I love books. I love reading. Although, I admit that my growing reading list over on Amazon proves I haven’t kept up with it very well. Whaddaya gonna do, you know?
When I was in the thick of my Master’s program, time didn’t allow for much―other than textbooks, research, writing, lectures, and studying. Nowadays, I feel a need to slake my thirst.
―Richard Hell’s autobiography, I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp
―Albert Murray’s Murray Talks Music
―Ian McEwan’s Atonement
―Bob Burg’s The Go-Giver
―Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood
―Jon Fosse’s plays. . . and there’s more
I was taught and I advocated the notion that to write you had to read. But you had to read critically. Not like a NYT Book Review critic, and certainly not like I do when I’m on a plane or sitting on the beach. Like an active learner. Not a passive recipient of information.
Critical thinking, and by extension, critical reading, is about engaging in what you read and advancing your understanding, and in that way giving context to your experience and your writing.
The idea is that what you read―in essence what you experience―does not exist in isolation. And still, to write, ultimately you don’t have to read. You have to write.
In my journey as an avid reader, I came across books that had an awesome impact on me and my understanding of the world. There are books out there that gave me a heightened awareness of context and experience. I hope we’ve all had such a journey.
When I studied counseling psychology, I began to question some of what I had learned. I used to say (I’m way more flexible now), that every adult should know his or her ethic, world-view, and philosophy. (You kinda don’t.)
What I began to see is that aspects of my inner or intellectual life were all interconnected, interdependent. They belonged to a larger system that itself was greater than the sum of its parts.
The whole Albert Camus The Stranger “condemnation for not playing the game” thing and staunch defense of the individual was fine as far as it went, but nothing, no one, thrives in isolation. Maybe that is the problem with Camus’ Meursault.
I began to learn about and to critically examine systems theory.
My first foray was into family systems theory. Dr. Murray Bowen became something a fair-haired theorist to me. Watching filmed lectures of him delighting in explaining his theory didn’t hurt one bit.
Murray asserted, in his charming Tennessean way, that individuals cannot be understood in isolation from one another. You could’ve tipped me like a cow. I came to accept the idea that the one condition we all have in common is family. As a part of a family, we are linked together because the family is an emotional unit.
Systems theory in psychology may or may not be a theory in the strictest sense. Murray’s Way is a strategy for thinking about symptoms and methods to reduce the stigma attached to certain very human problems, to increase objectivity, to encourage creativity in getting down to it with whatever is causing significant distress or impairment.
If the human mind is a labyrinth of physiological, chemical, and mental processes, then people are better viewed and treated as systems unto themselves, living in connection with other systems.
Then I encountered Eric Berne. In the late 1940s, he studied under my “mentor,” Erik Erikson. Berne came up with his own theory that sought to analyze people’s social transactions. Hence the name, Transactional Analysis.
To Berne, behavior and social relationships occur because of the give-and-take between three ego states. There’s a critical and nurturing ego state, a rational ego state, and an intuitive and dependent ego state. Parent, Adult, and Child Ego States, respectively.
To me, this reflected an understanding of a complex inner system. Enter William Glasser. I love this guy. He said:
All we do is behave. All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.
If our mind works as a complex connection of ego states, and all we do is behave, then to me our very thought processes are systems, too.
There are a million different elements in our thought process vying for prominence. Emotional habits―both the good like acceptance and the not so good like awfulizing. Difficulties like depression or anxiety. Our attachment style. The list goes on. The system gets complicated.
As members of a family system, there come additional components―reactivity, stress, body focus, functional failures, substance abuse, and so on. Then when we enter into a relationship with another and two systems become layers of systems.
We have choices to make, Eriksonian developmental tasks to complete (or not), autonomy and authenticity to embrace or reject. The system is certainly not operating in isolation.
Glasser said that we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components of my little system here. We can only control our feelings and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.
All Total Behavior is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognizable.
So, there are going to be times when a person with a secure attachment style will drive his better half crazy because choices are made that are recognizable all right. As co-dependency. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.
More often than not, all the duck has dome is made what it is to be human kinds of choices. Conflicts in the various systems arise.
Maybe your counterpart seems suddenly distant and aloof. It belongs to him or her, not to you. Sometimes even I don’t want to talk. Sometimes we’re hurting, not in a space where we’re very self-accepting or even able to communicate what’s happening. It’s hard to make the choice to give the information we want to give.
Cooperative Autonomy is a great choice to make. Consciously choosing a thought process that rejects the indenture of traditional relationships. That’s also good. That means advocating freedom and independence for two people. Who wouldn’t take the offer?
Interdependence can be an awesome common ground between people in a relationship, based on rejecting outside conditions we’re taught to conform to. Give each other strength and courage and life. Give unconditional, unbounded connection. Now we’re talking choices here.
This way, when we see a duck waddling towards us, it doesn’t become a personal issue. If we take an extreme immersion into Self, dealing with perhaps a neglected level of acceptance of ourselves and others, face our very human struggle with non-attachment, we can thrive.
We live in a space full of consequences―for our every thought, our every word, and our every action. Nurturing a thought process system that allows us to participate wholeheartedly with the thought process systems of others―and not be a passive recipient of information―now we’re talking choices again.
Our own thought process system ought to reflect the very human need for engaging positively in relationships. All of our relationships.
The choice to advance your understanding of others, and in that way give context to all our experiences, and wings to our lives and our loves, can be done beautifully. It’s what we’re here for. After all, like our thought process, we cannot live and thrive in isolation.