15 Useful Things to Give Up


Here is a list of 15 things which, if you give up on them, will make your life a lot easier and much, much happier. People hold on to so many things that cause us a great deal of pain, stress and suffering – and instead of letting them all go, instead of allowing ourselves to be stress free and happy, we cling on to them. Not anymore. Starting today we will give up on all those things that no longer serve us, and we will embrace change. Ready? Here we go:

1. Give up your need to always be right. There are so many of us who can’t stand the idea of being wrong – wanting to always be right – even at the risk of ending great relationships or causing a great deal of stress and pain, for us and for others. It’s just not worth it. Whenever you feel the ‘urgent’ need to jump into a fight over who is right and who is wrong, ask yourself this question: “Would I rather be right, or would I rather be kind? What difference will that make? Is your ego really that big?

2. Give up your need for control. Be willing to give up your need to always control everything that happens to you and around you – situations, events, people, etc. Whether they are loved ones, coworkers, or just strangers you meet on the street – just allow them to be. Allow everything and everyone to be just as they are and you will see how much better will that make you feel.

“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond winning.” –Lao Tzu

3. Give up on blame. Give up on your need to blame others for what you have or don’t have, for what you feel or don’t feel. Stop giving your powers away and start taking responsibility for your life.

4. Give up your self-defeating talk. Oh my. How many people are hurting themselves because of their negative, polluted and repetitive self-defeating mindset? Don’t believe everything that your mind is telling you – especially if it’s negative and self-defeating. You are better than that.

“The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive.” –Eckhart Tolle

5. Give up your limiting beliefs about what you can or cannot do, about what is possible or impossible. From now on, you are no longer going to allow your limiting beliefs to keep you stuck in the wrong place. Spread your wings and fly!

“A belief is not an idea held by the mind, it is an idea that holds the mind.” –Elly Roselle

6. Give up complaining. Give up your constant need to complain about those many, many, maaany things – people, situations, events that make you unhappy, sad and depressed. Nobody can make you unhappy, no situation can make you sad or miserable unless you allow it to. It’s not the situation that triggers those feelings in you, but how you choose to look at it. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking.

7. Give up on the criticism of difference. Give up your need to criticize things, events or people that are different than you. We are all different, yet we are all the same. We all want to be happy, we all want to love and be loved and we all want to be understood. We all want something, and something is wished by us all.

8. Give up your need to impress others. Stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not just to make others like you. It doesn’t work this way. The moment you stop trying so hard to be something that you’re not, the moment you take of all your masks, the moment you accept and embrace the real you, you will find people will be drawn to you, effortlessly.

9. Give up your resistance to change. Change is good. Change will help you move from A to B to C. Change will help you make improvements in your life and also the lives of those around you. Follow your bliss, embrace change – don’t resist it.

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” –Joseph Campbell

10. Give up labels. Stop labeling those things, people or events that you don’t understand as being weird or different and try opening your mind, little by little. Minds only work when open.

“The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” –Wayne Dyer

11. Give up on your fears. Fear is just an illusion, it doesn’t exist – you created it. It’s all in your mind. Correct the inside and the outside will fall into place.

“The only fear we have to fear, is fear itself.” –Franklin D. Roosevelt

12. Give up making excuses. Send them packing and tell them they’re fired. You no longer need them. A lot of times we limit ourselves because of the many excuses we use. Instead of growing and working on improving ourselves and our lives, we get stuck, lying to ourselves, using all kind of excuses – excuses that most of the time are not real.

13. Give up on living in the past. I know, it’s hard. Especially when the past looks so much better than the present and the future looks so frightening, but you have to take into consideration the fact that the present moment is all you have and all you will ever have. The past you are now longing for – the past that you are now dreaming about – was ignored by you when it was present. Stop deluding yourself. Be present in everything you do and enjoy life. After all life is a journey not a destination. Have a clear vision for the future, prepare yourself, but always be present in the now.

14. Give up over-attachment. This is a concept that, for most of us is so hard to grasp and I have to tell you that it was for me too, (it still is) but it’s not something impossible. Unattachment get better with time and practice. The moment you detach yourself from all things, (and that doesn’t mean you give up your love for them – because love and attachment have nothing to do with one another, attachment comes from a place of fear, while love… well, real love is pure, kind, and self less, where there is love there can’t be fear, and because of that, attachment and love cannot coexist) you become so peaceful, so tolerant, so kind, and so serene. You will get to a place where you will be able to understand all things without even trying. A state beyond words.

15. Give up living your life to other people’s expectations. Way too many people are living a life that is not theirs to live. They live their lives according to what others think is best for them, they live their lives according to what their parents think is best for them, to what their friends, their enemies and their teachers, their government and the media think is best for them. They ignore their inner voice, that inner calling. They are so busy with pleasing everybody, with living up to other people’s expectations, that they lose control over their lives. They forget what makes them happy, what they want, what they need….and eventually they forget about themselves. You have one life – this one right now – you must live it, own it, and especially don’t let other people’s opinions distract you from your path.

The Good Life: Fifty simple psychological insights toward individuation


Here’s fifty simple yet profoundly important psychological insights which may certainly be beneficial to you and yours.

 

1) The morning is wiser than the night. Today may have looked awful, but tomorrow is another day.
2) Sleep is perhaps the best medicine.
3) Never keep a grudge overnight. Talk it out before sleep.
4) Listen much more than you speak. When you do speak, make it count.
5) Meditate on what’s important and valuable in your life every single morning.
6) Wake up early and never waste the morning (the most productive time).
7) Judge people favorably – yourself first.
8) Forgive easily, forget slowly. Start with yourself.
9) Be slow to anger.
10) Music changes your mood powerfully and quickly, better than any drug.
11) You are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with. Choose very carefully.
12) Make sure to take a walk every single day.
13) Make experiencing nature a part of your everyday routine.
14) Find a way to live in the moment. Always stop to smell those roses.
15) Understand and automate your finances as much as possible, no matter how bad your situation looks. This is the biggest source of stress in life for couples.
16) Accept the people around you as they are today and don’t try to change them. If they’re no good to you, walk away.
17) Your actions are the best show-and-tell. Don’t tell me – show me how it’s done!
18) Always try to see the glass as half-full, even if it looks empty. Perception is another reality.
19) Deal head-on with your childhood baggage ASAP. Talk it out with family and friends. Get a therapist. Just stop letting it screw up your adult life.
20) Find what ROLE you want to play in people’s lives based on your personality and you’ll get much closer to your dream job.
21) Stop letting others define who you are. Hang out with people that enrich your life emotionally, spiritually, intellectually (and yes, financially) – and who root for you to succeed. Get rid of all the others.
22) Always take the long view in life. Be patient. The forest is never just the trees. Markets crash and markets rebound. Today’s setbacks aren’t deadly. With the right attitude, you’ll get over them – and then some.
23) Fill every free moment with something useful – reading, writing, learning, laughing, helping someone.
24) Strive to leave no person you meet worse off for having met you. Do your best to contribute something useful to the life of each person you encounter.
25) Clean up your mess. If you wait, it will become a bigger mess that takes longer to clean.
26) Never engage in useless debates online and in person – avoid politics, religion, optical illusions, the news.
27) Unplug from all your devices and work at least one day a week.
28) Choose very carefully what you consume – starting with the ingredients in your food and drink, moving on to music, film, art, books, etc. Garbage in always means garbage out.
29) Travel every chance you get, even if it’s just out of town to see a new place.
30) Always value experiences over goods. The former expand your mind and the latter narrows it.
31) Get rid of all the clutter in your house and your life. It keeps you tied to the past, whereas you should be living in the present and focus on a better future. Keep what you accumulate to a minimum.
32) Plant a few new seeds every day. Brainstorm and write down 10 new business ideas. Reach out to a new person. Reconnect with people you haven’t spoken to in ages.
33) Work to improve 1% on important personal traits each day.
34) Do something well each day, even if it’s just brushing your teeth on a horrible, no-good day.
35) Treat yourself once in a while. Celebrate small wins.
36) Take the stairs.
37) Be nice to the foolish and the bigoted – they need it more than you.
38) Your health should be your first priority. Don’t abuse the privilege of health until it’s too late.
39) Prioritize your loved ones above everyone else. Otherwise, you’ll have no loved ones around soon.
40) Save at least 3-6 months in salary, just in case of emergencies.
41) Find natural light each day. If there’s no sun, make your sure your light bulbs mimic natural light well – at home, work and elsewhere.
42) Replace refined carbs with dried fruits and nuts in the house and the office. Keep the refined carbs out of both.
43) Find and express your gratitude to people who are good to you and help you in life. Express gratitude to the Universe in whichever way you can.
44) Keep a journal. Few things are more fulfilling and better for gaining perspective than finding your old impressions years later.
45) Work on creating good habits and ridding yourself of bad ones.
46) Hard work and perseverance always beat genius and talent, in the end.
47) Work hard to understand the many facets and involutions of human psychology.
48) Get up to stretch from your seat at least once every 45–60 minutes.
49) Do everything in moderation, especially moderation.
50) Live and let live. Mind your own business before minding the business of others.

biopsychosocial

Systemic practice / Social Constructionism / Meaning-making / Coordination


A segment of a social network
A segment of a social network (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

§ Introduction:

I would like to begin by acknowledging that I am writing this blog entry as a British/Polish professional male (45), single child of a single parent family from London. In my early career I studied information and communication systems and worked in the City of London and across Europe as a technical design consultant of wide area networks. My family life is shared with my partner and our children. We both live and work in East Anglia.

I work as a psychotherapist & family practitioner in private practice. My core clinical training was in Humanistic & Psychodynamic Counselling and Psychotherapy. I hold postgraduate degrees in Information Technology, Psychoanalytic History and Psychology.

For the last five years I have been deeply impressed by the systemic/relational approaches, methods and techniques and a concerted concern – more than ever, perhaps – with the patterns of connection which exist between people (Bateson, 1972), and, by implication, patterns of disconnection (Oliver, 2004).

Reflection in action: I should like to acknowledge my approach to personal and professional areas of my life as in transition; starting from a position (Harré & Langenhove, 1999) of locating problems under intrapsychic psychologism I have shifted inexorably toward a systemic position using the communication perspective (i.e. both intrapsychic and interpersonal). I am grateful for the opportunity to come to this revised position so early in my therapeutic career and acknowledge the importance of the communication perspective in using the CMM lens to look at my relationships with others).

The coordinated management of meaning (CMM) rests upon the pragmatic concept that both meaning and action (i.e. meaningful action – pace Dewey), coextensively, inform how people make meaning, how they respond bodily and how they feel. For CMM these patterns of feeling, interpretation and action lead to possibilities and constraints in our shared communication and the creation of our social worlds. CMM allows us to position (Harré & Langenhove, 1999) ourselves reflexively in relation to ourselves, others and the patterns and stories that we make (Oliver, 2004);

CMM can be thought of as a meta-theory derived from a postmodern communication perspective (see below); it is systemic, social constructionist, polysemous, critical, appreciative, subtle and complex.

§ Historical background

Post-psychoanalytic work from Bateson’s communication theories (e.g. Bateson, 1972, 1979) helped to instantiate a widely used approach to communication research (e.g. Bateson described levels of meaning in human systems as (1972: 201) “hierarchies of orders of recursiveness.”)

Therapists and researchers in the Palo Alto tradition shared a common view of therapy and research in that they understood both processes as being interactional and contextual. Their selection of these metaphors to study therapy remains a strong influence in the field to this day. Works like ‘Pragmatics of Human Communication: A study of interactional patterns, pathologies, and paradoxes’ (Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967/2011), offered a popular new model for strategic/solution-focused therapies, as presented in books such as ‘Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution’ (Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch, 1974/2011) and ‘The Tactics of Change: Doing Therapy Briefly’ (Fisch, Weakland, & Segal, 1982).

The clinical work of Virginia Satir and Milton Erickson viewed from a linguistics and language metaphor perspective contributed to the Strategic, Solution-Focused and Brief Solution-Focused and Neuro-Linguistic Programming approaches (Bandler & Grinder, 1975, 1979; Grinder & Bandler, 1981) to therapy and a formal notational system for human interaction (Grinder & Bandler, 1976). Bandler and Grinder matched the clinical work of Satir and Erickson with a multi- dimensional view of communication and language to produce a complex method to practice and describe therapeutic process.

In the Systemic-Milan-CMM tradition, Karl Tomm’s collaboration with Pearce and Cronen and other communication exponents (e.g. McNamee, Lannamann, & Tomm, 1983) contributed to a number of projects and papers created from a confluence of the circular notions of Milan therapy (Selvini-Palazzoli, Boscolo, Cecchin, & Prata, 1980) with the circularity of a communication research approach proposed by CMM (Cronen, Johnson, & Lannamann, 1982; Pearce, 1976; Pearce & Cronen, 1980). As a result, Milan-style circularity in therapy took a reflexive turn with Tomm’s work (1987a, 1987b, 1988), and a turn towards curiosity with Gianfranco Cecchin’s therapy (Cecchin, 1987). A change in research, such as the notion of questions as interventions in therapy (Tomm & Lannamann, 1988), helped lead to the suggestion that research questions may also be seen as interventions and possibly as therapy (McNamee, 1988) and consultation tools, such as, reflexive inquiry (Oliver, 1992, 1996, 2004).

§ Social Constructionism

Burr (1995) acknowledges the major influence of Berger and Luckmann (1966/1991) in the development of social constructionism (SC). In turn Berger and Luckmann (1966/1991) acknowledge the influence of Mead, Marx, Schutz and Durkheim on their thinking. Berger and Luckmann (1966/1991) therefore constitute a synthesis of these and other influences – for instance, de Beauvoir (1949/1972), when she writes: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”

The origins of social constructionism can be traced in part to an interpretivist approach to social thought. Mead (1934), one of the originators of symbolic interactionism, and first wife of Gregory Bateson, can be viewed as forging a bridging narrative between the two fields. However, while SC and interpretivism may seem to share common philosophical roots, social constructionism does appear distinct from interpretivism. In common with constructionists, interpretivists in general focus on the process by which meanings are created, negotiated, sustained and modified (Schwandt, 2003). Proponents share the goal of understanding the world of lived experience from the perspective of those who live in it. Both arose as a challenge to scientism and have been influenced by the postmodernist movement. Interpretivism differentiates between the social and natural sciences and has as its goal the understanding of the meaning of social phenomena. While interpretivists value the human subjective experience, they seek to develop an objective science to study and describe it. There is then a tension evident between objective interpretations of subjective experiences. In other words, they attempt to apply a logical empiricist methodology to human inquiry. Thus, for Schwandt (2003) symbolic interactionism is an interpretative science.

Constructionists view knowledge and truth as created not discovered by the mind (Schwandt 2003) and supports the view that being a realist is not inconsistent with being a constructionist. One can believe that concepts are constructed rather than discovered yet maintain that they correspond to something real in the world. This is consistent with the idea of Berger and Luckmann (1966/1991) and the subtle realism of Hammersley (1992) in that reality is socially defined but this reality refers to the subjective experience of everyday life; how the world is understood rather than to the objective reality of the natural world. As Steedman (2000) notes, most of what is known and most of the knowing that is done is concerned with trying to make sense of what it is to be human, as opposed to scientific knowledge. Individuals or groups of individuals define this reality. This branch of constructionism is unconcerned with ontological questions or questions of linear causation. It is worth emphasising this, since a lot of the criticisms of constructionism arise from ascribing claims to it made beyond this social understanding of the world.

Berger and Luckmann (1966/1991) are concerned with the nature and construction of knowledge; how it emerges and how it comes to have significance for society. They view knowledge as created by the interactions of individuals within society as central to constructionism (Schwandt, 2003). For Berger and Luckmann (1966/1991), the division of labour, the emergence of more complex forms of knowledge and what they term economic surplus gives rise to expert knowledge, developed by people devoting themselves full-time to their subject. In turn, these experts lay claim to novel status and claim ultimate jurisdiction over that knowledge. For example, Hunter (1991) makes this claim for medicine, in that it has in time assumed much more control over defining illness and as a result has assumed control in situations well beyond its original mandate and so, enjoys a privileged position (Harré & Langenhove, 1999) in society.

Berger and Luckmann (1966/1991) view society as existing both as objective and subjective reality. The former is brought about through the interaction of people with the social world, with this social world in turn influencing people resulting in a form of habituation. That is, a frequently repeated action becomes cast into a pattern which can be reproduced without much effort. This habituated behaviour frees people to engage in innovation rather than starting everything anew. In time, the meaning of the habituated behaviour becomes embedded as a routine, forming a general store of knowledge. This knowledge is institutionalised by society to the extent that future generations experience this type of knowledge as objective. In addition, this form of objectivity may be continuously reaffirmed in the individual’s interaction with others.

The experience of society as subjective reality is achieved through primary, and to a lesser extent, secondary socialisation. The former involves being given an identity and a place in society. Indeed, Burr (1995) suggests that our identity originates not from inside the person but from the social realm. Socialisation takes place through significant others who mediate the objective reality of society, render it meaningful and in this way it is internalised by individuals (Berger & Luckmann, 1966/1991). This is done through the medium of language. Burr (1995) suggests that within social constructionism language makes thought and ideation possible and not the other way around. In SC Language is suggested to predate concept and provides a means of structuring the way the world is experienced.

Berger and Luckmann (1966/1991) maintain that conversation is the most important means of maintaining, modifying and reconstructing subjective reality. Subjective reality is comprised of concepts that can be shared easily with others. That is, there is shared meaning and understanding (i.e. grounded theory), so much so that concepts do not need to be redefined each time they are used in everyday conversation and come to assume a reality which is more or less taken for granted.

Reflection in action: SC bricklaying analogy

• Layer one: Labelling, naming, defining of social phenomena
• Layer two: How the social world is categorised into different groups
• Layer three: How we value those different categories; and how we order those categories
• Layer four: How we reinforce or challenge the valuation of those orderings or categories; how we contest value; how power and power differentials may contest value

§ CMM: A Rule-based Theory of Interpersonal Communication (1976)

Pearce’s (1976) early interest in interpersonal communication sets out to provide an interpretive heuristic; that is to say, it is, says Pearce (1976: 18) in his words, “unabashedly theoretical, deliberately based on a set of assumptions different from recent orthodoxy, and self-consciously two levels of abstraction away from observable exchanges of messages.”

Pearce (1976) considers that the orthodox understanding of interpersonal communication has held to a view, according to Harré and Secord (1973: 27-28) cited in Pearce (1976: 18), informed by a set of assumptions (1.) a mechanistic model to account for humans (2.) a lineal conception of causality (3.) a positivist methodology. Pearce (1976) contrasts his [heterodox] theoretical perspective for CMM as (1.) a diverse set of models (2.) a set of alternative modes of explanation for human action (3.) social science characterised as pluralistic and naturalistic.

For Pearce (1976) the transactional nature of interpersonal communication goes beyond a listing of the rules or a description of how individuals follow rules since the outcome (i.e. verbal or non-verbal communication) is the result of a non-totalising input from more than one individual – i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Thus a conversation which occurs may not resemble the rule-governed behaviours of either person seen independently. As a result, therefore, Pearce (1976) situates CMM as an explanation which must be able to account for [both] the effect of each person [locutor] on the other as well as [and] each person’s rule-governed behaviour.

One might say that for Pearce (1976) inclusiveness of different types of rules is an acknowledgement and an embrace of an important both/and position (Harré & Langenhove, 1999) toward communication, that is, a holding-in-mind of the conceptual difference and reciprocity between how we communicate (process) and what we communicate (content).

Working from an assumption that human action is diverse and complex, and that each type of behaviour necessitates a different form of explanation, Pearce (1976) is led to a conclude that “a science which is appropriate for studying interpersonal communication must be pluralistic and naturalistic.” Here Pearce (1976) is explicitly contrasting normal science (i.e. natural science) (see Kuhn, 1970) – with its reliance on scientific method (objectivity, falsifiability, replication of results and hypothetico-deductive inferences) – against the state of social sciences at the time of writing. Pearce’s (1976: 19) call for “plurality and naturalism” in the study if interpersonal communication has its forebears in the privileging of the interpersonal realm within sociolinguistic theories of Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard as well as chiming with the wider movements within the emergent paradigm of postmodernist thought (i.e. post-structuralism and deconstructionism).

Pearce (1976: 20) helps us to better understand interpersonal communication problems by locating these problems as problems at the level of both meaning-making (within episodes) and coordination (across episodes) (see below). Here episodes are defined as, following Harré and Secord (1973: 153): “any part of human life, involving one or more people, in which some internal structure can be determined.” It is clearly an imprecise definition, useful precisely because of its imprecision: for episodes can be enacted and/or determined by actors rather than observers, episodes may vary widely in scope and breadth, and the definition is interpersonal (intersubjective) not merely personal (subjective). Pearce (1976: 21) goes on to differentiate between three “referents” for episodes as he sees them and indicates that problems occur in their coordination: Episodes1, Episodes2 and Episodes3.

• Episodes1 “consist of patterns of meaning and behaviours which are culturally sanctioned and which exist independently of any particular individual or dyad.” These include social institutions and ritualised behaviours. (Pearce states that these are public symbols identical with the concept of “significant symbols” outlined by Mead (1934))

• Episodes2 “consist of patterns of meanings and behaviours in the minds of individuals and are similar to discussions of images, plans, acts, or definitions of situations” These are private symbols which express intention or actions relating to how one participates in social interaction.

• Episodes3 “consist of the communicators’ interpretation of the actual sequence of messages which they jointly produced.” They are “episodes-as-coenacted following Cicoural’s (1974) notion for an “assumption of reciprocal perspectives” and Garfinkel’s (1967) notion of background expectancies.”
Pearce (1976) uses Kelly’s (1955) psychological theory of personal constructs (Constructive Alternativism) to elaborate the importance not just of coordination between and across episodes, but, also, in the service of predicting divergent outcomes in terms of agreement and disagreement, and, confirmation and disconfirmation. This prediction of divergence and polysemy is not also without considerable meaning to Pearce (1976), and is an important feature of his thinking put to the service of better understanding the as yet unexpressed with meaning-making, as we shall see later.

For Kelly (1955) we may recall his general theory of personal constructs, where he suggested that even within a culture, individuals tend to develop their own idiosyncratic ways of characterising others. The influence of Kelly’s (1955: 3) Constructive Alternativism on CMM and more generally on social science cannot be understated owing to his considerable influence on interpersonal communication:

Reflection in action: implications of Kelly’s (1955) PCT

• Objective reality is less important than intersubjective reality (for social sciences)
• Emphasis on how events are construed
• People choose different construal’s
• Choice underpins people’s meaning-making and actions

Thus to Kelly’s (1955) thought people possess different personal construct systems which develop adaptively over time and these people are in-themselves likely to become habituated towards these constructs when forming their understanding from the perceived impression of others. Constructs are in turn reliant upon Anticipation/Prediction and Construct. (These two processes were mapped by Kelly (1961a) onto a grid termed the repertory grid technique.)

Nonetheless, having noted the important implications (i.e. plurality and polysemy) freighted by Kelly’s (1955) personal construct theory and the implications for better coordination and the challenges to coordination obtaining from this premise, Pearce (1976: 26-27) goes on to examine rule-governed behaviours from a naturalistic perspective and uses the terms constitutive rules and regulative rules. Here constitutive rules are defined as the rules in establishing acts/meanings which are required for the episode to be enacted and regulative rules as the array of allowable acts from which the person may choose from. Both of these descriptions of rules may be validated by comparing them to the actors’ perceptions and behaviours, although the actors themselves should not also be expected to be fully aware of or able to articulate either set of rules or their meanings.

Thus if communicators (interlocutors) are following the same rules their coordination problems are easy and an observer could readily describe their conversation (episode3) by identifying the rules. However problems may arise in coordinating the management of meaning and describing the ensuing conversation when the communicators follow different rules (e.g. their episodes2 are different) (Pearce, 1976: 28). Pearce (1976: 28) suggests that “a researcher must identify those sequences which are based on consensually shared rules and those which are not.”

Pearce (1976: 29) offers a practical syllogism (see Von Wright, 1971) as an explanatory tool for exploring each person’s rule governed actions.

1. A wishes B to occur;
2. A knows/believes that he must do X if B is to occur;
3. Therefore A does X.

Where:

A is a person
B is an episode, and
X is a particular behaviour given meaning by its location in the episode.

For Pearce the coordination problem is one traced to a difference in one or both of the premises (1. or 2.), and the communication problem may be explained by contrasting those syllogisms which explain the behaviour of each individual (3.).

In this way Pearce (1976:30-31) is able to address the scientifistic concern of those critics of CMM’s capacity to predict and confers at least some ability to control – “but in a special way consistent with its own assumptions” – interpersonal communication. A theory of social action, such as CMM, may therefore “develop propositions about communication situations in which coordination problems are likely, about persons who will be more or less able to coordinate their management of meanings with specific others, and about the effect of using particular coordination strategies.” Moreover, entirely consistent with the premise of pluralism mentioned earlier (p. 18), some propositions may or may not conform to a linear causal explanatory model – indeed, Pearce (1976: 31) acknowledges that some on-going patterns of interpersonal communication may be accounted for as systemic in nature (Watzlawick et al., 1967 in Pearce, 1976). In so doing Pearce (1976) is clearly aware of the actuality that from a systemic perspective communication does not necessarily find purchase through reliance on a linear causal explanation (but rather on a reliance upon both teleological and circular – recursive – causal explanations).

In addition, emergent propositions, such as those located through the systemic view of communication – say, the use of metacommunication as a negotiation strategy using CMM – lead Pearce (1976: 31) to surmise “an irreversible increase in the level of their [clients] self-awareness” and “an assumption of causality (or necessary interdependency) among the components of the communication system.”

That is, not only does Pearce (1976) firmly hold to a belief that self-awareness is a beneficial corollary affect, but also, and importantly, that he is led to suggest the presence of a necessary interdependency (or alternative causal relation) among the various component episodes which in concert form the basis of the CMM theory of interpersonal communication. This is a single, barely explicated sentence in the overall text written in a scholarly passive tense, yet it is one, I believe, where the impact of the sentiment conveyed could so easily be overlooked; to my thought this small section of the text represents an ecliptic reference to what Pearce later in the endnotes alludes to as reflexivity (1976: 33n6).

§ CMM – Research base & “the communication perspective” (1980)

Pearce and Cronen’s (1980) book on CMM expands upon suggestions made earlier by Pearce (1976) and Cronen, Pearce and Snavely (1979) that took seriously the empirical possibility for social research from a “communication perspective.” That is, Pearce & Cronen (1980) is written from a meta-theoretical perspective which might provide an overarching edifice from which all of the social sciences (e.g. economics, psychology, sociology, linguistics, communications theory, etc.) might be surveyed.

