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The Pilgrimage

In the first of these series, we began with the invitation to begin a pilgrimage on power. We explored identity and the importance of your social location. Check out the post here. 


Please grab a notebook, open a document on your computer and begin to take notes each time you read this weekly. Each week will build on the previous week and there will be exercises and resources you can use. This is a working series and if you put the work into it, you will come out of the other side of it with a profoundly different but wonderful sense of your personhood and your ability to effect change in your life and in the world.

The Power of Socialization

Obviously, socialization is key to life with others.  I immediately think of a sociopath who cannot relate to others when I think of why we need socialization. We are born into families that teach us how to be socialized into the family unit and into the larger social structure. Socialization is biologically driven for us to integrate into a society and be nurtured and have a sense of belonging a biological necessity. We require maternal care to survive on the planet and this is the foundation of our socialization. As I write this post, today is Mother’s Day and I think of the role of “The Mother” in our entire culture and history. Our first messages of love, cooing, and reflection of loving eyes are really the foundation for our sense of identity which then leads to how we show up as we enter into larger socialization.
Socialization relates to your social location thus: Your social location is a fixed moment of your birth and childhood and the external things that spoke into your social location. Socialization is how that speaking into your social location happened.

Your social location consists of unchanging and unfixable items as it is a description of the factors that shaped you to get to where you are today. For instance, if you were raised Catholic, you can leave the faith and you can have years of therapy, but there are aspects of it that you will continue to identify with consciously or unconsciously. Socialization is the process by which that happened.

The goal of socialization is to program you with invisible, unconscious drivers for your life that make you acceptable to society. As a woman, I know that I was raised in two cultures that continuously asked me to downplay my needs, my intelligence, my ideas and my abilities. I was taught that my value is in the womanliness of my body and not in the smarts of my brain. At various points in my life, my value was consistently inferred to me as based on my virginity, my marital status, my ability to have children, and my ability to look attractive sexually to the opposite sex. All of this is in spite of the fact that my parents never endorsed any of it. These messages came from the larger culture and not my immediate family.
We need socialization to get along with other people and live in harmonious flow in our communities. But there is a shadow side to it as it unconsciously feeds and builds conformity within us to even unhealthy aspects of our culture. This hinders our ability to question our social mores. Socialization intentionally makes us blind. There is a shadow side to socialization: We become blind to what we feel will yank us out of the safety and security of belonging to a particular set of social norms.

Thinking of your socialization, what does your socialization look like? Take the time to list both the good and the bad aspects of it. 


The Oxford English dictionary defines socialization as: “The process of learning to behave in a way that is acceptable to society.”

Emotional Intelligence Aspect:

In Emotional Intelligence we start with the real of self-perception which concerns what we generally refer to as the “inner self.” It determines how in touch with your feelings you are, how good you feel about yourself and what you are doing in life. Success in this area means that you are aware of your feelings, feeling strong and have confidence in pursuing your life goals.

A building block of self-perception is emotional self-awareness. This is defined as the ability to recognize your feelings, differentiate between them, know why you are feeling these feelings, and recognize the impact your feelings have on others around you. To be able to recognize the impactyour feelings have on others around you starts to happen when we are young. You cry, and your mother responds. This can become manipulation on one end of the spectrum if you learn that this is the way to get what you want. On the other end of the spectrum, this can become egocentric, where the person’s worldview is the only relevant perspective.

When you turn on your emotional self-awareness, you are better equipped to explore both the shadow and light side of your socialization. However, this ability to recognize the impact that your feelings and behaviors have on others can be a problem with socialization as we may become too sensitive to the needs of others and not pay attention to our own needs.

The Effects of Socialization:

Orientation – Your Original Design:

We have primary socialization which is often the basis for our social location. We are born into a world as a clean slate. We have no consciousness, no guilt, no choice. We become socialized through our personal interactions with family, teachers, people we love and trust. These people become the shapers of expectations, norms, values, roles, and rules that become our core foundation. In an ideal world, the expectations, norms, values, roles, and rules are based on good, virtues that will help us in a positive way for the rest of our lives. This core foundation is best based on “self-love, hope, self-esteem, balance, joy, support, security, spiritual base and authentic love of others” (Harro, 1982, The Cycle of Liberation).

