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LIVING WISDOM:
UNDERSTANDING WISDOM THROUGH LIFE STORY
A dissertation submitted
by
GREGORY J. MICHAUD
to
FIELDING GRADUATE INSTITUTE
in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
in
HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
This dissertation has been accepted for
the faculty of Fielding Graduate Institute by:
Judith Stevens-Long, Ph.D.
Chair
Helen Weingarten,
Faculty Reade
Gary^Sclfulman, Ph.D.
Faculty Reader
David B. Drake, Ph.D.
Student Reader
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UMI Number: 3158292
Copyright 2004 by
Michaud, Gregory J.
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LIVING WISDOM:
UNDERSTANDING WISDOM THROUGH LIFE STORY
by
GREGORY J. MICHAUD
ABSTRACT
This qualitative inquiry into the phenomenon o f wisdom uses Atkinson’s life
story methodology to determine the development of wisdom from the inside out-that is,
from the perspective of each individual’s life story. The study used current research on
the development of wisdom, in particular, the relation of the development of wisdom to
occupation and environment as a starting point. Using semi structured open ended
interviews; each participant constructed their life story. Interviews were transcribed
verbatim and edited for readability using clarity, completeness and conciseness to
develop the finished narrative. Narratives were then analyzed to determine general
themes. These themes were then viewed through the lens of current wisdom research.
Three major themes were identified; The ability to navigate and learn from difficult life
experiences as a component o f wisdom; experiencing a sense of place and its role in the
participant’s wisdom development; and the importance of being open to experience in
the development of wisdom. These themes suggest the usefulness of this research
methodology in illuminating a path to the development of wisdom among this group of
participants. Suggestions for future research are reviewed.
i
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Copyright
by
Gregory J. Michaud
2004
11
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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
For Kelly, and her unending support during the entirety of this project.
For Fred Rogers who truly lived wisdom.
iii
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION............................
Purpose and Significance o f the Study.........................................
Statement o f the Problem
8
8
....................................
10
Locating M yself..................................................................
10
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW.........................................
12
The Evolution of Wisdom Theory in Psychology..........................................
12
Implicit Theory Development........................................................................ 14
Explicit Theory Development........................................................................ 16
Wisdom and Balance...............................................
26
Wisdom and Social-Historical Context................
30
Wisdom and a Sense of Place................................
36
Sense o f Place as a Construct.......................................................................36
Openness to Experience and the Role of Chance in the Development of Wisdom
............................
42
Narrative Inquiry and the Study o f Wisdom...................................................
The Life Story Interview. .....
44
47
48
CHAPTER THREE: METHOD.....................................................................
Participants............................................................
The Interview Process
49
.......................................
Consideration o f Ethical Issues
Analysis and Interpretation.
51
................................
53
.....................................
54
CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS..................................................................
Living Wisdom: A Collection of Life Stories.......................................................
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54
54
Ben McCord
‘‘I ’m A Coal M iner’s Son ”...............................................
54
William T ate................................
78
“I think the challenge o f my life was to recognize and let that spiritual
presence in. ”...................
78
Ann Carter.
......
105
“I learned some sense o f what was important and what wasn't; what you
could leave behind. ”................................................................................... 105
Andrew Lord.............................................................................................................122
“I tend to be a pragmatist. ”........................................................................122
Findings........................................
142
Gaining Wisdom Through Hardship and Challenge
Wisdom and a Sense of Place
......
......
145
150
Openness to Experience Wisdom & Serendipity........................................158
CHAPTER FIVE: DISCUSSION
......
161
Evidence of Existing Wisdom Theory....................................................................162
Gaining Wisdom Through Hardship and Challenge................................ 162
Cognitive Complexity and the Recognition o f Patterns and Connections
....................................................................................................................... 164
Developing Wisdom and a ‘‘Sense o f Place ” ............................................165
Placing O ne’s Self in Context: Sense o f Place and Sense o f Self............ 168
Openness to Experience and the Role of Chance in the Development of Wisdom
.......
169
CHAPTER SIX: CONCLUSION..
.....
Limitations of this Study.............
170
172
Toward a New Understanding of the Development o f Wisdom...........................173
v
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Suggestions for Future Research
...............
173
REFERENCES...............
175
APPENDIXES
184
...........................
Appendix A: Informed Consent Form for Dissertation Research....................... 184
Appendix B: Participant Letter (Example)......................
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LIST OF TABLES
Page
Table 1: Explicit Wisdom Theory in Psychology.............
17
Table 2: Relationships to Place Topology (Cross, 2001, p .3 )........................................39
Table 3: Revised Sense o f Place Topology
......
40
Table 4: Cross ’ “Relationships to Place” & Current Wisdom Theory..........................41
Table 5: Sense o f Place & Wisdom Theory..................................................................... 166
Table 6: Participants Sense o f Place & Wisdom Theory.............
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..167
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CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
Human intelligence has, to some extent, brought the world to the brink. It
may take wisdom to find our way around it. (Sternberg, 2000b, p. 253)
Science cannot address the problems that are raised within the scope of
wisdom. The repression of wisdom by science has led into a dangerous
impasse: “While being armed to the teeth with knowledge, we could easily
end up with literally empty hands, perplexed and helplessly confronted
with the challenges of life.” (Assmann, 1994, p. 221)
Purpose and Significance of the Study
This study centered on what it is like to live with, develop and experience
wisdom within the context of a life. This study will examine life stories in the context of
theories about wisdom and will review what, if any, implications exist given current
understanding of the development of wisdom throughout the lifespan. This study will not
try to determine whether a particular behavior, judgment or an individual is or is not
wise. Research into the evaluation of wise behavior or cognition as well as the traits of
wise individuals has been extensively reviewed elsewhere (Baltes,1990; Staudinger,
1999; Staudinger, Maciel, Smith, & Baltes, 1998).
Making a definitive determination of whether an individual is wise or not is
problematic, given that our lives and environments are not static at any point in time. I
believe that most adults exhibit an “ordinary wisdom” ( Randall & Kenyon, 2001) at
some time in their lives just by the nature of their life experiences, providing they have
the cognitive capacity to learn and grow from them. Research also shows that those
whose lives put them in daily contact with situations and people who are looking for
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advice in the difficult and important aspects of life build more competence in practicing
wisdom (Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith, 1995; Staudinger et al., 1998).
The questions that this study is designed to answer are different than much of the
research on wisdom, where qualitative research becomes fertile ground for empirical
theory building and testing. In this study, empirical research, specifically research that
deals with environments or occupations that have been shown to facilitate the
development of wisdom, serve as the starting point of this study. I hope this qualitative
research will inform and augment current empirical models of wisdom.
This study uses a life story methodology to peel back the layers of the life
experiences of four accomplished psychologist/educators/researchers. Using Atkinson’s
(Atkinson, 1998) Life Story Interview methodology, this study gives some topological
depth to current empirically-based wisdom theory. This research was not undertaken to
supplant or disprove more empirical approaches to the study of wisdom; rather its
purpose is to uncover more complex aspects of the phenomenon that are often lacking in
more quantitative approaches. There is an important caveat, however, in that it is always
difficult to generalize findings from single case studies, but it is my assertion that these
lives do suggest important developmental themes in acquiring wisdom that would be
missed using more empirical research methods.
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Statement of the Problem
In this study, I was given a view of how participants negotiated success and
failure and how they integrated these learnings into their lives, as well as the impact this
had in their life’s journey toward wisdom thus far.
Most recent theories of wisdom focus on documenting what the products and
processes of wisdom are within the context of expertise, a form of intelligence or
cognition. For the most part, little research is done regarding how wisdom is developed
and experienced in the context of a life. Also, much of the current theorizing about
wisdom is empirically based and emerges from folk or implicit theory. Unfortunately,
even with its folk roots, much o f the current scientific discourse on wisdom is based on
research that misses the individual experience and nuance that is crucial to the full
understanding of wisdom. As Chandler and Holiday (1990) pointed out, the tools we rely
on to illuminate this concept may not be adequate to the task at hand.
Locating Myself
As with any journey, it is important to know where you are before you begin the
process of navigating to your destination. My personal interest in wisdom stems from
several different but related sources: how adults think and learn, cognitive growth, the
aging process, and exploring the nature of what it may mean to live a meaningful life.
These questions have been asked in different disciplines, each with its own research
protocol and understanding o f what makes acceptable scholarship. Having been trained in
the empirical research traditions of psychology, I felt that to pursue a research topic like
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wisdom, one that crossed several fields and domains of knowledge, including
psychology, religion, and philosophy, would be complex at best leading to the possibility
of “blind eclecticism” at worst.
Luckily, well-respected researchers like Paul and Margaret Baltes at the Max
Plank Institute, Robert Sternberg and others laid the groundwork, demonstrating the
importance of working within a topic as complex as wisdom. I also believe that the
emergence and acceptance of qualitative research methods such as narrative or life
history approaches have facilitated cross-discipline research of the type required to tackle
phenomenon like wisdom. With this as context, I was now able to see a way to have my
research informed by several disciplines while retaining a psychological perspective.
As a researcher, I have always been interested in psychological phenomenon that
makes us uniquely human. Concepts like self-transcendence, the development of
empathy, altruism, courage and other human possibilities have always interested me. I
believe that formal research into these phenomena is crucial to our ability to negotiate the
many important choices inherent in this fast-paced technological, global existence.
Questions like “What can I know; what ought I know; what may I hope?” are especially
relevant today (Chandler, 1990, p. 125). My interest in these types of questions, along
with my interest in the developmental processes that underlie cognition such as
formal/post formal operations, the development of intelligence, and the way in which
cognition, affect and personality come together (or not) as we age, lead me to an interest
in the development and manifestation of wisdom and wisdom-related knowledge.
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CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW
The purpose of this literature review is not to complete an exhaustive review of
the development and manifestation o f wisdom. Other reviews do a more than competent
job of covering that topic (Baltes, 1990; Birren, 1990; Kramer, 1990; Labouvie-Vief,
1990; Shedlock, 1998; Staudinger, 1996; Sternberg, 1990a). The purpose of this review is
(a) to explore the relevant themes and intellectual development o f the most influential
wisdom research and theory to date, specifically as it applies to the domain of
psychology; and (b) to explore the connection between history, place, and the importance
of being open to learning and experience to the development of wisdom.
The Evolution of Wisdom Theory in Psychology
The study of wisdom is relatively new to psychology, but not to other, older
branches o f study like the humanities, philosophy, the arts and religion. Like psychology
of the 18th and early 19th century, philosophy and the sciences moved away from thinking
about such grand phenomenon as wisdom to subjects more in line with an emphasis on a
new objective, empirical positivism.
Wisdom as a process of thinking and acting has been a distinct component of
many cultures, Eastern and Western, through the ages (Robinson, 1990). In fact some
current researchers put forward the idea that wisdom and the process o f trying to achieve
it are adaptive processes in human evolution. Early cultures like the Egyptians, Greeks,
Christians as well as many early Eastern cultures call out wisdom as important and
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beneficial to society and the individual, although the definition of wisdom varies between
cultures and historic periods (Assmann, 1994; Labouvie-Vief, 1990; Robinson, 1990).
In most societies, wisdom serves as one way to sanctify right thought and action
and so is intertwined with what Assmann (1994) described as “validated action,
behavior, or attitude” (p. 190). Many societies and cultures understand wisdom as an
extension of knowledge, a cognitive process or way of knowing. Assmann described
four possibilities that have qualified certain knowledge as wisdom throughout history;
knowing more than the ordinary person, knowing deeper than the ordinary person,
knowing what is beyond the reach of the ordinary person and knowing what is good for
the wise person or others (Assmann, 1994).
Wisdom as knowledge or cognitive process has dominated western thinking since
cultures began inquiring into the phenomenon. Although understood as an extension of
knowledge or type of knowledge, wisdom has also been understood by many through the
centuries as serving a moral or guiding purpose (Assmann, 1994; Robinson, 1990).
Wisdom has served to ground a people or culture in the search of a higher purpose or a
set of shared universal values.
To be wise in most cultures is to have the ability to conceive of how things at a
fundamental level are interrelated. In an article entitled Psychology o f Wisdom:
Evolutionary Interpretations, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi & Kevin Rathunde (1990) made
this point in discussing similarities between ancient and modem ways o f conceptualizing
wisdom:
While contemporary discussions of wisdom fall to evoke the traditional
categories of universal truth or God to denote the pursuit of wisdom, there
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is an underlying emphasis in both accounts on the value of holistic
cognitive processes that move beyond a fragmented and impassive reality
toward a more “universal” or metasystemic awareness of interrelated
systems. Attributes such as reflexivity or the capacity for selfexamination are seen as providing the needed impetus to escape from
relativistic intellectualization. (p. 31)
Implicit Theory Development
As Robert Sternberg and others have pointed out, current wisdom theory building
has its roots in implicit or folk knowledge (Sternberg, 1990b). Such implicit knowledge
represents a common, cultural shared understanding. Implicit theorizing consists of
uncovering wisdom-related knowledge, as it exists in specific populations and/or
religious and secular texts and folklore. Studies that explore implicit theorizing about
wisdom have given rise to many of the explicit or empirically-derived theories (Assmann,
1994; Baltes, 1990; Sternberg, 1990c). Implicit theories can also help researchers to
understand cultural anchoring of explicit theorizing.
Much of the initial research on implicit wisdom theory focused on how people
understand the concept of wisdom. This research provides insight into how the concept
hangs together in the public consciousness. More recent work has been attempted to
parse out the differences or overlap between wisdom and other concepts like intelligence
and creativity (Sternberg, 1997,2000a, 2001; Sternberg, 1990c).