Pearce and Cronen (1980: 273-283) used a serpentine (timeline) model to track both (‘Jan’ and ‘Dave’ study) participants interpretations of sequential episodes over time. This study provided empirical support for the somewhat counterintuitive suggestion that ‘good’ communication does not necessarily require understanding. It soon became clear that CMM could produce some quite unexpected results. In another study (p. 216-223) Harris, Cronen & Lesch asked students to describe the communication competences of “newly met conversationalists.” The results obtained suggested shifting patterns in which individual competence correlated to the structure of the social system.

This finding was suggested to support CMM’s perspective on interpersonal communication as a complex, fluid and plastic concept rather than supporting a mechanistic, linear view of social action.

A’s social world:

Story of self: confident, successful

Relationship: mutually supportive Episode: damage control

Episode: annual performance review Relationship: victim/victimizer

Episode: annual performance review

Relationship: purely professional

Self: competent and tired of having to cover for Bill’s mistakes

B’s social world:

Adapted from Pearce (2006) Serpentine model

§ Cronen, Johnson and Lannamann (1982)

This article presented a new theory of reflexivity in systems of social meaning and action. Cronen et al. (1982) argue that Russell’s Theory of Logical Types, which formed the basis of the early work of the Palo Alto group (e.g. Bateson, Haley, Weakland, etc.), rests upon an inappropriate and largely outdated epistemology. The theory offered here by Cronen et al. (1982) rejects the assumption that reflexivity and paradox have the same or coincident boundaries. It is further argued that reflexivity is a natural and necessary feature of human systems of meaning. New analytic tools are offered for discerning problematic from nonproblematic reflexive loops. Their new tools take the form of a symbol that can be used to represent the rules that organize reflexive relationships. Cronen et al. (1982) theory also contains a set of statements designed to restrict conditions under which problematic reflexive loops have consequences for a person’s mental wellbeing.

§ Pearce, Cronen and Tomm (1985)

Pearce, Cronen and Tomm (1985) introduce the possibility of offering a dialectical account of higher order social change without advancing a fixed overarching grammar for social change, whilst, preserving qualities of radical transformation and continuity based on a natural and plural basis. Their choice is CMM theory.

Pearce, Cronen and Tomm (1985) believe that radical transformation takes place (i.e. phase 4 in their 0-7 phase model) where an inversion of hierarchical order takes place. In this way episodic patterns have become inverted with life scripts and family scripts – at the next higher orders of context. The practical example is offered of family A, whom, it seems, have become habituated to examining every instance of life script and place in the family myth from within a [dislocated] context of each particular social encounter. As a consequence they are quite stuck in unwanted repetitive patterns (URPs) between, on the one hand, what they do and how they relate to others, and their life scripts and family myth on the other.

Pearce, Cronen and Tomm’s (1985) paper neither offers nor suggests a deterministic or probabilistic law of change. Rather it is the case that Pearce, Cronen and Tomm (1985) do offer a CMM-based modelling option of and for higher order change using a suite of principles concerning time, consciousness, action, hierarchy, and recursivity.

§ Post-Milan: from Neutrality to Curiosity (1987)

Just as Maria Selvini Palazzoli (1974) had described her transition from psychoanalysis to systemic practice under the influence of Haley (1963) and Watzlawick et al. (1967) so too Gianfranco Cecchin (1987; 1992) describes the evolution of his approach from structure toward constructionism.

Cecchin (1992) outlines the evolution in his theory and practice as informed by three main shifts in his emphasis and, therein, his approach:

• Energy to Information
• Entities to Social constructions
• Family to therapist

A closer look at the shifts in emphasis in Cecchin’s work may reveal much about how he, in a position (Harré & Langenhove, 1999) of systemic trainer and theorist, might explain the evolution in his systemic ideas.

In 1987 Cecchin wrote what was later to become a seminal systemic paper. Entitled, Hypothesizing, Circularity, and Neutrality Revisited: An Invitation to Curiosity, Cecchin’s (1987) paper subtly delivered an epistemological bombshell in the form of a reply to the Milan teams’ paper describing the foundation of their working principles (Hypothesizing – Circularity – Neutrality, Selvini et al., 1980).

In his paper, Cecchin (1987) sought to re-examine the principle concepts contained in Selvini et al (1980) Milan systemic manifesto and instead assert his new conviction that therapeutic neutrality in action and language was nothing more or less than an ideal – for family system and therapist alike – which simply could not ever be realised. Cecchin feels impelled to make it clear that he now knows that it is impossible to be neutral.

Cecchin (1987) had looked back upon his former foundational principles of working (i.e. hypothesising, circularity and neutrality) and made the following observations:

• Hypothesising is a technique
• Curiosity is a framework for working (i.e. a systemic approach)
• Hypotheses are stories told (i.e. only of use for as long as they remain relevant)

Thus, looking again at Selvini et al. (1980) one might be drawn to summarise as follows:

• Approach – Neutrality
• Method – Circularity / Paradox
• Technique – Hypothesis

Whereas, a close look at Cecchin (1987; 1992) might result in a subtle difference with quite significant contextual implications for systemic work:

• Approach – Curiosity / Reflexivity toward co-constructed meaning
• Method – Circularity / Questions replacing statements
• Technique – Hypothesis

Cecchin (1987) goes on to reposition the concept of curiosity as defining his approach to systemic thought and action. Cecchin argues that once the ideal approach of therapeutic neutrality is no longer tenable it ought to be replaced by something – curiosity – inherently more flexible and characteristic of an openness toward lived experience and the uncertainties of lived experience, for only then are we more able to become better helpers and/or systemic practitioners; not worse, not stuck merely in a series of techniques without ever questioning their or our own efficacy (Cecchin, 1987: 5): “… when our neutral position ceases to help us generate hypotheses, we have, no doubt, lost our curiosity and become social controllers.”

He continues by proposing a framework, an approach, to systemic practice, which he views as the crucial – though unexplored – underpinning for the original Milan team’s (see Selvini et al., 1980) founding principles, he writes (1987: 5): “If we are curious, we question premises – our own and those of the family we are treating. A family’s interactions with us should facilitate questioning our own premises. Not only are we intervening in their systems, but families are also intervening in our systems – helping us to become better systemic thinkers. The idea of a recursive relationship among neutrality, hypothesizing, and circularity, as guiding principles, proposes a framework that invites us to be more curious about symptoms in therapy – those of families as well as of therapists.”

§ Neutrality – an irreducible moral dimension: Lang, Little & Cronen (1990)

Lang, Little and Cronen (1990) suggest a consistent view with which to identify different types of action/activity from a systemic position of co-constructed realities. They lean heavily on Maturana’s (1985) concept of domains of knowledge: aesthetics, explanations and production. Long et al. (1990) are led to conclude that an appreciation of Maturana’s (1985) domain concept raises vital questions about the nature of neutrality within and across the domains which he views as spanning the professional systemic field.

Lang et al. (1990) suggest that ‘morality’ and ‘a moral posture’ are necessary features of any approach which spans the domains of aesthetics, explanation or production. In so doing they recall Aristotle’s (see Poetics) concept of a position in relational context across and between theory and practice, praxis. Lang et al. (1990) conclude that as systemic practice is intimately interested in human action – and by definition in these domains of knowledge (see above) – then a moral posture ought to be a necessary principle of any systemic approach/framework.

§ Approach Method and Technique: A model for identifying differences (1992)

Burnham’s (1992) paper outlines a coherent model for differentiating between types of systemic activity and how those activities might be viewed as relating when working within a systemic practice framework. We will then see whether and how Burnham’s (1992) AMT model might also be useful to understand both the movement of approaches, methods and techniques from Milan (e.g. Selvini et al., 1978) to post-Milan (e.g. Cecchin, 1987) and CMM (e.g. Pearce and Cronen, 1980; Cronen, Johnson and Lannamann, 1982; Lang, Little & Cronen, 1990) in the service of a coherent structure for a more general understanding of the implications of social constructionist thought on systemic thought during this period.

In his paper Burnham (1992) suggests that his systemic understanding can be explained using an Approach – Method – Technique (AMT) model. The AMT model seeks to make clear both the context for and the implications of deriving meaning from a hierarchically organised, theoretically and clinically coherent, and recursively connected systemic model of working (following CMM, see below). Burnham’s (1992) influences are many and varied, however he plainly locates meaning as something derived from a context (pace Bateson 1972) and the two terms themselves (i.e. context and meaning) as acting in a recursive relation to one another (pace Pearce & Cronen, 1980; see below CMM).

Burnham (1992) locates and offers to define each term in the AMT model in the following way:

• Approach – Lenses and dispositions in a recursive relation; Reliant upon abstraction – learning to learn (see Bateson, 1974); e.g. family system understood as if a human system.
• Method – Different practices which serve to organise an approach e.g. use and appreciation of circularity (both in terms of questioning and causality).
• Technique – Different activities organising a method through practices, tools, training and therapeutic skills; Reliant upon rote learning (see Bateson, 1974); e.g. hypothesising.

And, thus, we might chose to visualise Burnham’s (1992) AMT model using the following three tier hierarchy:

• Approach
o Method
 Technique

It is worth noting that just as an overarching context (i.e. A →M) acts by contextual force in a downward direction upon the meaning of a sub context, so too, there might also exist an implicative force acting upwards upon and changing the meaning of the contextual setting above (i.e. T→M).

Given this relation between a strong contextual force and a weaker implicative force it is possible to designate the relation between AMT as hierarchical, coherent and recursive (i.e. A↔M↔T) following Pearce and Cronen’s (1980) suggestion for coordinating and managing systemic thought and practice.

§ Tracking: Hedges (2005)

Hedges (2005) is interested to investigate how it is that in co-constructing futures we (as systemic practitioners) are attending to the minutiae of grammar, metaphor, noticing the hidden-obvious and slowing ourselves in our work. Hedges (2005) is keen to point out that using these techniques allows us to better track the episodes of our work with families, and, therein, to expose the myth surrounding the notion of systemic work as somehow discreet from depth/exploratory work (i.e. psychodynamics).

He introduces and questions the possibility of a greater correspondence between notions of ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’. He questions whether the demarcation of ‘depth’ as a psychodynamic preserve is sustainable in the light cast by philosophy of language (e.g. Wittgenstein, 1953), systemic thought (e.g. Anderson, 1997) and co-constructionist (CMM) theories (e.g. Cronen, 1990; Cronen & Pearce, 1991) of making/managing social reality and meaning which would indicate otherwise.

Hedges (2005) utilises Bruner’s (1986) notion of metaphor as a ‘crutch’ to begin his investigation into the tracking techniques which might bring mutual benefit or insight. Bruner (1986) suggests that metaphor enable us to navigate meanings that, once utilised, can be discarded or hidden from view. Hedges (2005) suggests that in tracking metaphors – others’ and our own – is crucial to the better exploration and questioning of the co-construction of meaning in the work. Indeed, Hedges (2005) links metaphor and their use to the collective folk wisdom (see C. G. Jung) of the contextual background culture/society. Adding to this rich gestalt the clear difficulties which arise when/if one allows metaphor to remain unexplored, invisible or untold (see LUUUTT model of CMM).

Following Anderson (1997), Hedges (2005) also suggests that tracking an episode also requires slowing down the stories told. That is, slowing the natural pace of a normal dialogical flow. This technique is suggested as a counter measure to ‘knowing’, and, by implication only, may increase curiosity.

Attending to language does not mean only attending to spoken language. Non-verbal communication is a powerful form of communication which Hedges is keen to explore, again, in the service of techniques which can help in the exploration of co-constructed meaning-making. We must, urges Hedges (2005), attend carefully to exploring the range of full bodily communications of the other (see Tom Anderson, 1990).

Tracking also entails noticing. Hedges (2005) suggests that simplicity and familiarity can act to hide aspects of actual experience. That is to say, familiarity can sometimes obfuscate noticing what is in front of one’s nose. Hedges (2005) reiterates the importance of the notion of noticing bodily communications (i.e. non-verbal communications) as these can give us vital information to enrich the meaning/s available in a specific episode. However, Hedges (2005) is swift to point out that when one is noticing things are not simply found, instead, they are always co-constructed through joint action (see Shotter, 1993; 1995). This insight into the technique of noticing allows Hedges (2005) to conclude that episodes are always temporary, unfinished and composed of punctuations (pace Jackson and Bateman in Watzlawick et al., 1967).

Hedges (2005) recalls Pearce’s (1994) notion that ‘social worlds are too complex to perceive … all at once’ and thus reminds his reader of Bateson’s (1972) suggestion that ‘we divide experiences into frames’. By pointing to frames theory, Hedges (2005) is also following Goffman’s (1974) notion that frames turn what would otherwise be meaningless into something that is meaningful. Not so dissimilar one might say to Bateson’s (1972; 1974) famous ideas about the intimate relation and multi-laying which exists between context and meaning.

Frame theory closely looks at our frames of reference, say:

• Time
• Boundaries / Liminality
• Structure

It is, for Hedges (2005), in the appreciation of the multi-laying of episodes (see Bateson, 1974; Cronen and Pearce, 1982) which allows for a broader, deeper construal of the co-constructed and recursive (reflexive) nature of both episodes and frames. Hedges (2005) provides the following example of multi-layered frames and contexts which may commonly appear in an episode:

• Stories about the (current) relationship
• Stories related to the clients family
• Personal identity stories
• Religious stories
• Gender stories
• Cultural, ethnic, racial, colour stories
• Cultural and societal stories

The example above appears to be a good fit with the LUUUTT model of CMM (see LUUUTT model; Pearce Associates, v1.1, 1991). But what if, Hedges (2005) asks, one feels like one ought to act in certain way under certain circumstances regardless for any evidence that acting in that way is or has ever been beneficial? Here then, Hedges (2005) is calling our attention to the presence of so-named de-ontic logic in lived experience. An example might be something which informs our understanding and situates us towards certain contexts and seemingly automated responses – much like morality can shape our actions because of preconceptions of what is received to be ‘right’ or ‘good’ (see G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, 1993).

§ Making Social Worlds: Pearce (2007)

Pearce (2007) stresses the importance of the communication perspective. He strongly suggests that one ought to look at this perspective and not merely through it. That is, Pearce (2007: 1) urges the reader to “develop our ability to identify (critical moments) and act wisely in these moments.” Pearce is convinced that powerful forces are pulling us forward and backward as a species and he invites us to consider some communication abilities – a communication perspective – which might in fact move us upwards.

Pearce (2007) appears keen to look into the future; a future where he apprehends a growing tension across societies between the demands of communication and technology. Pearce (2007) cautions his reader not to follow blindly in the tracks of those who have acted in the name of progress by repeating the same mistakes over and over. Instead, Pearce (2007) states his conviction that real progress comes from a re-positioning towards difference.

Pearce (2007) might be suggesting that progress is often viewed in first-order terms – when, for instance, we ought to be able to recognise a moral dimension (see Lang, Little & Cronen, 1990) which may necessitate a greater, wider sense of urgency. Pearce (2007) leans on Gladwell’s (2000) notion of a ‘tipping-point’ and situates his concern for the adoption of the communication perspective as acting upward progress in terms of upward evolutionary progress.

Pearce’s (2007) retelling of the tragic events of 11th Sept 2001 is poignant and subtle insofar as drawing his readers’ attention to the important background information lacking from most media sources of the time. Pearce (2007) sees these gaps as important mistakes in communicating a story with seemingly little regard paid to how apportioning blame, victimhood and persecution might affect the lives of a great many innocent people with no connection to the disaster save their common cultural identity.

He provides a framework of a different approach as possessing the following characteristics:

• Constructing a richer narrative of the other, ourselves and the historical context
• Constructing a more systemic description of events; beyond the jejune use of misleading binary oppositions, such as ‘us’ and ‘them’ / ‘win’ and ‘lose’ / ‘good and ‘evil’
• Facilitating awareness of implicative and contextual forces and noting responsibility for contributing to the pattern in which we find ourselves; also, noting the opportunities for acting in new, novel ways – not merely reacting in obvious familiar ways.
• Changing the context of ‘ground theory’
• Attending to generative (‘appreciative’) narratives as far more productive than degenerative (‘deficit’) narratives e.g. “Your culture lacks …”, or “Your culture is wrong because …”

Reflection in action: I use this model regularly to track episodes in my work with families.

Stories lived

Storytelling

Stories told

Stories told by clients sometimes exhibit a limitation of vocabulary in the area of description connecting meaning and action. The concept of deontic logic (see von Wright, 1971) produces a heuristic model of the “oughtness” that people may feel within specific moments (or episodes). The combination of this oughtness is termed the “logical force.”

Context 1 (e.g., self-concept)
Context 2 (e.g., relationship)

Context 3 (e.g., episode)

Antecedent act action Consequent act

There are recurrent patterns in communication which may create difficulties. Using CMM theorists have become aware (e.g. Cronen, Johnson & Lannamann, 1982; Cronen, Pearce & Tomm, 1985; Oliver, 2004) of these patterns and developed a number of ways to invite clients to escape them. These patterns include unwanted repetitive patterns (URPs), strange loops, charmed loops, unanticipated consequences and reciprocated diatribes (Pearce 2006).

Cultural story / Relationship story / Identity story

Episodic pattern

Feeling: I feel pressured ≠ I feel relief

Interpretation: I don’t feel confident I feel confident

Action: I should not speak ≠ I can speak freely

Adapted from Oliver (2004) revised strange loop model

Here in the example above the episodic pattern is one of a polarizing defensive pattern which has been termed a ‘strange loop’. The strange loop is a kind of hypothesis or narrative (story) which can take the form of a paradoxical figure-of-eight pattern.

Related articles

A Very Very Brief Approach to Power (or, Narrative power, or, Power and narrative)


The Birth of the Clinic
The Birth of the Clinic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a question often raised yet seldom, if ever, answered satisfactorily: How might we approach an understanding of power? In order to provide some brief initial groundwork to this important and complex question I should like to begin with a very brief examination of the context within which to locate power and then to move steadily toward a more [systemic] narrative and reflexive position in this regard.

In general terms power may be understood, writes Heil, as ‘a disposition; an ability or capacity to yield some outcome’ (Heil in Audi, 1999). The dispositions of power might also be thought of in terms of relational (i.e. social or interpersonal) terms. That is, properties of phenomenal objects (i.e. in the world) possessed only in virtue of those objects standing in appropriate relation to other objects. Moreover, the proximity of phenomenal objects in relation to other objects, coextensive with an asymmetry of the relation said to exist between these objects, clearly denotes that difference may have some important bearing on approaches to an understanding of power.

Power and power differentials might possess a property or capacity which is potential but not manifest in some form of reciprocal relation (i.e. energy may be described as either kinetic or potential in virtue of its latent or manifest difference to other objects). In this sense one can begin to discern between two vertices for power: active/passive and intrinsic/extrinsic power (see Locke, 1975). To further an understanding of the basic notions underpinning power and power differentials (PD) in social relations (and intersubjective experiences) I will now turn to the social construction of power.

Hobbes (1651/1840; see also Kraynak, 1990) was one of the leading participants in the intellectual revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which gave rise to what might be called modernity. For Hobbes (1840: 35), human nature renders men “apt to invade and destroy one another”. Thus for Hobbes (1840: 35-36) power ought to be exercised over “the [human] passions for security, profit and glory” and control of human passions becomes a central concern of any legislating governance. For Hobbes power is – if it is to be understood purposefully – located as an object which is always to be historically situated as an object of study and thus gives rise to the birth of political science.

For Marx (1859; 1867; 1884; 1893; see also McLellan, 2000) the situation could not have been more different to Hobbes’ (1651/1840) formulation. Marx may be said to view power and PD as enforced relations based upon alienation and production. This Marx called alienated labour. For Marx alienated labour contains four major problematic areas: (1) alienation of the worker from the object of their production, the object of production comes to hold power over the worker (2) workers become alienated from themselves as production cannot be seen as the real life of the worker (3) workers’ social essence is removed from them in their work as production cannot (see 1 & 2) be seen as a harmonious concerted effort (4) workers found themselves alienated from other workers. Marx’s mature thought (historical materialism) critiques production, competition and enforced power relations as an entirely unsatisfactory basis for social organisation.

For Foucault (1967; 1969; 1973; 1986; see also Rabinow, 1984; 2000; Gutting, 2005), one detects an examination of limit-experiences using a socio-historical lens: Foucault’s works are perhaps as challenging as they are a coherent corpus undergirded by a few thematic hallmarks: a strong counter-narrative approach to lineal historicity/historiography, the historicisation of an ahistorical subject, the dividing practices – the systematic objective removal of sovereign power from within the subject or from others, and a rejection and deconstruction of the Cartesian Cogito (Rabinow, 1984: 3-27). For some Foucault clears the way for, and to some extent makes possible, the historical emergence of something like a rational subject via a reflexive and methodical application of socio-scientific knowledge (Foucault, 1967; 1969; 1973; 1986; see also Lyotard, 1984; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). Foucault unveils a discontinuous history in outline ripe for inevitable fragmentation in terms of continuity, and, in terms of an impact upon the individual subject and their context – held under the reflexive term, episteme (Foucault, 1969). Foucault’s biting critiques are often held aloft to example further what he discerned as clearly identifiable processes and dispositions of power/knowledge set to undermine, decentre and repress the autonomy of the sovereign individual (subjugation via state psychiatry), and, control and discrimination against the individual (subjugation via state legislation) (see also White & Epston, 1990). Foucault’s analysis of power and alienation is not strictly speaking a Marxist critique, it is rather a singular critical understanding hewn from scholarship in the epistemology of power, politics and the narrative discourses that bind and separate each. For instance, on mental health one finds Foucault (1967; 1973) perhaps at his sharpest and most critically devastating. In Madness and Civilisation (1967), for instance, one finds a historical examination of discriminatory practices across the ages enacted upon the individual subject with foundations forged far back in the medieval period nonetheless with similarities with oppressive acts maintained in present times. Foucault appears to suggest that the subject might always be located and dislocated in coincidence. Indeed there is a suggestion that oppressive practices against the subject, and PD more generally, obtain directly from dominant group norms and dominant narratives (see also Lyotard, 1984; Szasz, 1974; Laing, 1969). His own summary of the period is telling – “I ask myself what else I was talking about in Madness and Civilisation and The Birth of the Clinic, but power” (Rabinow & Foubion in Gutting, 2005: 21).

Lyotard’s (1984) states that his evaluation of legitimising “myths” or narrative archetypes centres on historical and modernist debates between positivists and phenomenologists in relation to the nature of language, language-games, the possibility of the acquisition of knowledge and the power inhering in knowledge (see also Wittgenstein, 1921, 1953; Snow, 1959).

Lyotard (1984) recommends an equivocal explication mobilised through a critique of existing forms of grand narrative legitimation (see also Habermas, 1971) and envisages forms of storying or narrative performativity as acts of legitimation in their own right (see also Bauman, 1986). Lyotard’s (1984) main achievement might be suggested to lie in his privileging of the locutor’s subjective experience of spoken biography as a report inherently capable of dispelling the problematic question of legitimation by legitimating itself and by deemphasising truth-value altogether.

Lyotard (1984) undergirds his reasoning by examining the paralogy of the two main positivistic grand narratives and their claims to legitimation: first, ‘the narrative of emancipation, a story of “freeing the people” for which science is believed to be the necessary means’ (1984: p. 13 orig. syntax) and, second, ‘the narrative of the triumph of science as speculation or pure and authentic knowledge’ (1984: p. 28). On both counts Lyotard (1984) concludes that such claims are founded upon misnomers which are based upon coherent social constructions but not correspondent truths. Lyotard reveals these claims are in actuality invariably specious, unnecessary exercises in power enacted through language-games: (“We no longer have recourse to the grand narratives” 1984: p. 60.) Lyotard’s (1984) singular work assimilates works by notable post-structuralists preceding his own contribution (e.g. Barthes, 1972; Derrida, 1978; Foucault, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1986; Lacan, 1977; Levi-Strauss, 1963) and are perhaps a clear attempt at situating postmodernism as a paradigm capable of sustaining many perspectives: a more durable theoretical social formation derivable from the fluidity and play of language, the performativity of narrative language, and the possibilities available for multiple social constructions for both narrative culture and narrative identity alike. Indeed, Lyotard’s (1984) critical questioning of grand narratives strongly undergird a suggestion that dominant narratives are apt to distort any subjective conception and co-constructed experiencing of the past, present and/or future.

Narrativist theorists and practitioners influenced by an acknowledgement of the utility of both modernist and postmodernist concerns (i.e. second order) as well as those reflexive toward co-constructed meaning-making (Pearce, 2007; Krause, 2012) have sought to question the extent to which certain narratives may inhabit a dominant position within the symbolic space of language, whilst also acting to inhibit (subjugate) other untold, unvoiced narratives and/or embed replicative scripts (e.g. Anderson, 1997; Bannister & Fransella, 1971; Bauman, 1986; Berger & Luckmann, 1967; Burnham, 2012; Byng-Hall, 1995; Dallos & Vetere, 2009; Freedman & Combs, 1996; Foucault, 1967; 1969; 1972; Gergen, 1994; Papadopoulos & Byng-Hall, 1997; White, 1985; 1995; 1997; White & Epston, 1990). White (1989, 1995, 1997) and White & Epston (1990) consider these dominant narratives to provide a compelling frame within which our co-constructed (hi)stories and indeed our identities may become unvoiced, subjugated or organised into formations not always of our own invention (1990: pp. 27-28).

We may come to feel that, for instance, certain dominant narratives concerning status, prestige, wealth or happiness become a source of tension if we do not measure up to the ideal (de Botton, 2004; Lasch, 1979). Self-reflexively, for instance, my earliest experiences of understanding power came in the form of what I might call ‘the success narrative.’ As a young man growing up in the East End of London in the 1980s, the success narrative led me to mistake an overriding importance attached to affluence and ability and academic achievement. This false notion of ‘success’, unfortunately, still pervades, occasionally, in my professional life as a counsellor, and, sometimes, even spills unconsciously into my parental role in the form of voiced ambitions for the young people in my life – though, I am quite aware of its origin as an artefact of the period of my youthful naivety and my incomprehension, and lack of empathy, for those on the receiving end of the prevailing political context of those times in Britain.

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Essays of Montaigne: Chapter XXV – Of the Education of Children: To Madame Diane De Foix, Comtesse de Gurson


Medea killing one of her sons. Side A from a C...
Medea killing one of her sons. Side A from a Campanian (Capouan) red-figure neck-amphora, ca. 330 BC. From Cumae. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I never yet saw that father, but let his son be never so decrepit or deformed, would not, notwithstanding, own him: not, nevertheless, if he were not totally besotted, and blinded with his paternal affection, that he did not well enough discern his defects; but that with all defaults he was still his. Just so, I see better than any other, that all I write here are but the idle reveries of a man that has only nibbled upon the outward crust of sciences in his nonage, and only retained a general and formless image of them; who has got a little snatch of everything and nothing of the whole, ‘a la Francoise’. For I know, in general, that there is such a thing as physic, as jurisprudence: four parts in mathematics, and, roughly, what all these aim and point at; and, peradventure, I yet know farther, what sciences in general pretend unto, in order to the service of our life: but to dive farther than that, and to have cudgelled my brains in the study of Aristotle, the monarch of all modern learning, or particularly addicted myself to any one science, I have never done it; neither is there any one art of which I am able to draw the first lineaments and dead colour; insomuch that there is not a boy of the lowest form in a school, that may not pretend to be wiser than I, who am not able to examine him in his first lesson, which, if I am at any time forced upon, I am necessitated in my own defence, to ask him, unaptly enough, some universal questions, such as may serve to try his natural understanding; a lesson as strange and unknown to him, as his is to me.

