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ON LEARNING TO BE HUMAN



SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE IDEA OF HUMANISM



C. CLAUDE BRODEUR, PH.D.





I have put in writing for you to read my reflections about what it is to be HUMANISTIC as I see it from the perspective of my studies in psychology and philosophy.  My ideas are meant simply to stimulate your thinking about the topic and to encourage you to learn more about humanistic psychology as interest and opportunity permit.



Behavioral psychology does not cover the whole range of human experience.  I am not convinced that the research data justifies our assuming that humans, while more complex than rats, are conditioned like rats, only more subtly and in a more complex environment. In spite of my reservations, I would not lightly dismiss the possibility that behaviorism can be enlightening in many ways. 



I use the word "behavior," as I assume behaviorists do, to refer to what we do and say, in short, to what we can hear and see.  Behavior conceived this way may be described adequate or deficient, as normal or deviant, as adaptive or sick, as problem-solving or problem-generating, as selfish or altruistic, and so forth. These polarities work only if there is agreement on some predetermined standard of measurement.



More recently psychologists have been interested in developing a greater sense of their own aliveness.  They have been concerned with our ability to cope with stress. Other concerns have been physical fitness, mental alertness, taking responsibility for one's own predicaments in life rather than blaming parents, teachers, society or people and circumstances from the past.  Another interest of contemporary psychologists is to get people to take a stand for themselves, to get support from their own inner resources and to take some initiative in getting whatever professional help they need to achieve their own success and happiness.



Some concepts basic to the new psychologies are:



ENHANCEMENT

INTIMACY

SELF-ACTUALIZATION

CREATIVITY

ECSTACY

TRANSCENDENCE



These ideas can be found in the psychological writings of people like Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Emile Jouard, Eric Berne, Charles Tart, and Robert Ornstein, to mention a few.





What needs enhancing?  Some say



o our spontaneity,

o our sensory awareness,

o our freedom to make better choices for ourselves, our emotional responsiveness,

o our sense of enjoyment,

o our ease and flexibility in relating to others, in making direct contact, instead of being so indirect most of the time,

o our ability to enjoy emotional closeness with others,

o our ability to project poise and to project a sense of our presence in a group.



To enhance our being in these ways, we would probably have to overcome certain self-defeating behaviors.  How do we diminish our capacity to further enhance our being?  Let me suggest that we probably do this by



o BLOCKING

o AVOIDING

o RESISTING



We may block awareness of other people. We may block awareness of our feelings.  We walk past someone without seeing them; we hear people without listening to what they're saying; we touch things without feeling them; we get tense without noticing. 



We avoid contact with people.  We avoid stress, excitement, problems, feelings.  We think thoughts to ourselves rather than sharing them; we stand and stare instead of speaking up.  We talk and keep busy rather than listen or be quiet or reach out and touch.  A very common way to avoid is to get depressed, or to spend much of our time in a state of semi-trance.



We resist change.  We choose to keep our habits. We prefer comfort to change, the comfort of our habits.  Better what we know, discomforting as it may be, than what we do not know.  We get used to our habits; they are like old, comfortable clothes that fit us well.  Without them, our friends might not recognize us. 



Not only do we get used to our habits, but we resist any effort to change them.  Statements like "I would feel awkward doing anything like that" or "That's really not me," are saying "I can't do that" or "I really couldn't be like that." In most cases, neither statement is usually true.



How do we get to know about our particular ways of blocking, avoiding, and resisting?  Contemporary psychologists during the past two decades have been exploring this question in great detail, uncovering many important insights into our behavior.  Blocks, for instance, can be detected through unconscious, reflex-type reactions like twitching muscles, tightness in the abdominal muscles, excessive sweating, and other similar psychosomatic symptoms.  Avoidances reveal themselves through something like feelings of boredom, inattentiveness, chronic fatigue, and so forth.  Resistance can manifest in excuses, in chronic blaming and complaining.



What can we do about these unsavory responses to life?  Gestalt psychologists refer to four approaches that we can take to study and resolve any blocks, avoidances, and resistance that may be getting in the way of our health, happiness and success.  One approach is described as the scientific approach, whereby we observe and talk about these things without ourselves getting personally involved.  Another approach, the religious and philosophical approach, emphasizes how we should be and usually includes a statement of beliefs and codes of behavior, which, if followed, promise to enhance life or reward us with the fullness of life.  And yet another is the existential approach, which gets us to pay attention to our experience without trying to explain that experience in any systematic or scientific way.  The existential approach encourages us to deal only with what is immediate and phenomenal.  Your own experience, not other people's observations or opinions, nor other people's beliefs and codes of behavior.



