Existentialists Are Prideful And Arrogant (Just Like You)
One of my least favorite parts of therapist training was a deep investigation in who I am. What motivates me, what are my weaknesses and blind spots and vulnerabilities. There isn’t room enough in a blog like this to begin to list these weaknesses, and I am certain others will tell you if you ask them in private.
That said, one of the weaknesses I am always watchful for in myself is pride.
Our career field sort of pushes pridefulness and arrogance on us. We don’t just need to publish, we need to have our name as first author. We need to present, and (even better) headline presentations. This is what gets us the few tenure positions still available in our crumbling education system; this is what pads our resumes and CVs. I am not immune to these pressures, not immune to the feeling of pride when asked to present or co-author something or prepare a book chapter or review submissions.
We can, though, be better than this. We can share authorship, go out of our way to include students or minority voices. We can make sure we share the stage or decline invitations when others are under-represented.
The thing is, a lot of us don’t.
It has been my great pleasure to attend many conferences, to be an international speaker and to receive guests from all over the country and the world. And, from behind the scenes, I have witnessed all sorts of bad behavior from people whose existential/humanistic orientations would seem to exempt them from said behavior.
It is not my purpose to name names, to call out the behavior publicly. Nor is it my purpose to shame anybody. But I think we need to be aware. When we take on a position that is existential or humanistic, our public behavior so often belies the things we say, the love we give in therapy, the beautiful and heartfelt words we write in our papers.
The thing is, we are people first. And people are over-specified to consider their own interests and points of view first. Being a humanist does not instantly make one a saint, and nor do we need to be martyrs. But perhaps in our business dealings, we could consider that one central tenet of humanistic thought: given a supportive environment, people will tend to actualize their best selves.
Rather than asking for an award or pitching a professional fit when it goes to someone else, why not ask what further contributions we can make? Yes, awards are good for our professional lives—but bad for our egos. We aren’t pop stars who can afford intense, narcissistic involvement with fame. Rather than refuse to participate unless we are the keynote speaker, why not support someone else into the role, use our clout not for personal gain but to mentor someone else whose work might be of great interest and import? The personal gain from this is perhaps less tangible, less obvious but no less real. Why demand better accommodations when a goal of the organizers is to avoid contributing to economic disparity in the place we are visiting?
I’ll ask you again to remember that some of our greatest writers and thinkers have been deeply troubled, that it is inordinately difficult to live by the beautiful ideals we sometimes espouse. But an unlived philosophy is without value.
The next time a student wants your help, or a colleague wants your participation, or a conference wants your cooperation, how can you shape your actions to match the values of existential and humanistic psychologies? How can you live your practice?
-- Jason Dias