy experiences to define truth, the Teacher words that one saysabout idolatry are irrelevant. Instead, what defines idolatry is the attitude of a person in Mercy thought.

I suggested earlier that Perceiver thought should be used to look for connections that cross cultural boundaries. I suggest that a similar principle applies to idols. Idols are placed within shrines. The purpose of the shrine is to prevent Perceiver thought from comparing the idol with other objects that are similar but are not holy. If one wishes to move beyond idolatry, I suggest that an effective method is to deliberately place idols alongside objects that are similar in appearance or function but not regarded as sacred. For instance, consider the mental effect of placing a plastic cup of Coke alongside a chalice filled with holy wine. Notice that the goal is not to destroy Mercy emotions but rather to build Perceiver connections. For instance, placing a crucifix in a jar of urine does not build Perceiver thought. Instead, it creates an emotional reaction by juxtaposing incompatible Mercy mental networks.

Applying this to the TCK, if the overall goal is personal transformation, then sacred objects are counterproductive, because they stand in the way of using Teacher understanding to integrate Mercy thought. If some special momento is treated in a reverential manner and kept separate from other less special items, then this indicates that the mind may be regarding it as an idol. Mental networks complain the loudest when they are threatened. Therefore, the best way to unveil an idol is to stop treating it as special. If this feels wrong, then it is probably being regarded mentally as an idol. Notice the difference between being valuable and being idolized. An object is valuable when comparing it with other objects produces strong feelings. An object is an idol when strong emotions are preventing this object from being compared with other objects.

Having said this, the mind of the young child is naturally based upon Mercy mental networks. In other words, every child is an idol worshiper. Thus, the teddy bear or rock collection of the young child does need to be treated in a respectable manner. As TTCKE warns, “Parents may delight in the chance to throw out a child’s rock collection, never realizing how precious those rocks were to their child” (p.203). However, if one wishes to experience personal transformation, then it will eventually be necessary to go beyond this attitude.

Because the goal is to become free of Mercy attachments so that one can emotionally move on, it is important to let go of an idol in a manner that itself does not create a Mercy fixation. For instance, governments have learned that rebels who are killed often turn into martyrs who have more emotional impact as dead icons than they did as living leaders. As we saw earlier, bitterness refuses to move on while forgiveness makes it possible to move on.

Saying Farewell

We saw earlier that the mind uses mental networks to represent people. When I am interacting with another person whom I know, most of the social interaction is occuring within my own mind with the memories of that person. These emotional memories have turned into a mental network, and when that mental network is triggered it predicts how that person will behave. Interaction with the real person will update this mental network, which will then be adjusted to reflect the present state of that individual.

When I leave this friend, then thinking about that friend will still activate the mental network, but it will no longer be possible to update this mental network through personal interaction. Saying this another way, the mental network becomes frozen in time, like the bedroom of a family member who dies in a tragic accident which is preserved just the way that it was the day that tragedy struck.

Remember also that a mental network which continues to receive incompatible input will start to fall apart and will respond with hyper-pain. When my friend is physically present, then interacting with him will trigger the mental network that represents him and he will behave in a manner that is consistent with this mental network. The same thing happens with a person whom I dislike. As long as he is present to act in a way that is consistent with my mental network of him, then this mental network will generate positive hyper-emotion. A problem arises whenever there is a major mismatch between the way a person behaves and the way my mental network predicts that he should behave. This happens, for instance, when a member of the family has a mental illness, or suffers some sort of brain damage. The mental network within my mind that represents that person will start to fall apart, because ‘he is no longer the person that he used to be’. Notice that personal change has a different effect than personal transformation. When a friend changes his behavior in small ways, then the mental network will be updated to reflect this change. However, if a friend alters his behavior in major ways, then this change will be to great for the mental network to handle and it will start to fall apart.