Among the researchers who have written about implicit theory related to wisdom,
Clayton & James Birren (1980), Holiday and Chandler (1986), Baltes and Smith (1990)
and Sternberg (1998) have been the most influential in their impact on more empirical
explicit theorizing. For example, Holiday and Chandler collected data from several
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separate studies that looked at the language commonly used in describing wise
individuals. They wanted to test the notion that: “The words wise and wisdom, as
commonly used, reference a constellation of coherently organized and psychologically
meaningful attributes and behaviors that include but are not coextensive with what it
means to be simultaneously old and intelligent” (Chandler, 1990, p. 137). The
researchers found evidence that wisdom does tend to be understood as a constellation of
competencies different and distinct from words such as intelligent, shrewd and
perceptive.
In a similar study involving professors of art, business, philosophy and physics,
Sternberg looked at the implicit wisdom theories held by subject matter experts (unlike
Chandler’s subjects identified as “laypeople”) across different domains (Sternberg,
1990c). Like Chandler, Sternberg also tested the relationship between wisdom and
concepts like intelligence and creativity. In this collection of experiments, Sternberg first
asked the university professors to list behaviors that would be characteristic of a wise,
intelligent or creative person. In another experiment, Sternberg asked college students to
sort three sets of 40 behaviors into piles: “These 40 behaviors in each set were top-rated
wisdom, intelligence and creativity behaviors from the previous experiment” (Sternberg,
1990b, p. 145).
In these experiments, Sternberg used multidimensional scaling to determine the
specific components of people’s implicit theories of wisdom, intelligence and creativity.
Six components came to light regarding wisdom; reasoning ability, sagacity, learning
from ideas and environment, judgment, expeditious use of information, and perspicacity.
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Different components emerged for creativity and intelligence, lending credence to the
idea that implicit theories for each concept are distinct.
Finally, Sternberg ran a third experiment, in which he attempted to correlate these
three prototypes (wisdom, intelligence and creativity), with psychometric data. His idea
was to test the prototype’s external validity. He found that: “People have prototypes
somehow stored in their heads for intelligence and creativity as well as for wisdom.
These prototypes are not only internally consistent and sensible, but also related
externally to psychometric measures targeted to measurable constructs” (Sternberg,
1990b, p. 148).
Explicit Theory Development
The development of explicit wisdom theory in the social sciences (especially
psychology) takes several forms and in some sense has mirrored the development of
knowledge in psychology. For a simple example, theorists like Jung (1960) or Erikson
(1980) grounded their theoretical understanding of wisdom in a more psychodynamic
perspective, as opposed to Baltes and Staudinger (1990) and Sternberg (1998), who based
their research programs on a cognitive/intelligence framework. Up until recently, these
separate research tracks seemed to diverge. In the last few years, however, theorists from
many different “schools” within the psychological community, as well as from fields
outside of the psychological research community such as gerontology, sociology,
philosophy, and religion have come together to address questions involving the
development and manifestation of wisdom.
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In the psychological literature, explicit wisdom theory clusters around several
major research themes and theoretical perspectives. Research themes include
environmental/contextual influence, spirituality, balance/integration, personality,
occupation, age and thinking/cognition. The theoretical perspectives include intelligence,
intellectual/personality development, and psychodynamic perspectives:
Table 1
Explicit Wisdom Theory in Psychology
Research Theme
Environm ental/
S pirituality
Balance/
Personality
O ccupation
Age
Thinking/
contextual
In teg ratio n
Cognition
i n f l u e n c e _____________________________________________________________________________________
Theoretical
Perspective
Baltes
Sternberg
ExplicitIntelligence
Baltes
Staudinger
Baltes
Sternberg
ExplicitIntellectual
and/or
personality
Development
Assmann
LabouvieV ief
Orwoll &
Perhnutter
Kitchener /
Brenner
Meacham
Orwoll &
Perhnutter
Explicit
PsychodynamicDeveJopmentaJ
Levitt
Jung
Erikson
Jung
Erikson
Jung
Erikson
Baltes
Sternberg
Hira &
Faulkend
er
Hershey &
Baltes
Sternberg
LabouvieV ief
Orwall &
Perhnutter
Jung
Eriksson
Jung
Erikson
Bolded areas indicate current research emphasis
Psychodynamics and Explicit Wisdom Theory
Psychodynamic theory has played a very important part in the development of
wisdom theory. The influence of Erikson’s (1968) psychosocial theory, as well as Jung’s
analytic (Campbell, 1971) and Kohut’s (1977) object relations’ theories have been
extremely important in the development of the dialogue among researchers thus far
(Orwoll & Achenbaum, 1993).
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As one o f Freud’s students, Jung was grounded in the analytic approach to the
development of the self or the ego. Jung broke with Freud by going beyond
psychosexual development, to a theory of personality development that stressed the
changing relationship of the unconscious to the conscious mind throughout the lifespan.
Jung saw the lifespan as a journey beginning with childhood, with its anchor in the
unconscious. He saw middle age as a growing into consciousness, with all of its resulting
problems—as we are abandoned by nature (Jung, 1933).
Jung saw old age as a return to the unconscious—not of a child, but the emergence of
an ability to access and connect with primordial images and symbols “which are inborn in
him from the earliest times, and, eternally living, outlasting all generations still make up
the ground work o f the human psyche” (Jung, 1933). Further, Jung asserted that wisdom
was demonstrated when an individual was able to balance consciousness with collective
unconscious archetypal symbols: “It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in
harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them. It is a question neither of belief
nor of knowledge, but o f the agreement of our thinking with the primordial images of the
unconsciousness” (Jung, 1933, p. 21). This idea of wisdom as balance carries over into
contemporary wisdom theories such as Sternberg’s balance theory of wisdom (Sternberg,
1998) and Labouvie-Vief s conception of wisdom as a balance between cognition and
affect (Labouvie-Vief, 1990,1994).
Erik Erikson was arguably the most influential theorist in the area of human
development in general and adult development in particular. His influence reaches
beyond psychodynamic-personality/ego based theorists and has been foundational in the
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study of adult development as it relates to cognition, affect and specifically wisdom.
Like Jung, Erikson was also greatly influenced by psychoanalysis. Trained in Vienna as
an analyst, Erikson’s early thinking around human development was an extension of
Freud’s work on psychosexual development, with a specific emphasis on the
development of the ego. Unlike Freud and other influential psychoanalytical theorists of
his day (with the exception of Hartman) who relegated social influences to the side lines,
Erikson saw the importance of social structure in understanding ego development and
succeeded in developing a comprehensive stage-based theory around its influence.
Erikson was also influenced by discoveries in other areas of the sciences, specifically the
biological sciences.
The concept o f epigenesis, with its notion that an embryo develops certain body
organs and systems in an invariant stage like progression, and that one system has an
impact on the development of another underlies his theory o f psychosocial development:
As I now quote what the embryologist has to tell us about the epigenesis
of organ systems, I hope the reader will hear the probability that all growth
and development follow analogous patterns. In the epigenetic sequence of
development each organ has its time of origin a factor as important as the
locus of origin. (Erikson & Erikson, 1997, p. 27)
In Erikson’s model, hope, will, purpose, competence, fidelity, love, care, and
wisdom are seen as “psychosocial strengths”; won through the successful negotiation of
specific life crisis. In Erikson’s theory, wisdom is gained through achieving integrity by
the successful negotiation and resolution of this life stage (despair and disgust versus
integrity) (Erikson, 1980a, 1980b; Erikson & Erikson, 1997). As mature individuals get
older and find their bodies weakening, psychosocial strengths gained in prior life stages,
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especially hope and trust are called on more and more. These hard won strengths are
crucial to stave off the despair and disdain lurking close as the body ages and friends,
relatives and close family begin to die. Erikson describes integrity more as the ability to
keep things together, to sustain a sense of coherence rather than the meaning linked more
with a kind of right acting or living (Erikson, 1980; Erikson, 1997). In this way, Erikson
saw integrity as aligned with the physical senses as well as a sense of coherence and or
balance in the Jungian sense:
This in its simplest meaning is, of course, a sense of coherence and
wholeness that is, no doubt, at supreme risk under such terminal
conditions as include a loss of linkages in all three organizing processes:
in the Soma, the pervasive weakening of tonic interplay in connecting
tissues, blood-distributing vessels, and the muscle system; in the Psyche,
the gradual loss of mnemonic coherence in experience, past and present;
and in the Ethos, the threat of sudden and nearly total loss of responsible
function in generative interplay. What is demanded here could simply be
called “integrality,” a tendency to keep things together.”. . . “ . . . by
integrity we cannot mean only a rare quality o f personal character but
above all a shared proclivity for understanding or for hearing those who do
not understand, the integrative ways of human life. (Erikson & Erikson,
1997, p. 65)
Similarly, Joan Erikson who completed Erik’s last work “The Life Cycle Completed"
underscored this rather physical/biological grounding of integrity and wisdom:
In our final definition of “wisdom” we claim that wisdom rests in the
capacity to see, look and remember, as well as to listen, hear and
remember. Integrity, we maintain, demands tact, contact and touch. This
is a serious demand on the senses of elders” .. .“Ninth stage elders just do
not usually have the adequately good eyesight or the respective ears
wisdom demands, although we nay rejoice in the progress being made
with hearing devices and eye surgery. (Erikson & Erikson, 1997, p. 112)
Erikson’s understanding o f wisdom can, like psychoanalytic theory in general,
seems overly reliant on the physical senses and the biological processes for its
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development and manifestation. It stresses the physical more than the transcendent
nature of wisdom. Interestingly, Joan Erikson (Erikson & Erikson, 1997) did take on the
notion of “gerotransendance” in the last chapter o f “The Life Cycle Completed,” although
she seemed to shy away from such lofty ideas as transcendence to a focus on the positive,
wisdom enhancing nature of voluntarily withdrawing oneself from the day-to-day
concerns like the early Greek philosophers. However, she continued to stress the role and
importance of the physical senses in developing wisdom:
Fortunate are those who have the luxury to choose to withdraw. Many
elders are faced with enforced withdrawals. Physical deterioration of
eyes, ears, teeth, bones, all the body’s systems often inflict an inevitable
reduction in contact with others and the outside world. Emotional and
physical responses may also inhibit one’s range of contact. (Erikson &
Erikson, 1997, p. 125)
All in all, Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is perhaps the most
influential with regard to current wisdom theory. It represents one of the first
comprehensive theories o f the development of wisdom. It also places the notion of
wisdom within a broader theory o f development, although some would argue that
Erikson’s model was not sufficiently deep or well developed. Erikson’s work has
influenced and continues to influence many theorists both in human development in
general and the development of wisdom in particular.
Wisdom, Intelligence, and Intellectual Development - The Cognitive Perspective on
Explicit Wisdom Theory
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Most, if not all theorists align their theories of wisdom with thinking from the
psychoanalytically-based theory o f Jung, to the more cognitive theorists such as
Labouvie-Vief and Baltes. In a way, to study wisdom is to study the exercise of a form of
thinking and cognition. Theorists coming from a cognitive frame are more interested in
the technology o f the thinking process as it relates to wisdom, however.
The interplay between intelligence and wisdom related thought are strong
components of many cognitive theories of wisdom, as is the development of thinking.
Many of the more cognitive, stage-based wisdom theories owe much to researchers such
as Piaget; while researchers like Baltes and Sternberg owe a debt to the pioneers in the
development of intelligence in adulthood such as Cattell (1971) and Horn (1970). In fact,
the cognitive-intelligence research framework is one of the most influential currently in
the empirical literature related to adult development in general and in the development of
wisdom in particular (Stevens-Long & Michaud, 2003). The benefit of using models of
intellectual development and/or performance is that wisdom-related knowledge can be
deconstructed into components, and the demonstration of wisdom, like the demonstration
of intelligence, can be more readily observed using tests, interviews and other research
protocol. However, the gain in precision often comes at the expense of context and
depth.
Within models of wisdom that are cognitively derived are basic and important
differences in the development of thinking and intelligence, as well as the development of
wisdom. As an example, Baltes’s work on cognitive aging focuses on Cattell (1971) and
Horn’s (1970) notion of crystal and fluid intelligence, where the decline of fluid
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23
intelligence inherent in the aging process is matched by the possibility of a rise in
crystallized intelligence:
Most of the research that inspired the Baltes’s model (of wisdom) is found
in the domain of intelligence (Baltes, Dittmann-Kohli, & Dixon, 1984)
and, specifically, in work based on the psychometric theory of fluid and
crystallized intelligence (Cattell, 1963; Horn, 1982). Data from these
studies clearly show that the mechanics of intelligence, including basic
skills like perceiving relationships, classification and logical reasoning
peaks in young adulthood. On the other hand, the pragmatics of
intelligence, the application of social wisdom or good judgment may
increase with age throughout the normal adult life span. Furthermore, the
rise in crystallized intelligence often matches the decline in fluid
intelligence. (Stevens-Long & Michaud, 2003, p. 19)
According to Baltes, these data suggest that there is hope that at least one cognitive
function, wisdom, can develop as the adult ages, although more recent data seem to
suggest a curvilinear relationship. In fact, Baltes’ wisdom model is optimistic regarding
the possibility that the reduction in fluid intelligence as we age can be balanced by a rise
in crystallized intelligence (Baltes & Smith, 1990). Unlike the psychodynamic theorists,
Baltes suggested that biology can be outwitted, but can it?1 Erikson (1980a) and the
psychodynamic theorists would say no. These theorists are more conceptually tied to
biological predetermination. In Erickson’s case it rather simple, it is difficult to be wise
with failing hearing and sight because it is hard to be wise when one cannot hear or see.