I never seriously settled myself to the reading any book of solid learning but Plutarch and Seneca; and there, like the Danaides, I eternally fill, and it as constantly runs out; something of which drops upon this paper, but little or nothing stays with me. History is my particular game as to matter of reading, or else poetry, for which I have particular kindness and esteem: for, as Cleanthes said, as the voice, forced through the narrow passage of a trumpet, comes out more forcible and shrill: so, methinks, a sentence pressed within the harmony of verse darts out more briskly upon the understanding, and strikes my ear and apprehension with a smarter and more pleasing effect. As to the natural parts I have, of which this is the essay, I find them to bow under the burden; my fancy and judgment do but grope in the dark, tripping and stumbling in the way; and when I have gone as far as I can, I am in no degree satisfied; I discover still a new and greater extent of land before me, with a troubled and imperfect sight and wrapped up in clouds, that I am not able to penetrate. And taking upon me to write indifferently of whatever comes into my head, and therein making use of nothing but my own proper and natural means, if it befall me, as oft-times it does, accidentally to meet in any good author, the same heads and commonplaces upon which I have attempted to write (as I did but just now in Plutarch’s “Discourse of the Force of Imagination”), to see myself so weak and so forlorn, so heavy and so flat, in comparison of those better writers, I at once pity or despise myself. Yet do I please myself with this, that my opinions have often the honour and good fortune to jump with theirs, and that I go in the same path, though at a very great distance, and can say, “Ah, that is so.” I am farther satisfied to find that I have a quality, which every one is not blessed withal, which is, to discern the vast difference between them and me; and notwithstanding all that, suffer my own inventions, low and feeble as they are, to run on in their career, without mending or plastering up the defects that this comparison has laid open to my own view. And, in plain truth, a man had need of a good strong back to keep pace with these people. The indiscreet scribblers of our times, who, amongst their laborious nothings, insert whole sections and pages out of ancient authors, with a design, by that means, to illustrate their own writings, do quite contrary; for this infinite dissimilitude of ornaments renders the complexion of their own compositions so sallow and deformed, that they lose much more than they get.

The philosophers, Chrysippus and Epicurus, were in this of two quite contrary humours: the first not only in his books mixed passages and sayings of other authors, but entire pieces, and, in one, the whole Medea of Euripides; which gave Apollodorus occasion to say, that should a man pick out of his writings all that was none of his, he would leave him nothing but blank paper: whereas the latter, quite on the contrary, in three hundred volumes that he left behind him, has not so much as one quotation.—[Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Chyysippus, vii. 181, and Epicurus, x. 26.]

I happened the other day upon this piece of fortune; I was reading a French book, where after I had a long time run dreaming over a great many words, so dull, so insipid, so void of all wit or common sense, that indeed they were only French words: after a long and tedious travel, I came at last to meet with a piece that was lofty, rich, and elevated to the very clouds; of which, had I found either the declivity easy or the ascent gradual, there had been some excuse; but it was so perpendicular a precipice, and so wholly cut off from the rest of the work, that by the first six words, I found myself flying into the other world, and thence discovered the vale whence I came so deep and low, that I have never had since the heart to descend into it any more. If I should set out one of my discourses with such rich spoils as these, it would but too evidently manifest the imperfection of my own writing. To reprehend the fault in others that I am guilty of myself, appears to me no more unreasonable, than to condemn, as I often do, those of others in myself: they are to be everywhere reproved, and ought to have no sanctuary allowed them. I know very well how audaciously I myself, at every turn, attempt to equal myself to my thefts, and to make my style go hand in hand with them, not without a temerarious hope of deceiving the eyes of my reader from discerning the difference; but withal it is as much by the benefit of my application, that I hope to do it, as by that of my invention or any force of my own. Besides, I do not offer to contend with the whole body of these champions, nor hand to hand with anyone of them: ’tis only by flights and little light attempts that I engage them; I do not grapple with them, but try their strength only, and never engage so far as I make a show to do. If I could hold them in play, I were a brave fellow; for I never attack them; but where they are most sinewy and strong. To cover a man’s self (as I have seen some do) with another man’s armour, so as not to discover so much as his fingers’ ends; to carry on a design (as it is not hard for a man that has anything of a scholar in him, in an ordinary subject to do) under old inventions patched up here and there with his own trumpery, and then to endeavour to conceal the theft, and to make it pass for his own, is first injustice and meanness of spirit in those who do it, who having nothing in them of their own fit to procure them a reputation, endeavour to do it by attempting to impose things upon the world in their own name, which they have no manner of title to; and next, a ridiculous folly to content themselves with acquiring the ignorant approbation of the vulgar by such a pitiful cheat, at the price at the same time of degrading themselves in the eyes of men of understanding, who turn up their noses at all this borrowed incrustation, yet whose praise alone is worth the having. For my own part, there is nothing I would not sooner do than that, neither have I said so much of others, but to get a better opportunity to explain myself. Nor in this do I glance at the composers of centos, who declare themselves for such; of which sort of writers I have in my time known many very ingenious, and particularly one under the name of Capilupus, besides the ancients. These are really men of wit, and that make it appear they are so, both by that and other ways of writing; as for example, Lipsius, in that learned and laborious contexture of his Politics.

But, be it how it will, and how inconsiderable soever these ineptitudes may be, I will say I never intended to conceal them, no more than my old bald grizzled likeness before them, where the painter has presented you not with a perfect face, but with mine. For these are my own particular opinions and fancies, and I deliver them as only what I myself believe, and not for what is to be believed by others. I have no other end in this writing, but only to discover myself, who, also shall, peradventure, be another thing to-morrow, if I chance to meet any new instruction to change me. I have no authority to be believed, neither do I desire it, being too conscious of my own inerudition to be able to instruct others.

Some one, then, having seen the preceding chapter, the other day told me at my house, that I should a little farther have extended my discourse on the education of children.—[“Which, how fit I am to do, let my friends flatter me if they please, I have in the meantime no such opinion of my own talent, as to promise myself any very good success from my endeavour.” This passage would appear to be an interpolation by Cotton. At all events, I do not find it in the original editions before me, or in Coste.]—

Now, madam, if I had any sufficiency in this subject, I could not possibly better employ it, than to present my best instructions to the little man that threatens you shortly with a happy birth (for you are too generous to begin otherwise than with a male); for, having had so great a hand in the treaty of your marriage, I have a certain particular right and interest in the greatness and prosperity of the issue that shall spring from it; beside that, your having had the best of my services so long in possession, sufficiently obliges me to desire the honour and advantage of all wherein you shall be concerned. But, in truth, all I understand as to that particular is only this, that the greatest and most important difficulty of human science is the education of children. For as in agriculture, the husbandry that is to precede planting, as also planting itself, is certain, plain, and well known; but after that which is planted comes to life, there is a great deal more to be done, more art to be used, more care to be taken, and much more difficulty to cultivate and bring it to perfection so it is with men; it is no hard matter to get children; but after they are born, then begins the trouble, solicitude, and care rightly to train, principle, and bring them up. The symptoms of their inclinations in that tender age are so obscure, and the promises so uncertain and fallacious, that it is very hard to establish any solid judgment or conjecture upon them. Look at Cimon, for example, and Themistocles, and a thousand others, who very much deceived the expectation men had of them. Cubs of bears and puppies readily discover their natural inclination; but men, so soon as ever they are grownup, applying themselves to certain habits, engaging themselves in certain opinions, and conforming themselves to particular laws and customs, easily alter, or at least disguise, their true and real disposition; and yet it is hard to force the propension of nature. Whence it comes to pass, that for not having chosen the right course, we often take very great pains, and consume a good part of our time in training up children to things, for which, by their natural constitution, they are totally unfit. In this difficulty, nevertheless, I am clearly of opinion, that they ought to be elemented in the best and most advantageous studies, without taking too much notice of, or being too superstitious in those light prognostics they give of themselves in their tender years, and to which Plato, in his Republic, gives, methinks, too much authority.

Madam, science is a very great ornament, and a thing of marvellous use, especially in persons raised to that degree of fortune in which you are. And, in truth, in persons of mean and low condition, it cannot perform its true and genuine office, being naturally more prompt to assist in the conduct of war, in the government of peoples, in negotiating the leagues and friendships of princes and foreign nations, than in forming a syllogism in logic, in pleading a process in law, or in prescribing a dose of pills in physic. Wherefore, madam, believing you will not omit this so necessary feature in the education of your children, who yourself have tasted its sweetness, and are of a learned extraction (for we yet have the writings of the ancient Counts of Foix, from whom my lord, your husband, and yourself, are both of you descended, and Monsieur de Candale, your uncle, every day obliges the world with others, which will extend the knowledge of this quality in your family for so many succeeding ages), I will, upon this occasion, presume to acquaint your ladyship with one particular fancy of my own, contrary to the common method, which is all I am able to contribute to your service in this affair.

The charge of the tutor you shall provide for your son, upon the choice of whom depends the whole success of his education, has several other great and considerable parts and duties required in so important a trust, besides that of which I am about to speak: these, however, I shall not mention, as being unable to add anything of moment to the common rules: and in this, wherein I take upon me to advise, he may follow it so far only as it shall appear advisable.

For a, boy of quality then, who pretends to letters not upon the account of profit (for so mean an object is unworthy of the grace and favour of the Muses, and moreover, in it a man directs his service to and depends upon others), nor so much for outward ornament, as for his own proper and peculiar use, and to furnish and enrich himself within, having rather a desire to come out an accomplished cavalier than a mere scholar or learned man; for such a one, I say, I would, also, have his friends solicitous to find him out a tutor, who has rather a well-made than a well-filled head;—[“‘Tete bien faite’, an expression created by Montaigne, and which has remained a part of our language.”—Servan.]— seeking, indeed, both the one and the other, but rather of the two to prefer manners and judgment to mere learning, and that this man should exercise his charge after a new method.

‘Tis the custom of pedagogues to be eternally thundering in their pupil’s ears, as they were pouring into a funnel, whilst the business of the pupil is only to repeat what the others have said: now I would have a tutor to correct this error, and, that at the very first, he should according to the capacity he has to deal with, put it to the test, permitting his pupil himself to taste things, and of himself to discern and choose them, sometimes opening the way to him, and sometimes leaving him to open it for himself; that is, I would not have him alone to invent and speak, but that he should also hear his pupil speak in turn. Socrates, and since him Arcesilaus, made first their scholars speak, and then they spoke to them—[Diogenes Laertius, iv. 36.]

“Obest plerumque iis, qui discere volunt, auctoritas eorum, qui docent.” [“The authority of those who teach, is very often an impediment to      those who desire to learn.”—Cicero, De Natura Deor., i. 5.]

It is good to make him, like a young horse, trot before him, that he may judge of his going, and how much he is to abate of his own speed, to accommodate himself to the vigour and capacity of the other. For want of which due proportion we spoil all; which also to know how to adjust, and to keep within an exact and due measure, is one of the hardest things I know, and ’tis the effect of a high and well-tempered soul, to know how to condescend to such puerile motions and to govern and direct them. I walk firmer and more secure up hill than down.

Such as, according to our common way of teaching, undertake, with one and the same lesson, and the same measure of direction, to instruct several boys of differing and unequal capacities, are infinitely mistaken; and ’tis no wonder, if in a whole multitude of scholars, there are not found above two or three who bring away any good account of their time and discipline. Let the master not only examine him about the grammatical construction of the bare words of his lesson, but about the sense and let him judge of the profit he has made, not by the testimony of his memory, but by that of his life. Let him make him put what he has learned into a hundred several forms, and accommodate it to so many several subjects, to see if he yet rightly comprehends it, and has made it his own, taking instruction of his progress by the pedagogic institutions of Plato. ‘Tis a sign of crudity and indigestion to disgorge what we eat in the same condition it was swallowed; the stomach has not performed its office unless it have altered the form and condition of what was committed to it to concoct. Our minds work only upon trust, when bound and compelled to follow the appetite of another’s fancy, enslaved and captivated under the authority of another’s instruction; we have been so subjected to the trammel, that we have no free, nor natural pace of our own; our own vigour and liberty are extinct and gone:

“Nunquam tutelae suae fiunt.” [“They are ever in wardship.”—Seneca, Ep., 33.]

I was privately carried at Pisa to see a very honest man, but so great an Aristotelian, that his most usual thesis was: “That the touchstone and square of all solid imagination, and of all truth, was an absolute conformity to Aristotle’s doctrine; and that all besides was nothing but inanity and chimera; for that he had seen all, and said all.” A position, that for having been a little too injuriously and broadly interpreted, brought him once and long kept him in great danger of the Inquisition at Rome.

Let him make him examine and thoroughly sift everything he reads, and lodge nothing in his fancy upon simple authority and upon trust. Aristotle’s principles will then be no more principles to him, than those of Epicurus and the Stoics: let this diversity of opinions be propounded to, and laid before him; he will himself choose, if he be able; if not, he will remain in doubt.

“Che non men the saver, dubbiar m’ aggrata.” [“I love to doubt, as well as to know.”—Dante, Inferno, xi. 93]

for, if he embrace the opinions of Xenophon and Plato, by his own reason, they will no more be theirs, but become his own. Who follows another, follows nothing, finds nothing, nay, is inquisitive after nothing.

“Non sumus sub rege; sibi quisque se vindicet.” [“We are under no king; let each vindicate himself.” —Seneca, Ep.,33]

Let him, at least, know that he knows. It will be necessary that he imbibe their knowledge, not that he be corrupted with their precepts; and no matter if he forget where he had his learning, provided he know how to apply it to his own use. Truth and reason are common to every one, and are no more his who spake them first, than his who speaks them after: ’tis no more according to Plato, than according to me, since both he and I equally see and understand them. Bees cull their several sweets from this flower and that blossom, here and there where they find them, but themselves afterwards make the honey, which is all and purely their own, and no more thyme and marjoram: so the several fragments he borrows from others, he will transform and shuffle together to compile a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment: his instruction, labour and study, tend to nothing else but to form that. He is not obliged to discover whence he got the materials that have assisted him, but only to produce what he has himself done with them. Men that live upon pillage and borrowing, expose their purchases and buildings to every one’s view: but do not proclaim how they came by the money. We do not see the fees and perquisites of a gentleman of the long robe; but we see the alliances wherewith he fortifies himself and his family, and the titles and honours he has obtained for him and his. No man divulges his revenue; or, at least, which way it comes in but every one publishes his acquisitions. The advantages of our study are to become better and more wise. ‘Tis, says Epicharmus, the understanding that sees and hears, ’tis the understanding that improves everything, that orders everything, and that acts, rules, and reigns: all other faculties are blind, and deaf, and without soul. And certainly we render it timorous and servile, in not allowing it the liberty and privilege to do anything of itself. Whoever asked his pupil what he thought of grammar and rhetoric, or of such and such a sentence of Cicero? Our masters stick them, full feathered, in our memories, and there establish them like oracles, of which the letters and syllables are of the substance of the thing. To know by rote, is no knowledge, and signifies no more but only to retain what one has intrusted to our memory. That which a man rightly knows and understands, he is the free disposer of at his own full liberty, without any regard to the author from whence he had it, or fumbling over the leaves of his book. A mere bookish learning is a poor, paltry learning; it may serve for ornament, but there is yet no foundation for any superstructure to be built upon it, according to the opinion of Plato, who says, that constancy, faith, and sincerity, are the true philosophy, and the other sciences, that are directed to other ends; mere adulterate paint. I could wish that Paluel or Pompey, those two noted dancers of my time, could have taught us to cut capers, by only seeing them do it, without stirring from our places, as these men pretend to inform the understanding without ever setting it to work, or that we could learn to ride, handle a pike, touch a lute, or sing without the trouble of practice, as these attempt to make us judge and speak well, without exercising us in judging or speaking. Now in this initiation of our studies in their progress, whatsoever presents itself before us is book sufficient; a roguish trick of a page, a sottish mistake of a servant, a jest at the table, are so many new subjects.

And for this reason, conversation with men is of very great use and travel into foreign countries; not to bring back (as most of our young monsieurs do) an account only of how many paces Santa Rotonda—[The Pantheon of Agrippa.]—is in circuit; or of the richness of Signora Livia’s petticoats; or, as some others, how much Nero’s face, in a statue in such an old ruin, is longer and broader than that made for him on some medal; but to be able chiefly to give an account of the humours, manners, customs, and laws of those nations where he has been, and that we may whet and sharpen our wits by rubbing them against those of others. I would that a boy should be sent abroad very young, and first, so as to kill two birds with one stone, into those neighbouring nations whose language is most differing from our own, and to which, if it be not formed betimes, the tongue will grow too stiff to bend.

And also ’tis the general opinion of all, that a child should not be brought up in his mother’s lap. Mothers are too tender, and their natural affection is apt to make the most discreet of them all so overfond, that they can neither find in their hearts to give them due correction for the faults they may commit, nor suffer them to be inured to hardships and hazards, as they ought to be. They will not endure to see them return all dust and sweat from their exercise, to drink cold drink when they are hot, nor see them mount an unruly horse, nor take a foil in hand against a rude fencer, or so much as to discharge a carbine. And yet there is no remedy; whoever will breed a boy to be good for anything when he comes to be a man, must by no means spare him when young, and must very often transgress the rules of physic:

“Vitamque sub dio, et trepidis agat In rebus.” [“Let him live in open air, and ever in movement about something.” —Horace, Od. ii., 3, 5.]

It is not enough to fortify his soul; you are also to make his sinews strong; for the soul will be oppressed if not assisted by the members, and would have too hard a task to discharge two offices alone. I know very well to my cost, how much mine groans under the burden, from being accommodated with a body so tender and indisposed, as eternally leans and presses upon her; and often in my reading perceive that our masters, in their writings, make examples pass for magnanimity and fortitude of mind, which really are rather toughness of skin and hardness of bones; for I have seen men, women, and children, naturally born of so hard and insensible a constitution of body, that a sound cudgelling has been less to them than a flirt with a finger would have been to me, and that would neither cry out, wince, nor shrink, for a good swinging beating; and when wrestlers counterfeit the philosophers in patience, ’tis rather strength of nerves than stoutness of heart. Now to be inured to undergo labour, is to be accustomed to endure pain:

“Labor callum obducit dolori.” [“Labour hardens us against pain.”—Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., ii. 15.]

A boy is to be broken in to the toil and roughness of exercise, so as to be trained up to the pain and suffering of dislocations, cholics, cauteries, and even imprisonment and the rack itself; for he may come by misfortune to be reduced to the worst of these, which (as this world goes) is sometimes inflicted on the good as well as the bad. As for proof, in our present civil war whoever draws his sword against the laws, threatens the honestest men with the whip and the halter.

And, moreover, by living at home, the authority of this governor, which ought to be sovereign over the boy he has received into his charge, is often checked and hindered by the presence of parents; to which may also be added, that the respect the whole family pay him, as their master’s son, and the knowledge he has of the estate and greatness he is heir to, are, in my opinion, no small inconveniences in these tender years.

And yet, even in this conversing with men I spoke of but now, I have observed this vice, that instead of gathering observations from others, we make it our whole business to lay ourselves open to them, and are more concerned how to expose and set out our own commodities, than how to increase our stock by acquiring new. Silence, therefore, and modesty are very advantageous qualities in conversation. One should, therefore, train up this boy to be sparing and an husband of his knowledge when he has acquired it; and to forbear taking exceptions at or reproving every idle saying or ridiculous story that is said or told in his presence; for it is a very unbecoming rudeness to carp at everything that is not agreeable to our own palate. Let him be satisfied with correcting himself, and not seem to condemn everything in another he would not do himself, nor dispute it as against common customs.

“Licet sapere sine pompa, sine invidia.”   [“Let us be wise without ostentation, without envy.” —Seneca, Ep., 103.]

Let him avoid these vain and uncivil images of authority, this childish ambition of coveting to appear better bred and more accomplished, than he really will, by such carriage, discover himself to be. And, as if opportunities of interrupting and reprehending were not to be omitted, to desire thence to derive the reputation of something more than ordinary. For as it becomes none but great poets to make use of the poetical licence, so it is intolerable for any but men of great and illustrious souls to assume privilege above the authority of custom:

“Si quid Socrates ant Aristippus contra morem et consuetudinem      fecerunt, idem sibi ne arbitretur licere: magnis enim illi et      divinis bonis hanc licentiam assequebantur.” [“If Socrates and Aristippus have committed any act against manners      and custom, let him not think that he is allowed to do the same; for      it was by great and divine benefits that they obtained this      privilege.”—Cicero, De Offic., i. 41.]

Let him be instructed not to engage in discourse or dispute but with a champion worthy of him, and, even there, not to make use of all the little subtleties that may seem pat for his purpose, but only such arguments as may best serve him. Let him be taught to be curious in the election and choice of his reasons, to abominate impertinence, and consequently, to affect brevity; but, above all, let him be lessoned to acquiesce and submit to truth so soon as ever he shall discover it, whether in his opponent’s argument, or upon better consideration of his own; for he shall never be preferred to the chair for a mere clatter of words and syllogisms, and is no further engaged to any argument whatever, than as he shall in his own judgment approve it: nor yet is arguing a trade, where the liberty of recantation and getting off upon better thoughts, are to be sold for ready money:

“Neque, ut omnia, qux praescripta et imperata sint, defendat, necessitate ulla cogitur.” [“Neither is their any necessity upon him, that he should defend      all things that are prescribed and enjoined him.” —Cicero, Acad., ii. 3.]

If his governor be of my humour, he will form his will to be a very good and loyal subject to his prince, very affectionate to his person, and very stout in his quarrel; but withal he will cool in him the desire of having any other tie to his service than public duty. Besides several other inconveniences that are inconsistent with the liberty every honest man ought to have, a man’s judgment, being bribed and prepossessed by these particular obligations, is either blinded and less free to exercise its function, or is blemished with ingratitude and indiscretion. A man that is purely a courtier, can neither have power nor will to speak or think otherwise than favourably and well of a master, who, amongst so many millions of other subjects, has picked out him with his own hand to nourish and advance; this favour, and the profit flowing from it, must needs, and not without some show of reason, corrupt his freedom and dazzle him; and we commonly see these people speak in another kind of phrase than is ordinarily spoken by others of the same nation, though what they say in that courtly language is not much to be believed.

Let his conscience and virtue be eminently manifest in his speaking, and have only reason for their guide. Make him understand, that to acknowledge the error he shall discover in his own argument, though only found out by himself, is an effect of judgment and sincerity, which are the principal things he is to seek after; that obstinacy and contention are common qualities, most appearing in mean souls; that to revise and correct himself, to forsake an unjust argument in the height and heat of dispute, are rare, great, and philosophical qualities.

Let him be advised, being in company, to have his eye and ear in every corner; for I find that the places of greatest honour are commonly seized upon by men that have least in them, and that the greatest fortunes are seldom accompanied with the ablest parts. I have been present when, whilst they at the upper end of the chamber have been only commenting the beauty of the arras, or the flavour of the wine, many things that have been very finely said at the lower end of the table have been lost and thrown away. Let him examine every man’s talent; a peasant, a bricklayer, a passenger: one may learn something from every one of these in their several capacities, and something will be picked out of their discourse whereof some use may be made at one time or another; nay, even the folly and impertinence of others will contribute to his instruction. By observing the graces and manners of all he sees, he will create to himself an emulation of the good, and a contempt of the bad.

Let an honest curiosity be suggested to his fancy of being inquisitive after everything; whatever there is singular and rare near the place where he is, let him go and see it; a fine house, a noble fountain, an eminent man, the place where a battle has been anciently fought, the passages of Caesar and Charlemagne:

“Qux tellus sit lenta gelu, quae putris ab aestu, Ventus in Italiam quis bene vela ferat.”

[“What country is bound in frost, what land is friable with heat, what wind serves fairest for Italy.”—Propertius, iv. 3, 39.]

Let him inquire into the manners, revenues, and alliances of princes, things in themselves very pleasant to learn, and very useful to know.

In this conversing with men, I mean also, and principally, those who only live in the records of history; he shall, by reading those books, converse with the great and heroic souls of the best ages. ‘Tis an idle and vain study to those who make it so by doing it after a negligent manner, but to those who do it with care and observation, ’tis a study of inestimable fruit and value; and the only study, as Plato reports, that the Lacedaemonians reserved to themselves. What profit shall he not reap as to the business of men, by reading the Lives of Plutarch? But, withal, let my governor remember to what end his instructions are principally directed, and that he do not so much imprint in his pupil’s memory the date of the ruin of Carthage, as the manners of Hannibal and Scipio; nor so much where Marcellus died, as why it was unworthy of his duty that he died there. Let him not teach him so much the narrative parts of history as to judge them; the reading of them, in my opinion, is a thing that of all others we apply ourselves unto with the most differing measure. I have read a hundred things in Livy that another has not, or not taken notice of at least; and Plutarch has read a hundred more there than ever I could find, or than, peradventure, that author ever wrote; to some it is merely a grammar study, to others the very anatomy of philosophy, by which the most abstruse parts of our human nature penetrate. There are in Plutarch many long discourses very worthy to be carefully read and observed, for he is, in my opinion, of all others the greatest master in that kind of writing; but there are a thousand others which he has only touched and glanced upon, where he only points with his finger to direct us which way we may go if we will, and contents himself sometimes with giving only one brisk hit in the nicest article of the question, whence we are to grope out the rest. As, for example, where he says’—[In the Essay on False Shame.]—that the inhabitants of Asia came to be vassals to one only, for not having been able to pronounce one syllable, which is No. Which saying of his gave perhaps matter and occasion to La Boetie to write his “Voluntary Servitude.” Only to see him pick out a light action in a man’s life, or a mere word that does not seem to amount even to that, is itself a whole discourse. ‘Tis to our prejudice that men of understanding should so immoderately affect brevity; no doubt their reputation is the better by it, but in the meantime we are the worse. Plutarch had rather we should applaud his judgment than commend his knowledge, and had rather leave us with an appetite to read more, than glutted with that we have already read. He knew very well, that a man may say too much even upon the best subjects, and that Alexandridas justly reproached him who made very good. but too long speeches to the Ephori, when he said: “O stranger! thou speakest the things thou shouldst speak, but not as thou shouldst speak them.”—[Plutarch, Apothegms of the Lacedamonians.]—Such as have lean and spare bodies stuff themselves out with clothes; so they who are defective in matter endeavour to make amends with words.