Now suppose that I move away and leave this person behind. Whenever I think about this person, the mental network in my mind will predict a certain form of behavior and this behavior will not occur, because the person is not present. This happens when a loved one dies, and it also happens when a TCK moves away from his friends. The mental network will then start to fall apart, and it will turn to other mental networks for affirmation. This is when the importance of ending the relationship upon a good note becomes significant. If I finished the relationship by doing something good for the other person, as well as clearing up any issues that exist between us, then whenever I think about that person, the memory of me being nice to that person will help to preserve the integrity of the mental network that represents that person. In contrast, if there are unresolved issues between us, or if I treated the other person poorly or ignored that person when leaving, then thinking about that person will further attack the integrity of the mental network that represents that person. Either I will think, “I am so glad that I had a final chance to say goodbye and write him a nice card” or I will think “I wish that I wasn’t so mean to him. If only I had said something nice to him before we left.” Obviously, such feelings have nothing to do with the actual person because he is not there to notice them. Instead, the mental network that represents that person within my mind is starting to fall apart. First, it is no longer receiving external input because the friend is no longer present. Second, whenever it is being triggered at the same time as personal identity, it is being mentally attacked by personal identity by the memory of unpleasant interaction. And because the person is no longer present to update the mental network, this unpleasant interaction becomes frozen in time, continually rehashed but unable to be updated.

That explains why it is important to end a friendship upon a good note. As TTCKE states, “Farewells to significant people in our lives are crucial. Parents should take special care to help their children say goodbye to people with whom they have had meaningful relationships in the past as well as the present” (p.202).

TTCKE also mentions saying goodbye to a beloved pet. “TCKs need to know how their pets will be cared for, who will love them. If the pet must be put to sleep, everyone who cares for that pet, particularly children, should say goodbye. Some TCKs tell us how devastated they were after parents promised their pet would be happy in a new home, only to find out months or years later that the dog was euthanized or the chicken given to someone for food” (p.203).

Notice that what really matters is not whether the pet survives or not, but rather how the pet was treated. That is because one is dealing with the survival of the mental network that represents the pet, rather than the existence of the pet itself. If a child is able to say farewell to a pet in a loving manner, then when the mental network that represents this pet comes to mind, the memory of this caring interaction will help to preserve the integrity of the mental network. “My dog Lucky knows that I love him. He couldn’t come with us to our new country, but I will always treasure him in my heart.” In contrast, if the parent ends up killing the pet without telling the child, then when the child finds out, the bad treatment done by the parent will mentally overrule any good response done by the child. That is because the mind of the child is ultimately held together by the mental networks that represent his parents and these mental networks will overrule other mental networks. However, if the parents tell the child that the pet has to be euthanized and if they bid farewell to the pet as a family, then parental mental networks will mentally support the child’s love for his pet.

Remember that any set of emotional memories can form a mental network. Therefore, as TTCKE says, it is important to ‘say goodbye’ to places and objects as well as people. “Everyone has places that evoke an emotional response. It may be a spot tied to a special moment in our lives (our engagement, for instance) or where we go when we are upset or where certain events always occur. These are the places we come back to visit, either alone or to show our children years later. Part of healthy closure includes visiting such sites to reminisce and say farewell. This is particularly important for TCKs who may be losing their whole world with next week’s plane ride. Many TCKs we have talked to mourn for the favorite tree they use to climb years after they have left the land of their childhood” (p.202).

TTCKE mentions two interesting methods for keeping a mental network alive. “People say goodbye to places in different ways. Some plant a tree that will grow long after they are gone, symbolizing a living, ongoing connection to this part of their lives. Others leave a hidden secret message or ‘treasure’ to look for in case they should return” (p.202).

If the ultimate problem is preventing the mental network that represents a beloved place from falling apart and ‘dying’, and if thinking about that mental network can either help to preserve its integrity or further its fragmentation, then an effective way of preserving this mental network is by performing an action that will add life to the physical location after a person leaves, hence planting a tree. Similarly, leaving a message or treasure in this location indicates a person’s care for the corresponding mental network while hiding this item ensures that this care will not be undone by other people.

We looked at the topic of sacred objects and then turned to the matter of emotional closure. Emotional closure is always important, regardless of a person’s level of maturity. Sacred objects, in contrast, indicate that the mind is being ruled by Mercy mental networks, and I have suggested that idolatry is a symptom of mental immaturity and childish thought. ‘Sacred objects’ – this time with the quotes – can also serve as mementos that help to trigger and preserve mental networks. The most obvious form of the memento is the photograph or video recording. “Pictures are another way we connect with special moments and memories in her past. One ambassador asked each staff member to list what he or she would put in the one bag allowed for emergency evacuation. Photographs headed the list for every person, far above things with much more intrinsic worth. Why? Because each picture reminds us of some relationship, an experience we have had, a place we have visited...Pictures can also be helpful for letting people in the new place know something more of our history” (p.205).