As previously stated, the Berlin group’s conceptualization of wisdom-related
knowledge is based in expertise, and is described as “Exceptional insight into human
development and life matters, exceptionally good judgment, advice and commentary
1 It is important to note that Baltes’ theory o f wisdom is embedded in a theory o f optimal aging. Specifically, selection,
optimization and compensation, where as one loses certain competencies or abilities with age, existing competencies can be
selected and optimized while declining competencies can be compensated for by focusing on optimized competencies or
abilities.
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24
about life problems” (Baltes & Smith, 1990, p. 95). Further, Baltes and Smith detailed
five specific criteria essential for the demonstration of wisdom-related knowledge; rich
factual knowledge, rich procedural knowledge, life-span contextualisim, relativism and
uncertainty (Baltes & Smith, 1990, p. 95). Baltes’ model was robust in that it has been
empirically shown to separate wisdom-related performance from other cognitive
constructs like intelligence. In fact, Baltes’ team at the Max Plank Institute have shown
that wisdom-related performance, as described in Baltes’ model, has: “discriminate
validity in the context of psychometric measures of personality and intelligence” (Baltes
& Staudinger, 1993, p. 79). Baltes’s model and his protocol for assessing wisdom-related
cognition have a good deal of empirical support.
While Baltes’ model has been one of the most influential in current thinking
around wisdom, it has several problematic aspects such as his focus on wisdom as
expertise, as opposed to other models that stress more complex, less reductionist
conceptions (Chandler, 1990; Sternberg, 1998). Another, more troubling criticism of
Baltes’ research is the value neutrality o f the five factor model. As Chandler and
Holliday point out:
Much the same point could be made with reference to the Berlin group’s
handling of the notion that wise persons are a source of “good” judgment
regarding the conduct of life. Within the interpretive content of their
value-neutral dual processing model the only available meaning of the
word good is a synonym for appraising terms such as “sound, effective,
practical and action-guiding” (Dixon & Baltes, 1986, p.225) This is
precisely the sort of good (read prudent and practical) life that finally
drove Ivan Ilyich to despair (Keykes, 1983) and not at all an answer to our
own and Habermas’s (1970) question about the good thing that we might
hope. (p. 134)
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Wisdom is more than a utilitarian notion of “good advice.” Wisdom is advice in service
of a greater good, however this is defined. This differentiates Baltes’ model from
Sternberg’s, for instance.
Like much of the research on wisdom, Baltes’ model does not go very far in
suggesting a trajectory or path for the development of wisdom, although the model does
suggest specific mediating and antecedent influences. Baltes’ antecedent factors and
mediating processes for acquiring wisdom are separated into three areas: (a) general
personal factors including cognitive mechanics, mental health, social competence and
openness to experience; (b) expertise, including mentorship and generativity; and (c)
facilitative experiential contexts such as age, education, profession and historical period
(Baltes & Staudinger, 1993). However, in examining the interface between personality
and wisdom related performance, Staudinger, Lopez and Baltes (Staudinger, et al., 1997)
go a bit further in hinting at a possible developmental path related to Erickson’s model of
psychosocial development:
Notions of personality growth, such as reflected in Erikson’s theory of
personality development (e.g., Erikson et al.,), are considered in our model
of antecedents of wisdom when it comes to person characteristics that are
specific to the domain of the fundamental pragmatics of life and not
primarily reflective of general adaptive functioning. The positive
relationship between personal growth and wisdom related performance
can be taken as empirical evidence supporting models of personality
development such as Erickson’s. In his theory, Erikson clearly relates the
notion of wisdom with the maturation of character. (Staudinger, Lopez &
Baltes, 1997, p. 1210)
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Wisdom and Balance
Some of the important themes that run through much o f the wisdom literature,
both implicit and explicit treatments, include a focus on the role of balance in developing
and exhibiting wisdom. I have pointed to Jung (1933), Sternberg (1998), Labouvie-Vief
(1990), Birren and Fisher (1990), among others, who make the idea of balance important
in their work.
As a cognitive development theorist, Labouvie-Vief drew influence from Piaget’s
(1952) overarching theory o f cognitive development. She also drew in this theory to
inform her conception of wisdom. As with most post-Piagetian theorists, however, she
was unhappy with Piaget’s treatment of adult cognitive development:
A careful examination of that (Piaget’s) theory seemed particularly
compelling, as I felt it was paradoxical that this rich and sweeping theory
has failed us as a useful theory of adult cognitive development. Based as
it is on the core assumption that intelligence arises from organic and
subjective processes and providing, as a result an integrative view of
cognitive underpinnings of the ontogeny of human adaptive capacities,
that theory shows many useful pointers to a theory of wisdom. (LabouvieVief, 1990, p. 53)
This uneasiness spurred her and other important theorist in the field of adult cognitive
development like Basseches (1984) and Commons (1984) to innovative work in stagebased theories of adult cognitive development.
The notion of balance or integration of affect and cognition is critical to
Labouvie-Vief s understanding of adult cognitive development in general and the
development of wisdom in particular. Specifically, Labouvie-Vief saw the attainment of
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wisdom in the balance of two forms of knowledge or “knowing”; logical and organismic
thought:
Rather than continuing to identify mental life primarily with objective
thought, then, theories of thought need to be based on a duality of two
modes of knowing that, although often in competition, ideally function in
a dialogic relationship. In that dialog, one mode provides experiential
richness and fluidity, the other logical cohesion and stability. It is such
smooth and relatively balanced dialogue between the two modes that I
define as wisdom. (Labouvie-Vief, 1990, p. 53)
Labouvie-Vief has extended the idea of cognitive complexity and the integration of
affect in her more recent work. In a recent study on cognitive complexity and
integration, she implied a balance between a more psychodynamic notion of affect
regulation. This idea is developed from interactions with and internalization of important
early caregivers, and in interaction with one’s environment. The idea of balance is not
only important in the function of wisdom, but it also an important component of her
theoretical work, balance between a psychodynamic and cognitive understanding of
development, resulting in an integrated view of cognitive growth that requires both the
demonstration of cognitive complexity and a mature use of defensive coping mechanisms
such as affect integration:
Cognitive models view maturational changes in cognitive capacities as the
major source for professional development. In comparison,
psychodynamic models place their primary emphasis on processes of
affect regulation and how affect regulation is learned by the internalization
of primary reference figures (Erikson, 1950). Ideally, the developmental
processes that result from the transactions with the environment and the
internalization of reference figures are expected to interface and mutually
support each other, forming a system that is both conceptually complex
and affectively integrated. (Labouvie-Vief, 2000, p. 493)
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These processes affect integration and cognitive complexity are both important for
Labouvie-Vief s understanding of wisdom in that one must have achieved a balance of
both to develop wisdom.
The notion ofbalance has also played a strong part in Robert Sternberg’s theory
of wisdom. Sternberg’s balanced theory has its roots in his work on the development of
intelligence. Sternberg specifically isolated his theory of wisdom from explicit or implicit
notions of intelligence and creativity, although all three are related in the understanding
of human intelligence (Sternberg, 1986, 1990b, 1997). Sternberg’s theory of wisdom is
one o f the most complete in that it fits within the context of a theory of wisdom that
includes intelligence and creativity. In this way, Sternberg, like Gardiner (1985, 1993),
saw intelligence as composed of a number o f different components. In Sternberg’s
theory on intelligence, he introduced the concept of analytical and practical intelligence
practical intelligence being the form of intelligence most closely related to wisdom.
Unlike Baltes, theory-describing wisdom as a form of expertise, Sternberg saw wisdom
as knowledge (tacit knowledge) in service of a higher good. (1990c)
Sternberg’s research relating to his balanced theory of wisdom stemmed from
some o f his earlier work in the nature and development of intelligence. Sternberg’s theory
rests on his notion of “tacit knowledge” or “the ability to apply various kinds of
information processing components of intelligence to experience for the purpose of
adaptation to, shaping of and selection of environments” (Sternberg, 1998, p. 348). While
based on a cognitive foundation, Sternberg’s theory of wisdom went beyond cognition or
expertise to the notion ofbalance, values, and tacit knowledge in service of the greater or
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“public” good (Sternberg, 1998). Balance was understood by Sternberg as the act of
balancing multiple intra/inter and extra personal interests. Further, Sternberg explicitly
pointed to the importance of values and their role in mediating and shaping the use of
tacit knowledge:
Wisdom is involved when practical intelligence is applied to maximizing
not just one’s own or someone else’s self-interest, but rather a balance of
various self interests (intrapersonal) with the interests of others
(interpersonal) and of other aspects of the context in which one lives
(extrapersonal), such as one’s city or country or environment or even God.
(Sternberg, 1998, p. 348)
In balancing stakeholder interests, it is possible to adequately respond to “environmental
contexts,” in order to shape the environmental by adapting to the environment, shaping
the environment, or selecting a new environment.
Sternberg, like Baltes, posited a very preliminary developmental roadmap for
becoming wise. Specifically, Sternberg stressed the importance of development in two
areas: (a) antecedents a mix of cognitive, motivational, personality based and
environmental variables and (b) other developmental processes impacting the process of
balance (Sternberg, 1998). In all, Sternberg did not suggest a particular developmental
trajectory, but merely suggested that developmental differences will occur in these areas.
The idea ofbalance is also discussed by Assmann (1994) as a mediating outcome in
ascribing wisdom to age. Specifically, Assmann drew on the notion put forth by
Csikszentmihalyi and Rathunde (1990) of the development and importance of wisdom in
evolution. Assmann went a step further to posit the role of wisdom in a necessary
societal balance between the old and the young:
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The cultural linkage between wisdom and age counteracts a natural tendency to
corruption built into the physical frame of the human being. The genetic program
favoring the strong, fit and healthy is thus balanced by a cultural program favoring
the wise, creative and intelligent. It is social wisdom to temper the “genes” with
“memes” . . . “Traditional societies are built on the “wise” principal ofbalance,
taming the physical power of the young by the insight and experience of the old.
(Assmann, 1994, p. 214)
Wisdom and Social-Historical Context
The wise individual, although anchored in the present, has dialectically
integrated into a manifold totality the multiple aspects of his or her self­
experience and has done so not just conceptually but experientially (as
empirical self and as existence), historically (as unique historically
conditioned evolving totality immersed in an evolving society) and
culturally. (Pascual-Leone, 1990, p. 245)
The recognition o f the social component of human development and the
development of cognition is not new. Jung understood the shared nature o f a type of
cognition in his discussion of the collective unconscious (Jung, 1960). Scholars such as
Bruner (1990) called out the role of social processes like culture and its impact on the
development of a folk psychology. Even the act of defining wisdom in an empirical
sense has a strong social component. An example of this is the importance of implicit or
folk theories of wisdom as surfaced by Holiday & Chandler (1986), Sternberg (1990a),
and Baltes (1990).
This social component is also important in the exercise of wisdom. To have
wisdom, to exercise wise behavior, is a public action to be judged as wise or not by
others. Wisdom is about reflection and action for the purpose of changing the external
environment for the betterment of a community, in service of a common good. Cognition,
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merely to think wise thoughts, is not sufficient to qualify as wisdom as it must be
practiced, labeled, and discussed in a public forum.
In my reading, however, most of the theorists involved in the study of wisdom as
a cognitive process have focused on its interpersonal development. Relatively few
theorists call out the role of shared cognition as an important concept in the development
and manifestation o f wisdom. Most notably, Erik Erickson (1968) in his psychosocial
theory of personality development, emphasized the importance of social interaction on
the development o f personality, and an aspect of cognition, namely wisdom. Recently
theorists like Staudinger (Staudinger, 1996; Staudinger & Baltes, 1996; Staudinger et al.,
1998) have recognized the importance of a social component to the development and
manifestation of cognition in general and wisdom in particular.
I have noticed two overall themes in the research on the social nature o f the
development and manifestation of wisdom: (a) the existence of facilitative socialinteractive settings important to the development of wisdom, and (b) the social nature of
the creation of wisdom related knowledge. Both of these are important to the
development of wisdom.
In an article summarizing research on predictors of wisdom-related knowledge,
Staudinger et al. (1998) determined that compared to measures of personality and
intelligence, experiential contexts (i.e., training and experience in clinical psychology)
provided the best prediction of performance on wisdom-related tasks. Other studies, as
previously cited, have replicated this finding. Interestingly, in a study focusing on the
public perceptions o f wisdom and its relation to certain occupations, Hershey and Farrell
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(1997) found that people who hold certain occupations like judges, psychiatrists and
psychologists were rated as more wise than those holding occupations like real estate
agent or toll collector. In this sense, the social/occupational factors associated with the
performance and perception of wisdom (i.e., endowing certain positions as wise) are
important in the phenomenon of wisdom, especially as it is understood by the subjects
represented in these studies.
Another important social process for the development of wisdom is the relation of
its development to the individual experience of history or historical events. In this vein,
Erikson is a theorist that understood the role of history in individual development. He
described the role of history and its impact in mastering the challenges of each
developmental stage in his model of psychosocial development. In a discussion of
identity formation in adolescence, Erikson articulated this:
Past history survives in the ideal and evil prototypes which guide the
parental imagery and which color fairy tale and family lore, superstition
and gossip, and the simple lessons of early verbal training. Historians on
the whole make little use of this; they account only for the context of
autonomous historical ideas and are unconcerned with the fact that these
ideas reach down into the lives of generations and re-emerge through the
daily awakening and training of historical consciousness in young
individuals: via the mythmakers of religion and politics, of the arts and
sciences, o f drama, cinema and fiction all contributing more or less
consciously, more or less responsibly to the historical logic absorbed by
youth.(Erikson, 1968, p. 257)
Erikson also understood that the very nature and course of identity formation is informed
by the historical context that the individual is a part of:
The study o f psychosocial identity, therefore, depends on three
complementarites or are they three aspects of one complimentarity?