Our secondary socialization is reinforced by our institutions such as churches, schools, tv, the legal system, medicine, businesses. Our larger culture also solidifies our socialization through the lyrics of songs we hear repeatedly, language, media, and patterns of thought. These influences happen on a conscious and an unconscious level.


The Judeo-Christian Western world envisions children being born into a two-unit family with a wonderful mother and father who love the child, have enough support and resources to raise the child. The child is birthed into a clearly defined community and grows up with a sense of safety and belonging. It is expected that these parents will be involved in the child’s education, take the child to church, sports games, and family events. Parents get to cart the child around to all sorts of extracurricular activities as they try to bring out the best in the child and give the child as many opportunities as possible. Even the grandparents might live nearby and be involved in the child’s life. The parents ideally have great values as they raise this child and the child conforms and grows up to be this wonderful, amazing human being who is now equipped to handle all the curve balls that life may throw at him or her. The parents also have idealized emotions as they know how to manage their emotions and they never harm their child.

What are your primary and secondary socialization factors? What is your concept of the Divine? What shaped your embedded theology? Is your concept of the Divine fixed? Which institutions influence your concept of spirituality? Which institutions do you revere? What traditions matter to you?


Of course, all of the above is actually the anomaly and not the norm. Two-parent families are rare, and no one comes out of childhood unscathed by parenting errors.

I think of two things from my childhood that impacted my socialization negatively. My bi-cultural parents, probably in their attempt to negotiate a healthy form of socialization for us kids as we navigated two worlds, tried not to emphasize one culture over the other. Therefore, certain things got left out of my socialization. For instance, I was not taught to raise only my right hand in class when I wanted to ask a question. This is a huge norm in the Yoruba culture where the axis of socialization is respect. From time immemorial, where running water was scarce, Yoruba indigenous people use the right hand for food and all things good, clean and respectful and the left hand for all things bathroom related and dirty. Therefore, to raise your left hand in class to answer a question was a sign of disrespect to the teacher. I was somewhat ambidextrous as a child as I ate with my left hand and I used my left hand in class. For many moons, I wondered why I was passed over for many things in school and every now and then someone would point out that I should be using my right hand but because I was never taught this as a societal norm, I would revert to using my left. Until one day, my teacher reported me to my father who then further made my life miserable by telling the teacher she was wrong, and she was discriminating against his child! But I digress….

Needless to say, I self-corrected!

Another area I think of is with regard to sexuality. I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria and I came to this country when I was 16 years old. As a teenager, mostly from my peers, I was taught a very restrictive, suppressed expression of sexuality – “Good girls don’t. Your value is in your virginity. A woman’s sexual expression is shameful.” Blah, blah, blah.

I came to America where most of my schoolmates had already had sexual experiences and this frightened me. When I went back home to Nigeria a couple of years later, those schoolmates, now in University there, unbeknownst to me, had gone through an unofficial rite of passage that addressed their sexual blossoming and had received all sorts of new messages about their sexuality that was not repressive and celebrated their sexual femaleness. In fact, I was shocked at what I considered the level of “promiscuity” among my friends. I was stuck in the old socialization from high school and they had moved on. I never had the benefit of a societal rite of passage into the fullness of womanhood as I got caught between two socializations and missed this part of my development. It is kind of like missing out on the high school prom and how that shapes a young woman’s blossoming.

It took me many years to craft my own understanding of sexuality and unentangle both the Nigerian and the American socialization experiences that I misunderstood and were half integrated and not fully integrated into my understanding of my body.

Moment of truth: This week, a precious female friend whom I have known for umpteen years said to me, “Iyabo, you are so uptight. I can’t even talk to you about sex. You are always so open about the deepest things but when it comes to sex, I have to remember how prim and proper you are. I don’t feel I can even talk to you about anything like that.”

I was flabbergasted!

Me? Prim and proper? I am so disgusted with those words!


