Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand─Bob Dylan
I’m interested in the thematic connection between two exciting and important movements in existential-humanistic psychology today: the youth movement (Bargdill, 2011) and the move toward diversity (Hoffman, Yang, Kaklauskas, & Chan, 2009).*
Let us ask: “What might be youthful about diversity and what might be diverse about youth?” First off, we may put aside the notion that youth, as in chronological age, is a prerequisite for youthfulness. In fact, youth is not childhood, and it is not distinctly adulthood. Rather, it is a descriptive term denoting vivacity, curiosity, newness, and openness. In this way, youth is liminal, a betwixt and between threshold that any of us could venture into.
Secondly then, I think we may admit that being young in age does not necessarily mean one is young at heart, so to speak. Humanistic psychology has in fact experienced a youth movement, and this does show an influx of chronologically younger people. But, the youth movement is more than this; it is, as I will show, the new life brought to all of us from the coming of others, other than the same old. Thus, we see immediately that when any other comes to us, youth may come along (maybe).
An etymological search (Hoad, 1986) shows us that “young” (geong) denotes vital influence and is related to “youth.” If one is youthful, then she or he possesses vitality. “You” is related to “ye” and to “thou,” which historically has been the Other that comes, who is either superior or unknown, and therefore, deserving of respect and honor. We see that the stranger-Other that comes is new to us. Therefore, young, as in the Latin juvenis, denotes fresh and novel as to re-juvenate, which is again to bring newness, a youthful energy. There seems to be no etymological connection between “you” and “youthful,” but the “you” of youthful, I will interpret, is the coming of the Other as new and vital. And so, if my readers will allow me to whip up some jargon, from here on, I will write youth as you/th indicating the Otherness of the Other (which is the Other that transcends our singular existence; Levinas, 1970); namely, you as the you/thful Other that comes and rejuvenates.
Here I am interrelating Otherness, which again means all of that which is other than oneself, with you/th. Put differently, when you/th comes, it comes as wholly other than oneself, with the ineffable and unknowable Otherness of others (tout autre). However, it is more accurate to think of you/th as a particular aspect of this alterity. Alterity signifies the Otherness of the Other, which means that any other person transcends any attempt at understanding he or she completely (Levinas, 1970). Any other transcends our attempts to totalize the Other via categorization, taxonomies, diagnoses, slurs, stereotypes, and so on. The wholly other, Caputo (2000) relates, “refers to something importantly unforeseen, unanticipated, unexpected, for which we are unprepared, something that exceeds our horizon of expectation” (p. 175).
Note that the Other surpasses our perspective and anticipation, which is to say that the Other brings you/th as wholly new. You/th then is derivative of alterity. But you/th, interestingly enough, indicates a certain qualitative aspect of the Other. It is that aspect of the Other that curiously questions, awakens and surprises as it disrupts. As you/th is not simply chronological, you/th is not simply generational. You/th is epochal. You/th is a momentous breach that at once provides a suspension, which is a potential ‘narrow bridge’ (Buber, 1966; 1970) if one is willing to take it. Buber’s notion of the narrow bridge meant that a careful balance could be made between the concerns of oneself and the concerns of the Other. To commune with others means to tra-verse that bridge where I and Thou dialogically meet; this is a walk that requires two or more (di-verse) on a narrow bridge, and such is the balancing act of some empathy, hospitality, and responsibility. The narrow bridge, I believe, is a just step onto the liminal bridge between self and other, the youthful and diverse other, and so we may leap upon the narrow bridge where you/th stands resolutely beckoning us.
You/th, like everything else, is necessarily temporal, but you(th) is an inchoate presence born unto us; you(th) is a mystery, and one never knows what might transpire when you(th) comes along!