Namely, the personal coherence of the individual and role integration in
his group; his guiding images and the ideologies of his time; his life
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history and the historical m om ent.. . Thus, the nature of the identity
conflict often depends on the latent panic or, indeed, the intrinsic promise
pervading the historical period. (Erikson, 1975, p. 21)
Unfortunately, Erikson was somewhat vague in the specific process by which history and
development interact, but other theorists have been able take Erikson’s thinking one step
further, to determine the degree to which and at which developmental stage, historical
events and other social changes impact development:
An understanding that our work is embedded in a historical context is
extremely important. At the same time, though, we must also incorporate
this self-understanding into our thinking about the people we set out to
study. Participants in our research are no less influenced by social history.
We attend a bit more often to our subjects’ experience of social structure
by including assessment of variables such as social class, gender race and
ethnicity. . . By ignoring the historical dimension of our subjects’ social
experience, not only do we unnecessarily impoverish our understanding of
our subjects lives, but we also ignore an important source of information
to account for apparent inconsistencies in research findings. (Stewart &
Healy, 1989, p. 30)
While I will not attempt to review the entire literature around the impact of social
change to development (see Stewart & Healy, 1989), it has only been recently that this
phenomenon has been empirically investigated in the literature.
As Stewart and Healy (1989) pointed out, there are several types of studies that
investigate the role of social change on development. One group of studies is aimed at
researching a link between more general, broad social trends and their impact on the
attitudes of different age cohorts. Jody Veroff, in her work with Libby Douvan (Veroff,
Kulka, & Douvan, 1980) pointed to the relation between different age cohorts and broad
social trends and attitudes, like the connection of well being with mental health, or
changes in patterns of “help seeking” behavior (Stewart & Healy, 1989).
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In the research literature related to wisdom and the role of external events in
shaping it, the ability to successfully learn from the slings and arrow of outrageous
fortune is seen as critical. Erikson, in his psycho-historical analysis of Gandhi and Luther
suggested that the process by which these men learned from life’s difficult lessons was
integral to their development:
In my work, I have only been able to suggest an approach to the lives, and
the critical stages within these lives, of two religious-political leadersnamely, Martin Luther and Mohandas Gandhi who were able to translate
their personal conflicts into methods of spiritual and political renewal in
the lives of a large contingent of their contemporaries. (Erikson &
Erikson, 1997)
Further, the ability to grow from life experience, good or bad is integral to Erikson’s
theory of psychosocial development, which places wisdom at its pinnacle.
In a recent study looking at the long-term effects of the great depression on the
development of wisdom, Monika Ardelt (1988) hypothesized that: “Older people with a
relatively high degree of wisdom managed to grow psychologically through crisis and
hardship at earlier points in their life while elders with a low degree of wisdom failed to
benefit from these events” (p. 292). Ardelt analyzed data from the members of the
Berkeley Guidance Study, a longitudinal study that was designed to research the
development of children who were bom in 1928/9 in Berkeley California. She measured
the presence of wisdom using a protocol suggested by Clayton and Birren (1980) where
wisdom is measured as the “average of cognitive, reflective and affective indices derived
from the 1969 interviews” (Ardelt, 1988, p. 295). There are several important things
about this study to note. First it did support the hypothesis that:
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Individuals who were categorized as relatively wise in old age were better
able to overcome the negative consequences of the Great Depression (such
as persistent economic deprivation, unemployment, demotion and a
decline in social status and psychological health) and more likely to grow
psychologically through economic hardship than people with low wisdom
scores in their earlier years. (Ardelt, 1988, p. 295)
Finally, this study not only illuminates a possible developmental pathway for
wisdom, it suggests that a historical event like the Great Depression or World War II may
induce different trajectories of development for wisdom:
The study also illustrates the importance of a life course approach in
contrast to cross-sectional, aging research. In old age the (study)
respondents degree of wisdom did not differ significantly by their
experience of Depression hardship although their developmental pathways
varied significantly. (Ardelt, 1988, p. 300)
Other theorists like Elder (1974) used data from the Oakland study to research the effect
o f the great depression on the development of children. This study confirmed a link
between the developmental stage of a child when exposed to a social crisis like the Great
Depression and the impact of that experience for later life. It could almost be said that
the hardship associated with a social crisis like the Great Depression and W W II offer a
facilitative environment for the growth of wisdom.
To truly understand the role of history in the development of wisdom, historical
context is one important component. Context begins to touch the intersection of the
historical event and how it is processed and integrated into an individual’s developmental
path. I wondered if it was possible to peel back the idea of historical context to reveal
more specific concepts or underlying mechanisms. It occurred to me that how one
experiences history or historical events is determined in some part by one’s surroundings,
the people one is connected to as well as where, physically, one is at the time. This is
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different from the idea that one remembers where they were when a specific event
happened, like where you were when Kennedy was assassinated or when the Challenger
exploded. It has more to do with how our surroundings, the place we consider significant
in our lives, influence our response to historical events and in turn color our development.
As I began researching this, my interests became even more granular. I wondered
whether a physical/spiritual connection to a particular place in the context of an
individual’s life history could shape development in general and the development of
wisdom in particular. Specifically can place be a facilitator of wisdom like the choice of a
profession?
Wisdom and a Sense of Place
Sense o f Place as a Construct
Although a fledgling field of knowledge, the concept of place comprises a broad
landscape covering a diverse array of fields, theories and research. The importance of a
“sense of place” as a subject for research has undergone a similar renaissance as the
concept of wisdom. Like wisdom, the notion that our sense or experience of place as an
organizing feature of personal or communal identity is not new. In fact, Plato in
Timaeus’ account ofKhora and Aristotle, in his discussions of place and space in
physics, are examples of philosophy’s preoccupation with the importance of these
concepts (Anderson, 2000). More recently, interest and theory building around the
concept of place has been facilitated by phenomenology and the work o f Heidegger, as
well as the influence of postmodernism and theorists like Certeau, Bachelard, Casey,
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Brueggemann and others: “Heidegger insisted that place is the house of being .. . To be a
person, for Heidegger was Dasein, or being there in other words, to be there as a person
in a particular place” (Sheldrake, 2001, p. 46).
Like wisdom, researching place or sense of place is complex and
interdisciplinary. The concept has been studied in social science; in anthropology,
environmental psychology, geography, landscape architecture and as well as in
literature:2 “The identification with place, for writers of both fiction and nonfiction, has
diverse linkages. It can be geographic, or physical, or social. It can be pegged to time, or
be timeless” (Lopez, 1996, p. 1). Early literary contribution to the sense of place include
naturalists like Thoreau, Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson as well as many important
novelists:
Herman Melville in Moby Dick, Henry David Thoreau, of course, and
novelists such as Willa Cather, John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner
come quickly to mind. More recently Peter Matthiessen, Wendell Berry,
Wallace Stegner and the poets W.S. Merwin, Amy Clampitt and Gary
Snyder. (Lopez, 1996, p. 1)
In the relatively new field of environmental psychology, the interaction between
humans and the environment is studied and understood in several ways. First theorists
like Kenneth Craik (Craik & Jennings, 1992) at the Institute of Personality and Social
Research, University o f California, Berkeley, M. Powell Lawton (Lawton & Salthouse,
1998) at the Philadelphia Geriatric Center and others focus on the environment’s impact
on the psychological functioning and well being of the individual, while researchers like
2 See Cross, “What is Sense o f Place” for a compact review o f current theory (Cross, 2001).
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T. C. Daniel (1990) focus on using advances in psychology to help preserve and enhance
the environment (Strathman, Baker & Kost, 1991).
As with any fledgling field, certain concepts and ideas have yet to be nailed down
conceptually. In fact, a common definition of sense of place has been relatively illusive
in the literature:
As noted in the call for this year’s papers, "Sense o f Place”has become a
buzzword used to justify everything from a warm fuzzy appreciation of a
natural landscape to the selling of home sites in urban sprawl. The truth is
we probably have no single “sense of place,” instead, we bring to the
places we live a whole set of cultural preconceptions that shape the way
we respond to the place, and in some measure reshape the place to fit
those preconceptions. This lack of a common definition or understanding
of sense of place, results both from the fact that it has become a buzzword
used to suit various purposes, and from the interdisciplinary nature of the
concept. (Cross, 2001, p. 1)
As I looked for a construct to help illuminate the role of place in the development
of wisdom, I found Cross’s sociological description to be one of the most reasoned and
logical. Her conception o f the phenomenon o f place included a useful topology that
helped put these life experiences related to place in context (Cross, 2001):
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Table 2
Relationship to Place Topology (Cross, 2001, p. 3)
Type of Bond
Relationship
I- ™
' "
| Biographical
~
[Historical and familial
i
[Process
jBeing bom in and living in a place, develops over
time
j Spiritual
Emotional, intangible
peeling a sense of belonging, simply felt rather than
created
11Ideological
Moral and ethical
[Living according to moral guidelines for human
jresponsibility to place, guidelines may be religious
or secular
1
S .....................................
1
Mythical
Narrative (9)
j
L
...
—
i
1| Commodified
|
r ~
'
■
I Dependent
i
.
,...—
Cognitive (based on
choice and desirability)
~
j
i
Learning about a place through stories, including:
creation myths, family histories, political accounts,
and fictional accounts
Choosing a place based on a list o f desirable traits
and lifestyle preferences; comparison of actual
places with ideal
Constrained by lack of choice, dependency on
Material
L ......... .......................... . another person, or economic opportunity
As Cross noted, there seem to be several aspects to the sense of place construct;
what she calls relationship to place, consisting of the ties that bind one to a certain place,
and community attachment consisting of “the depth of types of attachments to one
particular place” (Cross, 2001, p. 2). In reviewing her theory, I find her notion of
community attachment to have less descriptive usefulness than her notion of relation to
place. In fact, the notion of relation to place could be slightly expanded to make room
for the concept o f community attachment without creating another category. Further, her
inclusion of Hummon’s (1992) five senses of place types shown below gives her theory
too much connection to physical location, as opposed to her ideas that locate place as
experienced and subsumed in identity to have a rooted/cohesive sense of place:
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Table 3
Revised Sense o f Place Typology
f ■
[Future
Home as Insideness [Local Identity Type of Attachment
Desires
L _ _
L................... ........... 3 i
Biographical spiritual Continued
~ Ife e re (physical,
(Strong
residence
ideological
jfspiritual, emotional)
IsENSE OF
L .. „ ,.
^Satisfaction
1Rootedness
1Cohesive
£7~ 7 ~
j) ®
J"
\Rootedness
D ivided
P la ce Alienation
[Variable
j ”
|Low
(here and there
{(physical, spiritual, jsplit
jemotional)
1
{there (physical,
Weak
spiritual, emotional)
1
tVariab'c
Am w iere
jj
((Variable
jj
]
j
j
Dependent
Desire to
(leave, but
junable
i
ij
j
Moderate
1
commodified
(biographical)
(dependent)
To live in
ideal place,
wherever
(that may be
fs]
|
|
ji
Weak
None
No specific j
expectations!
_
_
_i...._......
.1
1
lUncommitted
iPlacelessness
{(Moderate)
jjAnywhere/nowhere
j
Biographical
spiritual
dependent
:
I
iRelativitv
i
t
!
However, Cross’s initial topology outlining the type of relationship and the
connection to the type of bond as well as a brief description of the underlying operative
process does not suffer from the same issues and helps suggest the workings of this
phenomenon in the development o f identity and wisdom.
As previously identified, Cross’ idea of sense of place has some utility in
understanding how the sense of place can be understood within the context of wisdom
theory.
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Table 4
Cross ’ ‘‘Relationships to Place ” & Current Wisdom Theory
Relationship to
place (Cross)
Type ofB ond
(Cross)
Theorist
Ritual
Narrative
Cross' Facilitation Process/mechanismWisdom theorist's possible explanation
Feelins a sense o f belonging, simplv felt
rather than created (Cross)
Erikson
Helps in the navigation between Identity
confusion versus Identity as well as
Isolation versus Intimacy
Orwoll &
Perlmutter
Facilitates cognitive affective integration by
helping to develop self identity/ insight
Kramer
Facilitates interrelated functions of wisdomspiritual introspection
Pascal-Leone
Facilitates adult resolution of contradictory
self-Schemas by grounding identity in sense
of place
Mythical
Learning about a place through stories.
including: creation myths, family histories,
political accounts, and fictional accounts
(Cross)
Erikson, Orwoll
& Perlmutter
Provides sense of belonging - facilitates
identity formation
Pascal-Leone
Dependent
Material
Constrained by lack o f choice, dependency
on another person, or economic
opportunity (Cross)
Erikson
(Competence/
fidelity)
If risen above, facilitates wisdom by
providing formative experience and
developing ability to use experience as
basis for further self mastery-role modeling
Pascal-Leone
Facilitates adult resolution of contradictory
self-Schemas by grounding identity in sense
of purpose
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Cross described different types of relationships to place; Biographical, Spiritual,
Ideological, Narrative, Commodified and Dependent. There is a certain connection with
a place that many of us have experienced in our lives. It is a collection of memories
about a place that seems to encapsulate our life story, to give a center to who we are. We
can also come to be defined by a negative memory of a place and for good or bad, which
can also influence our future identity and direction.