Again, I digress….

(Beloved reader, please notice how I am still “not” having a conversation about this!)

Disorientation in socialization comes when, on our most vulnerable blank slate, we receive in misinformation, biases, stereotypes, prejudices, history, habits and traditions that are based on fear, ignorance, confusion, and insecurity. When we begin to live from this negativity, and it is reinforced by our socialization, we basically wake up daily and enter into a war zone.

The result of this disorientation is silence, anger, dehumanization of self and others, guilt, self-hatred, stress, violence, and crime.

Power Truth:

Be suspicious of how you were socialized. Begin with the assumption you were socialized to protect and preserve your entitlement. Explore the shadow side that your unexamined socialization has produced in you.

Power In: Rests largely on the power to produce and exchange.  Also known as economic power. This is the seat of your personal power.

My father showed up on the planet with a highly rebellious streak. One of the things my father, in particular, appreciated about his experience in America is that this culture offered him an opportunity to explore his individuality outside of the constraints of the socialization of his community of origin. I observed him always negotiating between this rebellious streak that wanted to do what he wanted and yet felt compelled to honor the true intention of the communal values he respected. He was an atheist, yet his father was a Methodist preacher. In a deeply spiritual culture where people are much more socialized to conformity to social norms, he was different. When he died, he was cremated in a society that does not condone it. It was a true scandal. “Those children burnt their father,” was the communal refrain accompanied with the appropriate lament and wail. It was a major chore to do the cremation. A story for another day.

Seeing “power in” through the lens of my father’s eyes is a gift that I return to often. His behavior gave me permission to be different from him although I have the highest regard and respect for him. He did not require us to be like him, except on certain things. He was a complicated man. He embodied tapping into his “power in” to buck against the constraints of his socialization.

What are some of the attributes that shaped your socialization? How much permission do you have to be different from your primary and secondary social influencers? What have you been taught about what you want? In your socialization, is it ok to have desires? What information do you use to intentionally shift your socialization? 

Power With: Based on such relationships as legitimacy, respect, affection, love, and community. This is how you share your “power in.” This form of power is integrative.

Growing up, my parents ingrained in their kids that we were from two worlds and that we did not have to subscribe to any one way of being. They invited us to take the best of both worlds and create our own. For a long time, I could not appreciate the value that my parents contributed to their lives by intentionally navigating their socialization differences by focusing on values and not cultural affiliation. This is the value of shared power.

How can our influence on socialization share power with others? How can we ensure that we are not socializing our children by passing on our negative worldviews? Do you allow your children to develop aspects of their own worldview? Do you allow people who work for you to share their worldviews? What are some of the ways that you can share power in socialization? Have you been taught to “speak truth to power?” Do you know how to use your individual power to access communal power? 

Power OverDestructive in nature and applied, particularly to political life. This is threat power.

When the larger or majority community determines that their worldview is the only worldview, or the default “correct” or “right” worldview, then there is a problem. In a pluralistic society, there are different cultures that exist within the social structure. We have to begin to recognize that marginalized, or minority groups, often feel oppressed by the default way of doing things.

For instance, I attend a church that chooses to meet on Saturday evenings. You would not believe how many Christians think (a) I must be Seventh Day Adventist (I am not.) or (b) It is not a “real” church. The mainline Christian socialization aspect of going to church on Sunday mornings is not just the default, but it is considered “right” or “the way it should be.” The disapproval that people send my way is a form of threat power to get me to conform to their thoughts about when “church” should be held.

Western Civilization is based on patriarchy which leaves room for the most powerful, or forceful, to lead and be in charge. It is a destructive form of power as its strength is based on how it is lorded over others and threat is constantly used to withdraw favor or even necessities. We live in a society where the white male is given all the power and right now, what we are seeing, is the abuse of this power through police brutality against black bodies and systemic injustices against all forms of marginalized people. Systemic racism is rooted in racist socialization.