When we are alone, you/th inevitably comes along. When you/th comes to be with us, we must then, as Levinas (1997) would say, by a command, recognize you as diverse, which is simply saying you are Other than our being. You came along and, by virtue of your ongoing presence, brought di-versity (that is, another verse, story, narrative, discourse, and so on). Diversity disrupts our uni-versity (university). One voice, a uni-verse certainly assuages our ontological fears. But, perhaps we ought to grow up (or, better, grow young) and face our fears resolutely. Roberto Esposito (2010) tell us “…fear is a part of us; it is we outside ourselves. It is the Other from us that constitutes us as subjects infinitely divided from ourselves” (p. 23). Interestingly, when we fear the juvenile delinquent, we fear you/th that comes that is a lacking, and it is this lack (delinquere) that we must fill in, correct, and structure (socialization is the control of the delinquent other that comes along). We see then that the juvenile you/th is delinquent, and as such defines us as what we are not (Esposito, 2010). You/th and di-versity are integral to a community because they bring the compelling and mysterious lacking; namely, of alterity and finitude. What do we all share? The you/thful alterity that is born everywhere and that forces us to face our finitude that is nowhere and everywhere to be found.
Community (communitas), which, let us say here, is the communing of youth and diversity (remembering that we old folks may join in too), is not a society of solidified individuals (isolated, encapsulated) but a shared communion resolutely in the face of our finitude and alterity. After all, what inevitably comes along…death and the Other. “The Other becomes my neighbor precisely through the way the face summons me, calls for me, begs for me, and in doing so recalls my responsibility, and calls me into question” (Levinas, 1997, p. 83). Born from this co-mmand and communion has been a nearly infinite amount of ways in which to deal with our fate, which is to say, most essentially, to deal with the coming of death and the Other. It seems that it is those ways that deny, or repress, the coming of death and the Other that get us in the most trouble, that is, trouble with each other.
Therefore, with you/th, beautifully, comes fear, or shall we say more appropriately angst? You/th reminds us, quite painfully, of our finitude and by this I denote not simply that we are finite beings (and this is quite enough!), but that our narrative existence (our uni-voice and verse) is finite as well, and in this finitude, we recognize the fragility of our stories. When we make our stories, and our societies, ever more rigid and absolute, we can be fairly certain we are afraid of you! And yet, is it not you/th that will pass our stories along?
You/th and diversity reveal to us the ways in which we have been stuck in our well-versed, entrenched narratives. However, your you/thfulness may be denied, a denial of you, which is then a denial of difference and the Other, and so this is a denial of diversity itself. Perhaps existential and humanistic psychologies (following the lead of their respective philosophies) have been so interested, in fact utterly fascinated with the “I” who chooses, the “I” who creates and is free, or the assumedly self-evident self, that we have forgotten about you!
You are no longer you/thful when we become comfortable with you, and in fact, make you the same as us (or a close facsimile)—then you/thfulness dies. So, for all those you/thful, I suggest being careful around us, or we may destroy your you/th and your diversity with our numbing ways. We have all felt you/th die, I believe, and then we become habitualized, concretized, solidified… we might do well to be careful of our rigor or mortis will set in.
But there is hope. You/th is a Derridean (1976) supplement: the coming of you(th) is not simply something added, you/th is a permeation, a shot in the arm, and thus, a disruption and de-centering of the assumed pre-sence, or pre-essence (which indicates the origin that anchors essences). The supplement that is you/th is that which must be present (praeesse), involved, for the old guard to be what it claims to be. You/th as a supplement enlivens.
True enough, you do upset us so. You with your new ideas and your new looks; shockingly, you may desire Other, wholly Other than us. The interesting thing is that even if we are threatened, frightened, or angry, we are you/thful in this—you have brought with you this you/thfulness. We become you/thful in our common (communing) with this fervor. This is not to say that we become alike, the same, but that we share this passionate praxis as ongoing. You have then become our nemeses as you bring out our dormant vitality, our you-filled-diversity. If we recognize you, talk with you, listen to you (I mean really listen), again we come alive with you/th. If you make us curious, then you have brought you/thfulness.
It seems that it is apathy, denial, and deliberate misrecognition and misrepresentation (again, via tokenism, racism, sexism, homophobism, and so on) where we can harden ourselves to you/th. Misrepresentation of others is ultimately the denial of the Other, which is immunitas, which indicates here to be immune to the di-versity of you/th. Put simply, when we attempt to create a utopia, we create a society that represses (and thus oppresses) you/th as alterity and finitude. By contrast, the utopian potentiality, which is a community that practices hope, cannot be immune to the coming of you/th. Munus “…indicates only the gift that one gives, not what one receives” and to co-mmune is to share the gift, which is munificence in the face-to-face encounter of youth and diversity (Esposito, 2010, p. 5). You/th, as the vital-vitality, new-Other that will surely come, brings the gift of alterity and finitude.