Human understanding is marvellously enlightened by daily conversation with men, for we are, otherwise, compressed and heaped up in ourselves, and have our sight limited to the length of our own noses. One asking Socrates of what country he was, he did not make answer, of Athens, but of the world;—[Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., v. 37; Plutarch, On Exile, c. 4.]— he whose imagination was fuller and wider, embraced the whole world for his country, and extended his society and friendship to all mankind; not as we do, who look no further than our feet. When the vines of my village are nipped with the frost, my parish priest presently concludes, that the indignation of God has gone out against all the human race, and that the cannibals have already got the pip. Who is it that, seeing the havoc of these civil wars of ours, does not cry out, that the machine of the world is near dissolution, and that the day of judgment is at hand; without considering, that many worse things have been seen, and that in the meantime, people are very merry in a thousand other parts of the earth for all this? For my part, considering the licence and impunity that always attend such commotions, I wonder they are so moderate, and that there is no more mischief done. To him who feels the hailstones patter about his ears, the whole hemisphere appears to be in storm and tempest; like the ridiculous Savoyard, who said very gravely, that if that simple king of France could have managed his fortune as he should have done, he might in time have come to have been steward of the household to the duke his master: the fellow could not, in his shallow imagination, conceive that there could be anything greater than a Duke of Savoy. And, in truth, we are all of us, insensibly, in this error, an error of a very great weight and very pernicious consequence. But whoever shall represent to his fancy, as in a picture, that great image of our mother nature, in her full majesty and lustre, whoever in her face shall read so general and so constant a variety, whoever shall observe himself in that figure, and not himself but a whole kingdom, no bigger than the least touch or prick of a pencil in comparison of the whole, that man alone is able to value things according to their true estimate and grandeur.

This great world which some do yet multiply as several species under one genus, is the mirror wherein we are to behold ourselves, to be able to know ourselves as we ought to do in the true bias. In short, I would have this to be the book my young gentleman should study with the most attention. So many humours, so many sects, so many judgments, opinions, laws, and customs, teach us to judge aright of our own, and inform our understanding to discover its imperfection and natural infirmity, which is no trivial speculation. So many mutations of states and kingdoms, and so many turns and revolutions of public fortune, will make us wise enough to make no great wonder of our own. So many great names, so many famous victories and conquests drowned and swallowed in oblivion, render our hopes ridiculous of eternising our names by the taking of half-a-score of light horse, or a henroost, which only derives its memory from its ruin. The pride and arrogance of so many foreign pomps, the inflated majesty of so many courts and grandeurs, accustom and fortify our sight without closing our eyes to behold the lustre of our own; so many trillions of men, buried before us, encourage us not to fear to go seek such good company in the other world: and so of the rest Pythagoras was want to say,—[Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., v. 3.]—that our life resembles the great and populous assembly of the Olympic games, wherein some exercise the body, that they may carry away the glory of the prize: others bring merchandise to sell for profit: there are also some (and those none of the worst sort) who pursue no other advantage than only to look on, and consider how and why everything is done, and to be spectators of the lives of other men, thereby the better to judge of and regulate their own.

To examples may fitly be applied all the profitable discourses of philosophy, to which all human actions, as to their best rule, ought to be especially directed: a scholar shall be taught to know—

“Quid fas optare: quid asper Utile nummus habet: patrix carisque propinquis Quantum elargiri deceat: quern te Deus esse           Jussit, et humana qua parte locatus es in re; Quid sumus, et quidnam victuri gignimur.” [“Learn what it is right to wish; what is the true use of coined      money; how much it becomes us to give in liberality to our country and our dear relations; whom and what the Deity commanded thee to      be; and in what part of the human system thou art placed; what we are ant to what purpose engendered.”—Persius, iii. 69]

what it is to know, and what to be ignorant; what ought to be the end and design of study; what valour, temperance, and justice are; the difference betwixt ambition and avarice, servitude and subjection, licence and liberty; by what token a man may know true and solid contentment; how far death, affliction, and disgrace are to be apprehended;

“Et quo quemque modo fugiatque feratque laborem.” [“And how you may shun or sustain every hardship.” —Virgil, AEneid, iii. 459.]

by what secret springs we move, and the reason of our various agitations and irresolutions: for, methinks the first doctrine with which one should season his understanding, ought to be that which regulates his manners and his sense; that teaches him to know himself, and how both well to dig and well to live. Amongst the liberal sciences, let us begin with that which makes us free; not that they do not all serve in some measure to the instruction and use of life, as all other things in some sort also do; but let us make choice of that which directly and professedly serves to that end. If we are once able to restrain the offices of human life within their just and natural limits, we shall find that most of the sciences in use are of no great use to us, and even in those that are, that there are many very unnecessary cavities and dilatations which we had better let alone, and, following Socrates’ direction, limit the course of our studies to those things only where is a true and real utility:

“Sapere aude; Incipe;  Qui recte vivendi prorogat horam, Rusticus exspectat, dum defluat amnis; at ille Labitur, et labetur in omne volubilis oevum.” [“Dare to be wise; begin! he who defers the hour of living well is      like the clown, waiting till the river shall have flowed out: but the river still flows, and will run on, with constant course, to ages without end.”—Horace, Ep., i. 2.]

‘Tis a great foolery to teach our children:

“Quid moveant Pisces, animosaque signa Leonis, Lotus et Hesperia quid Capricornus aqua,” [“What influence Pisces have, or the sign of angry Leo, or Capricorn, washed by the Hesperian wave.”—Propertius, iv. I, 89.]

the knowledge of the stars and the motion of the eighth sphere before their own:      [“What care I about the Pleiades or the stars of Taurus?” —Anacreon, Ode, xvii. 10.]

Anaximenes writing to Pythagoras, “To what purpose,” said he, “should I trouble myself in searching out the secrets of the stars, having death or slavery continually before my eyes?” for the kings of Persia were at that time preparing to invade his country. Every one ought to say thus, “Being assaulted, as I am by ambition, avarice, temerity, superstition, and having within so many other enemies of life, shall I go ponder over the world’s changes?”

After having taught him what will make him more wise and good, you may then entertain him with the elements of logic, physics, geometry, rhetoric, and the science which he shall then himself most incline to, his judgment being beforehand formed and fit to choose, he will quickly make his own. The way of instructing him ought to be sometimes by discourse, and sometimes by reading; sometimes his governor shall put the author himself, which he shall think most proper for him, into his hands, and sometimes only the marrow and substance of it; and if himself be not conversant enough in books to turn to all the fine discourses the books contain for his purpose, there may some man of learning be joined to him, that upon every occasion shall supply him with what he stands in need of, to furnish it to his pupil. And who can doubt but that this way of teaching is much more easy and natural than that of Gaza,—[Theodore Gaza, rector of the Academy of Ferrara.]—in which the precepts are so intricate, and so harsh, and the words so vain, lean; and insignificant, that there is no hold to be taken of them, nothing that quickens and elevates the wit and fancy, whereas here the mind has what to feed upon and to digest. This fruit, therefore, is not only without comparison, much more fair and beautiful; but will also be much more early ripe.

‘Tis a thousand pities that matters should be at such a pass in this age of ours, that philosophy, even with men of understanding, should be, looked upon as a vain and fantastic name, a thing of no use, no value, either in opinion or effect, of which I think those ergotisms and petty sophistries, by prepossessing the avenues to it, are the cause. And people are much to blame to represent it to children for a thing of so difficult access, and with such a frowning, grim, and formidable aspect. Who is it that has disguised it thus, with this false, pale, and ghostly countenance? There is nothing more airy, more gay, more frolic, and I had like to have said, more wanton. She preaches nothing but feasting and jollity; a melancholic anxious look shows that she does not inhabit there. Demetrius the grammarian finding in the temple of Delphos a knot of philosophers set chatting together, said to them,—[Plutarch, Treatise on Oracles which have ceased]—”Either I am much deceived, or by your cheerful and pleasant countenances, you are engaged in no, very deep discourse.” To which one of them, Heracleon the Megarean, replied: “Tis for such as are puzzled about inquiring whether the future tense of the verb ——— is spelt with a double A, or that hunt after the derivation of the comparatives ——- and ——-, and the superlatives —— and ———, to knit their brows whilst discoursing of their science: but as to philosophical discourses, they always divert and cheer up those that entertain them, and never deject them or make them sad.”

“Deprendas animi tormenta latentis in aegro Corpore; deprendas et gaudia; sumit utrumque Inde habitum facies.” [“You may discern the torments of mind lurking in a sick body; you may discern its joys: either expression the face assumes from the      mind.”—Juvenal, ix. 18]

The soul that lodges philosophy, ought to be of such a constitution of health, as to render the body in like manner healthful too; she ought to make her tranquillity and satisfaction shine so as to appear without, and her contentment ought to fashion the outward behaviour to her own mould, and consequently to fortify it with a graceful confidence, an active and joyous carriage, and a serene and contented countenance. The most manifest sign of wisdom is a continual cheerfulness; her state is like that of things in the regions above the moon, always clear and serene. ‘Tis Baroco and Baralipton—[Two terms of the ancient scholastic logic.]—that render their disciples so dirty and ill-favoured, and not she; they do not so much as know her but by hearsay. What! It is she that calms and appeases the storms and tempests of the soul, and who teaches famine and fevers to laugh and sing; and that, not by certain imaginary epicycles, but by natural and manifest reasons. She has virtue for her end, which is not, as the schoolmen say, situate upon the summit of a perpendicular, rugged, inaccessible precipice: such as have approached her find her, quite on the contrary, to be seated in a fair, fruitful, and flourishing plain, whence she easily discovers all things below; to which place any one may, however, arrive, if he know but the way, through shady, green, and sweetly-flourishing avenues, by a pleasant, easy, and smooth descent, like that of the celestial vault. ‘Tis for not having frequented this supreme, this beautiful, triumphant, and amiable, this equally delicious and courageous virtue, this so professed and implacable enemy to anxiety, sorrow, fear, and constraint, who, having nature for her guide, has fortune and pleasure for her companions, that they have gone, according to their own weak imagination, and created this ridiculous, this sorrowful, querulous, despiteful, threatening, terrible image of it to themselves and others, and placed it upon a rock apart, amongst thorns and brambles, and made of it a hobgoblin to affright people.

But the governor that I would have, that is such a one as knows it to be his duty to possess his pupil with as much or more affection than reverence to virtue, will be able to inform him, that the poets have evermore accommodated themselves to the public humour, and make him sensible, that the gods have planted more toil and sweat in the avenues of the cabinets of Venus than in those of Minerva. And when he shall once find him begin to apprehend, and shall represent to him a Bradamante or an Angelica—[Heroines of Ariosto.]—for a mistress, a natural, active, generous, and not a viragoish, but a manly beauty, in comparison of a soft, delicate, artificial simpering, and affected form; the one in the habit of a heroic youth, wearing a glittering helmet, the other tricked up in curls and ribbons like a wanton minx; he will then look upon his own affection as brave and masculine, when he shall choose quite contrary to that effeminate shepherd of Phrygia.

Such a tutor will make a pupil digest this new lesson, that the height and value of true virtue consists in the facility, utility, and pleasure of its exercise; so far from difficulty, that boys, as well as men, and the innocent as well as the subtle, may make it their own; it is by order, and not by force, that it is to be acquired. Socrates, her first minion, is so averse to all manner of violence, as totally to throw it aside, to slip into the more natural facility of her own progress; ’tis the nursing mother of all human pleasures, who in rendering them just, renders them also pure and permanent; in moderating them, keeps them in breath and appetite; in interdicting those which she herself refuses, whets our desire to those that she allows; and, like a kind and liberal mother, abundantly allows all that nature requires, even to satiety, if not to lassitude: unless we mean to say that the regimen which stops the toper before he has drunk himself drunk, the glutton before he has eaten to a surfeit, and the lecher before he has got the pox, is an enemy to pleasure. If the ordinary fortune fail, she does without it, and forms another, wholly her own, not so fickle and unsteady as the other. She can be rich, be potent and wise, and knows how to lie upon soft perfumed beds: she loves life, beauty, glory, and health; but her proper and peculiar office is to know how to regulate the use of all these good things, and how to lose them without concern: an office much more noble than troublesome, and without which the whole course of life is unnatural, turbulent, and deformed, and there it is indeed, that men may justly represent those monsters upon rocks and precipices.

If this pupil shall happen to be of so contrary a disposition, that he had rather hear a tale of a tub than the true narrative of some noble expedition or some wise and learned discourse; who at the beat of drum, that excites the youthful ardour of his companions, leaves that to follow another that calls to a morris or the bears; who would not wish, and find it more delightful and more excellent, to return all dust and sweat victorious from a battle, than from tennis or from a ball, with the prize of those exercises; I see no other remedy, but that he be bound prentice in some good town to learn to make minced pies, though he were the son of a duke; according to Plato’s precept, that children are to be placed out and disposed of, not according to the wealth, qualities, or condition of the father, but according to the faculties and the capacity of their own souls.

Since philosophy is that which instructs us to live, and that infancy has there its lessons as well as other ages, why is it not communicated to children betimes?

“Udum et molle lutum est; nunc, nunc properandus, et acri Fingendus sine fine rota.” [“The clay is moist and soft: now, now make haste, and form the pitcher on the rapid wheel.”—Persius, iii. 23.]

They begin to teach us to live when we have almost done living. A hundred students have got the pox before they have come to read Aristotle’s lecture on temperance. Cicero said, that though he should live two men’s ages, he should never find leisure to study the lyric poets; and I find these sophisters yet more deplorably unprofitable. The boy we would breed has a great deal less time to spare; he owes but the first fifteen or sixteen years of his life to education; the remainder is due to action. Let us, therefore, employ that short time in necessary instruction. Away with the thorny subtleties of dialectics; they are abuses, things by which our lives can never be amended: take the plain philosophical discourses, learn how rightly to choose, and then rightly to apply them; they are more easy to be understood than one of Boccaccio’s novels; a child from nurse is much more capable of them, than of learning to read or to write. Philosophy has discourses proper for childhood, as well as for the decrepit age of men.

I am of Plutarch’s mind, that Aristotle did not so much trouble his great disciple with the knack of forming syllogisms, or with the elements of geometry; as with infusing into him good precepts concerning valour, prowess, magnanimity, temperance, and the contempt of fear; and with this ammunition, sent him, whilst yet a boy, with no more than thirty thousand foot, four thousand horse, and but forty-two thousand crowns, to subjugate the empire of the whole earth. For the other acts and sciences, he says, Alexander highly indeed commended their excellence and charm, and had them in very great honour and esteem, but not ravished with them to that degree as to be tempted to affect the practice of them In his own person:

“Petite hinc, juvenesque senesque, Finem ammo certum, miserisque viatica canis.” [“Young men and old men, derive hence a certain end to the mind, and stores for miserable grey hairs.”—Persius, v. 64.]

Epicurus, in the beginning of his letter to Meniceus,—[Diogenes Laertius, x. 122.]—says, “That neither the youngest should refuse to philosophise, nor the oldest grow weary of it.” Who does otherwise, seems tacitly to imply, that either the time of living happily is not yet come, or that it is already past. And yet, a for all that, I would not have this pupil of ours imprisoned and made a slave to his book; nor would I have him given up to the morosity and melancholic humour of a sour ill-natured pedant.

I would not have his spirit cowed and subdued, by applying him to the rack, and tormenting him, as some do, fourteen or fifteen hours a day, and so make a pack-horse of him. Neither should I think it good, when, by reason of a solitary and melancholic complexion, he is discovered to be overmuch addicted to his book, to nourish that humour in him; for that renders him unfit for civil conversation, and diverts him from better employments. And how many have I seen in my time totally brutified by an immoderate thirst after knowledge? Carneades was so besotted with it, that he would not find time so much as to comb his head or to pare his nails. Neither would I have his generous manners spoiled and corrupted by the incivility and barbarism of those of another. The French wisdom was anciently turned into proverb: “Early, but of no continuance.” And, in truth, we yet see, that nothing can be more ingenious and pleasing than the children of France; but they ordinarily deceive the hope and expectation that have been conceived of them; and grown up to be men, have nothing extraordinary or worth taking notice of: I have heard men of good understanding say, these colleges of ours to which we send our young people (and of which we have but too many) make them such animals as they are.—[Hobbes said that if he Had been at college as long as other people he should have been as great a blockhead as they. W.C.H.] [And Bacon before Hobbe’s time had discussed the “futility” of university teaching. D.W.]

But to our little monsieur, a closet, a garden, the table, his bed, solitude, and company, morning and evening, all hours shall be the same, and all places to him a study; for philosophy, who, as the formatrix of judgment and manners, shall be his principal lesson, has that privilege to have a hand in everything. The orator Isocrates, being at a feast entreated to speak of his art, all the company were satisfied with and commended his answer: “It is not now a time,” said he, “to do what I can do; and that which it is now time to do, I cannot do.”—[Plutarch, Symp., i. I.]—For to make orations and rhetorical disputes in a company met together to laugh and make good cheer, had been very unreasonable and improper, and as much might have been said of all the other sciences. But as to what concerns philosophy, that part of it at least that treats of man, and of his offices and duties, it has been the common opinion of all wise men, that, out of respect to the sweetness of her conversation, she is ever to be admitted in all sports and entertainments. And Plato, having invited her to his feast, we see after how gentle and obliging a manner, accommodated both to time and place, she entertained the company, though in a discourse of the highest and most important nature:

“Aeque pauperibus prodest, locupletibus aeque; Et, neglecta, aeque pueris senibusque nocebit.” [“It profits poor and rich alike, but, neglected, equally hurts old and young.”—Horace, Ep., i. 25.]

By this method of instruction, my young pupil will be much more and better employed than his fellows of the college are. But as the steps we take in walking to and fro in a gallery, though three times as many, do not tire a man so much as those we employ in a formal journey, so our lesson, as it were accidentally occurring, without any set obligation of time or place, and falling naturally into every action, will insensibly insinuate itself. By which means our very exercises and recreations, running, wrestling, music, dancing, hunting, riding, and fencing, will prove to be a good part of our study. I would have his outward fashion and mien, and the disposition of his limbs, formed at the same time with his mind. ‘Tis not a soul, ’tis not a body that we are training up, but a man, and we ought not to divide him. And, as Plato says, we are not to fashion one without the other, but make them draw together like two horses harnessed to a coach. By which saying of his, does he not seem to allow more time for, and to take more care of exercises for the body, and to hold that the mind, in a good proportion, does her business at the same time too?

As to the rest, this method of education ought to be carried on with a severe sweetness, quite contrary to the practice of our pedants, who, instead of tempting and alluring children to letters by apt and gentle ways, do in truth present nothing before them but rods and ferules, horror and cruelty. Away with this violence! away with this compulsion! than which, I certainly believe nothing more dulls and degenerates a well-descended nature. If you would have him apprehend shame and chastisement, do not harden him to them: inure him to heat and cold, to wind and sun, and to dangers that he ought to despise; wean him from all effeminacy and delicacy in clothes and lodging, eating and drinking; accustom him to everything, that he may not be a Sir Paris, a carpet-knight, but a sinewy, hardy, and vigorous young man. I have ever from a child to the age wherein I now am, been of this opinion, and am still constant to it. But amongst other things, the strict government of most of our colleges has evermore displeased me; peradventure, they might have erred less perniciously on the indulgent side. ‘Tis a real house of correction of imprisoned youth. They are made debauched by being punished before they are so. Do but come in when they are about their lesson, and you shall hear nothing but the outcries of boys under execution, with the thundering noise of their pedagogues drunk with fury. A very pretty way this, to tempt these tender and timorous souls to love their book, with a furious countenance, and a rod in hand! A cursed and pernicious way of proceeding! Besides what Quintilian has very well observed, that this imperious authority is often attended by very dangerous consequences, and particularly our way of chastising. How much more decent would it be to see their classes strewed with green leaves and fine flowers, than with the bloody stumps of birch and willows? Were it left to my ordering. I should paint the school with the pictures of joy and gladness; Flora and the Graces, as the philosopher Speusippus did his. Where their profit is, let them there have their pleasure too. Such viands as are proper and wholesome for children, should be sweetened with sugar, and such as are dangerous to them, embittered with gall. ‘Tis marvellous to see how solicitous Plato is in his Laws concerning the gaiety and diversion of the youth of his city, and how much and often he enlarges upon the races, sports, songs, leaps, and dances: of which, he says, that antiquity has given the ordering and patronage particularly to the gods themselves, to Apollo, Minerva, and the Muses. He insists long upon, and is very particular in, giving innumerable precepts for exercises; but as to the lettered sciences, says very little, and only seems particularly to recommend poetry upon the account of music.

All singularity in our manners and conditions is to be avoided, as inconsistent with civil society. Who would not be astonished at so strange a constitution as that of Demophoon, steward to Alexander the Great, who sweated in the shade and shivered in the sun? I have seen those who have run from the smell of a mellow apple with greater precipitation than from a harquebuss-shot; others afraid of a mouse; others vomit at the sight of cream; others ready to swoon at the making of a feather bed; Germanicus could neither endure the sight nor the crowing of a cock. I will not deny, but that there may, peradventure, be some occult cause and natural aversion in these cases; but, in my opinion, a man might conquer it, if he took it in time. Precept has in this wrought so effectually upon me, though not without some pains on my part, I confess, that beer excepted, my appetite accommodates itself indifferently to all sorts of diet. Young bodies are supple; one should, therefore, in that age bend and ply them to all fashions and customs: and provided a man can contain the appetite and the will within their due limits, let a young man, in God’s name, be rendered fit for all nations and all companies, even to debauchery and excess, if need be; that is, where he shall do it out of complacency to the customs of the place. Let him be able to do everything, but love to do nothing but what is good. The philosophers themselves do not justify Callisthenes for forfeiting the favour of his master Alexander the Great, by refusing to pledge him a cup of wine. Let him laugh, play, wench with his prince: nay, I would have him, even in his debauches, too hard for the rest of the company, and to excel his companions in ability and vigour, and that he may not give over doing it, either through defect of power or knowledge how to do it, but for want of will.

“Multum interest, utrum peccare ali quis nolit, an nesciat.” [“There is a vast difference betwixt forbearing to sin, and not      knowing how to sin.”—Seneca, Ep., 90]

I thought I passed a compliment upon a lord, as free from those excesses as any man in France, by asking him before a great deal of very good company, how many times in his life he had been drunk in Germany, in the time of his being there about his Majesty’s affairs; which he also took as it was intended, and made answer, “Three times”; and withal told us the whole story of his debauches. I know some who, for want of this faculty, have found a great inconvenience in negotiating with that nation. I have often with great admiration reflected upon the wonderful constitution of Alcibiades, who so easily could transform himself to so various fashions without any prejudice to his health; one while outdoing the Persian pomp and luxury, and another, the Lacedaemonian austerity and frugality; as reformed in Sparta, as voluptuous in Ionia:

“Omnis Aristippum decuit color, et status, et res.” [“Every complexion of life, and station, and circumstance became      Aristippus.”—Horace, Ep., xvii. 23.]

I would have my pupil to be such an one,

“Quem duplici panno patentia velat, Mirabor, vitae via si conversa decebit, Personamque feret non inconcinnus utramque.” [“I should admire him who with patience bearing a patched garment, bears well a changed fortune, acting both parts equally well.”      —Horace Ep., xvii. 25.]

These are my lessons, and he who puts them in practice shall reap more advantage than he who has had them read to him only, and so only knows them. If you see him, you hear him; if you hear him, you see him. God forbid, says one in Plato, that to philosophise were only to read a great many books, and to learn the arts.

“Hanc amplissimam omnium artium bene vivendi disciplinam, vita magis quam literis, persequuti sunt.”  [“They have proceeded to this discipline of living well, which of      all arts is the greatest, by their lives, rather than by their reading.”—Cicero, Tusc. Quaes., iv. 3.]

Leo, prince of the Phliasians, asking Heraclides Ponticus—[It was not Heraclides of Pontus who made this answer, but Pythagoras.]—of what art or science he made profession: “I know,” said he, “neither art nor science, but I am a philosopher.” One reproaching Diogenes that, being ignorant, he should pretend to philosophy; “I therefore,” answered he, “pretend to it with so much the more reason.” Hegesias entreated that he would read a certain book to him: “You are pleasant,” said he; “you choose those figs that are true and natural, and not those that are painted; why do you not also choose exercises which are naturally true, rather than those written?”

The lad will not so much get his lesson by heart as he will practise it: he will repeat it in his actions. We shall discover if there be prudence in his exercises, if there be sincerity and justice in his deportment, if there be grace and judgment in his speaking; if there be constancy in his sickness; if there be modesty in his mirth, temperance in his pleasures, order in his domestic economy, indifference in palate, whether what he eats or drinks be flesh or fish, wine or water:

“Qui disciplinam suam non ostentationem scientiae, sed legem vitae      putet: quique obtemperet ipse sibi, et decretis pareat.” [“Who considers his own discipline, not as a vain ostentation of      science, but as a law and rule of life; and who obeys his own decrees, and the laws he has prescribed for himself.” —Cicero, Tusc.  Quaes., ii. 4.]

The conduct of our lives is the true mirror of our doctrine. Zeuxidamus, to one who asked him, why the Lacedaemonians did not commit their constitutions of chivalry to writing, and deliver them to their young men to read, made answer, that it was because they would inure them to action, and not amuse them with words. With such a one, after fifteen or sixteen years’ study, compare one of our college Latinists, who has thrown away so much time in nothing but learning to speak. The world is nothing but babble; and I hardly ever yet saw that man who did not rather prate too much, than speak too little. And yet half of our age is embezzled this way: we are kept four or five years to learn words only, and to tack them together into clauses; as many more to form them into a long discourse, divided into four or five parts; and other five years, at least, to learn succinctly to mix and interweave them after a subtle and intricate manner let us leave all this to those who make a profession of it.

Going one day to Orleans, I met in that plain on this side Clery, two pedants who were travelling towards Bordeaux, about fifty paces distant from one another; and, a good way further behind them, I discovered a troop of horse, with a gentleman at the head of them, who was the late Monsieur le Comte de la Rochefoucauld. One of my people inquired of the foremost of these masters of arts, who that gentleman was that came after him; he, having not seen the train that followed after, and thinking his companion was meant, pleasantly answered, “He is not a gentleman; he is a grammarian; and I am a logician.” Now we who, quite contrary, do not here pretend to breed a grammarian or a logician, but a gentleman, let us leave them to abuse their leisure; our business lies elsewhere. Let but our pupil be well furnished with things, words will follow but too fast; he will pull them after him if they do not voluntarily follow. I have observed some to make excuses, that they cannot express themselves, and pretend to have their fancies full of a great many very fine things, which yet, for want of eloquence, they cannot utter; ’tis a mere shift, and nothing else. Will you know what I think of it? I think they are nothing but shadows of some imperfect images and conceptions that they know not what to make of within, nor consequently bring out; they do not yet themselves understand what they would be at, and if you but observe how they haggle and stammer upon the point of parturition, you will soon conclude, that their labour is not to delivery, but about conception, and that they are but licking their formless embryo. For my part, I hold, and Socrates commands it, that whoever has in his mind a sprightly and clear imagination, he will express it well enough in one kind of tongue or another, and, if he be dumb, by signs—

“Verbaque praevisam rem non invita sequentur;” [“Once a thing is conceived in the mind, the words to express it soon present themselves.” (“The words will not reluctantly follow the thing preconceived.”)—Horace, De Arte Poetica. v. 311]

And as another as poetically says in his prose:

“Quum res animum occupavere, verbs ambiunt,” [“When things are once in the mind, the words offer themselves  readily.”  (“When things have taken possession of the mind, the words trip.”)—Seneca, Controvers., iii.  proem.]

and this other.