Openness to Experience and the Role of Chance in the Development of Wisdom
Each one o f us could tell stories of how crucial unplanned events have had
a major career impact and how untold thousands of minor unplanned
events have had at least a small impact. Influential unplanned events are
not uncommon; they are everyday occurrences. Serendipity is not
serendipitous. Serendipity is ubiquitous. (Krumboltz, 1998, p. 390)
Consensual qualitative research was used to investigate the impact of
chance events on the career choices of prominent academic women in
counseling psychology and to examine the contextual factors surrounding
the chance events. The results suggest that chance events affected career
choices most often by changing women's career paths altogether or by
altering their self-concepts. The results also suggest that both internal
characteristics (e.g., ability to take risks, self-confidence, etc.) and external
factors (e.g., a strong support system, few external barriers, etc.) helped
women take advantage of chance opportunities. (Williams, Soeprapto,
Like, Touradji, et al., 1998, p. 379)
Mary C. Bateson characterizes the lives of women she studied as
“composed” and “impoverished,” documents the importance of
“serendipity” and discontinuities,” and argues that we need to “explore the
creative potential o f interrupted and conflicted lives. (Mishler, 1999, p. 12)
As previously stated, narrative studies are more sensitive to the importance and
nuance of life experience in development. Narrative theorists like Mishler (1999), Valiant
(1979), and Vaillant and Milofsky (1980), and others, suggests the importance of the
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discontinuity of life experience rather than developmental theorists who point to gradual
incremental trajectories o f development.
Because of it role in development, I also found the role of discontinuity, chance,
serendipity or more importantly, openness to experience to be important in the
development of wisdom. Specifically, the ability to recognize, capitalize on and leam
from serendipitous career or life events.
The idea of serendipity is as old as wisdom. Jung understood this phenomenon as
synchronicity and placed it in the context of the unconscious (Campbell, 1971; Jung,
1960). He also saw it as a complex phenomenon with implications in both the psychic
and the physical. In fact, synchronicity has been used as a metaphor in the physical
sciences:
Synchronicity is the consequence of the existence of an underlying unity
in which time and space are absent. In the absence of time, no event
precedes any other and there can be no causality; all events of the past,
present, or future coexist. (Guindon, 2002, p. 196)
Through his work with physicist Wolfgang Pauli, Jung asserted that “synchronicity could
be thus added to the forth principle of the triad o f space, time and causality” (Guindon,
2002, p. 197).
Bandura (1982) was another more recent theorist to give the idea of serendipity a
place in psychological theory, specifically social learning theory. In an article entitled
The Psychology o f Chance Encounters and Life Paths, Bandura asserted that chance is an
important component of the life course and was the first to suggest psychology’s role in
understanding its implications for development (Bandura, 1982). Much of the current
psychological research around this phenomenon is centered around its implications for
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psychodynamic psychotherapy (Diaz de Chumaceiro, 1992, 1995; Guindon, 2002), and
career choice (Keller, 1994; Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1999).
As a researcher, one of the insights that I had in reviewing the literature on
wisdom and the development of wisdom was the limitations of more empirical models in
capturing the complexity and nuance of this phenomenon. I began to look for examples
of other research models that seemed to be more suited to the task. It is to a review of
this literature that I now turn.
Narrative Inquiry and the Study of Wisdom
As workers in a relatively new science, psychologists often search for the success
and respect garnered by physical scientists. In fact, the domination of empirical
positivism in psychology continued until the dawn o f postmodernism, when philosophers
like Wittgenstein led the sciences back to questions that could not be understood using
purely empirical tools. This new acceptance of phenomenon such as wisdom as fair game
for scientific inquiry has led to the acceptance of more qualitative research methods,
methods better adapted to the complexities of phenomenon such as wisdom.
Interestingly, while postmodernism, with its focus on more subjective, less universal
theory made wisdom safe for science; research programs dominated by positivist
methodology continue to dominate theorizing on wisdom.
In the essay entitled Wisdom In an Apocalyptic Age, Chandler and Holiday (1990)
described positivist attempts at researching wisdom as akin to re- assembling a complex
scientific heritage from a lost civilization by linking a few historical fragments of a
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ruined culture. Given some of the reductionist research regarding complex phenomenon
in the human sciences, this thought is not without grounding in the history of science.
Wisdom, like leadership, courage, love and hope are crucial to our society but often defy
“scientific” methods o f analysis and description. In fact until recently, these subjects
were not only ignored in social science research but also in philosophy, which had long
ago moved away from theorizing in these areas.
The past 20 years have seen a resurgence of interest in questions and phenomena
that are more complex and multifaceted. It may be said that the importance of
postmodernist thinkers and theorists, and the questions they raised regarding the theories
and research methods of a more mainstream positivist science, created a space for
different methods. These methods better lent themselves to the nuance and detail of more
complex phenomenon. In some cases, these methods are an amalgam or synthesis of
previous methods and in others, new methodology is created or borrowed from other
fields. The rise in popularity of more qualitative tools such as narrative and life story
methods gave voice to many different types of research previously out of the mainstream.
Some of the studies that come from this vein o f research are not only influential in
legitimizing a less reductionist approach to the human sciences, they also bring questions
of what makes us human as topics for more mainstream research (Bruner, 1983; Giorgi,
1985a, 1985b; Josselson & Amia, 1999; Lieblich, Tuval-Mashiach, & Zilber, 1998;
Polkinghome, 1988,1995; Riessman, 1993).
While the creation and tacit acceptance of different research tools and
methodologies has generated a good amount of research into the nature of wisdom, it also
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brought more mainstream positivist empirical methodology to bear on previously taboo
topics such as wisdom and creativity. This focus on wisdom by the more
positive/empirical side of human science has given wisdom legitimacy within the
scientific community. Currently, qualitative methods like narrative research are often
given the task of fleshing out definitions and questions while empirical methods like
regression analysis are used to build and test theory.
Although the study of wisdom is now a more respected endeavor in the eyes of a
largely empiricist academic psychology, and recent empirical work in this area has been
productive, over reliance on a strictly positivist science to adequately describe this
phenomenon has continued to be problematic. Chandler and Holiday (1990) put it best
when they wrote:
Even the best of our current efforts to rehabilitate the concept of wisdom
all run the serious risk of mistaking what it means to be wise for some
limited and technologic brand of knowing that is more a part of the disease
that the concept of wisdom has already suffered than a part o f it cure. (p.
131)
Of the qualitative approaches to research, narrative methods are especially well
suited to the study of wisdom. As Polkinghome pointed out, the study of wisdom is akin
to the study of meaning, and the study of meaning requires the use of linguistic data, not
quantifiable objective data (Polkinghome, 1988, 1995). For researchers like
Polkinghome, hermeneutic reasoning is the primary tool used to interpret and ascribe
meaning to linguistic data.
Meaning is important not only in describing wisdom as an outcome, a behavior or
judgment deemed wise or not, but also in the individual and collective experience and
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context of how wisdom is lived. Because wisdom is mainly about meaning, the subject
lends itself to approaches that value how meaning is made and experienced.
The Life Story Interview
There are many types of narrative approaches to the study of complex
phenomenon such as wisdom. Narrative approaches to the analysis of data range from
more quantitative or “objective” analysis such as grounded theory to more
phenomenological, postmodern or deconstructionist approaches (Josselson, 1996a,
1996b; Josselson & Amia, 1999). As Riessman (1993) asserted, there is no one method
of narrative research. Rather, the method of narrative research chosen should be one that
best captures the data needed. This research utilizes a life story approach because of the
importance of the life story in understanding both the individual and the collective
experience of wisdom.
Life history or personal narratives are well suited to the study of wisdom. Randall
& Kenyon pointed out in the book “Ordinary Wisdom,” that:
Wisdom, as we view it, is to be understood less in intellectual or ethical
terms than in aesthetic, or even poetic ones. It is a function not primarily
of moral virtue or cognitive competence, however much these dimensions
are nonetheless involved in and have dominated thinking about wisdom
since earliest times. Rather, it is a function of biography, of the tale we
tell of our journey through time. In short, it is a function of our life story a
single word, like history, that underlines for us the unbreakable bond
between our story and our life. (Randall & Kenyon, 2001, p. 2)
Randall and Kenyon went further in that they considered wisdom to be a particular type
of life story, one where the life course is viewed as a spiritual journey that can only be
told from the perspective of the traveler (Randall & Kenyon, 2001). Like Randall and
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Kenyon, Atkinson asserted the importance of the voice of the traveler for the purposes of
truly understanding a life:
I have felt that it is important, in trying to understand others positions in
life or description of themselves and their relation to others, to let their
voices be heard, to let them speak for themselves first. If we want to
know the unique experiences and perspectives of an individual, there is no
better way to get this than in the person’s own voice. So I have held to a
story told in the tellers own words. (Atkinson, 1988, p. 5)
Because wisdom is a phenomenon that is well suited to the use of narrative
research methods and as stated earlier, narrative methods are most often used to guide
empirical theory building, I became interested in the possibility of turning this around a
bit. Specifically, to use narrative methods (i.e., the life story) to give topography and
depth to the existing theory base regarding wisdom, a task to which narrative research is
better suited. It is to this task that I will now turn.
CHAPTER THREE: METHOD
Wisdom is a complex phenomenon to study, and as previously stated is well
suited to qualitative research methods. This study employs Atkinson’s life story
interview process to capture and analyze data recorded from participants’ life stories. As
Atkinson (1998) pointed out, the use of life story as a primary research tool has a long
and distinguished history from Freud (1935), Erikson (1975), and Bruner (1983), to more
recent use as presented in “The Narrative Study o f Lives” (Josselson & Amia, 1999). In
studying wisdom, I wanted to employ a methodology that allowed each participant to tell
his or her life story in their own words. This way, the researcher could look for patterns
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naturally emerging from each participant’s own story, to see how or if current wisdom
theories helped illuminate the development of wisdom.
Atkinson’s life interview methodology allowed participants’ stories to be told in a
natural, free-flowing way. Atkinson’s Life Story Interview approach is at once simple
and robust:
The life story interview provides an altogether practical and broad
introduction to the sensitive collection of first person narratives. The
author’s approach is not however a skeptical or critical one. Robert
Atkinson is not out to unearth the “deep structure” or “ideological
constraints” surrounding such narratives. His interests are in bringing
such narratives forth with respect and regard for the meanings his
storytellers put to their tales. (Atkinson, 1998, p. v)
The transparency, simplicity and utility o f this approach allow the participants to
tell their stories in a way that gives the researcher a rich source of data around meaning
and the importance of life events in development. As Atkinson stated: “An individual
life, and the role it plays in the larger community, is best understood through story .. . It
is through story that we gain context and recognize meaning” (Atkinson, 1998, p. 8).
Participants
In an effort to avoid the oversimplification inherent in using assessments or
protocols to judge the presence or absence of wisdom, study participants were selected
for occupation and stage of life. As previously established, these have been associated
with the development and manifestation of wisdom (Hershey & Farrell, 1997; No, 1993;
Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes, 1994; Staudinger et al., 1998). Specifically, the researcher
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selected participants in the fields of psychology and counseling, occupational endeavors
that have been correlated with superior performance on wisdom tasks in several studies
(Smith et al., 1994; Staudinger et ah, 1998). For instance, in a study looking at the
facilitative effects of experiential settings on the development of wisdom, Staudinger et
al. (1998) demonstrated that wisdom-related performance is higher in persons who
selected themselves into and participated in experiential contexts involving training and
experience in psychology (Staudinger et al., 1998). In a subsequent study of clinical
psychologists who were compared to a control group of highly educated professionals,
Staudinger et al. (1998) found that the training and practice o f professional psychology
were the strongest predictor of wisdom-related performance as defined in their model
(Staudinger et al., 1998).
All participants selected for this study were current or retired university faculty
members who are distinguished in their field, with substantial contributions to their field
demonstrated by several influential publications. All participants, with the exception of
one, were selected with assistance from the Center for the Study of Lives at the
University of Southern Maine. The group of participants selected is intentionally small
(four), so that their life stories can be understood in depth. All of the participant’s names
have been changed to insure confidentiality.
The participants were initially contacted by telephone so that the researcher could
review the objectives o f the study and determine the subject’s interest in participating.
Once the subjects agreed to participate in the study, I sent a synopsis of my research
along with a list of possible questions, interview format and informed consent form. Once
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the format of the interview was agreeable to the subjects, I conducted interviews lasting
from 1- 2 days each. All of the interviews took place face-to-face at the participant’s
home over one or two sessions. The one exception to this rule was the interview with
Ann, which lasted 3 hours and took place over the telephone at her home in
Massachusetts. Although her interview was brief compared to the other participants, she
seem to be the most familiar with harrative research and was able to piece together a
relatively complete and detailed life story in that time. Given this, I decided to include
her story in my analysis.
The Interview Process
Because of the importance of getting at the participant’s life story as it applied to
the development and manifestation of wisdom, a variation on the more unstructured
interview process suggested by Atkinson (1998) was used. The interview questions were
designed to elicit a free flowing life history narrative from the participants. Questions
were constructed from a list of questions suggested by Atkinson (1998). The questions
centered on gathering life history data from childhood, young adulthood, and middle age.
Questions were focused around key experiences and formative life events, and were
selected or modified as the situation or conversation dictated. Below is an example of
questions given to participants in the study:
During these interviews, the study participants were asked several questions relating to
their lives. Examples of these questions include:
•
What do you remember about your childhood?
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52
•
What was growing up in your house or neighborhood like?
•
What was the most significant event of your teenage years?
•
Has education been important to you? How?
•
How did you end up in the type of work you do (did)?
•
What were the crucial decisions you faced in life that involved you and other people?
•
Do you have any important values or beliefs that help you make important decisions
or choices in your life?
•
What have been the most important learning experiences in your life?
•
Has wisdom played a part in your life choices, decisions? How?
•
How would you describe wisdom?
In order to strike a balance between the need to gather data relevant to the
development of wisdom, with the importance of a naturalistic, rich, free flowing
narrative, the questions were used as a guide for the participant. Specific questions were
used from a list I developed, as well as those that emerged in the process of the interview.
These questions were used as beginning points and were modified during the interview as
needed.
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53
Data Gathering
All interviews were taped using a small micro-cassette. Interviews were then
transcribed verbatim. Transcripts were edited only for “clarity, completeness and
conciseness” (Atkinson, 1998, p. 55).