We see then, so vividly this difficult lesson, welcoming and celebrating the Other (Sampson, 1993) is a gift that asks nothing in return, which means it does not ask for any-thing, although one must be responsible (able to respond). To be ethically responsible for you/th and diversity may, and must, mean the death, or dead reckoning, of some of our precious ideas.
You/th necessarily (existentially) brings a “politics of difference” (Young, 1990). The question for us is whether these differences will be merely assimilated/integrated or whether they be allowed to disrupt and de-center? When one allows, one makes allowances.
“Allow” is a fascinating term related to you/thful diversity. Etymologically, allow is related to allo, which connotes difference and otherness. To allow means to commend and to sanction the Other. To make allowances denotes a loving servitude for the Other. It does not mean to tolerate the Other, which is to put up with the Other as long as the Other remains marginal. We can let you/th join in, or we can tolerate you/th, but you/th and diversity will remain deeply marginal unless we allow them to come and be with us. To allow, then, lets the Other change the verse from between (on the narrow bridge) and this, I hope, will be the essence of diversity.
Diversity may be at its best when it allows multiplicity and difference, where we welcome the tension of others, many different others, different than ourselves; it is there where we may make a commitment to openness, or perhaps what we may call a hermeneutics of self-less love, or agape as the “wisdom of love” (Burggraeve, 2002), or what bell hooks (2000) calls a “love ethic,” which must remind us of the Levinasian (1997) face-to-face encounter that gives rise to an ethical relation. Burggraeve (2002), taking up Levinas, describes the “wisdom of love” as “learning to open oneself generously to the Other, rather than seeking to comprehend her, thus approaching her only with a grasp and gaze that returns everything to oneself” (p. 108).
A hermeneutics of love is not an interpretation of another, it is the Other’s interpretation of us! The Other, as love, uncovers our you/th and diversity; the Other, as love, uncovers hope—the utopian potentiality. And so, to address the Bob Dylan quote above, we old folks can be you/thful, and perhaps we are you/thful when we lend a hand and allow others to pervade our existence. And if, for whatever reason, we cannot lend a hand, perhaps we ought to get out of the way; after all, getting out of the Other’s way may be a munificent gift.
Bardgill, R. (2011). The youth movement in humanistic psychology. The Humanistic Psychologist, 39, 283-287.
Buber, M. (1966). The way of response. New York: Schocken Books.
Buber, M. (1970). I and thou. (W. Kaufman, Trans.). New York: Simon and Schuster.
Caputo, J. (2000). More radical hermeneutics. Indiana University Press.
Derrida, J. (1976). Of grammatology (G. C. Spivak, Trans.). Johns Hopkins University Press.
Esposito, R. (2010). Communitas: The origin and destiny of community. Stanford University Press.
Hoad, T.F. (1986). The concise Oxford dictionary of English etymology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Hoffman, L., Yang, M., Kaklauskas, F.J., & Chan, A. (2009). Existential psychology east-west. Colorado Springs: University of the Rockies Press.
hooks, b. (2000). All about love: New visions. HarperCollins.
Levinas, E. (1970). Alterity and transcendence. (M. B. Smith., Trans.). Columbia University Press.
Levinas, E. (1997). Ethics as first philosophy. In S. Hand (Ed.). The Levinas reader (S. Hand & M. Temple, Trans., pp. 76-87). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Sampson, E.E. (1993). Celebrating the other: A dialogic account of human nature. Boulder, CO: West View Press.
Young, I. M. (1990). Justice and the politics of difference. Princeton University Press.
*Louis Hoffman, PhD, the current president of The Society for Humanistic Psychology (APA, Division 32), recently announced a new task force. The members of the task force include, Co-Chairs: Nathaniel Granger Jr, Theopia Jackson, and David St. John. Members: Mark Yang, Shelly Harrell, Sara Klapper Bridges, Heatherlyn Cleare-Hoffman, Demetrius Ford, Jake Glazier, and Abraham Lopez. Consultants: Usha Tummala-Narra & Richard Bargdill.
— Robert G. McInerney
Today’s guest contributor, Dr. Robert G. McInerney, is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Point Park University. He teaches Social and Community Psychology as well as Qualitative Methods in the Human Sciences.