Again, it is not the picture that matters but rather the mental network that the picture represents, and this mental network will probably not be shared by other individuals. “Friends who weren’t there can’t see anything interesting in a skinny cow walking down the middle of the road; it seems rather bizarre to them. And they certainly don’t want to hear a twenty minute story about the man with the shaved head in the back row. For the person who is there, though, that picture or video segment brings back a flood of memories, and every detail is fascinating” (p.206).

A memento has a dual purpose. Its physical existence helps to trigger mental networks that otherwise would no longer be activated, while its structure helps to preserve the integrity of mental networks that are falling apart. Mementos are especially important to certain cognitive styles. The Mercy person appreciates the emotional interaction that is generated when Mercy mental networks are triggered in a pleasant manner. The Facilitator person uses the memento primarily as a way of broadening the mind. That is because the Facilitator person is conscious in the cognitive module that acts as the secretary of the mind, observing and balancing the rest of thought from the outside. In order to balance, a variety of items must exist that can be balanced, and each social and physical context will only trigger a limited number of mental networks. Mementos can expand the number and variety of mental networks that are triggered, making it possible for Facilitator thought to blend between a broader range of alternatives. In a similar manner, even if a Facilitator person hates some individual, the Facilitator person will feel that his world becomes smaller when that hated person dies, because the mental network that represented that individual will no longer be triggered.

Mental symmetry suggests that all Mercy experiences should ultimately be integrated by a general Teacher understanding. If this is to happen, then one stage in this process is to set aside mementos for a while in order to allow Teacher thought to replace the function of the physical reminder. This does not mean destroying the memento, but rather laying it away for a time so that it is no longer present to trigger mental networks. And the purpose of this laying aside is not to forget the mental network but rather to view it as an illustration of Teacher generality. Saying this more precisely, when Teacher thought is being used to understand a situation, then it is important to gather as many Perceiver facts as possible, and mementos help to bring these facts to mind. However, once an understanding has been constructed, then the mementos should be put aside for a while in order to permit the Teacher theory to hold together the mental network rather than the memento. This is because the mind will naturally follow the easiest of two possible alternatives. It is mentally easier to use a physical object to trigger a mental network and preserve its substance. Therefore, the mind will only use a Teacher theory to preserve a mental network if this function is not being provided by some memento. Once a connection between the Teacher theory and the mental network has been internally established, then the mementos can be brought back out of storage.

The memorable experiences will now be viewed in a different light. Previously, they were seen as an aspect of the past which is gone and cannot be re-created. Now, they will be viewed as an expression of general understanding that can be re-created. While it is not possible to bring back the past, it is possible to understand the past and use this understanding to transform the present so that it embodies the best aspects of the past. Saying this another way, understanding the specific experience from the past places this pleasant experience within the structure of Platonic forms, and it is possible to create similar experiences that express the same Platonic forms. The specific experience may be different, but if the Platonic form is the same, then the mental network can be reactivated and satisfied and not just remembered and commemorated.

For instance, this happens whenever a child grows up and becomes a parent. A grown adult cannot return to being a child, but a grown adult can be a parent to a child. The specific experiences of being a child are different the experiences of being a parent, but the same Platonic forms of parental care are being activated.


TTCKE calls the TCK the prototype of the typical 21st century citizen. This is because global travel and communication are increasingly causing us all to undergo the cultural dislocation that the TCK experiences. Mental symmetry suggests that this parallel extends further. Just as the TCK finds his personal life guided and controlled by a sending organization, so technology increasingly intrudes on the personal life of the average individual, both by providing for his needs and by observing and controlling his behavior. We are all learning what it means for ‘big brother’ to care for us—and watch over us.

We are also increasingly exhibiting the uneven maturity of the TCK. In peripheral matters, today’s average citizen is far more aware of facts and has a much greater understanding of the world around him, thanks in large part to the Internet. Social networking makes it simple to interact with those from other cultures, leading to the formation of many cross-cultural cultures that are based in common interests and common life experiences.

