“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again”.
So goes the nursery rhyme, and for most psychologists, any understanding of a person in his or own terms.
We are trained, for our sins, to be analytical. I trained other people to be analytical. And I would still defend our training. But after we have finished being trained, we have to learn to put Humpty together again. How does all the information we have collected about someone, amount to a person with a hopes and dreams, with a history and with a future, and with fears and determination.
Two key ideas for understanding people
The first is the idea of a sense of self, that, through whatever means, begins to take shape quite early.
“Hold to your own truth, at the center of the image, you were born with”. (David Whyte, p. 349, River Flow).
Well, maybe you weren’t born with it, but you probably started exploring images of who you are, quite early in your life. And the question is, what images can you remember that you were drawn to?
I will give you an example. At about 10 years old, I saw an American movie about a basketball team who put some magic bouncy stuff on their shoes. I had never seen a basketball game in real life, we played netball, but I was fascinated. Five years later (a long time when you are a kid), our school announced that we were going to drop netball and play basketball. I immediately, and I mean immediately, within thirty seconds, asked my mother if I could play in the team (with all the expense that implied). She happily agreed, as I was well known for not being able to catch a ball, and hey presto, I was captain of the Under 15’s within weeks. How I loved that game and it took me from clutz to school hero.
We all have creative images, though some we aren’t going to blog about, and it is worthwhile thinking about them, because however bizarre they are, they are important to us.
The second key idea, which David Whyte makes again and again, but rather obliquely, is that these images are essentially social. They talk to our relationship with the world and the relationship we want with the world.
Now I am not much of an exhibitionist, and I was rather shy as a youngster, but I think I was drawn to two things in the basketball movie: the shared excitement of the crowd and the nippiness of the game. And those are the roles I played. The fast break specialist and the ‘man-to-man’ marker. These are results-oriented ‘closing roles’, bringing home the bacon so to speak, and roles which the crowds understand and set them alight. For someone lousy at sport, this was gratifying. It was something I could do in a sports-mad school that helped me learn about how crowds become excited and why we enjoy it so much.
We weave our story from a young age. We see movies quite by chance, and are taken by some and not by others. Opportunities arise, and we respond to some and not to others. And we move on, giving up pursuits of our childhood and adopting others. It is always our story though, woven partly from chance encounters and partly through choice. We learn as we go, working out what’s next, from the story we are telling to the world and ourselves.
Understanding this story, delighting in this story, cherishing this story, is the privilege of the existential coach.
We are happier as workmates and colleagues when our story is heard and when our current circumstances are woven in to what went before and what will come soon after. There is no right or wrong. Simply the unself-conscious bringing of who we have been, to whom we are with, and the celebration of the richness of our imagination in the past, with the shy pleasure of the growing imaginative awareness of a gentle birth into the future.
Happy Valentine’s Day!