“Ipsae res verbs rapiunt.” [“The things themselves force the words to express them.”      —Cicero, De Finib., iii.  5.]

He knows nothing of ablative, conjunctive, substantive, or grammar, no more than his lackey, or a fishwife of the Petit Pont; and yet these will give you a bellyful of talk, if you will hear them, and peradventure shall trip as little in their language as the best masters of art in France. He knows no rhetoric, nor how in a preface to bribe the benevolence of the courteous reader; neither does he care to know it. Indeed all this fine decoration of painting is easily effaced by the lustre of a simple and blunt truth; these fine flourishes serve only to amuse the vulgar, of themselves incapable of more solid and nutritive diet, as Aper very evidently demonstrates in Tacitus. The ambassadors of Samos, prepared with a long and elegant oration, came to Cleomenes, king of Sparta, to incite him to a war against the tyrant Polycrates; who, after he had heard their harangue with great gravity and patience, gave them this answer: “As to the exordium, I remember it not, nor consequently the middle of your speech; and for what concerns your conclusion, I will not do what you desire:”—[Plutarch, Apothegms of the Lacedaemonians.]—a very pretty answer this, methinks, and a pack of learned orators most sweetly gravelled. And what did the other man say? The Athenians were to choose one of two architects for a very great building they had designed; of these, the first, a pert affected fellow, offered his service in a long premeditated discourse upon the subject of the work in hand, and by his oratory inclined the voices of the people in his favour; but the other in three words: “O Athenians, what this man says, I will do.”—[Plutarch, Instructions to Statesmen, c. 4.]— When Cicero was in the height and heat of an eloquent harangue, many were struck with admiration; but Cato only laughed, saying, “We have a pleasant (mirth-making) consul.” Let it go before, or come after, a good sentence or a thing well said, is always in season; if it neither suit well with what went before, nor has much coherence with what follows after, it is good in itself. I am none of those who think that good rhyme makes a good poem. Let him make short long, and long short if he will, ’tis no great matter; if there be invention, and that the wit and judgment have well performed their offices, I will say, here’s a good poet, but an ill rhymer.

“Emunctae naris, durus componere versus.” [“Of delicate humour, but of rugged versification.”  —Horace, Sat, iv. 8.]

Let a man, says Horace, divest his work of all method and measure,

“Tempora certa modosque, et, quod prius ordine verbum est, Posterius facias, praeponens ultima primis Invenias etiam disjecti membra poetae.” [“Take away certain rhythms and measures, and make the word which      was first in order come later, putting that which should be last first, you will still find the scattered remains of the poet.”      —Horace, Sat., i. 4, 58.]

he will never the more lose himself for that; the very pieces will be fine by themselves. Menander’s answer had this meaning, who being reproved by a friend, the time drawing on at which he had promised a comedy, that he had not yet fallen in hand with it; “It is made, and ready,” said he, “all but the verses.”—[Plutarch, Whether the Athenians more excelled in Arms or in Letters.]—Having contrived the subject, and disposed the scenes in his fancy, he took little care for the rest. Since Ronsard and Du Bellay have given reputation to our French poesy, every little dabbler, for aught I see, swells his words as high, and makes his cadences very near as harmonious as they:

“Plus sonat, quam valet.” [“More sound than sense”—Seneca, Ep., 40.]

For the vulgar, there were never so many poetasters as now; but though they find it no hard matter to imitate their rhyme, they yet fall infinitely short of imitating the rich descriptions of the one, and the delicate invention of the other of these masters.

But what will become of our young gentleman, if he be attacked with the sophistic subtlety of some syllogism? “A Westfalia ham makes a man drink; drink quenches thirst: ergo a Westfalia ham quenches thirst.” Why, let him laugh at it; it will be more discretion to do so, than to go about to answer it; or let him borrow this pleasant evasion from Aristippus: “Why should I trouble myself to untie that, which bound as it is, gives me so much trouble?”—[Diogenes Laertius, ii. 70.]— One offering at this dialectic juggling against Cleanthes, Chrysippus took him short, saying, “Reserve these baubles to play with children, and do not by such fooleries divert the serious thoughts of a man of years.” If these ridiculous subtleties, “Contorta et aculeata sophismata,” as Cicero calls them, are designed to possess him with an untruth, they are dangerous; but if they signify no more than only to make him laugh, I do not see why a man need to be fortified against them. There are some so ridiculous, as to go a mile out of their way to hook in a fine word:

“Aut qui non verba rebus aptant, sed res extrinsecus arcessunt, quibus verba conveniant.” [“Who do not fit words to the subject, but seek out for things quite from the purpose to fit the words.”—Quintilian, viii. 3.]

And as another says,

“Qui, alicujus verbi decore placentis, vocentur ad id, quod non proposuerant scribere.”[“Who by their fondness of some fine sounding word, are tempted to      something they had no intention to treat of.”—Seneca, Ep., 59.]

I for my part rather bring in a fine sentence by head and shoulders to fit my purpose, than divert my designs to hunt after a sentence. On the contrary, words are to serve, and to follow a man’s purpose; and let Gascon come in play where French will not do. I would have things so excelling, and so wholly possessing the imagination of him that hears, that he should have something else to do, than to think of words. The way of speaking that I love, is natural and plain, the same in writing as in speaking, and a sinewy and muscular way of expressing a man’s self, short and pithy, not so elegant and artificial as prompt and vehement;

“Haec demum sapiet dictio, qux feriet;” [“That has most weight and wisdom which pierces the ear.” (“That      utterance indeed will have a taste which shall strike the ear.”) —Epitaph on Lucan, in Fabricius, Biblioth.  Lat., ii. 10.]

rather hard than wearisome; free from affectation; irregular, incontinuous, and bold; where every piece makes up an entire body; not like a pedant, a preacher, or a pleader, but rather a soldier-like style, as Suetonius calls that of Julius Caesar; and yet I see no reason why he should call it so. I have ever been ready to imitate the negligent garb, which is yet observable amongst the young men of our time, to wear my cloak on one shoulder, my cap on one side, a stocking in disorder, which seems to express a kind of haughty disdain of these exotic ornaments, and a contempt of the artificial; but I find this negligence of much better use in the form of speaking. All affectation, particularly in the French gaiety and freedom, is ungraceful in a courtier, and in a monarchy every gentleman ought to be fashioned according to the court model; for which reason, an easy and natural negligence does well. I no more like a web where the knots and seams are to be seen, than a fine figure, so delicate, that a man may tell all the bones and veins:

“Quae veritati operam dat oratio, incomposita sit et simplex.” [“Let the language that is dedicated to truth be plain and      unaffected.—Seneca, Ep. 40.]

“Quis accurat loquitur, nisi qui vult putide loqui?” [“For who studies to speak accurately, that does not at the same      time wish to perplex his auditory?”—Idem, Ep., 75.]

That eloquence prejudices the subject it would advance, that wholly attracts us to itself. And as in our outward habit, ’tis a ridiculous effeminacy to distinguish ourselves by a particular and unusual garb or fashion; so in language, to study new phrases, and to affect words that are not of current use, proceeds from a puerile and scholastic ambition. May I be bound to speak no other language than what is spoken in the market-places of Paris! Aristophanes the grammarian was quite out, when he reprehended Epicurus for his plain way of delivering himself, and the design of his oratory, which was only perspicuity of speech. The imitation of words, by its own facility, immediately disperses itself through a whole people; but the imitation of inventing and fitly applying those words is of a slower progress. The generality of readers, for having found a like robe, very mistakingly imagine they have the same body and inside too, whereas force and sinews are never to be borrowed; the gloss, and outward ornament, that is, words and elocution, may. Most of those I converse with, speak the same language I here write; but whether they think the same thoughts I cannot say. The Athenians, says Plato, study fulness and elegancy of speaking; the Lacedaemonians affect brevity, and those of Crete to aim more at the fecundity of conception than the fertility of speech; and these are the best. Zeno used to say that he had two sorts of disciples, one that he called cy——-ous, curious to learn things, and these were his favourites; the other, aoy—-ous, that cared for nothing but words. Not that fine speaking is not a very good and commendable quality; but not so excellent and so necessary as some would make it; and I am scandalised that our whole life should be spent in nothing else. I would first understand my own language, and that of my neighbours, with whom most of my business and conversation lies.

No doubt but Greek and Latin are very great ornaments, and of very great use, but we buy them too dear. I will here discover one way, which has been experimented in my own person, by which they are to be had better cheap, and such may make use of it as will. My late father having made the most precise inquiry that any man could possibly make amongst men of the greatest learning and judgment, of an exact method of education, was by them cautioned of this inconvenience then in use, and made to believe, that the tedious time we applied to the learning of the tongues of them who had them for nothing, was the sole cause we could not arrive to the grandeur of soul and perfection of knowledge, of the ancient Greeks and Romans. I do not, however, believe that to be the only cause. So it is, that the expedient my father found out for this was, that in my infancy, and before I began to speak, he committed me to the care of a German, who since died a famous physician in France, totally ignorant of our language, and very fluent and a great critic in Latin. This man, whom he had fetched out of his own country, and whom he entertained with a great salary for this only one end, had me continually with him; he had with him also joined two others, of inferior learning, to attend me, and to relieve him; these spoke to me in no other language but Latin. As to the rest of his household, it was an inviolable rule, that neither himself, nor my mother, nor valet, nor chambermaid, should speak anything in my company, but such Latin words as each one had learned to gabble with me. —[These passages are, the basis of a small volume by the Abbe Mangin: “Education de Montaigne; ou, L’Art d’enseigner le Latin a l’instar des meres latines.”]—It is not to be imagined how great an advantage this proved to the whole family; my father and my mother by this means learned Latin enough to understand it perfectly well, and to speak it to such a degree as was sufficient for any necessary use; as also those of the servants did who were most frequently with me. In short, we Latined it at such a rate, that it overflowed to all the neighbouring villages, where there yet remain, that have established themselves by custom, several Latin appellations of artisans and their tools. As for what concerns myself, I was above six years of age before I understood either French or Perigordin, any more than Arabic; and without art, book, grammar, or precept, whipping, or the expense of a tear, I had, by that time, learned to speak as pure Latin as my master himself, for I had no means of mixing it up with any other. If, for example, they were to give me a theme after the college fashion, they gave it to others in French; but to me they were to give it in bad Latin, to turn it into that which was good. And Nicolas Grouchy, who wrote a book De Comitiis Romanorum; Guillaume Guerente, who wrote a comment upon Aristotle: George Buchanan, that great Scottish poet: and Marc Antoine Muret (whom both France and Italy have acknowledged for the best orator of his time), my domestic tutors, have all of them often told me that I had in my infancy that language so very fluent and ready, that they were afraid to enter into discourse with me. And particularly Buchanan, whom I since saw attending the late Mareschal de Brissac, then told me, that he was about to write a treatise of education, the example of which he intended to take from mine; for he was then tutor to that Comte de Brissac who afterward proved so valiant and so brave a gentleman.

As to Greek, of which I have but a mere smattering, my father also designed to have it taught me by a device, but a new one, and by way of sport; tossing our declensions to and fro, after the manner of those who, by certain games of tables, learn geometry and arithmetic. For he, amongst other rules, had been advised to make me relish science and duty by an unforced will, and of my own voluntary motion, and to educate my soul in all liberty and delight, without any severity or constraint; which he was an observer of to such a degree, even of superstition, if I may say so, that some being of opinion that it troubles and disturbs the brains of children suddenly to wake them in the morning, and to snatch them violently—and over-hastily from sleep (wherein they are much more profoundly involved than we), he caused me to be wakened by the sound of some musical instrument, and was never unprovided of a musician for that purpose. By this example you may judge of the rest, this alone being sufficient to recommend both the prudence and the affection of so good a father, who is not to be blamed if he did not reap fruits answerable to so exquisite a culture. Of this, two things were the cause: first, a sterile and improper soil; for, though I was of a strong and healthful constitution, and of a disposition tolerably sweet and tractable, yet I was, withal, so heavy, idle, and indisposed, that they could not rouse me from my sloth, not even to get me out to play. What I saw, I saw clearly enough, and under this heavy complexion nourished a bold imagination and opinions above my age. I had a slow wit that would go no faster than it was led; a tardy understanding, a languishing invention, and above all, incredible defect of memory; so that, it is no wonder, if from all these nothing considerable could be extracted. Secondly, like those who, impatient of along and steady cure, submit to all sorts of prescriptions and recipes, the good man being extremely timorous of any way failing in a thing he had so wholly set his heart upon, suffered himself at last to be overruled by the common opinions, which always follow their leader as a flight of cranes, and complying with the method of the time, having no more those persons he had brought out of Italy, and who had given him the first model of education, about him, he sent me at six years of age to the College of Guienne, at that time the best and most flourishing in France. And there it was not possible to add anything to the care he had to provide me the most able tutors, with all other circumstances of education, reserving also several particular rules contrary to the college practice; but so it was, that with all these precautions, it was a college still. My Latin immediately grew corrupt, of which also by discontinuance I have since lost all manner of use; so that this new way of education served me to no other end, than only at my first coming to prefer me to the first forms; for at thirteen years old, that I came out of the college, I had run through my whole course (as they call it), and, in truth, without any manner of advantage, that I can honestly brag of, in all this time.

The first taste which I had for books came to me from the pleasure in reading the fables of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; for, being about seven or eight years old, I gave up all other diversions to read them, both by reason that this was my own natural language, the easiest book that I was acquainted with, and for the subject, the most accommodated to the capacity of my age: for as for the Lancelot of the Lake, the Amadis of Gaul, the Huon of Bordeaux, and such farragos, by which children are most delighted with, I had never so much as heard their names, no more than I yet know what they contain; so exact was the discipline wherein I was brought up. But this was enough to make me neglect the other lessons that were prescribed me; and here it was infinitely to my advantage, to have to do with an understanding tutor, who very well knew discreetly to connive at this and other truantries of the same nature; for by this means I ran through Virgil’s AEneid, and then Terence, and then Plautus, and then some Italian comedies, allured by the sweetness of the subject; whereas had he been so foolish as to have taken me off this diversion, I do really believe, I had brought away nothing from the college but a hatred of books, as almost all our young gentlemen do. But he carried himself very discreetly in that business, seeming to take no notice, and allowing me only such time as I could steal from my other regular studies, which whetted my appetite to devour those books. For the chief things my father expected from their endeavours to whom he had delivered me for education, were affability and good-humour; and, to say the truth, my manners had no other vice but sloth and want of metal. The fear was not that I should do ill, but that I should do nothing; nobody prognosticated that I should be wicked, but only useless; they foresaw idleness, but no malice; and I find it falls out accordingly: The complaints I hear of myself are these: “He is idle, cold in the offices of friendship and relation, and in those of the public, too particular, too disdainful.” But the most injurious do not say, “Why has he taken such a thing? Why has he not paid such an one?” but, “Why does he part with nothing? Why does he not give?” And I should take it for a favour that men would expect from me no greater effects of supererogation than these. But they are unjust to exact from me what I do not owe, far more rigorously than they require from others that which they do owe. In condemning me to it, they efface the gratification of the action, and deprive me of the gratitude that would be my due for it; whereas the active well-doing ought to be of so much the greater value from my hands, by how much I have never been passive that way at all. I can the more freely dispose of my fortune the more it is mine, and of myself the more I am my own. Nevertheless, if I were good at setting out my own actions, I could, peradventure, very well repel these reproaches, and could give some to understand, that they are not so much offended, that I do not enough, as that I am able to do a great deal more than I do.

Yet for all this heavy disposition of mine, my mind, when retired into itself, was not altogether without strong movements, solid and clear judgments about those objects it could comprehend, and could also, without any helps, digest them; but, amongst other things, I do really believe, it had been totally impossible to have made it to submit by violence and force. Shall I here acquaint you with one faculty of my youth? I had great assurance of countenance, and flexibility of voice and gesture, in applying myself to any part I undertook to act: for before—

“Alter ab undecimo tum me vix ceperat annus,” [“I had just entered my twelfth year.”—Virgil, Bucol., 39.]

I played the chief parts in the Latin tragedies of Buchanan, Guerente, and Muret, that were presented in our College of Guienne with great dignity: now Andreas Goveanus, our principal, as in all other parts of his charge, was, without comparison, the best of that employment in France; and I was looked upon as one of the best actors. ‘Tis an exercise that I do not disapprove in young people of condition; and I have since seen our princes, after the example of some of the ancients, in person handsomely and commendably perform these exercises; it was even allowed to persons of quality to make a profession of it in Greece.

“Aristoni tragico actori rem aperit: huic et genus et fortuna honesta erant: nec ars, quia nihil tale apud Graecos pudori est, ea deformabat.” [“He imparted this matter to Aristo the tragedian; a man of good family and fortune, which neither of them receive any blemish by that profession; nothing of this kind being reputed a disparagement in Greece.”—Livy, xxiv. 24.]

Nay, I have always taxed those with impertinence who condemn these entertainments, and with injustice those who refuse to admit such comedians as are worth seeing into our good towns, and grudge the people that public diversion. Well-governed corporations take care to assemble their citizens, not only to the solemn duties of devotion, but also to sports and spectacles. They find society and friendship augmented by it; and besides, can there possibly be allowed a more orderly and regular diversion than what is performed m the sight of every one, and very often in the presence of the supreme magistrate himself? And I, for my part, should think it reasonable, that the prince should sometimes gratify his people at his own expense, out of paternal goodness and affection; and that in populous cities there should be theatres erected for such entertainments, if but to divert them from worse and private actions.

To return to my subject, there is nothing like alluring the appetite and affections; otherwise you make nothing but so many asses laden with books; by dint of the lash, you give them their pocketful of learning to keep; whereas, to do well you should not only lodge it with them, but make them espouse it.

‘Approach-Method-Technique’: An Introduction to Milan, Post-Milan and Social Constructionism


burnham boats
burnham boats (Photo credit: akosikenet)

1. Curiosity & Co-Construction

§ Introduction: A model for identifying differences in Approach Method and Technique

Let’s begin by turning first to Burnham’s (1992) paper, in particular, where he outlined a coherent model for differentiating between types of systemic activity and how those activities might be viewed as relating when working within a systemic practice framework. We will then see whether and how Burnham’s (1992) AMT model might also be useful to understand both the movement of approaches, methods and techniques from Milan (e.g. Selvini et al., 1978) to post-Milan (e.g. Cecchin, 1987) and CMM (e.g. Pearce and Cronen, 1980; Cronen, Johnson and Lannaman, 1982; Lang, Little & Cronen, 1990) in the service of a coherent structure for a more general understanding of the implications of social constructionist thought on systemic thought during this period.

In his paper Burnham (1992) suggests that his systemic thinking and practice might be explained using an Approach – Method – Technique (AMT) model. The AMT model seeks to make clear both the context for and the implications of deriving meaning from a hierarchically organised, theoretically and clinically coherent, and recursively connected systemic model of working (following CMM, see below). Burnham’s (1992) influences are many and varied, however he plainly locates meaning as something derived from a context (pace Bateson 1974) and the two terms themselves (i.e. context and meaning) as acting in a recursive relation to one another (pace Pearce & Cronen, 1980; see below CMM).

Burnham (1992) locates and offers to define each term in the AMT model in the following way:

  • Approach – Lenses and dispositions in a recursive relation; Reliant upon abstraction (i.e. metacommunication) – learning to learn (see Bateson, 1972); e.g. family system understood as if a human system.
  • Method – Different practices which serve to organise an approach e.g. use and appreciation of circularity (both in terms of questioning and causality).
  • Technique – Different activities organising a method through practices, tools, training and therapeutic skills; Reliant upon rote learning (see Bateson, 1972); e.g. hypothesising.

And, thus, we might chose to visualise Burnham’s (1992) AMT model using the following three tier hierarchy:

  • Approach
    • Method
      • Technique

It is worth noting that just as an overarching context (i.e. A →M) acts by contextual force in a downward direction upon the meaning of a sub context, so too, there might also exist an implicative force acting upwards upon and changing the meaning of the contextual setting above (i.e. T→M).

Given this relation between a strong contextual force and a weaker implicative force it is possible to designate the relation between AMT as hierarchical, coherent and recursive (i.e. A↔M↔T) following Pearce and Cronen’s (1980) suggestion for coordinating and managing systemic thought and practice.

§ CMM – coordinating the making and management of meaning

As previously touched upon above (see section 1.), Pearce and Cronen’s (1980) paper on the coordinated management of meaning (CMM) theory suggests that meaning might be construed as: (a) made/managed between at least two positions (i.e. co-constructing their social reality) and (b) is a context-sensitive process. They also indicate in their theory that CMM is a rule-based theory comprised on the one hand by Constitutive rules (i.e. essentially rules of meaning, used by communicators to interpret or understand an event or message). And on the other, Regulative rules (i.e. essentially rules of action: which determine how to respond or behave).

In other words, Pearce and Cronen (1980) may be said to be suggesting that meaning-making strongly echoes Bateson’s (1974) theory of meaning; in that, they share a belief that there can be no meaning without a context to situate that meaning. For example (see Pearce, 2007: xv), if we were to examine the simple sentence, “Look here! See this!” should we suppose that the locutor is summoning us to explore, to inquire, to a kind of very serious playfulness, or that they wish to elicit our submission?

Pearce and Cronen (1980) suggest that the act of meaning-making around this and other sentences like it can only be understood within a transpersonal context and that not to appreciate the crucial importance of context in meaning-making leads (us) toward all-too literal misunderstandings and, at worst, conflict.

There might be some correspondences in intentionality and reciprocity in dialogical space between individuals to be researched further in the thought of Bateson (1974), Pearce and Cronen (1980; see also Cronen and Pearce 1982; Pearce 2007) and the ‘Dialogical principle’ (‘I-Thou’ relation) described by both Martin Buber in his work Between Man and Man (Trans. Gregor-Smith, 1947) and Carl Rogers’ (1961) seminal work, On becoming a person.

Notwithstanding any perceived or real conceptual connection between these thoughts mentioned above, Pearce and Cronen’s (1980) CMM model has received a good deal of close attention by social theorists, communication specialists and systemic practitioners alike. One of the reasons for all this well-deserved attention is, perhaps, the simple elegance of the CMM model itself.

Cultural       Patterns

Social Group Scripts

Life       Scripts

Interpersonal

Relationship

Episode

Speech Act

Content

Figure 1. CMM hierarchical model adapted from Pearce & Cronen (1980), Cronen & Pearce (1982) and Pearce (2007)

For Burnham (1992), as we saw above, CMM theory offers a purposefully structured social constructionist model for systemic meaning-making and co-constructing social realities – making social worlds systemically, so to speak. It might be said to achieve its systemic aim principally because of three main factors (see Burnham, 1992):

  • CMM is hierarchically organised; thus, privileges context
  • CMM is theoretically and clinically coherent
  • CMM is recursively connected; thus, circular and reflexive

§ Post-Milan: from Neutrality to Curiosity

Just as Maria Selvini Palazzoli (1974) had described her transition from psychoanalysis to systemic practice under the influence of Haley (1963) and Watzlawick et al. (1967) so too Gianfranco Cecchin (1987; 1992) describes the evolution of his approach from structure toward construction.

Cecchin (1992) outlines the evolution in his theory and practice as informed by three main shifts in his emphasis and, therein, his approach:

A closer look at the above shifts in emphasis in Cecchin’s work may reveal much about how he, in a position of systemic trainer and theorist, might explain the evolution in his systemic ideas.

In 1987 Cecchin wrote what was later to become a seminal systemic paper. Entitled, Hypothesizing, Circularity, and Neutrality Revisited: An Invitation to Curiosity, Cecchin’s (1987) paper subtly delivered an epistemological bombshell in the form of a reply to the Milan teams’ paper describing the foundation of their working principles (Hypothesizing – Circularity – Neutrality, Selvini et al., 1980).

In his paper, Cecchin (1987) sought to re-examine the principle concepts contained in Selvini et al’s (1980) Milan systemic manifesto and instead assert his new conviction that therapeutic neutrality in action and language was nothing more or less than an ideal – for family system and therapist alike – which simply could not ever be realised. Cecchin feels impelled to make it clear that he now knows that it is impossible to be neutral.

Cecchin (1987) had looked back upon his former foundational principles of working (i.e. hypothesising, circularity and neutrality) and made the following observations:

  • Hypothesising is a technique
  • Curiosity is a framework for working (i.e. a systemic approach)
  • Hypotheses are stories told (i.e. only of use for as long as they remain relevant)

Thus, looking again at Selvini et al. (1980) one might be drawn to summarise using Burnham’s (1992) AMT model as follows:

  • Approach – Neutrality
  • Method – Circularity / Paradox
  • Technique – Hypothesis

Whereas, a close look at Cecchin (1987; 1992) might result in a subtle difference with quite significant contextual implications for systemic work:

  • Approach – Curiosity / Reflexivity toward co-constructed meaning
  • Method – Circularity / Questions replacing statements
  • Technique – Hypothesis

Cecchin (1987) goes on to reposition the concept of curiosity as defining his approach to systemic thought and action. Cecchin argues that once the ideal approach of therapeutic neutrality is no longer tenable it ought to be replaced by something  – curiosity – inherently more flexible and characteristic of an openness toward lived experience and the uncertainties of lived experience, for only then are we more able to become better helpers and/or systemic practitioners; not worse, not stuck merely in a series of techniques without ever questioning their or our own efficacy (Cecchin, 1987: 5): “… when our neutral position ceases to help us generate hypotheses, we have, no doubt, lost our curiosity and become social controllers.”

He continues by proposing a framework, an approach, to systemic practice, which he views as the crucial – though unexplored – underpinning for the original Milan team’s (see Selvini et al., 1980) founding principles, he writes (1987: 5): “If we are curious, we question premises – our own and those of the family we are treating. A family’s interactions with us should facilitate questioning our own premises. Not only are we intervening in their systems, but families are also intervening in our systems – helping us to become better systemic thinkers. The idea of a recursive relationship among neutrality, hypothesizing, and circularity, as guiding principles, proposes a framework that invites us to be more curious about symptoms in therapy – those of families as well as of therapists.”

§ An irreducible moral dimension: Long, Little & Cronen (1990)

Long, Little and Cronen (1990) suggest a consistent view with which to identify different types of action/activity from a systemic position of co-constructed realities. They lean heavily on Maturana’s (1985) concept of domains of knowledge: aesthetics, explanations and production. Long et al. (1990) are led to conclude that an appreciation of Maturana’s (1985) domain concept raises vital questions about the nature of neutrality within and across the domains which he views as spanning the professional systemic field.

