HAVE CONCERN FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S CONCERNS


    YOUTH: Don’t you see? Earlier, you said, ‘Respect can never be forced.’ Sure, that is probably the case. That I can agree with wholeheartedly. But then, in the same breath, you tell me to respect the students. Ha-ha, isn’t it funny—you’re trying to force me to do something that apparently can’t be forced. If you don’t call that a contradiction, then what is?

    PHILOSOPHER: It is true that if you pick out just those statements on their own, they might sound contradictory. But look at it this way. Respect is a ball that comes back to you only from the person to whom you pass it. It’s just like throwing a ball at a wall. If you throw it, it might come back to you. But nothing is going to happen if you just face the wall and shout, ‘Give me the ball.’

    YOUTH: No way, I’m not going to let you get away with half-baked metaphors. Give me a proper answer. If I’m the one throwing that ball of respect, where does it come from? The ball doesn’t just come out of nowhere!
    PHILOSOPHER: All right. This is an important point about understanding and practising Adlerian psychology. Do you recall the term ‘social feeling’?
    YOUTH: Of course. Though I wouldn’t say I understand it completely.
    PHILOSOPHER: Yes, it’s a rather difficult concept. Let’s consider it more thoroughly another time. For the time being, though, I would like you to recall Adler’s use of the term ‘social interest’ when translating the original German term for ‘social feeling’ into English. This ‘social interest’ means our concern for society or, more simply, our concern for the other people who make up society.
    YOUTH: So, it’s different in the original German?
    PHILOSOPHER: Yes. The German term is Gemeinschaftsgefühl, which combines Gemeinschaft, meaning ‘social relations’ or ‘community’, with Gefühl (‘sense’ or ‘feeling’), which I translate as ‘social feeling’. If one were to give it an English translation that is more faithful to the original German, one might call it ‘community feeling’ or ‘community sense’.
    YOUTH: Well, I am not particularly interested in such academic talk, but what about it? PHILOSOPHER: Think about it for a moment. Why, when Adler introduced this idea of ‘social feeling’ to the English-speaking world, did he choose ‘social interest’ instead of ‘social feeling’, which is closer to the German? There is an important hidden motive here. Do you remember how I said that when Adler first put forward the concept of ‘social feeling’ during his Vienna period, many of his colleagues parted ways with him? That he was opposed and ostracised by people who said that such stuff wasn’t science, and that he had introduced the problem of ‘value’ into the otherwise scientific field of psychology?
    YOUTH: Yes, I remember that. PHILOSOPHER: It is likely that through this experience, Adler understood sufficiently well the difficulty of getting people to understand ‘social feeling’. So, when it came time to introduce the concept to the English-speaking world, he replaced ‘social feeling’ with behavioural guidelines that were based on actual practice. He replaced the abstract idea with something concrete. And these concrete behavioural guidelines may be summarised with the words ‘concern for others’. YOUTH: Behavioural guidelines? PHILOSOPHER: Yes. To get away from one’s attachment to oneself, and to have concern for other people. If one progresses in accordance with these guidelines, one arrives at ‘social feeling’ as a matter of course. YOUTH: I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about now! Your argument has already become abstract, again. The very idea of there being ‘behavioural guidelines’ for having concern for other people. Speaking concretely, what should one do, and how? PHILOSOPHER: Here, it would do well to recall that quote from Erich Fromm: ‘Respect means the concern that the other person should grow and unfold as he is.’ Without negating anything, or forcing anything, one accepts and values the person as he is. In other words, one protects, and one has concern for, another person’s dignity. Do you see where that concrete first step lies? YOUTH: No. Where?
    PHILOSOPHER: This is a quite logical conclusion. It lies in having concern for other people’s concerns. YOUTH: Other people’s concerns? PHILOSOPHER: For example, the children enjoy playing in a way that is completely beyond your understanding. They get absorbed with utterly inane, childish toys. Sometimes, they read books that are offensive to public order and morals and indulge in video games. You know what I am referring to, yes? YOUTH: Sure. I see such things almost every day. PHILOSOPHER: There are many parents and educators who disapprove and try to give them things that are more ‘useful’ or ‘worthwhile’. They advise against such activities, confiscate the books and toys and allow the children only what has been determined to have value. The parent does this ‘for the child’s sake’, of course. Even so, one must regard this as an act that is completely lacking in respect and that only increases the parent’s distance from the child. Because it is negating the child’s natural concerns. YOUTH: Okay, so I should recommend vulgar pastimes? PHILOSOPHER: One does not recommend anything from where one stands. One only has concern for the children’s concerns. Try to understand just how vulgar their pastimes are from your point of view and what they really are, first of all. Try them yourself, and even play together on occasion. Rather than simply playing with them, enjoy the activity yourself. If you do, the children may at last have the real feeling that they are being recognised; that they are  not being treated as children; that they are being given respect as individual human beings. YOUTH: But that’s . . . PHILOSOPHER: Nor is this limited to children. It is the concrete first step of the respect that is sought in all interpersonal relationships. Whether in interpersonal relationships at one’s workplace, in relationships between lovers, in international relationships or what have you, we need to have more concern for other people’s concerns. YOUTH: That’s impossible! Maybe you aren’t aware of this, but those children’s concerns include things that are just too depraved! Things that are indecent, grotesque and offensive. Isn’t it our role as adults to show them the right path? PHILOSOPHER: No, it is not. Regarding ‘social feeling’, Adler liked to use the following expression: what we need is ‘Seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.’ YOUTH: Huh? PHILOSOPHER: Right now, you are trying to see with your own eyes, listen with your own ears and feel with your own heart. That is why you refer to the children’s concerns using such words as ‘depraved’ and ‘offensive’. The children do not think of them as depraved. Then, what are they seeing? One starts by understanding that first. YOUTH: No, I can’t! That’s just beyond me. PHILOSOPHER: Why?
    Wadifa Club
    writer and blogger, founder of Dog food planet .

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