Consideration o f Ethical Issues
As Robert Atkinson pointed out, collecting life stories or parts of life stories is
different from using other data collection techniques. With a life story interview, the
interviewee enters into a relationship with the interviewer:
It is an exchange that changes everything between you and the storyteller,
because it involves the most personal kinds of experiences, perspectives
and feelings. The ethics o f doing a life story interview are all about being
fair, honest, clear and straightforward. It is a relationship founded on
moral responsibility, primarily because of the gift you are being entrusted
with. (Atkinson, 1998, p. 36)
Collecting life stories is a collaborative process, and Atkinson has set some rudimentary
ethical guidelines for the life story interview that were adhered to in this study:
•
I made clear from the beginning that participation in the interview was entirely
voluntary and that the participant could end the interview at any time.
•
Subjects were clearly informed o f the purpose, aims and objectives of the study.
•
The participant was told that if the stories were to be used in any other publication
besides this dissertation, I would make every effort to contact them to get their
permission.
•
All names were changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants
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54
Analysis and Interpretation
Narrative interpretation, especially Atkinson’s (1998) approach to narrative
analysis, is a subjective process that is different in approach and aim than more
quantitative approaches: “Subjectivity is thus at the center of the process of life
storytelling, reaching for meaning through interpretation as contrasted with experimental
scientific approaches that seek to uncover laws”(p. 58).
In this project, I looked for formative events in each life story that suggested
significant themes without regard for their initial application to wisdom theory. These
life themes where then superimposed on current wisdom theory to see if the theory
helped in understanding the significance of these life events to the development of
wisdom, and if they could add depth and detail to current theory.
What follows are the complete transcripts of the four participants in this study; Ann
Carter, William Tate, Andrew Lord and Ben McCord.
CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS
Living Wisdom: A Collection of Life Stories
Ben McCord
“I ’m A Coal M iner’s Son ”
I’m basically a coal miner’s son. It’s funny, but I feel vaguely uncomfortable with
all the things I’ve achieved over the course of my life. I’ve got a Ph.D. and I’ve got to be
president of this and president of that—head of the Academy of Psychotherapists, but I am
still a coal miner’s son. You know, Carl Rogers talks about the inner self and the outer
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55
self. Our outer self begins the moment we are conceived. All those other things that you
are supposed to be, what you should look like, what you should say, that’s the outer self.
In a way, I grew up in the coal mines, where the outer self and the inner self were pretty
close together. If a guy thought you were a son o f a bitch he would probably say so.
Often you ended up with no ulcers but a few less teeth.
We lived on the border o f Alberta and British Columbia in a place called
Mountain Park. It was at the end of the branch railroad line. It was beautiful country, the
Canadian Rockies. It’s part of my life. The real woods. Those mountains are really
important to me. You know, you get a certain feeling it’s spiritual for me.
I would often go out in the bush alone, but always with a rifle. Sleeping under a
tree, going to bed soaking wet and drying off by the fire, having your clothes bum on one
side and still be wet on the other, but it was a good life. Looking back, growing up as I
did developed a sense of independence, which I still have, unfortunately, sometimes. You
don’t expect anything from anyone so you just do your own thing.
My parents came from Scotland and my Mother spoke Gaelic. She was a
Highlander named Nadi Sinclair.
My sister, who is 94, said, “Do you ever remember
Mom or Dad saying I love you?” We both looked at each other and laughed, and she said
“No.” It was one of those things you didn’t have to. That was when the man had his
role and the woman had hers. The man was the warrior, the protector, and the provider.
The mother was loving, patient and kind. You know the stereotypes it was nice for a kid
like me growing up at that time.
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As I’ve said, my Dad was a coal miner. The town that he grew up in was the
town that was at the highest elevation, and at the end of the coal line. It was almost at the
great divide, pretty much on the border of Alberta. The town I grew up in, Mountain
Park, was at the beginning o f the McCloud River. On the other side of the river was
Saskatchewan. Growing up, we had a four-room house. Basically, it was a box with a
sub-basement. There were stairs that went outside and upstairs. You came into the
kitchen and there was a living room, and a bedroom, and another bedroom upstairs. Mom
and Dad had bunk beds. My sister Jane slept in the one bedroom and my brother John
and I slept in the other. In the winter, there was frost about an inch thick on the inside of
the walls because there was no insulation. I think I sort of showed my creativity early in
that we were the only house in town that had a doorbell. I rigged up a couple of wires
and a button.
One time John and I, John is my long-deceased older brother, were fooling
around and I knocked him unconscious. I just happened to hit him in the chin and boomhe was out! When I was at home alone and John had gone off somewhere, Mom used to
awaken me by getting the boot and hitting it against the ceiling. I told her that I thought
this was to old fashion, and besides, the plaster was coming of the roof. So I rigged up
another bell down there with a couple of wires and a bell that went clang clang clang.
I remember when I was 14 I caught my first moose. This was about 1941. I never
had a license or anything; I must have caught thousands of fish without one. I thought
they were just for tourists. Coming over the great divide one night I ended up in Jasper
National Park. There were no signs that said “National Park,” so I didn’t realize that I
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57
was in the park at the time. I heard some rustling in the bushes, I saw it was a large
moose and I shot. Anyway, it was a cow, and I shot it dead on the trail with a 3006
Smithfield. That gun sounded like a cannon. I remember hearing this thrashing sound
after shooting the cow it was the bull and I just shot his mate! I had my dog Sophie with
me and she was cowering behind me. I was hoping she was going to protect me. The bull
just lumbered away. Looking back on this, I wonder how much I’m fabricating, because I
think it couldn’t be, but yet I did it.
There was this moose dead in the middle of the trail. It had started to snow and I
cut it up into four quarters with my hunting knife. I dragged the quarters off the trail and
started home with one of them. The thing was that I would drag the quarter a couple of
hundred yards, and go back for the other one. By the time I was on the other side of the
divide, I decided that I just couldn’t keep doing this, so I left three quarters of the Moose
still out there, right on the trail. It was mid-December and there was nobody around
except idiots like me. There wouldn’t be anyone out there until next spring. Anyway, as
I got close to home I saw this figure walking towards me, it was my father. It was about
2:00 in the morning.
My mother was quite pleased with her quarter moose but I was still worried
about what would happen with the rest of it. I was afraid of getting caught and I had to
get it off the trail, so I got a buddy of mine, Leonard Casco to come along with me. It
had gotten down to around 40 below 0, so the quarters were frozen solid on the trail. We
each took the pieces and lugged them back home. About a week later, the Mounties
marched by our house, as they did back then mostly for show. I happened to look out of
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58
the window and I turned pale when I heard my mother say, “Benjamin McCord, they’re
coming for you”, but they walked right past, and my mother savored the moment.
I also shot a big horn sheep and put it on a packhorse to take it back. When we
got back on the trail it was about 20 or 30 miles and here we were with this packhorse
walking along the trail. This time the park rangers caught up with us and asked what we
had and we told them. Thankfully, we all had a laugh and they let us go on.
In my teenage years, I was one of those people who rode on freight trains, on top
of freight trains and inside them. I couldn’t afford a passenger ticket, and all of the roads
were gravel, so I rode boxcars to get around. The freight train would be moving and I
would leap to get inside. One time I rode on top of a freight train through a forest fire.
We were heading west, and I could smell it. It was one of those long boxcar trains, about
80 boxcars long, and a couple of engines, very romantic. I could see the fire and I
thought to myself “When is he going to stop?” He kept going. It was Fall and I had on a
green overcoat. I laid down on the boxcar and covered myself over with it. When we got
through the fire I figured I had another minute before I suffocated. The fire was sucking
up all of the air. When I finally got home my mother said: “Ben, what have you done
with your coat?”
Then there was a time when I was almost involved in a murder. The freight train
had stopped and these three guys helped me in. It was obvious that they were nasty
characters, and if you’ve done much riding on a freight, there are certain towns where
there were bad cops and they were real nasty. There was a town down the line where the
rumor was that there was this cop who was the meanest around. These guys were talking
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59
about doing him in and I had to play along with it. I was probably about 17 then. When
the train finally slowed down, I jumped off. Later, I read in the paper that a Constable
named Barons was killed.
I can remember that I was really awkward with girls. That was an age when the
role of a guy was to get drunk and get “initiated” by prostitutes. I can remember that
when boys came of age in Mountain Park, they would go to town with their father and get
drunk. Every second Friday was payday and these women would come up by train every
second week to “sell magazines.” I remember being confused because I knew these men
could not afford magazines. By Monday morning all of the money would be gone, and
the only thing left was a hangover. I finally figured out that they were prostitutes. It was
sort of an initiation, although my father and I did not observe this ritual. I don’t know
why I didn’t take that route. Because I don’t remember any lessons from my father or my
mother and my father was a tough customer. He could curse better than any mule driveralthough he never did it at home, never. So my teenage years were adventurous. I was
riding freight trains, going out in the bush by myself, shooting wild animals and catching
fish.
One of the teachers I remember was Gibo, my 11th grade teacher. He was 10
years older than me and had a thing for my sister Cathy, but Gibo was a devout Roman
Catholic and Cathy was about as religious as I am. Gibo joined the war right away,
before Pearl Harbor. He quickly became a flight mechanic the equivalent of a Captain,
but he wanted to see some action. So they made him a tail gunner and that was almost
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suicide. He was flying the British equivalent o f the flying fortress. His first mission over
the English Channel only lasted about 10 or 15 minutes a German Meshersmit got them.
I began teaching at the time, and I used to ride the freight trains to get to work.
Teaching was better than working in the coal mines where my dad worked and it was
very important to my dad that his son didn’t take up coal mining. I would walk 5 miles
down to Coltsburg, where there was a freight train and where Mrs. Matthews had a little
hotel. The hotel was on the branch line and I told her that if this freight was on time, I
should get to work about 9 or 10.
Anyway, I walked the 5 miles to Coltsburg and I got
on behind the coal car. We started off and I remember it being quite romantic, it was a
moonlit night and we were roaring along. Just then the drive shaft on one of the engines
split. It split so suddenly that the engine was rocking. There was a mountain on one side
and a river on another, and I’m trying to figure out which way it would fall so I could
jump the other way. As it turned out, if it had fallen, I would have leapt the wrong way.
It didn’t fall over but the engine was stuck for 2 days. It was about 10 miles back to
Coltsburg, so I got back to the hotel around 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Mrs. Mathews
got out ofbed very promptly and said, “What happened to you?”
I went to Edmonton for 12th grade. I remember bunking with a kid named Johnny
Thrasher. Johnny has five sisters so we had to share a bed. Most people couldn’t afford
two beds in those days. One night Johnny started fiddling around with me and I
remember saying “Hey, do you think I’m a girl or something?!” I had never heard of
homosexuality, I didn’t know there was such a thing but later I realized that Johnny was
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homosexual. It’s a bad time to be homosexual today but in those days it was even worse.
It was something you never talked about.
I was 18 in 12th grade and that’s when Gibo (who was by that time a school
superintendent) got me a full-time job teaching. He had a horse and carriage, like you see
in the cowboy movies. It was a dirt road and now and then I’d walk into St. Paul to get
two candy bars; that’s all I could afford to spend. Then I ’d walk back. I’d walk 28 miles
back. At night I had to share my bed in an abandon grain cabin with a holy roller. He
used to take all of the covers so I said to him, “You know, you tell me that your close to
God, well why do you need all of this blanket? I’m not so close and I need a blanket!” I
did that teaching job for about 3 months at about $35 a month. I only got $25 of that. I
remember that there was a dance the Saturday before I was supposed to start teaching. I
danced with a girl named Gwen Foster, who taught grades 4, 5, 6 and 7. That night and
between dances we agreed to switch classes. She would take grades 1 through 3 and I
would take grades 4, 5, 6 and 7. The principal of that school was very stem, you know,
black suits, white shirt, that kind of guy.
I didn’t go to college right after high school. It took me 10 years to graduate
mostly because in those times growing up you didn’t expect anything from anybody.
You either did it or you fell by the wayside. When I finished college, I got a Bachelor of
Science in Education from the University of Alberta. I think if I had had my choice when
I was 17 or 18,1 would have gone to the University right away. If I had done that, I
probably would have ended up a park ranger in Jasper National Park.
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My next job was in Edmonton teaching grade 9 science at the Gamell School.
Gamell was a laboratory school for the University Of Alberta School O f Education.
There was a guy there who had come to interview someone else for the position. He
made a mistake and thought that I was the candidate for the job. We spent the morning
interviewing and he said, “Well I guess you have it. Would you like to teach at the
Gamell School?” I said sure, and he said, “Well Mr. McCarthy.” I said, “My name’s
Arbuckle, not McCarthy” He said, “Well, no matter, you’ve got the job”. There were 273
applications for that job and I got it. I was the master teacher then. The student teachers
all sat in the back. I liked the kids there and there were a whole bunch of girls in the 8th
and 9th grade. I would wake up in the morning and open the curtain and there they were.
In one way it flattered me, and in another it embarrassed me. I was like the pied piper.
They were good years, but the war was intervening and I felt increasingly that I
should help. People were dying every day. In the paper it would say, “Platoon Dead” or
“Missing in Action.” Every day there were horrors. So I thought that I ’d better get into
the Air Force. I remember when I got my new uniform I was wearing it home on the
train. In those days, you had to buy your own uniform from the Hudson Bay Company.
