Friday, May 29, 2009

Truth or Dare

If I had to find a one sentence explanation of why I stopped doing therapy and started coaching I could not do better than this: "Our minds were not designed by evolution to discover the truth; they were designed to play social games."

It's author was University of Virginia Psychology Professor Jonathan Haidt.

Of course, some therapists are adept at coaching their clients in the finer points of social gamesmanship.

Others, however, believe that therapy is a journey of discovery that will reveal the truth of your emotions, the truth of your desires, the truth of your past history, and the truth of human motivation.

They seek an epiphany, an aha moment where everything is illuminated so we can all bask in the truth.

Unfortunately, people who have seen the truth cannot keep it to themselves. They advertise it; they broadcast it; they even try to impose it on you and me. It gets lonely if you are the only one who knows the truth.

That is why people who get too involved in therapy feel compelled to express their emotions, regardless of the consequences. Truth is a transcendent value; if someone is offended or hurt by the truth, then that is just too bad.

To take yesterday's post as an example, when an IT professional complains that his wife does not understand him or his job, he is expressing his true feelings.

If his wife feels differently, he will want to impose his truth on her.

As I said, it is a better idea to step away from the psychodrama and get back into the social game that is called marriage.

Now take two people who both know the truth. Not their personal truth but the truth of human existence. Unfortunately, they do not agree on what the truth is. They believe in two different, and conflicting, truths.

As Nicholas Kristof puts it, one is a liberal and the other is a conservative. Link here.

Since each one is convinced that he has the one truth, they do not get along. They do not communicate. They do not respect each other. Each resents the other's efforts to impose his truth.

To bridge this divide Kristof recommends a shared meal. He begins with a question: "How do we discipline our brains to be more open-minded, more honest, more empirical?" He answers that we should reach out to people on the other side by sharing a meal with them.

Meals are social rituals. They involve complex social games. They bring people together in ways that dramatic confrontations never will.

And note well that sharing a meal is not the same thing as sharing your feelings or confessing your traumas.

If Kristof is right, as I think he is, then dinner is a better cure for what divides us than open discussion and debate.

Perhaps because a meal does not require that anyone change his opinion; it merely enacts a ritual show of respect. After all, that is where we all should want to go.

1 comment:

Amanda Hewett said...

Excellent. As Clement Freud said : Did you ever meet anybody who was cured by psychoanalysis?

Maybe we aren't designed to share anything at all.