The other side of identity – Medium

The other side of identity

Aidan Ward and Philip Hellyer

It is so clear to us in our culture that we must be clear. If we want to achieve anything we must be clear about our purpose. We can have a coach to help us be clear.[1] We can make precise plans to show just how that clarity delivers our goals. Why would anyone not want to be clear? Sounds like motherhood and apple pie.

To get a little critical distance we can as usual turn to some great minds. Gregory Bateson had a problem with conscious purpose: he thought it was often self-defeating. Carl Jung spent half his professional life escaping the collective unconscious that otherwise controlled his purpose in ways he was unaware of. Stafford Beer talked about the Purpose Of a System Is What It Does (POSIWID): why is there a gap between the purpose of a system and what people’s purposes in and for that system are? And Humberto Maturana knew that any organism that is not coupled to its environment is dead, so there is a sense in which our purposes are highly constrained by the ecosystem we serve.

All of these great minds point to the necessary humility of listening first: deep listening. What are all the connections we have with our worlds that we don’t pay attention to? How does our world change when we pay sustained attention with our minds wide open? How does a dose of sheer awe and wonder change who we are? What, after all, is the deeper context for what we might want to be clear about?

In these blogs we generally do a little riff like: everyone knows nurses are kind so they are very often cruel; everyone knows the law is there to protect us so it often betrays us; and everyone knows you go to school to get an education, that so often leaves you fundamentally uneducated. “Everyone knows” is of course the collective unconscious of Jung. But you can easily do the analysis of the problem from any of the great mind perspectives listed.

Maybe the topic of this blog is just coming into focus. There is identity and there is the other side of identity. There is the identity that you must have in order to be seen at all in our society and there is the identity that can emerge like the Delphic Oracle: “know thyself”. How fascinating is it that the automatic, culturally located identity can be so far from what we discover when we listen! The purpose that we must be clear about to satisfy social pressures is so far from the purpose we can discover given a life of reflection and contemplation. Who the hell are we?

If we are located within a system that does not make sense, trying to make sense of our roles within it may make us ill. Illness is often the body part of our bodymind rudely interrupting our conscious stupidity. And normally and consciously we suppress (“manage”) the symptoms of illness so they don’t interrupt us. That is why breakfast cereal kills us: what do you want your liver to say, for heaven’s sake? It is cruel to fatten geese for foie gras and yet we do it to ourselves? We can see the two identities here: the one that does what you are supposed to do, and “gets on”, and the one that says there must be a better way. Remember Christopher Robin dragging Pooh down the stairs.[2]

Continues in source: The other side of identity – Medium