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Opinion | The Good-Enough Life - The New York Times
"Ideals of greatness cut across the American political spectrum. Supporters of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” and believers in Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” for instance, may find themselves at odds, but their differences lie in the vision of what constitutes greatness, not whether greatness itself is a worthy goal. In both cases — and in most any iteration of America’s idea of itself — it is.

The desire for greatness also unites the diverse philosophical camps of Western ethics. Aristotle called for practicing the highest virtue. Kant believed in an ethical rule so stringent not even he thought it was achievable by mortals. Bentham’s utilitarianism is about maximizing happiness. Marx sought the great world for all. Modern-day libertarians will stop at nothing to increase personal freedom and profit. These differences surely matter, but while the definition of greatness changes, greatness itself is sought by each in his own way.

Swimming against the tide of greatness is a counter-history of ethics embodied by schools of thought as diverse as Buddhism, Romanticism and psychoanalysis. It is by borrowing from D.W. Winnicott, an important figure in the development of psychoanalysis, that we get perhaps the best name for this other ethics: “the good-enough life.” In his book “Playing and Reality,” Winnicott wrote about what he called “the good-enough mother.” This mother is good enough not in the sense that she is adequate or average, but that she manages a difficult task: initiating the infant into a world in which he or she will feel both cared for and ready to deal with life’s endless frustrations. To fully become good enough is to grow up into a world that is itself good enough, that is as full of care and love as it is suffering and frustration.

From Buddhism and Romanticism we can get a fuller picture of what such a good enough world could be like. Buddhism offers a criticism of the caste system and the idea that some people have to live lives of servitude in order to ensure the greatness of others. It posits instead the idea of the “middle path,” a life that is neither excessively materialistic nor too ascetic. And some Buddhist thinkers, such as the 6th-century Persian-Chinese monk Jizang, even insist that this middle life, this good enough life, is the birthright of not only all humans, but also all of nature as well. In this radical vision of the good enough life, our task is not to make the perfect human society, but rather a good enough world in which each of us has sufficient (but never too many) resources to handle our encounters with the inevitable sufferings of a world full of chance and complexity.

The Romantic poets and philosophers extend this vision of good-enoughness to embrace what they would call “the ordinary” or “the everyday.” This does not refer to the everyday annoyances or anxieties we experience, but the fact that within what is most ordinary, most basic and most familiar, we might find a delight unimaginable if we find meaning only in greatness. The antiheroic sentiment is well expressed by George Eliot at the end of her novel “Middlemarch”: “that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” And its legacy is attested to in the poem “Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye: “I want to be famous to shuffling men / who smile while crossing streets, / sticky children in grocery lines, / famous as the one who smiled back.”

Being good enough is not easy. It takes a tremendous amount of work to smile purely while waiting, exhausted, in a grocery line. Or to be good enough to loved ones to both support them and allow them to experience frustration. And it remains to be seen if we as a society can establish a good-enough relation to one another, where individuals and nations do not strive for their unique greatness, but rather work together to create the conditions of decency necessary for all.

Achieving this will also require us to develop a good enough relation to our natural world, one in which we recognize both the abundance and the limitations of the planet we share with infinite other life forms, each seeking its own path toward good-enoughness. If we do manage any of these things, it will not be because we have achieved greatness, but because we have recognized that none of them are achievable until greatness itself is forgotten."
ordinary  everyday  small  slow  2019  avramalpert  greatness  philosophy  buddhism  naomishihabnye  georgeeliot  interconnected  individualism  goodenough  virtue  ethics  romanticism  psychoanalysis  dwwinnicott  care  caring  love  life  living  classideas 
march 2019 by robertogreco
The Nature of the “In-Between” in D.W. Winnicott’s Concept of Transitional Space and in Martin Buber’s das Zwischenmenschliche [.pdf]
"Despite its ability to provide refuge and renewal, however, Winnicott and Buber insist that this “in-between” world can never displace or supplant the inner and outer worlds. Whether in childhood or adulthood, we cannot stay in this realm of creative possibility and transformation forever, even if it is the most real and authentic part of our existence. Buber and Winnicott therefore refuse to become neo-romantic worshippers of feeling and subjectivity. They avoid such dualism, and discourage, in Buber’s terms, the rejection of the world of I-It, suggesting instead the interpenetration of the I-It realm by that of I-Thou.

