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Choose life (3)

9 September, 2007

In searching to connect what I’ve learned from TA with existential questions, I was really chuffed to find this excellent post by Bobo which seems to say it all (and makes me laugh at the same time)

“Transactional Analysis is underpinned by an existential/humanist maxim: I’m OK, You’re OK. Irving Yalom neatly expresses the existential position, that we are all faced with four realities: 

  • death,
  • meaninglessness,
  • freedom and
  • isolation.

We are all going to die. We just are. Sometimes with an appalling randomness.

Before death, we live a life that is profoundly meaningless on any Universal scale, other than our own created meaning – how otherwise could anybody work in advertising? Ever looked at an ant heap and admired their busy pointlessness? How robotic they look? How unaware they are that the naughty nine year old foot of doom might destroy their ant world?

On the cheery side, we do have freedom. But we often equally afraid by our freedom, and chain ourselves down in the certainties, norms, scripts, and belief systems, and discount our choice to redecide. Limiting ourselves with existential bad faith.

And finally, we are existentially isolated from each other. No one truly knows what it is to be. Not my therapist. Not my wife. And on a scripty day, outside of awareness, not even me.

… For me, death, meaninglessness, freedom and isolation does stick at my cheerful chappy persona (let’s all Be Strong by believing that the glass is always half full). These stark facts are arresting. Given a choice, I’d prefer not to die (though I do recognise that without death, the world would soon fill up with Account Managers, Public Relations Consultants, and Actuaries – whose dull skills would live on for eternity). Given a choice, I’d prefer to have meaning to my life. Given a choice, I’d prefer to give up freedom and be told what to do, so I knew I was doing it right. And given a choice, I’d prefer to be nested in an intimate communion that never left me isolated. (Religion isn’t looking such a bad deal now!)

The Transactional Analysis take on this is different, as it starts from a different perspective. It looks out at the world, from the individual’s point of view. What does the ant understand of its life in the heap. Existentialism looks down at the world, a God like position, considering the universal and then working out it’s impact on the individual.

In response to the existential certainty of death, Berne argued that our deaths were frequently the ultimate payoff for our scripts. This at least has the virtue of recovering control of our death from the cold hand of cosmic uncertainty. If I were to die of cancer, it wouldn’t just be a case of random bad luck, but of the payoff of a life long script decision that has placed you in cancer’s way. Of course, cosmic bad luck can happen, but life scripts stack the die in probabilities favour. And of course cosmic good luck can happen too (just talk to smokers who aren’t dead by their 50s).

In response to existential meaninglessness, Berne argued that we vest meaning into our lives by developing a life script. In four billions years from now, when the Sun swallows the Earth as it grows into a red giant, my life will be but the tiniest speck of cosmic dust. So worrying about my chest hairs turning gray might seem petty. But humans are fantastic meaning creators: think of all the different forms of human society through the ages – who’d of thought that cutting out the beating heart of human sacrifices would keep Inti, the Inca Sun God happy? Or that in some societies Polyandry was a really neat idea. And of course, we are components to these societal constructs, with personal constructs of our own place in society – scripts.

In response to the overwhelming choice of existential freedom, TA offers the idea of discounting, or rather recognising the level of discounting you are doing, and leading your upwards towards autonomous choices, just as the existentialists want you to recognise existential bad faith, and the flight from the responsibility that freedom imposes.

And in response to the loneliness of existential isolation, we have I’m OK, You’re OK. Yes, we may be separated from each other by the chasm of physical discreteness and psychological uniqueness. But if we take a leap of humanistic faith, and presume OKness, then the gap isn’t necessarily so great, or at least so frightening.


One Comment leave one →
  1. 8 October, 2007 12:33 pm

    Mombacho thanks a lot. It’s over a year ago since I wrote that, and I’d forgotten how thoughtful I was then (recently I’ve got in with a bad lot and having been letting my Child play around in the blogosphere). So I’m touched it spoke to you.


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