What socialization aspects do you believe are inherently the right way to be? How is your default aligned with that? Which socialization rules do you subscribe to that are oppressive over others? Must they be oppressive over others? Do you believe that force is the only way to maintain power? Which news station do you listen to? Does it operate out of “power over” or “shared power?” Was racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia part of your socialization? Do you recognize that such -isms are products of a “power over” dynamic?

Reorienting the Power of Socialization:

Our faith life has a particularly influential aspect: Our concept of the Divine. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is often presented as separate from us. God is often presented as a judge and as always right. These ideas about God shape our worldview and shape our “embedded theology.” The things we believe are from/of God become deeply rooted in our psyche as we have this innate need for cosmic approval. Think of your embedded theology as your worldview if you are not a religious person. Whether or not you believe in a separate or an internal Divinity, you have a pattern of belief about the world operates and it shapes how you encounter the world.

Often, our embedded theology includes “magical thinking” that is childlike and can be a form of escapism. When our worldview becomes a tool of oppression, we develop a sense of privilege that blinds us to the realities of other people. An embedded theology that has not been revisited and deliberately reconstructed to deal with the realities of life, as well as the complications of theology, is an ineffective worldview. Our worldview must be sober and engage the realities of the marginalized people in our global village. It must address suffering and the mystery. It must address that we have huge complex issues that are not easy to solve.

I participated in a theology program in a women’s prison in Georgia through Emory University where I graduated from. Prior to the prison experience, I had never considered the plight of people behind bars. I was part of the problem because I assumed if you were in prison, you belonged there. Frankly, I never really gave people behind bars a thought. I never understood the dehumanization of inmates. I never considered that our justice system is based on punishment and not rehabilitation. I never thought about the impact prison has on families. I never understood the extension of the prison system as the new Jim Crow. I never understood that it was a systemic form of racism as the majority of the prison population in this country are racial minorities. I never had to consider the actual faces and humanity of the precious souls behind bars. Obviously, this experience reoriented my understanding of socialization. These days, I consider the prison population an active part of my community. I can no longer be blind to them and their experiences. They eat, live and breathe just like I do.

Other forms of hardship also reorient a person’s socialization: Sickness, the death of a loved one, a traumatic experience, the loss of a limb are all life-changing events.

Travel, additional education, living an examined life, exposure to difference and intentionality are all powerful ways to reorient one’s socialization.


Historically, women were considered property. We had to fight for the right to vote. Everyone on the planet has been influenced by the traditional view of men as the ones that go out to work and women as the child-bearers, nurturers, and care-takers. Women’s bodies are still often policed by the law regarding abortion and sexuality. Today, women all over the world are changing their roles as more women are working outside the home. In many countries, both men and women can take maternity leave. Yet, women are still making less on the dollar than men and women are also often more harshly evaluated than men based on external standards of morality. The socialization of women has a huge negative effect on women’s self-esteem. Often, women are harder on other women than men.

In what ways, do you contribute to the negative socialization of women? Do you think women are not equal to men? Do you have unreasonable expectations of men? Do you contribute to the equalization of women in society? Do you think women are not powerful? Do you think women should not hold political office? Do you automatically assume that the male candidate for political office is better? Do you think women are too emotional to do certain jobs? How do your beliefs about women hinder the progress of women?

Race and Culture:

In America, race is an explosive issue. The greatness of this country was built on free labor. Although people paid for slaves, the slaves did not get the benefit of the money and so their labor was not compensated. Black people were treated as property. I once saw a slave ledger that detailed the slaves that were sold to buy the land that originally housed Emory University. The accounting ledger, in beautiful cursive fountain pen ink, listed a horse for $50 and on the next line a slave (euphemism: manservant) for $30. This academic institution of excellence was built on the labor of slaves. Slaves made people wealthy.

How are you profiting socially today from slaves your ancestors may have owned a couple of hundred years ago? When you trace your family wealth, are you aware of the role unpaid labor paid in your lineage? How has your race benefitted you in the marketplace? Do you recognize when you are preferred for a job because of your race? How can you make room for those that are not of the same race for you in your company? How do the institutions you have belonged to manage race? Does the concept of equity (where other people who do not look like you racially have the same job and opportunities as you do) feel threatening to you? How do you oppress, consciously or unconsciously, people who look different from you?