However, when dealing with core issues today’s average citizen is often less mature. Like the TCK, the multiplicity of Mercy mental networks that attract our attention have caused us to turn into social chameleons who no longer have a fixed set of Mercy mental networks that can provide us with a moral compass. Meanwhile, the lures of the Internet, together with the emotional intensity of modern entertainment, exposes today’s young child to emotional situations that most children from previous generations never encountered. Thus, like the TCK, today’s typical child has more Mercy mental networks than before but is less capable of handling these mental networks.

On the one hand, as with the TCK, it is possible to take steps to minimize the emotional dislocation that is experienced by children. On the other hand, is not possible to return to the innocence of previous generations in which children grew up within the bucolic environment of home and traditional culture.

Thus, like the TCK, I suggest that we are faced with three major choices. One option is to focus upon the Mercy experiences of the past, clinging in some way to the ‘good old days’. If the TCK is any guide, then this is not a profitable path. Another option is to focus upon the explicit relationship between Teacher thought and personal identity. This will lead us down the path ofcritical discourse analysis, which concludes that Teacher structures (which it calls ideologies) are imposed upon society by Mercy mental networks that are vying for power.

The third option is to examine the implicit relationship between Teacher thought and identity. If mental wholeness is achieved by using Teacher understanding to transform childish Mercy mental networks, then technology-induced cultural dislocation is actually pushing us along the path to mental wholeness. The challenge is to take advantage of this opportunity and not be overwhelmed by it.

1 It is awkward to continually refer to ‘Pollock and Van Reken’ when quoting from the book, therefore I will refer to the book as TTCKE.

2 I have rethought this decision several times since then, and have come to the conclusion that the fundamental issue is the relationship between universal structure and personal identity. The problem is not with unions per se, but rather with the control exerted over the individual by a closed shop union, in which one must either submit to the organization or be shunned. A similar situation arises when a corporation or government attempts to exert total control over individuals. One of the primary questions that has driven my research is examining how one can build universal structure without destroying personal identity.

3 I have thought extensively about research methodology, and have come to the conclusion that developing a meta-theory such as mental symmetry is guided by analogical thinking and requires extensive interdisciplinary knowledge. In contrast, graduate studies leads to specialization and develops technical thought, which may be good for doing work within a field but is not appropriate for tying various fields together.

4 A friend of mine who teaches at a Bible college in the United States was recently fired because he would not accept ‘ worm theology’—the idea that the human individual will always remain utterly inadequate compared to the perfection and greatness of God.

5 For those who wish to explore this topic further, this essay examines the relationship between universal Teacher understanding and the traits of the Christian God, including how an attitude of religious fundamentalism will alter a person’s perception of divine traits.

6 Mental networks respond with positive hyper-emotion when behavior is consistent with acquired emotional patterns. Mental networks reside in either Mercy thought or Teacher thought. As one can see from the diagram of mental symmetry, Exhorter thought translates emotion into drive and motivation, and Exhorter thought gets bored when nothing changes. Therefore, the mental networks of a culture will usually be expressed in a way that includes some novelty. This balance between tradition and novelty is typically expressed through seasonal festivals and rituals. The Exhorter person experiences this need for novelty most keenly, and each society will have its Exhorter persons and Exhorter-led gangs that attempt to break up the monotony with some novelty.

7 The right hippocampus performs spatial processing, which defines Perceiver thought. (The left hippocampus handles sequential Server processing.) Recent research has shown that the back 1/3 of the hippocampus (in the human) performs cognitive processing that is independent of emotions while the front 1/3 of the hippocampus is heavily influenced by emotional input from the amygdala. These two forms of processing converge in the central part of the hippocampus.

8 In Canada, it is possible to some extent to do this. That is because 42% of the population of Vancouver and Toronto belong to a visible minority, and the Canadian city with the highest percentage of visible minorities outside of Toronto and Vancouver is my hometown of Abbotsford. Thus, being a TCK is considered somewhat normal in the Vancouver area. When I tell local people that I spent seven years in Korea, then most will respond that they have a friend or relative who is currently teaching in Asia. However, even as an ethnic Canadian who was born in Abbotsford, I still found reentry difficult.

9 I spent some time examining this new theory and as far as I can tell it is unnecessarily complicated and contains some fundamental errors. However, I recommend my brother’s descriptions of cognitive styles, his research on biographies, and the test for cognitive styles that can be found on his website.