Long et al (1990) suggest that ‘morality’ and ‘a moral posture’ are necessary features of any approach which spans the domains of aesthetics, explanation or production. In so doing they recall Aristotle’s (see Poetics) concept of a position in relational context across and between theory and practice, praxis. Long et al (1990) conclude that as systemic practice is intimately interested in human action – and by definition in these domains of knowledge (see above) – then a moral posture ought to be a necessary principle of any systemic approach/framework.

§ Tracking: Hedges (2005)

Hedges (2005) is interested to investigate how it is that in co-constructing futures we (as systemic practitioners) are attending to the minutiae of grammar, metaphor, noticing the hidden-obvious and slowing ourselves in our work. Hedges (2005) is keen to point out that using these techniques allows us to better track the episodes of our work with families, and, therein, to expose the myth surrounding the notion of systemic work as somehow discreet from depth/exploratory work (i.e. psychodynamics).

He introduces and questions the possibility of a greater correspondence between notions of ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’. He questions whether the demarcation of ‘depth’ as a psychodynamic preserve is sustainable in the light cast by philosophy of language (e.g. Wittgenstein, 1953), systemic thought (e.g. Anderson, 1997) and co-constructionist (CMM) theories (e.g. Cronen, 1990; Cronen & Pearce, 1991) of making/managing social reality and meaning which would indicate otherwise.

Hedges (2005) utilises Bruner’s (1986) notion of metaphor as a ‘crutch’ to begin his investigation into the tracking techniques which might bring mutual benefit or insight. Bruner (1986) suggests that metaphor enable us to navigate meanings that, once utilised, can be discarded or hidden from view. Hedges (2005) suggests that in tracking metaphors – others’ and our own – is crucial to the better exploration and questioning of the co-construction of meaning in the work. Indeed, Hedges (2005) links metaphor and their use to the collective folk wisdom (see C. G. Jung) of the contextual background culture/society. Adding to this rich gestalt the clear difficulties which arise when/if one allows metaphor to remain unexplored, invisible or untold (see LUUUTT model of CMM).

Following Anderson (1997), Hedges (2005) also suggests that tracking an episode also requires slowing down the stories told. That is, slowing the natural pace of a normal dialogical flow. This technique is suggested as a counter measure to ‘knowing’, and, by implication only, may increase curiosity.

Attending to language does not mean only attending to spoken language. Non-verbal communication is a powerful form of communication which Hedges is keen to explore, again, in the service of techniques which can help in the exploration of co-constructed meaning-making. We must, urges Hedges (2005), attend carefully to exploring the range of full bodily communications of the other (see Tom Anderson, 1990).

Tracking also entails noticing. Hedges (2005) suggests that simplicity and familiarity can act to hide aspects of actual experience. That is to say, familiarity can sometimes obfuscate noticing what is in front of one’s nose. Hedges (2005) reiterates the importance of the notion of noticing bodily communications (i.e. non-verbal communications) as these can give us vital information to enrich the meaning/s available in a specific episode. However, Hedges (2005) is swift to point out that when one is noticing things are not simply found, instead, they are always co-constructed through joint action (see Shotter, 1993; 1995). This insight into the technique of noticing allows Hedges (2005) to conclude that episodes are always temporary, unfinished and composed of punctuations (pace Jackson and Bateman in Watzlawick et al., 1967).

Hedges (2005) recalls Pearce’s (1994) notion that ‘social worlds are too complex to perceive … all at once’ and thus reminds his reader of Bateson’s (1972) suggestion that ‘we divide experiences into frames’. By pointing to frames theory, Hedges (2005) is also following Goffman’s (1974) notion that frames turn what would otherwise be meaningless into something that is meaningful. Not so dissimilar one might say to Bateson’s (1972; 1974) famous ideas about the intimate relation and multi-laying which exists between context and meaning.

Frame theory closely looks at our frames of reference, say:

  • Time
  • Boundaries / Liminality
  • Structure

It is, for Hedges (2005), in the appreciation of the multi-laying of episodes (see Bateson, 1974; Cronen and Pearce, 1982) which allows for a broader, deeper construal of the co-constructed and recursive (reflexive) nature of both episodes and frames. Hedges (2005) provides the following example of multi-layered frames and contexts which may commonly appear in an episode:

  • Stories about the (current) relationship
  • Stories related to the clients family
  • Personal identity stories
  • Religious stories
  • Gender stories
  • Cultural, ethnic, racial, colour stories
  • Cultural and societal stories

The example above appears to be a good fit with the LUUUTT model of CMM (see LUUUTT model; Pearce Associates, v1.1, 1991). But what if, Hedges (2005) asks, one feels like one ought to act in certain way under certain circumstances regardless for any evidence that acting in that way is or has ever been beneficial? Here then, Hedges (2005) is calling our attention to the presence of so-named de-ontic logic in lived experience. An example might be something which informs our understanding and situates us towards certain contexts and seemingly automated responses – much like morality can shape our actions because of preconceptions of what is received to be ‘right’ or ‘good’ (see G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, 1993).

 

§ Making Social Worlds: Pearce (2007)

In his quite recent work Pearce (2007) stresses the importance of the communication perspective. He strongly suggests that one ought to look at this perspective and not merely through it. That is, Pearce (2007: 1) urges the reader to ‘develop our ability to identify (critical moments) and act wisely in these moments.’ Pearce is convinced that powerful forces are pulling us forward and backward as a species and he invites us to consider some communication abilities – a communication perspective – which might in fact move us upwards.

Pearce (2007) appears keen to look into the future; a future where he apprehends a growing tension across societies between the demands of communication and technology. Pearce (2007) cautions his reader not to follow blindly in the tracks of those who have acted in the name of progress by repeating the same mistakes over and over. Instead, Pearce (2007) states his conviction that real progress comes from a re-positioning towards difference.

Pearce (2007) might be suggesting that progress is often viewed in first-order terms – when, for instance, we ought to be able to recognise a moral dimension (see Long, Little & Cronen, 1990) which may necessitate a greater, wider sense of urgency. Pearce (2007) leans on Gladwell’s (2000) notion of a tipping-point and situates his concern for the adoption of a communication perspective as acting upward progress in terms of upward evolutionary progress.

Pearce’s (2007) retelling of the tragic events of 11th Sept 2001 is poignant and subtle insofar as drawing his readers’ attention to the important background information lacking from most media sources of the time. Pearce (2007) sees these gaps as important mistakes in communicating a story with seemingly little regard paid to how apportioning blame, victimhood and persecution might affect the lives of a great many innocent people with no connection to the disaster save their common cultural identity.

He provides a framework of a different approach as possessing the following characteristics:

  • Constructing a richer narrative of the other, ourselves and the historical context
  • Constructing a more systemic description of events; beyond the jejune use of misleading binary oppositions, such as ‘us’ and ‘them’ / ‘win’ and ‘lose’ / ‘good and ‘evil’
  • Facilitating awareness of implicative and contextual forces and noting responsibility for contributing to the pattern in which we find ourselves; also, noting the opportunities for acting in new, novel ways – not merely reacting in obvious familiar ways.
  • Changing the context of the ‘common ground’
  • Attending to generative (‘appreciative’) narratives as far more productive than degenerative (‘deficit’) narratives e.g. your culture lacks … your culture is wrong because …

2. Prejudice, Reflexivity & Praxis

The next four papers under consideration (i.e. Long et al. 1990; Cecchin, 1994; Krause, 2002; Burnham, 2005) call our attention towards the theme of awareness and acknowledgment using a post-Milan approach to systemic family practice; in particular, to the good practice of exploring our own assumptions and prejudices and challenging them.

§ Uncertainty, risk taking and ethics in therapy: Krause (2002)

Let’s consider Krause’s (2002) paper where the communication perspective is positioned. That is, communication is a context, says Krause (2002), which acts as a fundamental primary process binding and embedding the human experience of the social world.

Krause (2002) views communicating and communication per se as ontological concerns. That is, a concern in relation to human existence and not a matter of knowledge, or how we might come to acquire knowledge (see epistemology).

Krause (2002) argues that precisely because communication involves uncertainty and new knowledge – see Bateson’s (1971) notion of ‘news of difference’ – cross-cultural communication is possible, whilst, in coincidence, pointing to the responsibilities of the therapist (in a cross-cultural setting) to ensure that those communications are – rightly – at all times respectful, anti-oppressive and non-discriminatory.

Clearly, Krause (2002) hastens to add, in the immediate and certain presence of uncertainty there will of course be risk. Risk is a necessary requirement within all communication in no small part due to perennial presence of uncertainty. That said, Krause (2002) suggests that risk is also an important factor when it comes to explaining difficulties related to prejudice and/or prejudicial attributions. Contrary to liberal explanations reliant on genetics, Krause (2002) highlights the importance of an increased awareness and understanding of social differences as crucial to better understanding endemic or localised prejudices and oppressive practices. (Here Krause (2002) specifically cites the findings of the second Stephen Lawrence enquiry.) (see Macpherson, 1999).

For Krause (2002), the concept of culture is an all-encompassing term which includes within its scope conscious and unconscious experiences, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Culture also spans over and across generations of experience (i.e. intergenerational/familial scripts) as well as over and across individual experience (i.e. transpersonal scripts). That is to say, for Krause (2002), the term culture embraces a vast compass of lived experienced; it (culture) is an overarching context which embeds and binds (supervenes over) all conscious and unconscious, personal and transpersonal actions and/or processes.

Krause (2002) suggests that attention be drawn to the link between our awareness of the continuity of culture and, most crucially perhaps, the continuities of which we are most unaware which can so easily occur and sometimes appear to us as ‘natural’. Krause (2002) urges us to pause and reflect at length upon what we might consider natural.

Following in the lineage of other notable thinkers on values and ethics in practice (e.g. Moore, 1903; Arendt, 1958; Szasz, 1974; Cecchin, Lane & Ray, 1994; Barnes & Murdin, 2001) Krause (2002) situates prejudice as a necessary condition of communication – which is to say, that prejudice is viewed as an unfortunate reality of bias and attribution inhering within any form of communication. For Krause (2002) there is no escape from prejudice, so to speak.

Nonetheless, following Hoffman (1997), Krause (2002) agrees that we ‘see’ (i.e. perceive) the world through cultural lenses, particularly so, in those cases where our awareness is not wholly focused on an object, or instances where our attentional spotlight may be drawn to other objects. It is rather, for Krause (2002), crucial that we orient ourselves to becoming aware of and open to noticing (see Tracking; Hedges, 2005) those partially available objects – those minutiae of episodes – which, can exist at the very margins of our sensory experience and of others too; for it is these semi visible objects, says Karuse (2002), that those objects in the dimmed light of the periphery of our attentional spotlight can go unattended or unnoticed in spite of the actuality that such objects of concern can often be those most benefitting from the rigour of increased attention and awareness.

Keeping pace with John Dewey (see Experience and Nature, 1929) and Whyte (1997), Krause (2002) – no doubt informed by the influence of sociology and/or social psychology – seeks to locate the experience of the individual in the wider cultural context (i.e. within the experience of social action) through the use of such terms as social ‘actor’ or social ‘agent’. To paraphrase Krause (2002) the social actor is perhaps the individual who is actively and intelligently engaged in pragmatically creating some insurance despite a patent lack of assurance. Which is to say, if we, as social actors, take seriously the implications of the uncertainties of meaning said to exists at the heart of all communication, then, one might come to choose to act with a greater degree of moderation and restraint in the sure knowledge that no lasting or definitive future outcome, no predetermined consequence, can be assumed to exist.

Krause (2002) ardently believes that we cannot eliminate uncertainty from our lived experience; however, following the metaphor above regarding differences between insurance and assurance, what we can do is perhaps better orient ourselves (i.e. as systemic practitioners) toward acknowledging uncertainty as inextricably bound to an altogether more encompassing contextual appreciation – namely, culture. Thus, increase our understanding (predicated on an acknowledgement) of the patterning or mechanics or reach of this conceptual entity which we call uncertainty.

Nevertheless, Krause (2002) is wary of and alert to the dangers presented by the variously constructed dispositions and instruments of power. Power, For Krause (2002), corrupts communication precisely by exploiting the channel made available by strong contextual forces (see CMM; Bateson, 1971; Pearce & Cronen, 1980; Cronen & Pearce, 1982). Power, – or power differential – one might say, could easily be imagined as a necessary consequence of the supervenience of a larger context over a smaller context. In systemic terms, then, power may be one of the corollaries of difference.

In conclusion Krause (2002) offers the reader some consolation in the form of a rejoinder: it is in acting upon the reflections above (i.e. uncertainty, risk, not knowing, and acknowledging uncertainty) that we may advance despite the presence of uncertainty; perhaps even to take tentative steps towards ethically informed guesses and risk-taking.

§ An irreducible moral dimension: Long, Little & Cronen (1990)

Long, Little and Cronen (1990) suggest a consistent view with which to identify different types of action/activity from a systemic position of co-constructed realities. They lean heavily on Maturana’s (1985) concept of domains of knowledge: aesthetics, explanations and production. Long et al. (1990) are led to conclude that an appreciation of Maturana’s (1985) domain concept raises vital questions about the nature of neutrality within and across the domains which he views as spanning the professional systemic field.

Long et al (1990) suggest that ‘morality’ and ‘a moral posture’ are necessary features of any approach which spans the domains of aesthetics, explanation or production. In so doing they recall Aristotle’s (see Poetics) concept of a position in relational context across and between theory and practice, praxis. Long et al (1990) conclude that as systemic practice is intimately interested in human action – and by definition in these domains of knowledge (see above) – then a moral posture ought to be a necessary principle of any systemic approach/framework.

§ Managing prejudice: Cecchin (1994)

Cecchin’s (1994) paper suggests that we consider a move into a post-ideological process of questioning our prejudices and questioning how these prejudices affect those with whom we relate and communicate. For Cecchin (1994) awareness of and challenging prejudice is a matter of good ethical practice.

Cecchin (1994) provides three interesting vignettes which serve to demonstrate how prejudices (i.e. discrimination, bias and attribution) and the interaction of prejudices between therapist-team-client may in actuality transport our understanding of ourselves and others far beyond what might ordinarily be described as a useful technique.

Cecchin (1994) believes that there are predominant organising biases in the field, as follows:

  • The attempted solution is the problem
  • The Male dominated society is the root problem
  • We must tease out the attempted solutions and elaborate on them
  • If we just talk to the client in imperceptible ways something will happen
  • When in doubt ask what would happen if a miracle happened
  • Differentiate – take an “I” position
  • The hierarchy is confused

§ Enjoining with clients through the action of relational reflexivity: Burnham (2005)

Burnham (2005) locates praxis as something one does; it is an action – following in the traditional usage employed by Aristotle.

Burnham (2005) says that in 1991 he became interested in thinking about ‘questions about questions’. That is, how warming the context of an episode about the context of the content and process of an episode as such revealed much that could or could not be co-constructed between client/s and practitioner/s.

Burnham (2005) distinguishes self-reflexivity from relational-reflexivity in the following ways:

S-R is thus conceived as;

  • Pace Hoffman (1992), S-R is considered to be a process in which a therapist makes, takes or grasps an opportunity to observe, listen to, and question the effects of their practice, then use their responses to observation/listening to decide ‘How to go on’ in the episode or the work in general
  • One might say it (S-R) is a process of putting self-reflection/insight into action

R-R is thus conceived as;

  • The intention, desire, process and practices through which therapists and clients explicitly engage one another in coordinating their resources so as to create a relationship with therapeutic potential. This would involve initiating, responding to, experiment with, and elaborate the ways in which they relate
  • Relational-reflexivity is, thus, an example par excellence of praxis; that is, an ethical aspiration which can develop into a practical technique

Burnham (2005) follows Bateson’s (1972) notion that warm ideas have a better chance of survival than cold ideas. By embracing Bateson’s notion and extending it, Burnham (2005) suggests that by ‘warming the context’ the therapist can help to improve the readiness of the client/s toward the therapeutic work.

Burnham (2005) suggests that warming the context for questions – perhaps even with regard to the praxis and usefulness of questions about questions – can be a more effective technique for learning about the coherence (i.e. personal preferences, family style, cultural values) of the client/s with which we are working.

In so doing, Burnham (2005) is safely coordinating his resources in a way which ‘guesses’ and ‘takes risks’ with uncertainty, whilst also, crucially, does so respectfully and safely by moving at the pace and tempo of the episode or work set by both the therapist and the client, coextensively.

Narrative systemic therapy: Storying legitimation and performance


Bakhtins Rabelais-bok
Bakhtins Rabelais-bok (Photo credit: Camilla Hoel)

 

‘The second-order cybernetic view argues, in a manner similar to that of the feminist critics, that it is the observer (or therapist) who draws distinctions that ‘create the reality’ … By including the observer as part of the system observed, second order cybernetics acknowledges that the system considered relevant is a construction of the observer drawing the distinctions … Drawing distinctions is thus, not only an epistemological act, it is a political act.’   McKinnon & Miller (1987: 148) in Dallos & Draper (2000: 93)

___

This short essay ostensibly aims to describe, historicise and critique various aspects of narrativist approaches to systemic family therapy through recourse to primary source material, contextualising postmodern thought, disguised case examples, and offering a second-order perspective (see also social GRACES, Burnham, 1993) as affective in shaping my perspective as a male, white [British/Polish], middle-aged, heterosexual, parent and care-giver, son to a single parent family, humanist, postgraduate, psychological therapist / counsellor / lecturer / clinical service manager and person living with chronic early-onset systemic osteoporosis. My aim is to construe top-down constructions in the service of a much hoped for anti-hegemonic competence, a position of curiosity and ‘informed not-knowing’ (Anderson & Goolishian, 1992; Cecchin, 1987; Shapiro, 1995); whilst, construing bottom-up constructions in the performative service of an increase in perspicacity, rigour in self-reflexivity, and a position of ‘safe uncertainty’ (Bauman, 1986; Dallos, 1991; Laird, 1998; Mason, 1993; see also Hedges, 2010; Krause, 2012; Rober, 1999). Let us begin by briefly describing some of the literary, political, philosophical and ethical considerations which underpin this way of conceiving power differentials and constructing storied realities. Literary and socio-political constructionists (i.e. advocates of constructive alternativism; see Kelly, 1955) have robustly held to a continual dialogue in the spatiotemporal extension between narrative and identity (e.g. Bakhtin, 1986; Barthes, 1972; Bauman, 1986; de Man, 1986; Derrida, 1978; Eco, 1990; Felperin, 1985; Gergen, 1973, 1994; Jameson, 1981; Joyce, 1993; Kelly, 1955; Lévi-Strauss, 1963; Lyotard, 1984; Ricoeur, 1984, 1985, 1988; Snow, 1980). The consequences for concretised personality theories by social constructionism regarding fluid narratives for ‘identity’ or ‘self’ or ‘culture’ are indeed radical (Kelly, 1955). Contemporary narrativist systemic psychotherapists share this radical understanding constructed on fluidity (e.g. Dallos, 1991; Eron & Lund, 1993; Freedman & Combs, 1996; O’Hanlon, 1994; Papadopoulos & Byng-Hall, 1997; Tomm, 1998; Weingarten, 1998; White, 1989, 1995, 1997; White & Epson, 1990; Zimmerman & Dickerson, 1994). Let us turn to a context for the postmodern narrative. Here I have chosen an initial historiographical point of departure in Lyotard’s (1984) Postmodern Condition. Lyotard’s (1984) evaluation centres on historical and modernist debates between positivists and phenomenologists in relation to the nature of language, language-games, knowledge, the power inhering in knowledge and the possibility of the acquisition of knowledge (see also Wittgenstein, 1921, 1953; Snow, 1959).

He stood in the rain outside my door. His face marked by experience. ‘Are you X?’ ‘Yes, please come inside, Mike.’ I smiled warmly and held the door wide for him to enter. ‘Not yet, first I’ll have another cigarette out here [in the rain] if I may. I’m a bit anxious about coming to see someone like you. I’m such an awful cliché these days.’ He seemed amused by his observation. ‘Cigarette … If I may … Such a cliché … What an interesting use of words, I thought, whilst handing over the hallway umbrella. ‘When you feel ready, please, do come in.’

Lyotard (1984) recommends an equivocal explication mobilised through a critique of existing forms of grand narrative legitimation (see also Habermas, 1971) and envisages forms of narrative performativity as acts of legitimation in their own right (see also Bauman, 1986). Lyotard’s (1984) main achievement may be said to lie in his privileging of the ‘little narrative’ (Fr. petit récit) – the speaking subjects’ biography – as a form inherently capable of dispelling the problematic question of legitimation by legitimating itself by deemphasising truth-value altogether, a position Sim (2000) terms a move situating the little narrative ‘beyond the criterion of truth’ (p.19). Lyotard (1984) scrutinises the paralogy of positivistic grand narratives and their claims to legitimation: first, ‘the narrative of emancipation, a story of “freeing the people” for which science is believed to be the necessary means’ (p. 13 orig. syntax) and, second, ‘the narrative of the triumph of science as speculation or pure and authentic knowledge’ (p. 28). For Lyotard (1984) an examination of the legitimation of knowledge, and the power obtaining from knowledge, culminate in a conclusion that such claims are founded upon socially constructed misnomers, revealing these claims in actuality to be invariably specious, unnecessary exercises in power enacted through language-games (‘We no longer have recourse to the grand narratives’ p. 60). Lyotard’s (1984) work thus assimilates works by notable post-structuralists preceding his own contribution (e.g. Barthes, 1972; Derrida, 1978; Foucault, 1972; Lacan, 1977; Levi-Strauss, 1963). This singular work can be said to be a clear attempt at situating postmodernism as a paradigm capable of sustaining many perspectives: a more durable theoretical social formation derivable from the fluidity and play of language, the performativity of narrative language, and the possibilities available for multiple social constructions for both narrative culture and narrative identity alike – whilst, acknowledging the significant debt owed to Nietzschean-inspired calls for the broader questioning of the will-to-power and the revaluation of values (Lyotard, 1984: p. 39, 77, 81; see also Nietzsche, 1996, 1998).

‘So, what brings you here?’ I asked. Mike fixed me with his large, almost unblinking eyes. ‘As I briefly explained on the telephone, I’ve been in hospital here in Chelmsford for a year. My partner had me sectioned because I smoke too much’. I nodded and waited for him to say more. ‘I don’t know what happened to me, I used to live in Brighton, but I’m told my family has sold my house there and my house in Gascony’. ‘You said your partner had you sectioned because you smoke too much?’ I asked, seeking another telling of his story of experiencing a MHA section. ‘I had a home in Gascony. It’s where my cats are buried’. Mike’s eyes filled with tears at the mention of his cats, and, alas, there was no re-authoring of his story on this occasion.

Lyotard’s (1984) critical questioning of grand narratives suggests that such dominant narratives are apt to shape subjective conceptions of past, present and future. Narrativist theorists and practitioners influenced by postmodernism have also sought to question the extent to which certain narratives may inhabit a dominant position within the symbolic space of language (e.g. Anderson, 1997; Bannister & Fransella, 1971; Bauman, 1986; Berger & Luckmann, 1967; Freedman & Combs, 1996; Foucault, 1967, 1972; Gergen, 1994; White, 1989; White & Epston, 1990). White (1989) and White & Epston (1990) consider these dominant narratives to provide a compelling frame within which our stories and identities may become subjugated and organised into formations not always of our own invention (pp. 27-8): ‘There exist a stock of culturally available discourses that are considered appropriate and relevant to the expression or representation of particular aspects of our experience … persons experience problems which they frequently present for therapy when the narratives in which they are storying their experience, and/or in which they are having their experience storied by others, do not significantly represent their lived experience, and that in these circumstances, there will be significant aspects of the lived experience that contradicts this dominant narrative.’ We may come to feel that, for instance, certain dominant narratives concerning status, prestige, wealth or happiness become a source of tension if we do not measure up to the ideal (see also de Botton, 2004; Lasch, 1979). Reflexively, I certainly find within myself a good deal of resonance with such insights as these. For instance, my earliest experiences had me partake in a mistaken narrative identity regarding the overriding importance attached to class, ability and academic achievement which, sadly, still catches me out in aspects of my professional life as a supervisor of clinical professionals and sometimes spills over into my personal life in the form of ‘ambitions’ for the young people in my life – though, I am well aware of its origin as my ‘own.’

‘My partner says that it was inevitable, he knew all along I would become ill – eventually’. Mike paused. ‘I wonder what your partner might say now about your becoming ill, Mike?’ No answer came. ‘So what is your opinion on your becoming ill, Mike?’ This time an answer came in a disturbing form. ‘I have no regrets, I’m ready to die’. After a long pause, I persisted. ‘So then, Mike, what brings you here to see me if, as you say, you are ready to die?’ His face was without emotion at this challenge. ‘Tell me, X, do you know the painting of the man in the bowler hat by Magritte?’ I felt wrong footed by this question without any clear connection. ‘Is it a painting of a man obscured by a large green apple, ‘The Son of Man’, I think?’ Mike beamed. ‘That’s my portrait! At last, someone who can speak my language. Please will you help me find out what has happened to me?’ Tears rolled down Mike’s cheeks, though it was hard to say with any surety what kind of tears they might be.