The Poor Among Us:

Poverty is often a cycle that is difficult to break. Often people in poor social cycles, stay in it for generations and learn to make do with the little they have. We must examine what labor means in a society. We pay people a little money to do work that we need but cannot offer them a life that is not filled with hardship. The extremity between the haves and the have-nots is an overwhelming chasm.

Do you associate poverty with dirt? Do you only value highly educated people? Do you believe the government should help poor people? How do you define poverty? Where are the poor in your community? Do you see them? Do you go out of your way not to see poor people? How well do you know the concerns of the poor in your community? What do you believe about poor people? How is your personal shopping contributing to poverty? Do you buy clothes from designers that have shops in countries that allow for child labor? How are you complicit in creating poverty?

Growth Opportunities:

Your Personhood:

How you lead is based on how you understand social structure: Your socialization. If you are socialized to be a leader, leadership will be easier for you. If you are not, you will have to find superpowers that will give you permission and resilience to break out of how you are socialized.

This week, I ask you to explore your socialization. Look at this chart of The Cycle of Socialization from the University of South Carolina and make copious notes about the lens of identity, reinforcing institutions and culture and the lens of your experience. Be sure to explore where you were oppressed by socialization as well as where you have been oppressive with your socialization.

For instance, my family upholds education as a necessary requirement for life. And not just any education. An excellent education. We believe in an Ivy League education. I still feel a surge of pride when I mention the names of the institutions that I have attended. However, when I meet someone from an Ivy League institution, I feel a little envy and/or an awareness of my assumption that the person is smart. My own emotional self-awareness alerts me that I am making a comparison.

A friend told me, “You know you are a snob about where you went to law school.” I don’t like that about myself. I would rather be humble than proud, but I cannot deny that I feel a certain pride about it. It is part of my socialization and probably not a good one. Write such things down for yourself. Be willing to take a long hard look at yourself.


Next, begin to explore how your socialization impacts equity in your relationships. What are your concepts of men? Of women? Of parents? Children? Do you make waves when crisis to your socialization comes or do you raise your consciousness and create change? Click here to listen to Malcolm Gladwell speaking about why he believed Hillary Clinton lost the election. He believed that people were not used to seeing power in a woman and were uncomfortable with how she displayed her desire for ambition. Is this true for you? Do you think women should not be ambitious or powerful? Are there powerful women in your circle of influence?


We must remember that the attributes we are socialized about often change.  For example, technology is changing many things about how we socialize. We can change the larger society. We are not powerless to do so. However, we must do it based on a liberative framework and unless we dig in and discover our shadow side of our socialization, we will continue to create and shape our communities with unconscious biases. How is your experience of socialization showing up in the larger community? Is it mirrored back to you as almost everyone you know shares the same socialization? How are you accommodating difference?


This week, I ask that you explore your socialization as it extends beyond your social location as outlined above. Pay attention to nuance and embedded forms of information that you have received over a lifetime. Clearly define the shadow aspects of your socialization. Sit with it and note the uncomfortable feelings you have about it. It is perfectly ok. Everyone has some shadow stuff going on with this.


As you journey on this pilgrimage, my hope, invitation, and desire for you, dear reader, is that you will become more present to the powerful guide that your socialization has become for your life and that you pay particular attention to the shadow aspect of it.

I hope this previous post I wrote on awareness is helpful to you. 

Remember, your socialization has a shadow size. If you ignore it, you will promote the status quo. If you question it, interrupt it, educate yourself, take a stand and reframe it, you can raise your consciousness and contribute to making the world a better place.

If this has been helpful to you, please share this and tell others about your pilgrimage. Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.

More amazing hugs on the pilgrimage.

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I am committed to the success of all peoples. I actively work towards the equitable thriving of all human beings regardless of race, ethnicity, physical ability, sex, gender or national status. I offer a sliding scale for single parents, active-duty military, veterans, military spouses, the long-term unemployed, refugees and the formerly incarcerated.

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