Posts Tagged ‘existentialism’


February 7th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy, Psychology

One of the more profound experiences I have had in learning how to participate in and lead small groups is my experience joining a group of people I did not know in the role of host. The host role, as understood in etiquette, is the person who meets and greets people and makes sure that they feel comfortable. Typically, the host either knows everyone or represents the place, as in a restaurant.

As an assignment in a personal power learning laboratory at the Wright Leadership Institute, however, the host or hostess role is an assignment given to a new member of the lab, a small group for learning personal life and leadership skills. Assignments form a major part of the learning methodology at WLI and collectively make up the Assignment Way of Living, in which students do assignments in their daily life to master life and leadership skills and behaviors.

The idea behind the Host/Hostess assignment is to introduce yourself to a group. It’s a counter-intuitive assignment in some ways because most of us generally think of a host or hostess as someone who welcomes other people to a party or a restaurant and makes them feel comfortable with the place or with the other guests.

In the Host assignment, in contrast, it was up to me to make myself comfortable, to make myself part of the group. WLI assignments are rooted in the existentialist concept of authenticity. They allow an individual to discover, explore, and practice their own sense of self in relation to other people and to ultimately take responsibility for their own sense of well being. The host assignment is a perfect example.

As a host in this sense, you take responsibility for including yourself in the group. The assignment can be done quite literally, with the new group member greeting each person as they enter the group or serving refreshments before the group begins. Further, the group host may work to see that other group members include themselves in the conversation.

The assignment was quite profound for me. Like many people, I was used to having others include me in a conversation or see that I felt comfortable in a situation. I realized in doing the assignment that it was not up to others to see that I included myself or felt comfortable. It was up to me.

By extending myself to people I did not know and make sure that they felt comfortable with and knew me, I gained a greater acceptance of other people in the group–and of myself as a member of the group. This was a critical first lesson on group dynamics–that belonging to a group is a critical responsibility of the group member.

I belonged not because the other group members helped me belong but because I decided I belonged and, in effect, proved it to the other group members in my performance of the assignment by my welcoming behaviors, which, ultimately, showed them that I had made the effort to get to know them in some personal way. Therein lies a key skill in mastering groups, whether for task performance, business networking, or social interaction.

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January 26th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy, Psychology

Today I considered engagement and what it means to live an engaged life. This is a way of living and being that I have explored for years, but today at the Men’s Leadership Development Week at the Wright Leadership Institute the deeper meaning of engagement as a way of being began to become more clear.

To say “way of being” is to use language with the tones of existential philosophy, but to use it in a practical, living sense, not solely an intellectual sense. Choice is one of the primary existential principles of living, and engagement is a choice.

In existential terms, it is a choice of being or nonbeing, a choice of living or not living, at least in the sense that to be alive is to be conscious and aware of oneself and one’s internal and external states and feelings. Engagement in this sense is to be or not to be.

In daily terms, being and nonbeing is not so lofty as it may sound. It’s picking up the phone to make a cold sales call–or not. It’s telling your spouse that you’re angry and why–or not. It’s correcting an employee–or not. It’s asking someone to lunch–or not.

In any of those acts, there is a risk–the risk of rejection, or nonbeing. And with risk there is fear.

So engagement becomes facing fear and having mastery over fear. Think of when you have faced a fear and how satisfying that feeling is. That is the satisfaction of engagement.

For there is also a yearning or desire to have something more that leads to the decision to engage–or not.

Engagement is a fuller expression of self, a choice to be oneself, as opposed to a simple act. We are aiming to be fully engaged.

I have missed a lot of the subtleties here and a broader context of leadership development. More on engagement to come.

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Existential Power

January 9th, 2010 by Collin Canright | No Comments | Filed in Philosophy, Psychology

In physics, power is the rate at which work is performed or energy is converted: power equals work divided by time. Personal power is similar, in that it is a conversion of personal energy over time.

Personal power is the ability of an individual to affect and influence his or her environment, to make something happen within himself, in another individual, in a group, or in society at large. This implies that every individual has power, just by the nature of being human. All people are power.

I have been completing an overview paper on personal power for my masters’ work at the Wright Graduate Institute for the Realization of Human Potential. One of the first things that’s apparent in the personal power area of competence is that power is mostly written about directly in terms of political and economic power, where power concerns the degree of control on person exercises over another, not personal power, where power is inherent in an individual for that individual to use, or not, for personal growth and development.

Yet the concept of a person having, even being, power is inherent in philosophy. Here’s the portion of my paper that covers personal power from an existentialist point of view:

Existential psychologists focus on experience in contrast to behavior. In philosophical terms, existentialists believe that existence precedes essence. Humans experience life (existence) and make their own meaning (essence) through the choices they make. They do not come into the world with a predefined essence and a predetermined course of life but with the free will and ability to choose.

Choice itself is the essence of existence, and a person’s life is the sum total of the choices that he made. The past is the sum of choices, and the future does not exist until a choice is made, at which point it’s the past. Given that people can exercise choice, they are, by nature, powerful, for choice entails the ability to act, to channel energy in a way that has an effect on the world, either internal or external.

Personal power from an existentialist point of view, then, lies in the individual’s free will and ability to choose. Individuals chose their lives and the experiences that make up their lives. As a result, individuals have the power to make their lives as they will, which means that they can change the course of their lives by making different choices.

In psychotherapy, existential influences include the emphasis on individuals’ freedom and responsibility for their own existence, the process of becoming an individual, the challenge to authenticity in existence, and the positive role of anxiety as a medium for change and growth. In terms of methodology, existential psychotherapy requires, Donald Moss wrote in
Existential-Phenomenological Alternatives for Psychology‎, an “authentic encounter in the present moment between two existing individuals.”

German existentialist and phenomenological philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote that one of the essential characteristics of human existence is that they are “thrown” into the world. They exist in a network of circumstances, relationships, and history that they have not chosen. “(Existential) psychotherapy challenges the individual to take this “thrownness” and make it in some way “my own,” to take the facts and particularities and create of them a new life that is uniquely an expression of oneself,” Moss wrote.

Personal power, again, lies in individuals choosing to take responsibility for their life situation and the choices they make. Existential psychologists working in clinical practice challenge the individual to “own” their choices and take responsibility for them, to see how they have used their personal power of choice to make their own meaning or life and to further use their power to make life anew.

As a result of that personal power, people make a project of their lives, either consciously or unconsciously, in the view of existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sarte. Sartre conceived of the individual’s life project as a “fundamental project of being.” Key elements of the project of being are a spirit of playfulness, as opposed to seriousness, and a quality of full engagement in living. As Dr. Robert Wright wrote in an unpublished paper:

This includes responsibility for his life in all the aforementioned positions; a quality of commitment to principle and a sense of purpose as with Kierkegaard and Heidegger; a willingness to tell the truth fully as Nietzsche defined; and a quality of playful engagement in living as seen in Nietzsche and Sartre. There appears to be a consensus among the existentialists regarding these essentials of the individual’s life project.

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