Some things change - some things stay the same, ...
This sentence was written in a brochure of a company I worked for some years ago. For me, it had a lot of truth in it and it still resonates today...
There is no need to repeat the facts about the changes we want to make in our world today: violence, climate, natural resources, sometimes even certain relationships or the way we relate, our dialogues etc. Often we know deep down what we want to change, in the world and in ourselves. So how do we go about doing it?
I want to explore first how we don't act. Often, despite the desire for change, we cling to what we know because we also need stability and security. It is difficult to take action and to grasp the ballast to throw overboard. Our whole culture, our habits are soaked in what is familiar, what we have learned, what contributes to our stability. Childhood and youth correspond to the first time of curiosity and wonder when we seek to realise the 'new' in ourselves. What is it that leads us later in life to lock it away so often, especially in the face of challenges that come our way, or to want to live out those moments of childhood or youth that we were not able to take on in the past, rather than applying that impulse of curiosity and wonder to our present and letting the past rest?
As I dug deeper into how to act, I realised that research has come up with many very relevant solutions to the challenges of our time and relationship issues. One example: some researchers say that we are in a deep crisis of the Western mind that confronts us with conscious and unconscious handicaps. Our epistemology, our way of knowing, which is mainly formed by the scientific approach, meets these limits. We have learned to accumulate knowledge in order to control and predict, and science tells us what we can know and what we do not know. In seeking to know, we have lost the relationship with others, the world and the transcendent or God for believers in monotheistic religions. This way of thinking isolates and manipulates us. A spirit of control and a desire for freedom or letting go of adult responsibilities sometimes follow one another.
Then I discovered the work of Robert Kegan and his book "The Mental Demands of Modern Life". Robert Kegan's work can be summed up by saying that as much as the child one day emerges from magical thinking, so much the adult is called to access increasingly developed levels of consciousness. He says, among other things, that beyond the thinking of the young adult who knows not only how to be abstract, factual and conceptual but also how to hold two points of view in parallel, which allows us to live in society, our era would require a maturity that goes further. The consciousness of a young adult lambda (let's keep Greta Thornberg in suspense here) makes it possible to be a good citizen, but it does not yet understand how to rise above society and question it, to question the values, the roles, the rules, the whole system and, through them, to remedy it. This requires an awareness of our interpretations and linguistic, emotional and somatic skills. This level of awareness takes us out of the position of the opponent or victim and opens the doors to responsibility; to the possibilities and admiration of the path ahead. We come out of the position of the consumer, on the one hand, or the refusal to follow the steps of the majority, on the other. We come out of the drama of events that are beyond us and we situate ourselves in our relationships and our world to address what needs to be changed. As a psychiatrist, Astrid du Lau has looked at this issue from a geopolitical perspective in her book "When the irrational blows over the world". The irrationality today, in the context of climate change, is that we, the citizens, know that we all need to change, but quite often we have the right ideas for others.
What is the relevance of all this to our today, my today?
In my professional activity of the first 20 years I have led senior managers and business leaders to change their company and position, in most cases for a better life. They wanted to grow and where they were seemed less attractive than what I offered. Their desires for change, which they shared with me, were satisfied by changing jobs or companies. Returning to the business after a sabbatical, I realised that almost everyone I called was willing to consider a change, which had been a minority at the beginning of my work. I concluded for myself that the system had left a zone of equilibrium in which I was comfortable bringing people to change. Here I was participating in a merry-go-round that seemed to destabilise companies and executives' careers. During my last year in executive search, I also realised, by digging a little deeper, that a good part of the executives were looking to achieve something better that was not necessarily more easily attainable by changing company or position. By formulating what they really wanted to learn, some withdrew their application.
I then agreed to leave my comfort zone of working in a job I knew, and to train in a job that was new to me. I left a job where I was evaluating the aptitude of a manager in relation to a new responsibility and project and I started training to join the coaching profession, which accompanies people to improve something, to reach a goal they define in order to become more themselves, to better cope with the demands of what they undertake, in any context. This is not about wellness, the fashionable goal, but about responsibility in the face of a desire for integral development of the person, the highest degree of adult learning.
This new profession has made me want to look further, to find out what makes our times uncomfortable and what often expresses itself in suffering relationships, in companies and in society in general, in families or elsewhere. How can we find an answer to what we want to keep and what we want to change?
Earlier, I spoke about the imbalance of our thinking if it is based on scientific knowledge only. At the end of the Middle Ages, we lost a unified way of thinking that knew how to hold opposing universes together, like two segments that form a unity. With the sciences dominating the sphere of knowledge, we have abandoned other spheres of knowledge, such as knowledge based on faith or intuition. In the Middle Ages, they knew how to stand in the one in the face of the differences they saw; they knew how to see complementarity in two apparently contrary propositions. They could think in terms of 'and...and' rather than 'either...or and who is right'. There is no need to think that we should go back to that medieval "and...and" that had not yet become part of scientific thinking. Let's look for the "and...and" of our present day.
What relevance then for our migrations? Our wounds differ according to the part of the world we live in, but the reaction to wounds is quite universal. The challenge will be to confront them, gently and firmly, from an adult position and not as a victim. Only the adult position protects against the vagaries of harmful emotions.
For example, a talented young mother, who has two children with her husband and a promising start to her career, and who wants to allow her husband to make a career change, is no longer able to do so because she too is not happy in her job, but she does not dare to move, as long as she is the one who is taking on the breadwinner for the family during her husband's professional transition. How can she stay the course and negotiate the change she needs to grow, with her employer, her husband and herself?
Or a former branch general manager of a multinational company who joins the executive committee of another small but international company. How to take legal responsibility for all the decisions that are made in this committee, not only for the profitability of the company, but also for its wider societal responsibility.
In these and many other cases, I realised that the art today lies in bringing the theoretical knowledge that exists in universities and adult education schools to those on the ground. It helps the actors in our society to make this transition from one level of consciousness to another. It prevents them from being trapped in the victim position and getting sick. Instead, they can position themselves as actors and entrepreneurs (in the broadest sense of the word), responsible for taking on the possibilities that arise in any crisis to avoid it turning into a drama or tragedy.
The beauty of the profession I discovered lies in the fact that it draws its strength from the word that is discovered in the conversations, dialogues, negotiations and silences between the client and the coach. Through a humanised word that goes through and assumes the suffering and that experiments in order to say what the person really wants to say, the smile reappears on the faces and a new humanity can be born to meet the challenges of life until its end.
... or when more of the same is not an option.