24 November 2010

From the Human Potential Movement Trick Bag

Suppose you have a room filled with people who do not know each other and you are going to teach them some material which requires close cooperation and clear communication. How do you begin? How do you spark a connection between these people?

An exercise that I have seen used a few times is simple and takes only a few minutes. First, pair them off; have them introduce their self to the person sitting in the next chair if they have not already done so. Second, have them write a very short autobiography--no less than six and no more than ten high and low points in their life story, focused upon the question of what events were influential in development of the person they are today. Third, partners share one high point and one low point. This can all be done in as little as ten minutes.

If the worst thing that ever happened to you was confinement and torture as a war prisoner, this might be excessively traumatic to relive with a complete stranger. You probably do not want to go overboard. You do not have to share the lowest (or highest) points in the autobiography, but it is necessary to share something. It is like a scientific fact that the process of connecting with other people requires the sharing of some intimate fact.

This group exercise was popularized by the folks involved in the Human Potential Movement, from that society of creativity and anarchy that was California in the 1960's. You can find out more details about this and many similar exercises in the short book by Sam Keen, Your Mythic Journey. This exercise is on page 69 of that book. The book is short, but if you do all the exercises in the book you can easily use up a month of free time. Sam Keen is practically the poster boy for the Human Potential Movement, having been an editor for Psychology Today magazine for many years.

I have performed my own variation on this theme, and achieved a result that was surprising to me. The first step was a construction of four idealized selves: Craig the poet, Craig the philosopher, Craig the psychologist, and Craig the theologian. (An example of this construction may be seen in the recent items that I have written on my blog here, which have alternating labels of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics.) These are hobbies. The closest thing I have to any formal training in these fields is some college course work. I have never received a paycheck for any of my activities.

After making a few notes mixing fact and fantasy, I examined my factual autobiography and extracted five high points and five low points--events in my real life which were influential in the development of the four idealized individuals. This is a good bit of data, and it took more than a couple of hours to get it all down on paper. Four selves and forty events. There was a very small amount of overlap where one event might have shown up on two or even three of the time lines. Now, here is the surprise. I went back and compared it to my real one time line autobiography, and almost none of these forty events are on there. The best thing that ever happened to me? Gone. The worst thing that ever happened to me? Vanished. For the more than the couple of hours it took me to do this exercise, those events did not even exist for all practical purposes.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.