Vetere & Dallos (2003: 129) provide a synopsis of what they believe may be some principle features of White & Epston’s (1990) therapeutic practices in narrativist work, these are: (§1) exploration of the relevant aspects of lived experience and developing varying perspectives on this; (§2) exploring the connectedness of events and relationships over time; (§3) exploring implicit meanings with exploratory conversation; (§4) identifying those influences which affect the “ownership/authorship” of stories and emphasising the person as a participant in the story with some power re-author that story; (§5) identifying dominant and subjugated discourses in a person’s accounts and the prevailing arrangements of privilege and power; (§6) using different “languages” to describe experience and construct new stories; (§7) mapping the influence of the problem on a person’s life and relationships; (§8) establishing conditions in which the subject of the story becomes the privileged author; (§9) externalising the problem; (§10) recognising unique outcomes. Let us now turn to reportage and critique. First – a general observation – that there appears to be an implicit humanist belief in a continual and universal process of self-actualisation (see also Maslow (1970); Rogers’ (1961: 351f) term ‘actualising tendency’) (see above §1-10). Second, criticism is made against narrativists underestimation of the power of physical groups to create or enforce construing processes, especially in attempts at addressing differences between explicit and implicit storied meanings reliant on internalised others (see below Minuchin, 1998; see above §1-3). Even so, strategic and structural clinical research support a view of people presenting with problems as better understood as largely cases of ‘faulty’ social realities – thus problems of persons’ construing those realities (Haley, 1971; Minuchin, 1974; cited in Dallos, 1991: 58). Third, narrativists support the central importance assigned by other systemic family approaches to dialectic, dialogue, ‘thicker’ storying, linear and circular questions (see also Brown, 1991; Cecchin, 1987; O’Hanlon, 1994; Tomm, 1985, 1988, 1998; Watzlawick, 1978; Watzlawick et al., 2011) (see above §1-8). Four – a general observation – that description is employed at all times in favour of therapeutic prescription or interpretation (see above §1-10). Five, externalising might be understood as serving to distinguish problems or ‘problem saturated’ (White, 1989) stories and/or narratives with ‘the problem’ defining and preoccupying the client in their exploration and mapping and characterisation of self, life experience and relationships. Surfacing and subjugated narratives have also been termed preferred and non-preferred narratives, respectively (Eron & Lund, 1993). Instances where problems may not be in evidence can be extremely useful in this regard and have been termed unique outcomes (Hoffman, 1998; White, 1989) (see above §10). It is noteworthy that the skill of externalising – i.e. linguistic separation of the problem from the self-identity concept – contains within it an assumption of competence, that is, a certain level of cognitive ability with regard to recall, lexicalisation and articulation, which might serve to actually exclude certain cultural groupings because of their individual differences (e.g. persons with learning difficulties, persons with cognitive impairment, persons with speech disabilities, or persons not using their first language) (see above §5-9). The much-admired pioneer of structural family therapy, Sal Minuchin, goes much further in his critique of narrativists. Minuchin (1998) states his disquiet at the prospect of the disappearance of the family from family therapy (p. 397), and the movement of narrativists away from systemic principles (p. 403) in the form of two main questions: ‘Can social constructionism as a meta-theory help family therapists to better understand how families function?’ and ‘Does this theoretical shift imply a new direction for family therapy?’ In his first question Minuchin’s twofold thrust appears to imply that social constructionism is itself a grand narrative by his use of the term ‘meta-theory.’ Moreover, social constructionist practices appear, for Minuchin’s thought, to have located ideology at the expense of dislocating the family in family therapy by ‘tending to privilege the discourse of the individual’ (p. 399). As if in answer to his own second question – i.e. on the prospect of a new direction for family therapy – Minuchin selects the development of multiple descriptions and alternate meanings, concerns with power relations, the linguistic focus, and ‘the use of techniques to enrich the clients’ narrow descriptions of their experience’ for his examination (p. 400). Minuchin (1998) soberly proclaims that ‘in and of themselves’ these are ‘interesting developments’ (p. 403). Even so, Minuchin castigates the narrativists for returning to a traditional individual-based psychological modality for therapy (p. 403). Moreover, the accusation is levelled at narrativists that they are in fact working against the parts of postmodern theory that ‘emphasise social relatedness‘(p. 403). Tomm’s (1998) reply thus agrees with Minuchin’s (1998) analysis where less focus can be placed upon the physical family although, only when viewed from a first-order perspective. Tomm (1998) argues not to have misplaced the family at the expense of ideology; rather he locates the change in perspective as adding significantly to the understanding and work with families in systemic family therapy (pp. 409-10). Tomm (1998) continues by explaining the power differential between both perspectives with precision: ‘A first-order perspective orients us as therapists to intervene directly in family interaction to enable therapeutic change. Therefore it is important for multiple family members to be present. The second-order perspective orients us to intervene in the ways we as therapists see things and into the ways in which family members see themselves, each other and their relationships. Changes in patterns of interaction occur secondarily to changes in patterns of seeing and giving meanings. Consequently, the physical presence of multiple family members is less essential’ (p. 410). What Tomm (1998) encapsulates in these few lines is perhaps the profound power differential between an observed family system (i.e. a modernist perspective of a family system viewed from a place of certainty) and an observing family system, within which a therapist perceives themselves as component of that system (i.e. a postmodernist perspective of a family system viewed and experienced reflexively from a position of safe uncertainty) (Mason, 1993). It is therefore a decisive point to conclude upon, that experiencing the observing system from an internal reflexive position is not of inconsiderable importance – therapeutically and ethically and politically – to the narrativist systemic perspective, and a finding not lost on this therapist, or his client, Mike.

My sense so far was that Mike’s story would be marked by profound loss, and here he was requesting my help in what seemed to me to be a ‘rescue’ of his very sense of self. ‘Yes, I will help you to remove the problematic obstacle from your picture of yourself. I promise. And, in kind, Mike, will you also promise not to harm yourself for the duration of our work together?’ Mike seized the agreement I had hoped for. ‘Yes, I promise not to harm myself.’ We sat and smiled together. ‘Must I bring my partner too?’ Mike’s somewhat expressionless look returned. ‘Of course you may ask him.’ I replied, adding quickly ‘But whether he comes or not, your partners’ physical presence may turn out not to be as necessary as you might have imagined.’ ‘That’s good.’ He said calmly.

___

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Reflections on systemic family therapy


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In seeking to describe the key concepts and approaches which inform systemic practice with families and couples one faces a simple, yet clear, problematic; systemic theory and practice subsist in an intellectual space larger than the sum of its concrete representations. Notwithstanding, a conceptual groundwork may certainly take place. A system, for instance, may find significance as a complex, rule-based organisation consisting of parts, sub-systems and functional processes. The scene of systemic concepts, more broadly, might be situated as obtaining from an overarching, paradigmatic shift in relational psychotherapeutic thought. Indeed, systemic concepts may be said to be a contemporary relational therapeutic modality which may actually deconstruct traditional Cartesian phenomenology and, in turn, represent a mode which radically subverts notions favouring a privileged individualised psychopathology and categorical diagnostic truth alike. (Where once there was the intrapersonal, so there came to be the interpersonal, so to speak.) Following this reasoning, pragmatic reconstructions now appear to mark each stage in a tentative apprehension of the nature of (skewed or schismatic) relational systems (i.e. the family): a system with sub-systems (e.g. Minuchin, 1974); culture and acculturation; the life-cycle and/or transitions (e.g. Carter and McGoldrick, 1980; Duvall, 1977; Erikson, 1997; Gorell Barnes, 1998; Haley, 1973); family scripts (e.g. Byng Hall, 1995); the core or assumed or automatic behaviours, beliefs, and lexicological meanings obtaining from members of the family; and the repetitive behaviours presenting. Moreover, this revaluation of values, pace the purview contended to be sited in systemic thought here, aim to locate the relationship, difference and origins of change (morphogenesis), mental representations, and processes (i.e. personal schema, social constructivism; see also Gergen, 1973; Hegel, 1994; Kant, 1999, Kelly, 1955; Kuhn, 1962; Piaget, 1950) in terms of equilibrium and constancy (i.e. homeostasis, morphostasis, ‘Milieu de l’intérieur’; see Bateson, 1972) and situate each at the heart of cybernetic (e.g. Weiner, 1949) systemic praxis. That is, systemic thought might be construed as ethically-oriented collection of theories and actions situated in the heat of the family group as if it were a naturalised system of systems (i.e. a cybernetic system; see Bateson, 1972; Haley, 1973; Watzlawick, Beavin Bavelas, & Jackson, 2011).

It is, then, in the act of location and amplification that problematic relations within the family – as a system of systems – that the personhood of the persons involved can become absolved of pathology. Within this act of systematic location (more correctly this biopsychosocial act of location), the context and ecological epistemology of the ‘in-between’ becomes the pathological space where the relational system itself is understood to operate, and where it is examined most closely and reflexively. Freed from pathologisation the identified person (i.e. previously the site of the symptom) can be reinstated – intact – back into a dynamic, relational economy of the family group. In other words, where reinstated the personhood of the family group members are re-established as an actualising entity effectively restored, de-marginalised and de-alienated; that is, sovereign entities held within an equitable therapeutic relation: story intact; place of origination intact; milieu intact; relational environment intact (i.e. heteronomy and power established). Thus it is from a systemic perspective where, to my thought, there opens up a transitional space – an ethically informed rationalist space (vide postmodernist) – marked with an openness to the continual revaluation for the self and other, coextensively (i.e. reflexive and contra value-free facts) (see Lyotard, 1984). In the transitional space envisioned here for systemic praxis (i.e. theory and ethical practice), the face-to-face encounter may be transformed from an act of mere pathology into an intimate ethical encounter situated squarely within the otherness occupied by the other (see Levinas in Hand, 1989).

Above we saw that the importance placed upon the principle of inclusivity toward the other in an empathic space which remains forever other to us (see Levinas in Hand, 1989). That is to say, a systemic position toward change, to my thought, at least, may come to purposive fruitfulness within the space opened-up through empathic acts of reflexion (vide self-reflexivity). My conception here is that systemic skills (e.g. reframing) take place within a system in the ‘in-between’ space of that system that facilitate and foster change (‘the difference that makes a difference’; Bateson, 1972: 315f) (i.e. second-order cybernetics or mutual influence, as opposed to first-order cybernetics or ‘change from outside’). Change, thus conceived, takes place where the family-image (i.e. ideal of the family) reconnects with the presenting family (i.e. the real family) (see Laing, 1969) there may be a good deal of relational activity to be necessarily observed, for example: in the dramaturgy of enactment (e.g. Minuchin & Fishman, 1981); in positive and negative feedback loops (acts of self-correction), in circularity (i.e. in the equifinality of communication and causality; e.g. Watzlawick, Beavin Bavelas, & Jackson, 2011), and punctuation (i.e. as if the ‘springboards’ for repetitive patterning; e.g. Watzlawick, Beavin Bavelas, & Jackson, 2011). Each of these processes may be viewed as if an artefact derived entirely from relational processes (not relational content) of a system; each in turn a function and process ripe for what may, epistemologically, be termed, on the one hand, cybernetic information (‘a difference which makes a difference’) (Bateson, 1972: 315f; see also Derrida, 1978), or, on the other, an archaeology of genealogy (i.e. using genograms) (e.g. Bowen, 1978; see Foucault, 1967; 1972). Furthermore, here through the conceptual frame made available by a systemic epistemological revaluation, change and difference are conceived as transposable terms.    It is in the pursuit of insight – gained precisely through the skilled use and practice of reflexivity – individual family group members, and therapists alike (i.e. self-reflexivity), might begin to discern appearances of complementarity (i.e. polarisation of behaviour) and symmetry (i.e. similarity of behaviour), and, perhaps, the corollary possibility for arresting schismogenesis (i.e. fragmentation of the system) (e.g. Bateson, 1972). In the overt or covert introduction of conceptual boundaries, strategic means may be employed by the therapist in pursuit of greater regulation, control mechanisms, and/or as expeditious toward first or second-order change (i.e. in the former the same roles and rules as prior are seen, in the latter rule changes are made) (e.g. Bateson, 1972; Bateson et al., 1956; Jackson, 1957; Kelly, 1955; Maturana, 1978; Maturana and Varela, 1980). Another important skill with systemic applicability in the description of complex behavioural patterns is reframing (i.e. subtle acts of positive redescription) (e.g. Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch, 2011). Reframing allows important new dimensionality of the object of concern to be encountered in situations otherwise lacking a positive aspect; new choices and options can thus be brought within the sensible reach of the brackets of lived-experience in the service of change.

My clinical psychotherapeutic training was gained over four years in broadly-based humanistic, psychoanalytical, and phenomenological studies to postgraduate level. I have also studied cognitive psychology and psychoanalytical history at Masters level. Prior to clinical training I worked for ten years in the field of virtual private network design. My choice to study systemic practice reflects a core belief in the effectiveness of systematic and relational perspectives. Systems, I might venture to suggest, have played a central and enduring role in my life thus far; and this fortunate actuality, to my thought, lends itself to a strong sense of continuity and, therein, bolsters my sense of self-identity, whilst also providing a modicum of subjective meaning. (It is noteworthy perhaps that many systems are chaotic in nature and, therein, difficult to derive meaning from.) Thus it is that in writing this short essay, for instance, I feel warmed by the thought that I may have chosen a good path on my journey toward increasing self-awareness and personal development.

Power, alongside authority and oppression, have for some not inconsiderable time been a specific research interest of mine. Power may find a broad significance as a disposition toward the other as seen in the terms exchange-power (e.g. economic) and co-ordination-power (e.g. individuals or groups): ‘There is somehow power in the system or in the culture we have inherited, and that power controls us, sometimes in deleterious ways.’ (Honderich, 1995: 709). My own weltanschauung on power (and oppression) is one inclined toward and appreciative of critical thinking, political science, liberalism, analytical philosophy, historical materialism, and phenomenology (e.g. Canetti, 1962; Foucault, 1967; 1978; 1985; 1986; Hobbes, 1990; Hume, 1990;
Heidegger, 1962; Marx, 2000; Mill, 1962; Nietzsche, 1990; 1996; 2005; Schopenhauer, 1958; 1970). In turn, my ethical praxis can also be said to be informed by close readings of humanism, post-Freudian psychoanalysis, analytical psychology, feminism, rationalism, and an interest in the principle Upanishads (e.g. Hume, 1877; Lacan, 1977; LeBon, 2001; Jung, 1969; Kristeva, 1984; Rogers, 1961; Warnock, 1967). Furthermore, though I should very much like to say much more, I fear that what this combination of influences makes for I cannot precisely say in the space allowed. That said, at the most general substantive level, I might broadly align myself with those for whom power, obedience, and oppression in the helping professions is a matter of the utmost ethical concern (e.g. Bond, 2000; Canetti, 1962; Foucault, 1967; 1978; 1985; 1986; Guggenbuhl-Craig, 1971; Milgram, 1974; Szasz, 1970).

An Overview of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy in the Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder


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This excellent article on the use of DBT in the treatment of BPD suggested itself to me as so succinct and informative I decided to not write my own thought on this subject – as it would perhaps merely be a less well constructed fascimile of Kiehn and Swales original paper.

by Barry Kiehn and Michaela Swales

Patients showing the features of Borderline Personality Disorder as defined in DSM-IV are notoriously difficult to treat (Linehan 1993a). They are difficult to keep in therapy, frequently fail to respond to our therapeutic efforts and make considerable demands on the emotional resources of the therapist, particular when suicidal and parasuicidal behaviours are prominent.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is an innovative method of treatment that has been developed specifically to treat this difficult group of patients in a way which is optimistic and which preserves the morale of the therapist.

The technique has been devised by Marsha Linehan at the University of Washington in Seattle and its effectiveness has been demonstrated in a controlled study, the results of which will be summarised later in this paper.

BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is based on a bio-social theory of borderline personality disorder. Linehan hypothesises that the disorder is a consequence of an emotionally vulnerable individual growing up within a particular set of environmental circumstances which she refers to as the ‘Invalidating Environment’.

An ’emotionally vulnerable’ person in this sense is someone whose autonomic nervous system reacts excessively to relatively low levels of stress and takes longer than normal to return to baseline once the stress is removed. It is proposed that this is the consequence of a biological diathesis.

The term ‘Invalidating Environment’ refers essentially to a situation in which the personal experiences and responses of the growing child are disqualified or “invalidated” by the significant others in her life. The child’s personal communications are not accepted as an accurate indication of her true feelings and it is implied that, if they were accurate, then such feelings would not be a valid response to circumstances. Furthermore, an Invalidating Environment is characterised by a tendency to place a high value on self-control and self-reliance. Possible difficulties in these areas are not acknowledged and it is implied that problem solving should be easy given proper motivation. Any failure on the part of the child to perform to the expected standard is therefore ascribed to lack of motivation or some other negative characteristic of her character. (The feminine pronoun will be used throughout this paper when referring to the patient since the majority of BPD patients are female and Linehan’s work has focused on this subgroup).

Linehan suggests that an emotionally vulnerable child can be expected to experience particular problems in such an environment. She will neither have the opportunity accurately to label and understand her feelings nor will she learn to trust her own responses to events. Neither is she helped to cope with situations that she may find difficult or stressful, since such problems are not acknowledged. It may be expected then that she will look to other people for indications of how she should be feeling and to solve her problems for her. However, it is in the nature of such an environment that the demands that she is allowed to make on others will tend to be severely restricted. The child’s behaviour may then oscillate between opposite poles of emotional inhibition in an attempt to gain acceptance and extreme displays of emotion in order to have her feelings acknowledged. Erratic response to this pattern of behaviour by those in the environment may then create a situation of intermittent reinforcement resulting in the behaviour pattern becoming persistent.

Linehan suggests that a particular consequence of this state of affairs will be a failure to understand and control emotions; a failure to learn the skills required for ’emotion modulation’. Given the emotional vulnerability of these individuals this is postulated to result in a state of ’emotional dysregulation’ which combines in a transactional manner with the Invalidating Environment to produce the typical symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Patients with BPD frequently describe a history of childhood sexual abuse and this is regarded within the model as representing a particularly extreme form of invalidation.

Linehan emphasises that this theory is not yet supported by empirical evidence but the value of the technique does not depend on the theory being correct since the clinical effectiveness of DBT does have empirical support.

PATIENTS’ CHARACTERISTICS

Linehan groups the features of BPD in a particular way, describing the patients as showing dysregulation in the sphere of emotions, relationships, behaviour, cognition and the sense of self. She suggests that, as a consequence of the situation that has been described, they show six typical patterns of behaviour, the term ‘behaviour’ referring to emotional, cognitive and autonomic activity as well as external behaviour in the narrow sense.

Firstly, they show evidence of ’emotional vulnerability’ as already described. They are aware of their difficulty coping with stress and may blame others for having unrealistic expectations and making unreasonable demands.

On the other hand they have internalised the characteristics of the Invalidating Environment and tend to show ‘self-invalidation’. They invalidate their own responses and have unrealistic goals and expectations, feeling ashamed and angry with themselves when they experience difficulty or fail to achieve their goals.

These two features constitute the first pair of so-called ‘dialectical dilemmas’, the patient’s position tending to swing between the opposing poles since each extreme is experienced as being distressing.

Next, they tend to experience frequent traumatic environmental events, in part related to their own dysfunctional lifestyle and exacerbated by their extreme emotional reactions with delayed return to baseline. This results in what Linehan refers to as a pattern of ‘unrelenting crisis’, one crisis following another before the previous one has been resolved. On the other hand, because of their difficulties with emotion modulation, they are unable to face, and therefore tend to inhibit, negative affect and particularly feelings associated with loss or grief. This ‘inhibited grieving’ and the ‘unrelenting crisis’ constitute the second ‘dialectical dilemma’.

The opposite poles of the final dilemma are referred to as ‘active passivity’ and ‘apparent competence’. Patients with BPD are active in finding other people who will solve their problems for them but are passive in relation to solving their own problems. On the other hand, they have learned to give the impression of being competent in response to the Invalidating Environment. In some situations they may indeed be competent but their skills do not generalise across different situations and are dependent on the mood state of the moment. This extreme mood dependency is seen as being a typical feature of patients with BPD.

A pattern of self-mutilation tends to develop as a means of coping with the intense and painful feelings experienced by these patients and suicide attempts may be seen as an expression of the fact that life is at times simply does not seem worth living. These behaviours in particular tend to result in frequent episodes of admission to psychiatric hospitals. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, which will now be described, focuses specifically on this pattern of problem behaviours and in particular, the parasuicidal behaviour. DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOUR THERAPY The term ‘dialectical’ is derived from classical philosophy. It refers to a form of argument in which an assertion is first made about a particular issue (the ‘thesis’), the opposing position is then formulated (the ‘antithesis’ ) and finally a ‘synthesis’ is sought between the two extremes, embodying the valuable features of each position and resolving any contradictions between the two. This synthesis then acts as the thesis for the next cycle. In this way truth is seen as a process which develops over time in transactions between people. From this perspective there can be no statement representing absolute truth. Truth is approached as the middle way between extremes. The dialectical approach to understanding and treatment of human problems is therefore non-dogmatic, open and has a systemic and transactional orientation. The dialectical viewpoint underlies the entire structure of therapy, the key dialectic being ‘acceptance’ on the one hand and ‘change’ on the other. Thus DBT includes specific techniques of acceptance and validation designed to counter the self-invalidation of the patient. These are balanced by techniques of problem solving to help her learn more adaptive ways of dealing with her difficulties and acquire the skills to do so. Dialectical strategies underlie all aspects of treatment to counter the extreme and rigid thinking encountered in these patients. The dialectical world view is apparent in the three pairs of ‘dialectical dilemmas’ already described, in the goals of therapy and in the attitudes and communication styles of the therapist which are to be described. The therapy is behavioural in that, without ignoring the past, it focuses on present behaviour and the current factors which are controlling that behaviour. THERAPIST CHARACTERISTICS IN DBT The success of treatment is dependant on the quality of the relationship between the patient and therapist. The emphasis is on this being a real human relationship in which both members matter and in which the needs of both have to be considered. Linehan is particularly alert to the risks of burnout to therapists treating these patients and therapist support and consultation is an integral and essential part of the treatment. In DBT support is not regarded as an optional extra. The basic idea is that the therapist gives DBT to the patient and receives DBT from his or her colleagues. The approach is a team approach. The therapist is asked to accept a number of working assumptions about the patient that will establish the required attitude for therapy: 1. The patient wants to change and, in spite of appearances, is trying her best at any particular time. 2. Her behaviour pattern is understandable given her background and present circumstances. Her life may currently not be worth living (however, the therapist will never agree that suicide is the appropriate solution but always stays on the side of life. The solution is rather to try and make life more worth living). 3. In spite of this she needs to try harder if things are ever to improve. She may not be entirely to blame for the way things are but it is her personal responsibility to make them different. 4. Patients can not fail in DBT. If things are not improving it is the treatment that is failing. In particular the therapist must avoid at all times viewing the patient, or talking about her, in pejorative terms since such an attitude will be antagonistic to successful therapeutic intervention and likely to feed into the problems that have led to the development of BPD in the first place. Linehan has a particular dislike for the word “manipulative” as commonly applied to these patients. She points out that this implies that they are skilled at managing other people when it is precisely the opposite that is true. Also the fact that the therapist may feel manipulated does not necessarily imply that this was the intention of the patient. It is more probable that the patient did not have the skills to deal with the situation more effectively. The therapist relates to the patient in two dialectically opposed styles. The primary style of relationship and communication is referred to as ‘reciprocal communication’, a style involving responsiveness, warmth and genuineness on the part of the therapist. Appropriate self-disclosure is encouraged but always with the interests of the patient in mind. The alternative style is referred to as ‘irreverent communication’. This is a more confrontational and challenging style aimed at bringing the patient up with a jolt in order to deal with situations where therapy seems to be stuck or moving in an unhelpful direction. It will be observed that these two communication styles form the opposite ends of another dialectic and should be used in a balanced way as therapy proceeds. The therapist should try to interact with the patient in a way that is: 1. accepting of the patient as she is but which encourages change. 2. centred and firm yet flexible when the circumstances require it. 3. nurturing but benevolently demanding. The dialectical approach is here again apparent. There is a clear and open emphasis on the limits of behaviour acceptable to the therapist and these are dealt with in a very direct way. The therapist should be clear about his or her personal limits in relations to a particular patient and should as far as possible make these clear to her from the start. It is openly acknowledged that an unconditional relationship between therapist and patient is not humanly possible and it is always possible for the patient to cause the therapist to reject her if she tries hard enough. It is in the patient’s interests therefore to learn to treat her therapist in a way that encourages the therapist to want to continue helping her. It is not in her interests to burn him or her out. This issue is confronted directly and openly in therapy. The therapist helps therapy to survive by consistently bringing it to the patient’s attention when limits have been overstepped and then teaching her the skills to deal with the situation more effectively and acceptably. It is made quite clear that the issue is immediately concerned with the legitimate needs of the therapist and only indirectly with the needs of the patient who clearly stands to lose if she manages to burn out the therapist. The therapist is asked to adopt a non-defensive posture towards the patient, to accept that therapists are fallible and that mistakes will at times inevitably be made. Perfect therapy is simply not possible. It needs to be accepted as a working hypothesis that (to use Linehan’s words) “all therapists are jerks”. PATIENTS’ AND THERAPISTS’ AGREEMENTS This form of therapy must be entirely voluntary and depends for its success on having the co-operation of the patient. From the start, therefore, attention is given to orienting the patient to the nature of DBT and obtaining a commitment to undertake the work. A variety of specific strategies are described in the Linehan’s book (Linehan 1993a) to facilitate this process. Before a patient will be taken on for DBT she will be required to give a number of undertakings: 1. To work in therapy for a specified period of time (Linehan initially contracts for one year). and, within reason, to attend all scheduled therapy sessions.

2. If suicidal or parasuicidal behaviours are present, she must agree to work on reducing these.

3. To work on any behaviours that interfere with the course of therapy (‘therapy interfering behaviours’).

4. To attend skills training.

The strength of these agreements may be variable and a “take what you can get approach” is advocated. Nevertheless a definite commitment at some level is required since reminding the patient about her commitment and re-establishing such commitment throughout the course of therapy are important strategies in DBT.

The therapist agrees to make every reasonable effort to help the patient and to treat her with respect, as well as to keep to the usual expectations of reliability and professional ethics. The therapist does not however give any undertaking to stop the patient from harming herself. On the contrary, it should be make quite clear that the therapist is simply not able to prevent her from doing so. The therapist will try rather to help her find ways of making her life more worth living. DBT is offered as a life-enhancement treatment and not as a suicide prevention treatment, although it is hoped that it may indeed achieve the latter.

MODES OF TREATMENT

There are four primary modes of treatment in DBT :

  1. Individual therapy
  2. Group skills training
  3. Telephone contact
  4. Therapist consultation

Whilst keeping within the overall model, group therapy and other modes of treatment may be added at the discretion of the therapist, providing the targets for that mode are clear and prioritised.

The individual therapist is the primary therapist. The main work of therapy is carried out in the INDIVIDUAL THERAPY sessions. The structure of individual therapy and some of the strategies used will be described shortly. The characteristics of the therapeutic alliance have already been described.

Between sessions the patient should be offered TELEPHONE CONTACT with the therapist, including out of hours telephone contact. This tends to be an aspect of DBT balked at by many prospective therapists. However, each therapist has the right to set clear limits on such contact and the purpose of telephone contact is also quite clearly defined. In particular, telephone contact is not for the purpose of psychotherapy. Rather it is to give the patient help and support in applying the skills that she is learning to her real life situation between sessions and to help her find ways of avoiding self-injury. Calls are also accepted for the purpose of relationship repair where the patient feels that she has damaged her relationship with her therapist and wants to put this right before the next session. Calls after the patient has injured herself are not acceptable and, after ensuring her immediate safety, no further calls are allowed for the next twenty four hours. This is to avoid reinforcing self-injury.

SKILLS TRAINING is usually carried out in a group context, ideally by someone other that the individual therapist. In the skills training groups patients are taught skills considered relevant to the particular problems experienced by people with borderline personality disorder. There are four modules focusing in turn on four groups of skills:

  1. Core mindfulness skills.
  2. Interpersonal effectiveness skills.
  3. Emotion modulation skills.
  4. Distress tolerance skills.

The ‘core mindfulness skills’ are derived from certain techniques of Buddhist meditation, although they are essentially psychological techniques and no religious allegiance is involved in their application. Essentially they are techniques to enable one to become more clearly aware of the contents of experience and to develop the ability to stay with that experience in the present moment.