Like the child, we must return always to the “exalted melancholy of our fate” in the I-It world: Yet Buber insists that even in this mundane sphere, we can claim a sense of meaning, for “these Thou’s which have been changed into It’s have it in their nature to change back again into presentness.”12

Winnicott’s transitional object, an illusion in itself, remains paradoxically for all persons “the basis of initiation of experience.” This intermediate area of experience, in which the transitional object shares, is retained throughout life, “in the intense experiencing that belongs to the arts and to religion and to imaginative living, and to creative scientific work.”13 Winnicott’s “in-between” world does not possess the vacillating It/Thou qualities to the same degree that Buber’s does, and remains a more stable and enduring concept, available to draw upon for the rest of our lives."



"Buber cites the category of “the essential We” to correspond on the community level to the “essential Thou on the level of self being.” Similarly, he posits a primitive We on the group level, analogous to that of the primitive Thou on the individual level: “the primitive We precedes true individuality and independence, whereas the essential We only comes about when independent people have come together in essential relation and directness.”27 Through this essential We, humans can transcend the impersonality of mass culture. As Buber writes in Between Man and Man, one “is truly saved from the ‘one’ not by separation but only by being bound up in genuine communion.”28

Buber calls for restructuring of society “into a community of communities,” which would strive to transform mass society into the essential We of Gemeinschaft. True community, however, can only occur if people take personal responsibility, and can sacrifice for the group. Buber’s social philosophy is far from utopian, realizing how difficult it is in an age of impersonal mass society to redirect human nature towards responsibility for the integrity of the total community. He embraces no one political ideology, but points to varied communities where non-exploitative relations predominate.

Although Winnicott does not speak in similar detail about the dynamics of culture, he does view cultural forms as inherently more enabling and creative. Due to his social location in Great Britain, Winnicott also seems more pragmatic and positive towards both monarchy and large-scale democratic government. In his essay, “Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Democracy,” Winnicott considers democracy a more mature form of culture, for instance, in its respect of privacy through the secret ballot.29 The main threat to democracy, however, Winnicott writes, is that its people may not be mature enough to maintain and nurture it. In this case, totalitarian systems can threaten a people through their appeal to demonic certainty, stirring in some individuals a desire to persecute others.

Winnicott finds that such a desire to persecute, or wish to be persecuted, results from a failure of successful transitional objects, often as a result of early impingement by others. In adult group life, this developmental deficit can lead one particular group to force its illusions upon another. Illusion, “which in adult life is inherent in art and religion,” notes Winnicott, “becomes the hallmark of madness when an adult puts too powerful a claim on the credulity of others, forcing them to acknowledge a sharing of illusion that is not their own.”30 Winnicott’s insight here may offer some rationale for emergence of National Socialism, which Buber’s social psychology was hard-pressed to comprehend.

Winnicott observes that the healthy person maintains his self-esteem as well as his doubts, and is able to discern the difference between inner and external conflict. “When healthy persons come together they each contribute a whole world, because each brings a whole person,” he writes. They are capable of becoming depressed, rather than automatically joining group manias and seeking domination of others.31

A rich, nurturing sense of culture can be found in Winnicott’s analogy of the holding environment of mother and infant to the wider world, which “provides a refuge or fellow feeling and the fact that we are all human.” Similar echoes of this “holding environment” can be found in Buber’s Gemeinschaft, which affirms fellowship and community while countering coercion and domination.

Illness, writes Buber, represents distortion, both because the individual closes himself off from the world and because society rejects the person, refusing to offer confirmation. It is critical that a healthy culture, therefore, offer treatment that not merely aims to “integrate” or “adjust” an individual to the prevailing society, but that seeks to restore the person’s interrupted dialogical relations.

Finally, both Buber and Winnicott find that healthy communal life requires its members to assume ongoing responsibility for the well being of others in the group. “It is human beings who are likely to destroy the world,” concludes Winnicott. “If so, we can perhaps die . . . knowing that this is not health but fear; it is part of the failure of healthy people and healthy society to carry its ill members.”32 To care for others means that, for both Winnicott and Buber, persons move outside themselves with a newfound sense of courage. Assuming such responsibility for others encourages and restores genuine relations between persons, and in so doing enables the ethical and spiritual regeneration of the wider world. The transitional space, or das Zwischenmenschliche, therefore remains critical for the preservation of a morally accountable world community, where the ability to relate meaningfully to others continues as an ever-present—and perduring—reality.
liminalspaces  laurapraglin  dwwinnicott  martinbuber  psychology  between  betweenness  community  responsibility  coercion  domination  fellowship  liminality 
july 2016 by robertogreco

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