Anyway, I got this new uniform and was wearing it on the train home and I saw some
guys who were also in the Canadian Air Force. In the Canadian Air Force you could tell
if a person had been overseas by looking at his hat, it was usually crumpled and dirty,
especially the flight crews. The thing was I knew that these guys knew I was green
because my hat was pure white (you often would get a funny look). Unfortunately, I
didn’t realize that I had brass buttons on my uniform until I got home. I had gone all that
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way with the plastic stuff that you were supposed to peel off on all of my buttons. They
must have thought I was a real asshole; I couldn’t even shine my buttons! I was in the Air
Force for 3 years as a navigation instructor. I got into navigation probably because of my
academic background; I’d taken science courses like chemistry and physics as well as
math.
I have a couple o f vivid Air Force memories from that time. The first was of one
of the pilots who took me up in his plane. When we got up in the air he began to weave
all over the place and said, “You better take over because I’ve never flown one of these
things.” I said, “I’m only a navigator, I don’t know how to fly a plane!” We finally got
down and somehow landed. Another time I was flying in a transport plane with a group
of GI’s and we noticed that fuel was leaking from the plane. We also noticed the smoke
and sparks from the engine and thought we would explode. I remember we woke up one
of the fighter pilots sleeping on the floor of the airplane and he just said “Oh” and went
back to sleep. Here we were about to blow up and he goes back to sleep!
Another experience I had was when I was in officer’s training school. One of the
pilots asked me if I wanted to go up with him. I did, and when we got up there he
decided to fly upside down. Then he said, “Let’s pretend we are going to strafe that
passenger train down there.” He went down and we were flying between the train and
the telegraph poles. I can remember looking out and seeing the passengers faces in the
window of the train. This was fairy typical of fighter pilots; they had a high casualty rate.
The fighter pilots had no time to think. You had to be able to make an instant decision.
Anyway, I managed to maintain myself quite well in his plane so when we finally landed
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he said, “So, how did you like that?” I said, “Fine, I liked that” and I promptly fell flat on
my face. My body took over my mind once I got both feet on the ground.
Toward the end of my Air Force stint, we had all of these war hero pilots, who
came back with lots of ribbons. When they came out, they would go back to being
whatever they were before and we had to do something to sort of get them adjusted to
civilian life. They were on average about 10 years older than most soldiers and had shot
down many planes. They were at the top of their game but were having a rugged time.
Somebody in charge must have heard that I was able to get along with these guys. I
always got along with people, whether my students were in grade 1 or in the Air Force.
The boss man somewhere along the line said, “Hey, w e’re working on this program to get
these folks into society again, would you like to be a part o f it?” and I said “Sure.” So
that was the way I ended up working in that area. I read Carl Rogers “Nondirective
Counseling” and thought that there might be something to this.
Of the things that have had a great impact on my life, I would say that the
Depression and the war had a marked effect. If I’m writing a manuscript, I still write
small to save paper. You save things, you save them for survival.
After I got out of the Air force, I applied to the University of Chicago to work
with Rogers and I was accepted. At the time I was one course shy of a Master’s and I
thought that I would not be able to be accepted. Fortunately, they said that they thought I
had more than a master’s anyway, given the extra courses I had taken, so they decided to
let me in.
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It was while I was applying to Chicago that I met my first wife Peg. At the time,
Peg was going out with my best friend Earl. Earl asked if it would be okay if he brought
a friend to the theater with him and I said sure. So we all went to the movies at Robinson
Hall and as soon as I saw her, that was it. It was difficult because here I am going out
with her best friend, and she was a real nice person. But the Army intervened by sending
her back in as a nurse in August. Then it was clear, and Peg and I were married that
August after a very short courtship.
I was able to go to Chicago because of the GI bill. It was just a dream, like flying
to the moon. Fortunately, the GI bill was great. By that time Peg and I had Donny, and
we got an extra $12 dollars a month for that. When Margi and Mary were bom, we got
an extra $24 dollars. We lived on the second floor of a walk up. I remember that the
neighbors gave us twin buggies and we would put the three children into them. I
remember getting groceries and thinking, “How did I get these kids?” Peg was a nurse.
She didn’t know she was going to have twins. As I remember it we went up to the
hospital because Peg was not feeling well. I remember falling asleep on one o f those
stretcher things. Maybe I’m embellishing things a bit, but I remember a nurse came
running out and said, “You have daughter.” There was another nurse who said, “You
have another daughter.” I had three kids in less than 15 months and I was working on a
Ph.D. but in a way, that was part of it. That’s the way it was that’s life.
Most of what I remember during that time was getting my Ph.D. I had come to
Chicago to study with Rogers. There were six or seven Canadian veterans and we all sort
o f had the same package deal. We all wanted to get out as fast as we could. Back then,
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graduation was the most important thing, not learning. This was the influence of
surviving the Depression and the war.
I was working with Carl Rogers though and I learned a great deal. I learned that
when he made a statement like “You know, right now you are feeling a bit tense about
something,” that that came from the gut, it wasn’t something he learned. When I first met
Rogers, he asked me “How come you’ve come to Chicago”? I said “Well, I’ve read your
“Nondirective Counseling" and you seem to think the same things as I do that’s why I
came.” I don’t think that was the answer he usually got. He laughed at that and
mumbled “Oh” that’s the therapeutic mumble. Remember, I’d just been through a war
and I didn’t have to kowtow to anyone. I just wanted to work with him. He was a good
man, a man whose inner self and outer self were pretty much the same.
As a student, we had a lot of seminars in Rogers’ apartment. His wife was a
charming woman but his daughter was not. I think she’s carved her own niche
somewhere, but she was quite different from Carl, which is interesting. The good thing
about Rogers was that he helped you figure out where you were. It’s not whether you
like where you are or don’t like where you are you don’t start from where you think you
are or want to be, but where you are now. Then he’d say, “OK, what are you going to do
about that?” Rogers’ apartment was right in downtown Chicago. It’s now a part of what
you would call poor or affordable housing. It’s a Black neighborhood.
I remember the day I graduated from the program. It was kind o f negative in that
I could only get one ticket for a guest, so it was my wife and my brother’s wife. Anyway,
Donny started crying and making noises and instead of offering to take him outside, my
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sister-in-law did nothing. So when I graduated, Peg was outside with Donny who was
pitching a fit. The thing I remember is that my sister-in-law should have said “Hey, you
should be here, I’ll take the baby,” but she never thought of that.
After I graduated from the University of Chicago, I went back to teaching. I
didn’t think I could get a job because of the time of year I graduated. You would not
think that I would have trouble with several graduate degrees, a Ph.D., experience in the
Air Force and as a teacher, but there was nothing in Canada. Then a guy came and
interviewed me for a place that I’d never heard of, Boston University. It seemed to me
that he did all of the talking, so he couldn’t have learned anything about me, but I got a
wire the next morning asking me to join as a Professor, and I said “Well, I’ll try, it but
what about teaching summer school?” So that summer I was teaching summer school
and Peg and the kids went back to her parents’ farm back in Canada. By the time she
came back in the fall, I had bought a house. The course I taught that summer was called
“The Techniques of Counseling.” What evolved was my developing the Department of
Counseling at Boston University. To me, counseling and psychotherapy were identical.
My first year at Boston University I published my first book “The Teacher
Counselor. ” My theory was that as teachers became more like counselors, and centered
on the kids rather than just the subjects, the kids learned on their own. You had to create
the atmosphere, make the soil good and let it go. You don’t have to grow it. That’s the
way I worked in all o f my teaching. I retired from B.U. at 75 and by then I still had a very
good private practice.
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My kids have been very important to me; Mary, Margi, Judy, Don, and Janie. Its
funny looking at my kids and asking how many of them are like me? How many are
from my point of view different? Janie works for the Heritage Foundation and she
checks out lighthouses that are owned by the foundation. She’ll sleep out in the rain
she’s one of these outward-bound types. On the other hand, Judy is on the other end if
her hair was out of place she would be very upset. She’s definitely not the outdoor type.
I did a whole slew of workshops all over the U.S. in those days and I’d finance them by
camping with the kids on the way down. There were seven of us and sometimes there
would be one or two kids added. We’d find campgrounds, pitch our tent and cook our
own meals. I went across the country like this several times when the books were
coming out. We had a good old Chevy station wagon with the three seats. We would put
all the stuff on top. Eventually I got a trailer. They were good trips. We saw a lot of the
country that way. Somewhere in Arkansas I remember we were camping and the two
little girls were sleeping in the station wagon on mattresses. The rest of us were in a tent.
I remember that there was this roaring noise outside the tent. I first felt branches but then
I felt water. It was a deluge and about that time the tent collapsed on itself. We had to
get back to the car, move it and re pitch the tent. That was the sort of thing that at an
early age they got exposed to and they still talk about it.
I was married to Peg for 27 years. We were celebrating our silver anniversary and
I can remember thinking that the world’s in my hands. I’ve got a wonderful wife, five
super kids, I’m doing well in my profession, turning out quite few books and periodicals,
people seem to like me, I have a good clientele. Then in about a year it all went boom,
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and fell to pieces. I had come back from gathering some wood for the fire at our cabin
and Peg was gone—just a curt little note was left. Trying to look at it objectively at that
time was quite impossible. In fact, originally I bought a gun. The question was would I
kill myself or would I go on living.
After we divorced, Peg married a widower with four young sons. It was almost
like she wanted to go back to the way things were when the kids were small, back to
being a housewife. His name is Don; he was a bomber pilot, a nice guy. I can remember
a while back that his young son and his friend were killed in an accident and he was very
stoic about it. I’m sure being a bomber pilot with shrapnel and Mesherscmits all around,
you needed to be cool and stoic, but inside he must have been terrified. I often wonder
what would have happened if Peg had worked out her issues and things were the way
they were. Would my life have been better for it? Even the day we got married I felt that
I pursued her and she didn’t pursue me. I always felt a certain reluctance; that hers
wasn’t a wholehearted commitment to me. Even then I thought she felt that it was wrong,
that she might be missing something.
The thing that I look back and feel sort of sad about is the divorce, particularly
when I was in the business or profession of trying to help other people. Here I am the
therapist and I don’t even know how to do it myself. I guess I did learn something
though. I was to a degree married to my profession. I never wanted to push her away.
She married her husband 3 months after and in a way he got a good deal. She went back
to what she was doing 20 years earlier, bringing up four kids. One of the kids I am
particularly fond of. He lives in San Francisco and he’s gay. If you are going to a person
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you have to be open to everything. This means that some cherished things that you
thought were reality are not, and you have to accept it. They’re not reality, you’ve made
them up.
I had a bad time after the divorce. I became an aging hippie, smoking marijuana
and all that. You see, I was still supervising doctoral candidates at that time and I was
invited to a lot of parties. Most student parties at that time had marijuana. You would get
stoned just walking in. By the way, as part of my doctoral program I had students do at
least one outward bound type experience. Later, we had a group at the cabin--our cabin in
the woods of New Hampshire, near Mount Sunapee. Bob somebody who back then was
the chair of the Psychology department said to us after dinner: “Oh by the way, I have
some hash cookies” so he got them out and we all shared them. I wrapped some of them
up and put them in the fridge where I forgot about them. I can’t remember our reactions,
but they were probably mild. I do remember a bit latter on I had gone out alone to the
cabin to cut firewood. It was late November, and I made myself some dinner and I had
some scotch. Then I went looking for desert and I saw some cookies, so I ate them. I
had the worst of dreams; monsters with blood dripping—I had a very bad night.
My second marriage was more like a conquest. Her name was Penelope and she
was 20 years younger than I, a gorgeous red head and from South Carolina. She had just
been divorced from an Army captain. My older kids were practically the same age.
At that time I was setting up some counseling centers in the Army bases
throughout the world; Hawaii, Japan and Korea and Germany. This was after the war.
At that time, if an Army base had more than 500 people, they had to have an education
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policy and an education officer. Usually the education officer was an older guy who
wasn’t fit for combat and who probably had done nothing else. Trying to rejuvenate
them was not easy. I was stationed in Germany for about a year and a half and I met my
Penelope there. Her job was teaching English to German businessmen. She said, “Ben,
would you like to come to a party?” She had a little graduation party when the German
businessmen completed her language course. When I went I was introduced to a man
who spoke broken English with a southern accent. It was OK to hear her talk that way
but it sounded kind of weird coming from her students.
I think that I was really running away from my divorce. Penelope was an only
child and I guess her parents had been pretty dreadful to her. She had no more of an idea
of parenting than flying to the moon. So our marriage ended of course. I think we both
agreed that it was a mistake.
As a therapist, with clients, I think I fell rather naturally into client-centered
therapy. I thought that was better than non-directive. A couple of times I talked to
Rogers about this and I said, “Come on Carl, what’s all this non-directive crap?” You
know, when he says, “You mean you really feel that?” I said to him “You’re not being
non-directive, you’re obviously telling the client the way you feel” which is more
directive than not. But it was really good to work with him anyhow.
I didn’t like the word patient, I wanted to work with someone, not be the doctor.
Some people don’t want that though, and you have to fight it. They want you to have all
the answers just give me the cure, tell me what to do. Rogers standard response would be
and you have to laugh, because as a student in his apartment we would always say this to
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each other “Well, you really sound upset by something don’t you” and we would all say
“Stop telling me that, I already know about this!”
Looking back, I think my parents were also a strong influence on me. Later in my
career, one of my climbing buddies, a woman, asked me what I learned from my parents
and could I help her with her son who was having trouble. Well, I said, the most
important thing you can do is to somehow develop in him that he is the most important
person in the world. That’s really the best you can do. It’s nice to know that you are
really special. After awhile you accept it and say, “O f course I’m that way” That’s what
my parents, especially my mother, did for me.
I think my father growing up in Mountain Park had a huge influence. He had a
real need to be outdoors. Like him, for me it’s about being outside. It’s about coming
here (the Highlands retirement living center). My daughters and I looked at other
retirement communities that had a view of the ocean, but here we saw the trees and hills
and thought, this is it, more wildernesses and less landscaping. It’s great because I can
make trails. In fact, the trails I’ve made out back are now a part of the Highland’s
advertising for other potential residents. In fact, the members of the Highlands got
together a ribbon cutting ceremony when I finished the last of my trails. There was a
speech and even a reception with my neighbors and other residents.
