The Social Compact

I appreciate my brain cells; they go out of their way to think good thoughts for me. For this reason, I never take them for granted and always strive to make them feel valued. I do this by giving them various thinking tasks to perform. Several months ago, I was curious about social compacts in stories. I wanted to know (1) if a social compact exists and (2) what specific elements does it contain. So far all the stories I have read do have a social compact. As for the specific elements, I decided to use the elements of the social compact I developed for teaching. These worked well in the classroom community, and I wondered if they worked just as well in novels.

Effective communicators convey messages in a variety of formats. They take responsibility for the clarity, purpose, and the meaning of the messages they send. They also seek to interpret messages they receive objectively and accurately.

Complex thinkers recognize patterns and make conjectures, applying both deductive and inductive reasoning. They transfer prior knowledge to new contexts. They synthesize multiple concepts and evaluate their relationship. They can analyze an idea and examine its various components, reflecting on the process and the results. Complex thinkers are not threatened by diverse ideas – they welcome them.

Self-directed learners are autodidacts. They set goals, monitor their progress, and evaluate their results. They take ownership of their learning and, to that end, manage their time, establish benchmarks, and take risks.

Collaborators give of their time, talent, energy, and resources for the good of the community. Collaboration requires effective leadership, respectful interaction, and compliance with group norms in order to produce the best results.

Community participants are fully engaged members of their community and work for its benefit. They know what is expected of them and their importance to the community. They understand the impact their attitudes and actions have on the other members, either for their benefit or their detriment.

Thus far, every novel I have read or am currently reading has a social compact with one or more of these elements. What’s more, the plot and/or the conflict revolve around the social compact. Often there is a demonstration of it, a rebellion against it, a deviation from it, or a dysfunction within it.   Recently, I decided to see if this is true for fairy tales. It turns out that it is. Here are some examples:

  • Effective Communication ~ The Emperor’s New Clothes
  • Complex Thinking ~ The Princess and the Pea
  • Self-Directed Learning ~ Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • Collaboration ~ The Bremen Town Musicians
  • Community Participation ~ The Woman and Her Pig

I am curious to know what you think. Is there a social compact in the book that you are currently reading?   Which of the elements is central to the plot? Can you think of a fairy tale that relates to one of the elements of the social compact? I would like to know.

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2 thoughts on “The Social Compact

  1. I see a lot of these social compacts in literary fiction, and I think that is the main reason I prefer that genre, though I do agree that all books have at least one. Even silly tales of science fiction have a way of leaving us with something to think about. At least one or more of the characters grow in one of the ways you mentioned. It’s an interesting new way to look at a book, and I’m sure (on a subconscious level now, thanks to you 🙂 ) I’ll be seeing more of these for now on.

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