The deepest yearning of the human spirit is to be free, creative, productive, and healthy. How are we to become this if we are not born that way?   Notice what happens when the emphasis is put on the word, "become." Becoming is a process; you never reach a final destination that is fixed, static, and terminal.  A process is a way of getting somewhere or getting something you want. A process is content-free, that is, it gets to be used as a technique for getting you many things, such as health, wealth, knowledge, position. Notice these things are not static. They have to be maintained in a current of constant change.. When you think process, think procedure.  But think a special kind of procedure, one that is dynamic, fluid, changing, and developmental. 



Consider the possibility that we can identify at least four stages in this process of becoming.



One stage may be described as phony.  This is the stage of not only appearing clumsy when you are learning new ways of being and doing things, like an actor learning a new role; but you may also feel uncomfortable, like the swimmer taking his or her first high dive.  You may even feel a bit anxious, like the first time you spoke to an audience.  If you are unaccustomed to giving compliments you may "feel like a phony" the first time you pay someone a compliment.  Likewise, if you are unaccustomed to receiving compliments, you may feel uncomfortable when someone is paying you a compliment.



At this stage we may actually be "playing games, living roles, trying to be what we are not." Or rather we may just feel like this.  Some refer to this as living in a "creative void." We may also be disowning or disliking parts of ourselves, which are genuinely parts of ourselves and are perceived as such by others who have come to know us for a period of time.  We may harass ourselves with believing and acting as if it's "them against us" and "us against them." We may lecture ourselves, in our heads, urging ourselves to behave, to do what we ought to do.  We may do much moral dogmatizing and even more intellectualizing (thinking without looking and feeling).  We may even threaten to punish ourselves to get ourselves to be "good" and "behave."



Another stage is described as phobic.  We may suddenly become aware of our many "phony" behaviors and manipulations, and the fears that maintain them.  We may want to avoid new ways of acting as if we were avoiding the plague, imagining all sorts of dreadful consequences if we dare do things differently from the way we are used to doing them.



Yet another stage is describe as the impasse.  Here we are caught, not knowing what to do or where to move.  Here we may feel as if we have been abandoned; no one will support us.  How are we going to manage?  How are we going to survive if we become this new person.  Scripture describes the event as throwing off the "Old Adam" and putting on the "New Man." We may not yet have developed a strong belief in our own personal resources.  We may fear others will reject our new ways of doing things, our new ways of living.  Indeed, we may fear that everyone may leave us, our family, our friends, our colleagues and that we would then be completely on our own without family, friends, job.  If we have heard about this happening to others, or know someone to whom this has happened, then even more does our fear seem justified to us.



The next stage is described as implosive.  We may now experience a degree of grief, despair, self-loathing as we come to a fuller realization of how we have limited and restricted ourselves.  We may even experience varying degrees of fear and doubt as we begin to experiment with new ways of living, learning, relating, new ways of reacting to people, circumstances and conditions, new ways of perceiving ourselves.



Finally we come to the explosive stage.  Here our previously unused energies emerge, freed in an impactful way.  Our living, learning, relating and way of doing things becomes more often and in more ways constructing, creative, dynamic and rewarding both for ourselves and for others.



Gestaltists are among that breed of contemporary psychologists who want to help themselves and others develop ways of working through these stages of becoming, these stages of transformation of the personal self.  Gestaltists usually work with three underlying processes:



> living in the present



> awareness



> responsibility



From a Gestaltist point of view living is a process or a journey, and not a condition or a destination.  Living is a process that answers the questions what and how, not the question "why.".





Living is a process that answers the questions:



What - am I doing?



How - am I doing it?



What - do I want?



How - am I going about getting it?

How - am I preventing myself from getting what I want?



Living is a process that answers the questions:



What - is going on?



How - do I know this is going on?



What - am I doing about it?



How - do I know that I am doing this?



The Process of living can go on In awareness or out of awareness.  Your autonomic functions continue whether you are reacting to them in awareness or out of awareness.  Your food is being digested whether or not you know it.  Sometimes we are aware of the process of digestion because our stomach is too full, or we are experiencing indigestion.  Autonomic functions like digestion do not themselves depend upon your degree of awareness of what is happening inside your body.  The quality of those functions, however, can be affected by your degree of awareness.



Consider the expression "in awareness" in terms of the following descriptions: paying attention, hearing, feeling, thinking, seeing, deciding, excitement, creating.  In contrast we might describe being "out of awareness" in these terms: being in trance, operating according to cliches, habituation, automatic, reactionary, out of focus, deadening, dulling