“Personhood” vs. “Connected Self” — What Kind of “Who” are “You”?

The very idea of “who one is” is fraught with peril. There is almost no good answer in normal conversation — if one’s interest is fulfillment. And many of the answers are downright suppressive, not to mention deeply misleading, as well as disruptive of real mastery in living.

Common sense and usage would say that you are a “person” that “belongs” to “you — you steer, you control, you choose, you say. Yet the notion of “person” is rarely deeply considered (we will give Descriptive Psychology a pass there and not include them in this charge).

Those of us who are old enough to have diagrammed sentences in English class will know that a person is a noun, and that a noun stands in for a person, place, or thing that is the subject or object of a sentence.

That a person and a thing are considered in the same category ought to give one pause.

The Contegrity Approach looks to avoid the collapse of a “self” into a “thing” for a number of reasons. First, that notion leads to a relatively stuck identification of oneself with one’s history. You are the subject in a very edited, only partially remembered story, and that often blocks many outlets for expression that don’t fit the story.

Second, “personhood, considering oneself to be a certain person and that this person is known and at the center of one’s life, has the unnamed and unaddressed effect of having “others” not be very real to one. You wind up being the center of your universe with all the “others” circling your Sun to the degree that they are relevant in your galaxy. A lack of compassion, collaboration, concern, and empowerment of others follows — except as they fit in “usefully” to some scheme that is important to you.

Third, a person — a thing with wants, goals, ideas, frustrations, offenses, resentments, etc. — cannot be fulfilled, other than momentary triumph or glee. There is always more to go. Our ideas of how “things” could be better or more quickly outstrips our ability and the timing in which we give them to be resolved. We have more opinions about how others ought to be and how the situation ought to be, than we have project energy and time to make them so. The result is disappointment and some degree of despair at the state of things.

Let us consider that to some degree we have set our way of seeing and understanding of life on a “thing-based” model — we are a thing, others are things, and we do things, to other things, to get certain other things to happen. Time is even a thing (clocks and calendars) which we can spend or save. Happiness is a thing we are trying to achieve as a state and maintain. If you set the antenna of awareness for things, you will find them….everywhere. Even “spiritual” things. Or “possible” things. Or “theoretical” things.

The Contegrity Approach takes a different pathway. It is a deeply relational and connected path. “Who you are” becomes “a Way of turning Life out” — Way almost in the Taoist sense. You are connected to this self, others, Life and whatever allows for the integration and fulfillment of Life. That connection is more your self than your story, or your history. From this deeply connected view, you belong — belong to all of time, to all of history, to all of what has given rise to you, to your culture, to your relations, to our times. They all have a role in constituting the opportunity you are for fulfilling Life.

What is the value of setting one’s antenna of perception to relations and connections in and through time? There are many. Let me count some of the ways.

First, the suppressive effects of “comparison –where you bother yourself about not being like someone else, or not fulfilling the expectations of yourself or others– can be seen to be needless suffering. The question is whether you are bringing your Way of fulfilling Life to bear in the time and situations and relations to which you belong and have access.

Second, there is a natural connection of a connected self to development. There is a natural evolution and unfolding of what you are competent to bring at different stages of your life and in the different communities to which you belong. The advantage here is that you can concentrate on the next evolutionary development of your Way of fulfilling Life and suffer not at all about the other flaws or issues that are not timely nor ready to be resolved. (They belong to all of history that has preceded you and not found its proper resolution timing.)

Third, it is possible to be both wholly satisfied while working on the next development that is timely, as well as wholly satisfied when it is resolved. There is a sense of engaging in what all of Life is doing — unfolding, and doing so at a pace that fits all of what has preceded you and that makes room for all that will follow you. There is simultaneously a deep sense of belonging, and a “right-sized” sense of response-ability –– one that suits what is available to be fulfilled rather than some “oversized” sense of responsibility as if you were omnipotent regarding outcomes and were failing at the one’s that didn’t go as they “should“.

This listing of the benefits of living as a “connected self” can go on and on.

  • It allows for communication and a greater “mutuality of worlds” between you and others.
  • It allows others to be real and constitutive of the room in which you have to live and engage Life.
  • It allows for depths of power to bring to the fulfillment of your life and that of others that exceeds personal power — it can be derived from how communication works, or how Life works as opposed to trying to get something from your history to be the relevant answer to what is called for now.
  • Innovation and improvisation becomes a natural response to belonging to Life.

I highly recommend that you listen to catch yourself when you turn your “self” into a thing — like a table or a chair that happens to talk and remember and assess. I also recommend that you use that recognition to investigate what is possible if you allow yourself to belong to the situation and relations before you and reach to your strengths for the strength to fulfill what is available in those situations and relations. And I recommend that you give yourself the proper timing in which to do so.

Development takes time. It isn’t as quick as having a new idea. It takes time to explore the new way of being and communicating and engaging. Be generous and give yourself that time. It is an investment that pays off well over time.

 

About Ken Anbender

Kenneth Anbender Ph.D. has spent the last 50 years working with more than a hundred thousand people directly on the principles and methods that support the fulfillment of a human life -- in community and at work. He has developed a body of work that is licensable called The Contegrity Approach.
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