Friday, October 09, 2009

Pluralism as a Movement from Tribalism to the Cosmopolitan Spirit

Entry for 9 October 2009:

Quick trip down to Newcastle after intense three days: The new Fulltime Counselling Diploma course started, more restructuring discussions; discussions with Beth about the empathy scale we are working on; meetings with research students; client work; an EFT-3 session on anxiety splits. Yesterday (Thursday), I got up early and caught the 6.31 train from Hyndland to Queen Street. There I managed to get on the 6.45 to Edinburgh, where I ran into M, also heading for Newcastle; we met up with John McLeod at Edinburgh Waverly and continued on from there on the East Coast Line. We immediately fell into a series of engrossing conversations on various topics: Science fiction for starters: I discovered that John is an old sf fan when he spotted the issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and said, “I read that when I was a kid; I didn’t know that they still published it!.

The conversation soon turned to the future of counseling in the UK; John and M think that what they call Collaborative Pluralism -- which they are writing a book about -- is The Way Forward. (Note: I suggested the phrase “Collaborative Pluralism” to them as a conference in Dundee in 2007; it’s really nice to see that they have picked it up for the approach they are elaborating.)

As they talked, a thought came to me and I pointed out that there is nothing new about either the warring therapeutic factions they are trying to surpass or the pluralistic alternative: From a deep cultural-historical point of view, the feuding approaches to therapy, and even what gets labeled as “modernism” (indeed all “isms”) are all forms of tribalism, organized around key beliefs, which in the modern world take the place of the old tribal gods.

The contrasting attitude of tolerance and appreciation also go way back: accepting the inevitability and even the desirability of multiple value systems bringing multiple views of the world and human events. Such as attitude first emerged in large multicultural cities in the ancient world, often located at meeting points or nexus points for multiple trading routes, for example, Alexandria. The world view and life style that such cities gave rise to was referred to as “cosmopolitian”, from polis = city, plus cosmos = universe, that is, the culture of cities encompassing all or almost all of the known human universe (“universal cities”). Thus, the ancient cultural-historical distinction that John and M are working from is between the tribal and the cosmopolitan. An important aspect of cosmopolitan cities is that they contain a mixture of people. On the one hand, there are people who have been in the city for many generations and are therefore now native to it; such people tend to develop a syncretic, tolerant, pluralistic world view. On the other hand, there are people who have newly arrived to the city from a variety of different traditional cultures in the provinces or more distant parts of the empire or known world; these folks are therefore still to varying degrees tribal in their outlook and culture. Thus, an important aspect of being cosmopolitan is being able to deal effectively with folk who are still partly tribal in their culture, and not just other enlightened, sophisticated folk.

Thus, I argued, pluralism in its different forms, including John and M’s collaborative pluralism, is really a modern expression of the ancient tendency for people in large, cross-roads-type cities to develop a tolerant, nondefensive and curious way of living with and appreciating the diversity of people with whom they come in contact. It’s my view that cosmopolitan/pluralistic cities enable people to access one of the great forces in human history, namely, a kind of cultural self-actualization that drives the development of trade, knowledge, and most importantly, the broadening out of the human spirit and the cultivation of a deep appreciation for human difference. This attitude of tolerant acceptance is at the root of the Person-Centred Approach in its broadest (and I think most true) form, but also in Process-Experiential/Emotion-Focused Therapy, and in John & M’s Collaborative Pluralism.

The ensuing conversation covered this but much more beside; so engrossed were we that we almost missed our stop at Newcastle. It’s sad that it’s not possible to have conversations like this more regularly!

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