The ‘interpersonal effectiveness skills’ which are taught focus on effective ways of achieving one’s objectives with other people: to ask for what one wants effectively, to say no and have it taken seriously, to maintain relationships and to maintain self-esteem in interactions with other people.

‘Emotion modulation skills’ are ways of changing distressing emotional states and ‘distress tolerance skills’ include techniques for putting up with these emotional states if they can not be changed for the time being.

The skills are too many and varied to be described here in detail. They are fully described in a teaching format in the DBT skills training manual (Linehan, 1993b).

The therapists receive DBT from each other at the regular THERAPIST CONSULTATION GROUPS and, as already mentioned, this is regarded as an essential aspect of therapy. The members of the group are required to keep each other in the DBT mode and (among other things) are required to give a formal undertaking to remain dialectical in their interaction with each other, to avoid any pejorative descriptions of patient or therapist behaviour, to respect therapists’ individual limits and generally are expected to treat each other at least as well as they treat their patients. Part of the session may be used for ongoing training purposes.

STAGES OF THERAPY AND TREATMENT TARGETS

Patients with BPD present multiple problems and this can pose problems for the therapist in deciding what to focus on and when. This problem is directly addressed in DBT. The course of therapy over time is organised into a number of stages and structured in terms of hierarchies of targets at each stage.

The PRE-TREATMENT STAGE focuses on assessment, commitment and orientation to therapy.

STAGE 1 focuses on suicidal behaviours, therapy interfering behaviours and behaviours that interfere with the quality of life, together with developing the necessary skills to resolve these problems.

STAGE 2 deals with post-traumatic stress related problems (PTSD)

STAGE 3 focuses on self-esteem and individual treatment goals.

The targeted behaviours of each stage are brought under control before moving on to the next phase. In particular post-traumatic stress related problems such as those related to childhood sexual abuse are not dealt with directly until stage 1 has been successfully completed. To do so would risk an increase in serious self injury. Problems of this type (flashbacks for instance) emerging whilst the patient is still in stages 1 or 2 are dealt with using ‘distress tolerance’ techniques. The treatment of PTSD in stage 2 involves exposure to memories of the past trauma.

Therapy at each stage is focused on the specific targets for that stage which are arranged in a definite hierarchy of relative importance. The hierarchy of targets varies between the different modes of therapy but it is essential for therapists working in each mode to be clear what the targets are. An overall goal in every mode of therapy is to increase dialectical thinking.

The hierarchy of targets in individual therapy for example is as follows:

  1. Decreasing suicidal behaviours.
  2. Decreasing therapy interfering behaviours.
  3. Decreasing behaviours that interfere with the quality of life.
  4. Increasing behavioural skills.
  5. Decreasing behaviours related to post-traumatic stress.
  6. Improving self esteem.
  7. Individual targets negotiated with the patient.

In any individual session these targets must be dealt with in that order. In particular, any incident of self harm that may have occurred since the last session must be dealt with first and the therapist must not allow him or herself to be distracted from this goal.

The importance given to ‘therapy interfering behaviours’ is a particular characteristic of DBT and reflects the difficulty of working with these patients. It is second only to suicidal behaviours in importance. These are any behaviours by the patient or therapist that interfere in any way with the proper conduct of therapy and risk preventing the patient from getting the help she needs. They include, for example, failure to attend sessions reliably, failure to keep to contracted agreements, or behaviours that overstep therapist limits.

Behaviours that interfere with the quality of life are such things as drug or alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, high risk behaviour and the like. What is or is not a quality of life interfering behaviour may be a matter for negotiation between patient and therapist.

The patient is required to record instances of targeted behaviours on the weekly diary cards. Failure to do so is regarded as therapy interfering behaviour.

TREATMENT STRATEGIES

Within this framework of stages, target hierarchies and modes of therapy a wide variety of therapeutic strategies and specific techniques is applied.

The core strategies in DBT are ‘validation’ and ‘problem solving’. Attempts to facilitate change are surrounded by interventions that validate the patient’s behaviour and responses as understandable in relation to her current life situation, and that show an understanding of her difficulties and suffering.

Problem solving focuses on the establishment of necessary skills. If the patient is not dealing with her problems effectively then it is to be anticipated either that she does not have the necessary skills to do so, or does have the skills but is prevented from using them. If she does not have the skills then she will need to learn them. This is the purpose of the skills training.

Having the skills, she may be prevented from using them in particular situations either because of environmental factors or because of emotional or cognitive problems getting in the way. To deal with these difficulties the following techniques may be applied in the course of therapy:

  1. Contingency management
  2. Cognitive therapy
  3. Exposure based therapies
  4. Pharmacotherapy

The principles of using these techniques are precisely those applying to their use in other contexts and will not be described in any detail. In DBT however they are used in a relatively informal way and interwoven into therapy. Linehan recommends that medication be prescribed by someone other than the primary therapist although this may not be practical.

Particular note should be made of the pervading application of contingency management throughout therapy, using the relationship with the therapist as the main reinforcer. In the session by session course of therapy care is taken to systematically reinforce targeted adaptive behaviours and to avoid reinforcing targeted maladaptive behaviours. This process is made quite overt to the patient, explaining that behaviour which reinforced can be expected to increase. A clear distinction is made between the observed effect of reinforcement and the motivation of the behaviour, pointing out that such a relationship between cause and effect does not imply that the behaviour is being carried out deliberately in order to obtain the reinforcement. Didactic teaching and insight strategies may also be used to help the patient achieve an understanding of the factors that may be controlling her behaviour.

The same contingency management approach is taken in dealing with behaviours that overstep the therapist’s personal limits in which case they are referred to as ‘observing limits procedures’.

Problem solving and change strategies are again balanced dialectically by the use of validation strategies. It is important at every stage to convey to the patient that her behaviour, including thoughts feelings and actions are understandable, even though they may be maladaptive or unhelpful.

Significant instances of targeted maladaptive behaviour occurring since the last session (which should have been recorded on the diary card) are initially dealt with by carrying out a detailed ‘behavioural analysis’. In particular every single instance of suicidal or parasuicidal behaviour is dealt with in this way. Such behavioural analysis is an important aspect of DBT and may take up a large proportion of therapy time.

In the course of a typical behavioural analysis a particular instance of behaviour is first clearly defined in specific terms and then a ‘chain analysis’ is conducted, looking in detail at the sequence of events and attempting to link these events one to another. In the course of this process hypotheses are generated about the factors that may be controlling the behaviour. This is followed by, or interwoven with, a ‘solution analysis’ in which alternative ways of dealing with the situation at each stage are considered and evaluated. Finally one solution should be chosen for future implementation. Difficulties that may be experienced in carrying out this solution are considered and strategies of dealing with these can be worked out.

It is frequently the case that patients will attempt to avoid this behavioural analysis since they may experience the process of looking in such detail at their behaviour as aversive. However it is essential that the therapist should not be side tracked until the process is completed. In addition to achieving an understanding of the factors controlling behaviour, behavioural analysis can be seen as part of contingency management strategy, applying a somewhat aversive consequence to an episode of targeted maladaptive behaviour. The process can also be seen as an exposure technique helping to desensitise the patient to painful feelings and behaviours. Having completed the behavioural analysis the patient can then be rewarded with a ‘heart to heart’ conversation about the things she likes to discuss.

Behavioural analysis can be seen as a way of responding to maladaptive behaviour, and in particular to parasuicide, in a way that shows interest and concern but which avoids reinforcing the behaviour.

In DBT a particular approach is taken in dealing with the network of people with whom the patient is involved personally and professionally. These are referred to as ‘case management strategies’. The basic idea is that the patient should be encouraged, with appropriate help and support, to deal with her own problems in the environment in which they occur. Therefore, as far as possible, the therapist does not do things for the patient but encourages the patient to do things for herself. This includes dealing with other professionals who may be involved with the patient. The therapist does not try to tell these other professionals how to deal with the patient but helps the patient learn how to deal with the other professionals. Inconsistencies between professionals are seen as inevitable and not necessarily something to be avoided. Such inconsistencies are rather seen as opportunities for the patient to practice her interpersonal effectiveness skills. If she grumbles about the help she is receiving from another professional she is helped to sort this out herself with the person involved. This is referred to as the ‘consultation-to-the-patient strategy’ which, among other things, serves to minimise the so-called “staff splitting” which tends to occur between professionals dealing with these patients.

Environmental intervention is acceptable but only in very specific situations where a particular outcome seems essential and the patient does not have the power or capability to produce this outcome. Such intervention should be the exception rather than the rule.

EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE

The effectiveness of DBT has been assessed in two major trials. The first (Linehan et al, 1991) compared the effectiveness of DBT relative to treatment as usual (TAU). The second (Linehan et al, in press) examined the effectiveness of DBT skills training when added to standard community psychotherapy.

In the first randomised controlled trial, there were three main goals:

Firstly, to reduce the frequency of parasuicidal behaviours. This is clearly of importance because of the distressing nature of the behaviour but also because of the increased risk of completed suicide in this group (Stone, 1987).

Secondly, to reduce behaviours that interfere with the progress of therapy (‘therapy interfering behaviours’), as the attrition rate from therapy in borderline women with a history of parasuicidal behaviours is high.

Finally, to reduce behaviours that interfere with the patients’ quality of life. In this study this latter goal was interpreted more specifically as a reduction in in-patient psychiatric days, which is hypothesised to interfere with the patient’s quality of life.

Participants all met DSM-IIIR criteria for BPD, and were matched for number of lifetime parasuicide episodes, number of lifetime admissions to hospital, age and anticipated good or poor prognosis.

There were 22 patients in each group. The experimental group received standard DBT as outlined above. The experience of the patients in the treatment as usual group was variable; some received regular individual psychotherapy, others dropped out of individual therapy whilst continuing to have access to in-patient and day-patient services. All participants were assessed on number of parasuicidal episodes and a range of questionnaire measures of mood. Patients were blindly assessed at pre-treatment, 4, 8 and 12 months and followed up at 6 and 12 months post-treatment. Measures of treatment compliance and other treatment delivered (e.g. in patient psychiatric days) were also taken. At pre-treatment there were no significant differences on any of the measures between the control and experimental groups including demographic criteria.

With regard to the first aim of the trial (i.e. the reduction of suicidal behaviour), during the year of treatment patients in the control group engaged in more parasuicidal acts than DBT patients at all time points. The medical risk for parasuicidal acts was higher in the control group than in the DBT group.

Patients in the DBT group were more likely to start therapy and were more likely to remain in therapy than those in the control group. The one year attrition rate in the DBT group was 16.7% compared to 50% for those in the control group who commenced the year with a new therapist. The DBT patients reported more individual and group therapy treatment hours per week than the TAU group, which reflects the intensive nature of DBT treatment. However, the control patients reported more day treatment hours per week.

With regard to the third goal of the trial, patients in the control group had significantly more inpatient psychiatric days per person than those receiving DBT (38.6 days per year as compared to 8.46 days per year for the DBT group).

These results were considered to indicate the superiority of DBT over treatment as usual. However, one major criticism of the trial is that the variable and patchy therapeutic experience of the control group may be considered to favour DBT. This criticism can be challenged, however, since one of the treatment aims of DBT is to keep the patient in therapy. This it seems to have succeeded in doing. However, it is still pertinent to enquire how well DBT would compare to a consistent treatment alternative. An attempt was made to explore this by comparing the DBT patients with those in the TAU group who received regular individual therapy. It was found that the gains of the patients in the DBT group over the TAU group remained even using this more rigorous comparison.

Despite the more intensive nature of DBT it remained cheaper than TAU, largely because of the reduction in the number of in-patient and day-treatment days received by the DBT patients.

It is of interest that, although the DBT patients showed significant gains across the three areas of interest (number of parasuicides, treatment compliance and inpatient days), there were no between-group differences on any of the questionnaire measures of mood and suicidal ideation. During the follow-up year, patients in the DBT group had higher Global Assessment Scores and a better work performance than the patients in the TAU group. In the first 6 months, DBT patients had fewer suicidal acts, lower anger scores and better self-reported social adjustment than TAU patients. In the final 6 months, DBT patients had fewer in-patient days treatment and better interviewer rated social adjustment than TAU patients.

The second trial had two parts. Firstly, it compared standard community psychotherapy (SCP) plus the group skills component of DBT with SCP alone without added skills training. Secondly, it compared the SCP group from the first part of the present study with the experimental group in the previously described randomised control trial. In this latter comparison, assignment to conditions was not random. However, all subjects were screened in the same way, during the same time frame and were all subject to blind assessment.

The results of the first part of this study indicated that the addition of DBT skills training to SCP for this group of parasuicidal borderline women did not confer any additional therapeutic benefit. In this part of the study the skills training was truly ancillary in that there were no meetings between the individual therapists and the group therapists, nor were any attempts made to assist the patient to generalise the skills learnt in the group to her everyday life.

In the second part of the study there were some pre-treatment differences between the two groups. The DBT patients were less depressed than the control group and reported higher levels of unemployment. These differences were not considered to be particularly important for three reasons. Firstly, depression was not correlated with any of the outcome variables. Secondly, although the lower depression scores favoured the DBT group, the lower unemployment favoured the SCP group. Finally, the levels of depression did not differ between the two groups after the pre-treament point.

During the treatment year there were no significant differences between the groups with regard to staying in therapy. There were some slight differences in the distribution of therapeutic hours, with DBT patients reporting more group treatment hours than the SCP group. Most importantly, however, there were no significant relationships between number of treatment hours and any of the outcome variables. Over the treatment year, standard DBT patients compared to SCP patients had fewer parasuicidal episodes, fewer episodes leading to medical treatment and fewer psychiatric in-patient days. DBT patients also reported less anger than the SCP patients.

This research then provides some evidence for the therapeutic efficacy of DBT. This evidence is primarily derived from one randomised control trial in which DBT was found to be superior on a number of variables to treatment as usual. Clearly this finding requires replication. There is also some evidence to suggest that DBT is superior to other forms of psychotherapy with this group of patients. However, this result comes from a comparison made using only a sub-sample of patients in the randomised trial (Linehan et al, 1991) and from a further comparison between two groups from different studies (Linehan et al, in press). Consequently, the effectiveness of DBT compared to other alternative treatments awaits further exploration. This will remain a challenge, particularly given the high drop-out rates from treatment of this group of patients.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy then is a novel method of therapy specifically designed to meet the needs of patients with Borderline Personality Disorder and their therapists. It directly addresses the problem of keeping these patients in therapy and the difficulty of maintaining therapist motivation and professional well-being. It is based on a clear and potentially testable theory of BPD and encourages a positive and validating attitude to these patients in the light of this theory. The approach incorporates what is valuable from other forms of therapy, and is based on a clear acknowledgement of the value of a strong relationship between therapist and patient. Therapy is clearly structured in stages and at each stage a clear hierarchy of targets is defined. The method offers a particularly helpful approach to the management of parasuicide with a clearly defined response to such behaviours. The techniques used in DBT are extensive and varied, addressing essentially every aspect of therapy and they are underpinned by a dialectical philosophy that recommends a balanced, flexible and systemic approach to the work of therapy. Techniques for achieving change are balanced by techniques of acceptance, problem solving is surrounded by validation, confrontation is balanced by understanding. The patient is helped to understand her problem behaviours and then deal with situations more effectively. She is taught the necessary skills to enable her to do so and helped to deal with any problems that she may have in applying them in her natural environment. Generalisation outside therapy is not assumed but encouraged directly. Advice and support available between sessions and the patient is encouraged and helped to take responsibility for dealing with life’s challenges herself. The method is supported by empirical evidence which suggests that it is successful in reducing self-injury and time spent in psychiatric in-patient treatment.

REFERENCES

Linehan, M.M. (1993a) Cognitive Behavioural Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. The Guilford Press, New York and London.

Linehan, M.M. (1993b) Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. The Guilford Press, New York and London.

Linehan, M.M., Armstrong, H.E., Suarez, A., Allmon, D. & Heard, H.L. (1991) Cognitive-behavioural treatment of chronically parasuicidal borderline patients. Archives of General Psychiatry, 48, 1060-1064.

Linehan, M.M., Heard, H.L. & Armstrong, H.E. (in press) Dialectical behaviour therapy, with and without behavioural skills training, for chronically parasuicidal borderline patients.

Stone, M.H. (1987) The course of borderline personality disorder. In Tasman, A., Hales, R.E. & Frances, A.J. (eds) American Psychiatric Press Review of Psychiatry. Washington DC; American Psychiatric Press inc. 8, 103-122.

Barry Kiehn, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Gwynfa Adolescent Service, Pen-y-Bryn Road, Upper Colwyn Bay, Clwyd, North Wales, LL29 6AL.
e-mail: b.kiehn@bbcnc.org.uk

Michaela Swales, Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Gwynfa Adolescent Service and Lecturer in the Psychology of Adolescence, University College of North Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2DG.
e-mail: pss051@bangor.ac.uk

Semiosis: Mountain and River


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Taborsky, E. (1998) ‘The Mountain and the River: Two levels of codification’. Architectonics Of Semiosis (p. 4)

The concept of a force of infinite and continuous power has played and always will play an important role in the human idea of reality. The truths or powers of this force are understood to exist per se esse: separate and, indeed, unaffected by any of the immediate particularities of life. This essentialist purity provides the continuity of life and is more expan­sive, more enduring, and more powerful than any single articulation. It has been imagized in countless tales, among many peoples, as a moun­tain. We read that:

“They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion which cannot be re­moved, but abideth forever.” (Ps. 125: 1);

and also

“He set above them

Granite of high mountains-and a king Empowered at command to rein them in

Or let them go.” (Virgil 1990: Bk. I. Lines 86-89);

as well as

“On the face of the mountain, the cedar lifts its seed.

Its shade is good, full of comfort.” (Gilgamesh 1984: p. 133).

Another common image is that of water – the rain, the rivers, the streams. We read that “a mist went up from the earth/and watered the whole face of the ground” (Gen. 2:4); and “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers” (Gen. 2:10). Water, in the boundless polyphonic plurality of its forms, is the image of renewal of the immediate, the multiple individual experiences of life. “Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters” (Isa. 32:20); life can begin again.

Semiosic actions within the architecture of a regime of knowledge con­sist of these two seemingly contradictory forces of stability and change. The individual sign, unfettered as these waters, must always, however one defines it, “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” (Ps. 91) and operate within the bonds of another force, for “In the Lord I take refuge. . . [I] flee like a bird to the mountains” (Ps. 11). What is the relationship of these two disparate forces, which operate within a single regime and, therefore, must interact? What of other relationships and other interactions that must be dealt with by a regime of knowledge?

(p. 5)

S’an ist une goute de sane Do fer de la lance an somet,

Et jusqua la main au vallet (Chretien de Troyes [c.1181] 1990: lines 3136-3139)

Un graal entre ses deux meins

Une demoisele tenoit (lines 3158-3159)

“Reality exists; it is “Other” to us. We fall over, bump into, meet with the brutality of its basic existentiality; as Peirce described, “the real is that which insists upon forcing its way to recognition as something other than the mind’s creation …. The real is active; we acknowledge it, in calling it the actual’ (1.325). We generally admit that we experience the realities of this otherness within the particular nature of ourselves as individuals, “for all men begin, as we said, by wondering that things are as they are” (Aristotle Metaphysics Bk.I:Ch.2.983a15).

Therefore, I am bringing to this analysis a premise that the Self and the Other(s) – we and whatever we experience in external reality-both exist. A key question is, do we have direct or indirect access to the verities of this experienced reality? Is our understanding dyadic and direct between these IWO focal points, the Self and the Other, or is it triadic, with a mediate ac­t ion inserted between these two nodes? These two cognitive frames, the dyadic and triadic, are as ancient as human thought. I consider this debate, over the existence of a mediate metanarrative that plays a role in cognition, the basis of all human inquiry. There seem to have been only these two an­swers, both of which have their followers: a dyadic cognitive frame, which is to say, direct and lacking mediation; and a triadic, which includes a me­diative action. The dyadic interaction operates within a unileveled, or one ­dimensional, architecture; the triadic operates within a bileveled, or multidimensional, architecture. A unilevel architecture involves codal or semiosic actions operative only as particular or single-fact existences; a bilevel architecture adds codal actions of generalization and commonality to those of the particular sign.

Most of the time our reflections about the codal operations of the uni­versal and the particular forces consider one of the two as dominant. In­deed, the history of analytic theories within both the sciences and the humanities is a pendulum swing of exploring, promoting, privileging, denying, or rejecting one or the other as the basis of our reality. However, it is the thesis of this book that the most strategically adaptive semiosis is operative within a bilevel architecture. One level, the group based on continuity, permits stability. The other level, the individual-based line of finite specificity, permits heterogeneity and diversity.”

(p. 139)

“The only way for energy, as desire, to exist is via the development guarantees of codification. Peirce described this energy as “a chaos of un­personalized feeling, which being without connection or regularity would properly be without existence” (6.33). These guarantees are achieved by the development of hierarchical levels of codification of both simple and com­plex-interlocking, delocking, relocking, new locking-networks of codi­fication via which energy moves in a continuous production of signs. Networks of relationships, pragmatic and reflexive (which means an ability to be meaningful) are the infrastructure of semiosis.

Di Quoi Ii Graus sert?

Et Percevaus redit tot el …

Tant que il do Graal savra

Cui I’en an sert, et qu’il avra

La Lance qui saigne trovee

Tant que fa verite provee

Ii soit dite por qu’ele saigne.

(Chretien de Troyes, lines 4656-4670)

Semiosis is the transformation of energy into spatiotemporal reality; it is an ac­tion operating within the desire of energy for codification. This desire is expressed-is empowered in its search for codification-within the action of the question. The question opens the current state of codification, the current semiosis, to its potential transformation into a new semiosis. Life exists within the doubt of the question, and never within the fullness of the answer. “Love is not specially the cause of existence; for in collecting things into the One it destroys all other things” (Aristotle Metaphysics Bk. III: Ch. 4. 1000b12)

THE BASIS OF SEMIOSIS IS THE DESIRE OF ENERGY TO BE ENCODED. [PW syntax] An imme­diate assumption by my use of the word “desire” is that I am denying what Monod (1971) defines as “the basic premise of the scientific method, to wit, that nature is objective and not projective” (1971: p. 3); I am completely in agree­ment with this statement-however, Monod continues that “the positing of the principle of objectivity as the condition of true knowledge constitutes an ethical choice and not a judgment arrived at .from knowledge, since, ac­cording to the postulate’s own terms, there cannot have been any ‘true’ knowledge prior to this arbitral choice.” (1971: p. 176).

(p. 140)

I am therefore insisting on an original “teleonomy” or intentionality of desire, both within the origin of the mediative codal actions (to be discussed as agaplastic desire) and within its ongoing operation (to be discussed as tychastic and agaplastic desire). This first premise, which is and must be a conscious and therefore ethical choice, is that this semiosic desire-which is to say, the infinite action of questioning – can only exist within the reflexive capacities of a bileveled semiosis.

The codal operations that emerge within the semiosic states of desire develop in evolutionary processes. What is evolution? Evolution operate within the desire for the articulation or codification of energy and exists within the realities of entropy. Codes emerge spontaneously within this state of desire. “The evolution of forms begins or, at any rate, has for an early stage of it, a vague potentiality; and that either is or is followed by a continuum of forms having a multitude of dimensions too great for the in­dividual dimensions to be distinct. It must be by a contraction of the vagueness of that potentiality of everything in general, but of nothing in particular, that the world of forms comes about” (Peirce 6.196). This orig­inal intentionality includes no instruction, no agenda, no particular gram­mar for the metanarrative or the signs of semiosis. Semiosic intentionality must be understood as operative within “the realm of perennial metamor­phosis … of every beginning, when the word has not yet detached itself from the thing, nor the mind from the matter” (Calasso, 1993: p. 137). It is “a process which extends from before time and from before logic, we can­not suppose that it began elsewhere than in the utter vagueness of com­pletely undetermined and dimensionless potentiality” (Peirce 6.193). Emergence of the basic code within a knowledge-regime is not simply and only tychastic and chance-driven; that is, isolate and unaffected by Other­ness; but is also operative within the desires, the codal attractions imposed by adjacent codal networks.4 And, therefore, “part of that which is chang­ing must be at the starting-point and part at the goal” (Aristotle Physics Bk. VI: Ch. 4. 234bI5); and “the unfailing continuity of coming-to-be cannot be attributed to the infinity of the material. … [Rather] the passing-away of this is a coming-to-be of something else, and the coming-to-be of this a passing-away of something else” (De Gen. Bk. I; Ch. 3.318a 20-25). Mat­uration, or the evolutionary development of these “selected” codes, will be anancastic – mechanically implemented, incremental networkings and “robust” or functional couplings with other codal networks. Therefore, within a state of desire for codification, actual codes emerge within the limited choices imposed by the current realities of codal Otherness, and

(p. 141)

this choice is made within the unpredictabilities of chance and accident; the “selected” or chosen codes, if successful within the limitations of the existent codalities of the Self and Other(s), quickly transform themselves into grammatical laws of regulatory order and, thus, increase the semiosic complexities and capacities of that particular regime of knowledge.

The codal grammars of the human species are expressed not merely within the physical, chemical, and biologic but also the conceptual codifi­cations. This is the real reason why we define Homo sapiens as “social”­ because the metanarrative is developed and functions within metaphors developed by the imagination, and the imagination is a communal and in­teractive force. “Experience is knowledge of individuals, art of univer­sals … yet we think that knowledge and understanding belong to art rather than experience. .. [and] these things, the most universal, are on the whole the hardest for men to know; for they are farthest from the senses” (Aristotle Metaphysics Bk.I.Ch.1, 2). The perpetuation of life requires the development of a metanarrative that operates within the generalities of in­terconnected habits of being. This generality is not that of any differential specification but “looking upon the course of logic as a whole we see that it proceeds from the question to the answer-from the vague to the defi­nite. The indeterminate future becomes the irrevocable past. In Spencer’s phrase the undifferentiated differentiates itsel[ The homogenous puts on heterogeneity. However it may be in special cases, then, we must suppose that as a rule the continuum has been derived from a more general con­tinuum, a continuum of higher generality” (Peirce 6.191).

Each society will develop a metanarrative grammar and its attendant networks over long periods of time-in a pragmatic, which means re­flexive-sense.5 These metanarratives are not rational architectures, con­cise blueprints of instructional goals, but are dialogic adaptations over time to particular stable and changing realities, beginning with a simple and moving into a complex semiotic architecture. “The activity of an or­ganism in any living system must favour both the environment and the organism itself” (Harries-Jones 1995,76). I am repeating Peirce’s dictum “there are Real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them” (5.384). I am quite capable of describing an alli­gator as a metaphoric clone of any ill-favoured politician, but I am no more capable of creating that alligator than it can create me. My rela­tionships with the Real must acknowledge the force of its potential im­pact on me; as such, these relationships develop within the basis of communal generalities developed over time.”