Thursday, October 31, 2013

Learner therapist (40)…… Blame as a life span development factor
Torrey Orton
Oct. 31, 2013

Lifelong learning’s performance engine – error and blame

What I’m about to say is unremarkable. Its purpose is to rehabilitate the concepts of responsibility and blame, especially the latter. Blame enjoys a very modest reputation these days. In the therapeutic and associated (e.g. criminology, health…) trades some would like to execute blame with a severe termination and others less certain hold it at the distance that a bad smell requires to be noticed but not be uncomfortable. I will attempt the rehabilitation by situating blame among the broadest of human concepts – life span development. Here goes.

I look at therapy as a specialised learning trip for the repair of psycho-spiritual injuries acquired in the process of upbringing and adulthood. This view places therapy inside the range of lifespan development. Life span development, in turn, has some predictable or, perhaps more precisely, unavoidable stages, steps, challenges, obstacles …choose the noun which fits your current developmental situation.

Every human meets at least two of these stages by default: birth and death. The rest are somewhat subject to individual choices. They are foreseeable but not predictable in the usual sense of that word. Putting the same point another way: while the life pathway can be mapped for humanity, everyone’s place on it takes precedence over their stage in it; stages are retrospective markers of passage. Ask a parent if having children was anything like what they imagined from their experience of being children or their instruction by their elders about what it would be like. Answer: usually, no.
Life stages and needs
There are a number of life stage systems around which overlap with human needs. For example, consider Maslow’s hierarchy which somewhat proceeds upwards from infancy to late adulthood without ever exactly saying so. The bottom rung (the ground) is survival matters of food shelter and safety; the top (varying with cultures) may be self-realisation (the Western one) and/or individual integration in social structures (Eastern).

Robert Kegan’s view of the developmental process is something like this:

Our psychospiritual development as individuals is, in fact, a series of ever-more-inclusive disidentifications and identifications. As Kegan (1982) notes in his developmental sequence, we go from the neonate stage of being our sensations and reflexes to having them but being our perceptions, from there to having perceptions but being our needs and interests, from that stage to having needs and interests but – at adolescence -- being our relationships, and so on. With each successive stage comes an ever-greater capacity to identify with – and then disidentify from – a deeper layer of ourselves (MacVicar, 1985).
From Mental Health Academy course – Principles of Psychosynthesis

He’s marking related but distinctive stages to Maslow’s, which have something to do with levels of consciousness, somewhat akin to a dialectic – the cyclical relay of experience from being to having and back to being along a ladder of concreteness to abstraction. As such it is also a ladder of accountability and prospective praise or blame – depending on how ones transit turns out for oneself and our unavoidably involved others (relatives, friends, classmates…).
Development and purpose
The objective of life span development is to become competent, agile, excellent, good, diverse….all different aspects of purpose. This is what all sexually reproducing organic beings do – they become themselves, which can be done more or less well, for many reasons. Some of these are within the being’s grasp (intelligence, efficient fuel usage, etc.), some arrive by chance (in the range of environments they inhabit) and some reasons are matters of inheritance (all beings vary from their genetic and cultural originals to some degree).

Human beings add purpose and meaning to the passage. In fact, pursuit of purposes that give meaning to effort and results is a central director of effort. The meaning may be intrinsic or extrinsic. When young, we depend on our elders for meanings beyond the organic ones of survival and pleasure. Growing up is, under right conditions of meaning, the building of meaning-making capabilities.
Growing by stumbling…
Now, working thru the Kegan stages, or any other developmental sequence, is a matter of trial and error, while on predictable pathways. This trip has a thousand names from the Platonic seeking of the ideal forms through the Hegelian coursing of the dialectic to Wilber’s implicit integrity, and I haven’t mentioned a religion yet. While predictable, we have to learn and discover our particular journey by missteps. We do not learn much from correct steps…they are converted after a few successful repetitions to automatic capabilities.

…and by playing
A principal means of making the passage is play - a naturally occurring function under conditions of safety, and sometimes in spite of them. Play entails a high possibility of error, of inadequate efforts, of approximations to a competent performance. Self-correction, applied with a persistent but light hand, is the main tool of developmentally effective play. For self-correction we need responsibility and accountability for our efforts. And we are back to blame and blameworthiness. Adults are notoriously bad at play, unless artificially fuelled (drink, drugs…) and/or socially authorised (celebrations of various levels from a night on the turps to days on agricultural fairs or sports).

These overlap and intertwine, of course. Our adult weakness in the face of need for play is fear of judgment…that we will be blamed for being incompetent. Children have to be taught that fear. They take stumbling as natural and pick themselves up. But some child and adulthood errors are forced on us by others. These constitute the bulk of psychologically damaging traumas. Even if the force is applied by mistake, the others still are to blame – they did it. They produced injury.
A view of taking the blame to effect: from Dana Milbank’s review of K. Sebelius’ interrogation by the US House of Reps two days ago.

The taking –
“Access to has been a miserably frustrating experience for way too many Americans,” she said in her opening statement. “So let me say directly to these Americans: You deserve better. I apologize. I’m accountable to you for fixing these problems. And I’m committed to earning your confidence back by fixing the site.”
And the effect –

…But many of her interrogators were unusually mild, probably disarmed by Sebelius’s self-criticism…

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