I think the driving thing in getting my education was my father’s focus. Scottish
people value education and knowledge. I’ve been in the Scottish Highlands—little places
and you would see lots of books; people read there. Those people were not very well
educated, but they were very, very learned. Again, the drive came from my father. It
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was understood, nobody ever said anything to me but somehow I got the feeling that
education was really important. I had to get myself educated, more educated, no matter
how hard it was or whether I had to go to night school.
Religion hasn’t had much impact on me. I know that’s probably sacrilegious, but
it’s true. I am really spiritual though, but as I say, I’m not religious. In fact, I think
religion gets in the way o f being spiritual. In a way, this little spot right here is spiritual
(referring to the Highlands among the woods and trails). I picked this spot deliberately
before these homes were built. So the woods and the mountains are very much a part of
my spirituality. I became the President of the Alpine Club of Canada, the mountaineering
club. This is one of the things I’m proudest of. I remember in my climbing days
assembling a sling with seven “stitches” and they all came apart. The idea with this type
of sling is that rather than fall to a total stop, you had a series of shorter stops. I was
rigging that day. It was at a cathedral and a very difficult overhead climb, and I fell. I
knew I was going to have a 15 maybe 16 foot drop and as I fell, I stopped six times, once
for every broken stitch. The other climbers were so impressed because they had never
heard of a guy that had broken through six stitches.
You know you’re out there in the mountains sometimes alone, and being alone is
sometimes deliberate. When you’re alone in the woods you are more alert to tracks and
sounds. I remember once resting under a large boulder on Mount Washington and
hearing a couple of people on the trail above talking about the stock market. Today it
would probably be cell phones. Yeah, I guess you’d say I’m agnostic. I ’m a humanistic
oriented agnostic. I don’t know what’s out there, but the reality is Cardinal Law doesn’t
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either. The difference is that he sort of fakes the difference between fact and fiction, or
between truth and belief. I have a great respect in belief, but not necessarily all of it. If
you are a Muslim and you belong to the Taliban, and you say that women have to be
totally covered, they can’t drive an automobile, they can’t have a job, but have to stay at
home and be available for their husbands—if that’s part of your faith, that’s a lot of
nonsense. It’s the same with some of Christianity, the Spanish Inquisition or what’s
going on between North and South Ireland is a good example. I don’t need any go
between.
A very devout person would talk about the relationship with God as a mystery,
but the scientific part of me says that you want to solve mysteries. It’s interesting that
when people think of a super being, they think of it with a sex, usually as a he. It’s funny,
recently a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came up here to the Highlands and they had a
copy of The Watchtower. I remember The Watchtower from some Jehovah’s Witnesses
who came up the trail in Mountain Park. So I said to them, “You know The Watchtower
hasn’t changed since I’ve been in Mountain Park. All of the pictures were of White
people. “Are there any Black or Brown people in here?” I said. They got a little upset. I
guess you have to be White to go to heaven.
I can remember during my time in the Air Force, I came across some very
seriously injured folks, and even in talking with people around dying soldiers they said
the last words of these people were not “God help me” but “Mother help me.” For them,
their mother was their world, the person they knew best. As for me, my ashes are going to
be scattered at a certain spot on top of Mount Washington. For one thing, there’s a lot of
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wind there. It never blows less than 50 miles an hour, so my ashes will scatter. If there
really is a spirituality, then there is no longer any need for the body. I like to think of it
as moving on.
I sometimes wonder how much or if I fantasize about my parents. It’s like in the
war; a lot of people died young, and for a parent or a very young wife, this person
remains stuck in time, sort of ageless. They are 21 forever. My daughter Judy is seeing a
young man who lost his wife and father-in-law in a rip tide off the coast. To him she will
always remain beautiful and ageless. That’s the difference between a death and a
divorce. In a divorce, the person is still there and it’s harder to fantasize about them. But
maybe we need that. In a way that’s part of what religion is. Religion is making reality
out o f fantasy. I think that this makes those who are devout very upset. They see it as a
challenge. I don’t see it as a challenge, it’s just interesting and I would like to have an
interesting life as long as I live.
In terms of wisdom and its part in my life, I think if you are really wise you don’t
know it. It’s probably a product of life and living. I can’t quite see a 17 year old writing
an autobiography. In that way, I think Carl Rogers was wise and very unassuming. He
wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. If you’re wise, I suppose you make difficult decisions in a
better way than if you’re not wise. But even as I hear myself say that I think that I don’t
know. Maybe part of being wise is making a lot of stupid decisions, and if you’re really
wise you know they are stupid regardless of you age. It’s sort of gaining knowledge
through a lot of different channels. I think my two divorces make me wiser if you will
and hopefully better as a human being. These things tend to make you more accepting
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and I don’t mean in a passive way, but in an inward way. I think if you are wise you are
at peace with yourself. On the whole, I think you’re not consumed with anger or guilt.
Whatever I have of wisdom, I think it played a marked part in my life in that to be
accepting o f someone who disagrees with you, you need an element of wisdom in. You
have to recognize the possibility that he could be right and I could be wrong. I have a
sense that if you achieve wisdom, you get above things like nationalities; things like “to
the death for my country,” things that sound very patriotic, but if you are wise you
transcend that. There’s something else beyond that so we don’t have to kill each other
over it. I think if you had a group of wise people, there would not be any war because it
wouldn’t make any sense. Although I think part of wisdom is valuing yourself, so in a
situation where someone is threatening you, because you value yourself, you would be
able to defend yourself. Wisdom is also about going through trials and tribulations so
that you live through them, you just don’t read about them.
It’s funny you know that the people here at The Highlands in some ways are not
my type. Normally, at 10 o’clock I come up to the lodge for coffee and it’s mostly for
the lodge people. The lodge people are two different kinds of people, some with walkers
and canes and some with Alzheimer’s. It seems that some folks don’t know the fine art
of conversation. Some of the folks here are angry, and some are sad. It may be that we
progress to a certain point in our maturity and go back the other way, like when we were
children. It’s interesting. I tried to start a conversation group here a while ago. It just
didn’t work out. I had only two expectations; that each person should contribute
something and that you have to be willing and able to listen to the person who is
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speaking. I think I ended up with five people, but it wasn’t interesting. We would read
the paper or the news magazines to get at a controversial issue. But if I were to say,
“Let’s talk about stem cell research, or the Middle East,” there would be quiet. I don’t
think people here keep up to date on what’s happening. It’s as if they’ve almost accepted
that the boat is sinking, so I might as well just sink with it.
I like to stay active. It’s like the work I do with my rock gardens and trails. It
brings me back to when I was young. People ask me when I was climbing or hiking in
these remote locations was I scared. O f course I was scared. I would have to make
decisions that had life or death consequences. Making decisions, my own decisions, is
important to me; otherwise life is not worth living. I don’t want to just remain conscious
and propped up in a chair. In fact, I would rather that the money spent on trying to revive
me was spent on disease research or helping kids in difficulty.
Looking back, I don’t have a lot of regrets. I was dealt the cards, and I played the
cards I was dealt pretty well. Someone might think I’m pretty cocky, and say, “Who are
you to decide how well you played the cards you were dealt?” But in the end, I have to
decide that. Some people wonder if I have a problem living alone. I don’t because I’m
not really alone. I still have things that are important to me like my kids, and that’s an
important lesson because your kids are really all that’s left, so treat them nice. Some
people say I spoil them. Yes, I treat them as somebody special, so that they know; even
when I’m mad as hell at them, that they are still special. My parents didn’t often say they
loved us; it was kind of ridiculous because their action and behavior showed they loved
us.
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William Tate
“I think the challenge o f my life was to recognize and let that spiritual presence in. ”
I remember growing up in a very small, southern West Virginia. When I was
very young probably, what I remember most is my father’s occupation and how it kind of
put us in a miserable position. He was a Baptist pastor. He had been at the same church
his entire career so he was really kind of an institution, which meant that everyone in
town knew who I was, this is a very small town, under 4,000 people. Other things I
remember are the milieu of the town; it was a railroad town, a terminal railway with a big
river and surrounded by mountains. So I always felt some sense of place. I could always
find the river; I could always see the mountains. I could always hear the trains. So I just
always knew where I was, which was both good and not so good. It got to be a quite a
bore. In fact, it was a terrible boring place.
I was bom in 1935 and it was late depression time when I was starting to realize
my surroundings. Being in Appalachia, our town had never had good times, but during
the depression it had really bad times. There was a lot of poverty and I can remember
people coming to our back door and asking for a sandwich. I can remember peddlers,
who, my mother said were gypsies, but they weren’t, they were just peddlers coming into
town. They would have a motorized truck but it would be all painted up to attract
attention.
Of course I can remember the scenes of the war, and then other than that were
individual people who were included in my awareness all the time. WWH hit our whole
town pretty hard. Among other things I can remember, all the houses that had a flag
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hanging in the window representing one or more kids in the military. I was a junior
warden, which meant that I had an armband and a flashlight; supposedly I was on the
lookout. We would have drills looking for enemies, or course the only enemies that ever
came as far inland as West Virginia were the troop trains, German troops, prisoner of war
trains. I can remember the scrap paper drives, and how that was the competition all over
school. How much paper would you get? The rationing. My mother would send me to
the grocery store early on Saturday morning so she wouldn’t have to stand in line to get
sugar for canning.
The local daily newspaper building was right next door to our house. So I always
knew when the presses would run because it was an afternoon paper and the presses
would start running about 12:30 and the paper would be out and ready for sale by 3:00.
If I ever heard the presses at a different time than that I knew there was something going
on, probably with the war and a special edition was printing. It was a sensory time.
Things that I saw; some things I heard, the heat of summer; those are the memories.
I was very shaken by the war. Just the consciousness, it invaded everyone’s
consciousness. I was acutely aware of the sorrows of people. Very oftentimes when
someone would have a son missing, it might be a person in our congregation, my Dad’s
congregation. So I would hear the inside stories of it. Our town was very patriotic, so we
were always conscious of what was going on. I still can remember reports of the battles
we won and lost.
I was an only child. I had a half brother, my dad had been married earlier and his
first wife had died. And my half brother was also in the war. I didn’t know him very
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well at all. I was really raised as an only child and my mother was a homemaker. We
had all our meals together, at that time people did that, it was the norm. My dad would
sit at one end of the table, my mother at the other end of the table and I would sit in a
chair in between them. There would always be a dialog and it really played itself out
with two philosophies, two views of life. My dad was very calm, very assured, and very
comfortable with his fate. He was very confident that he was being watched over. My
mother was nervous about everything; so this played out every day. Mother would come
out with her worries, Dad would be assuring. Mother would worry, Dad would assure,
which gave me the choice of both, so I think I grew up being both able to assure and
worry. At different points in my life, one dominated over the other, but that was kind of
how I was introduced to how to think about life, which meant that you could look at it as
either worrying about things when you needed to or being able to assure yourself in other
situations. Sometimes it was worrying about things whether you needed to or not.
It was a compulsive worry that my mother had. She was always fearful that the
world, or the sky was about to fall; and that was never true. I think going through college
I had a lot o f my dad’s confidence, actually it was assurance not confidence. I didn’t
have a lot of confidence. But then as I finished college and needed to escape, I found
myself all of a sudden reacting a lot more like my mother than my dad. After getting
established in my first career and starting to feel like I knew who I was and where I was, I
acted like Dad. In my first marriage, I was really thrust in to my mother’s way of
worrying. When that marriage ended it was interesting because I felt like I really returned
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to my dad almost immediately. Now my Dad has long since passed away. But those are
examples.
As a child, I was not as far along developmentally as my peers. I had started
school a year earlier than the rest of them, and in the town where I lived it was not known
for its openness. It was a blue; it was a very dark blue-collar town, so I grew up with a
pretty sizable amount o f lack of confidence. That was my mother’s effect. Because my
mother had always assured me that to worry was the healthy way to be. If you worry, you
can anticipate and make things happen the way that you want them to happen. Of course,
that formula never worked.
I was the kid who probably was a jerk in the eyes of the other kids. I was
probably the annoying kid in the classroom. Putting myself in places where I hadn’t been
invited, inserting myself in the social scene with kids who hadn’t figured out that I would
be a part of their scene, I was just there. I think it was partly because things like school
came easy to me. School, school, only school. Grades in high school and college came
easy and I didn’t study much because I had very brief attention span and I got bored
quickly and I never really applied myself. I could get by. Of course the down side of that
whole thing is that every one of the teachers knew my parents personally and very often
worried about my performance level. Today I might have been ADHD, I don’t know.
Relationships didn’t come easy. As I got a little older, I was more of a hanger
around type. But the bottom line was that I worked very hard, I wanted really badly to be
cool, but I had to work at it all the time. It never came easy. And it didn’t often happen.
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So it wasn’t a very good time for me. To be “cool”, I would have had to be more like they
were, and I wasn’t.
I think it was a huge sigh of relief that I left the town and went to college. Very
few of my graduating class went on to college. Curiously I think there must have been
about 12 out of 50 that went and 8 of the 12 ended up with Ph.D.’s, I can’t explain that, it
never happened before. I don’t know if it’s happened since—it’s almost unbelievable. It
was just a given that I would go to school, and that I would learn, and that I would do
well, and that I would go on to college. I can’t ever remember wondering, “Well, should
I go to college?” which in that town was unusual.
There were a couple things that made me interested in learning, although I
wouldn’t really call it a love of learning. There were some individuals who brought
subjects to life, and those moments were just really vivid, are still very vivid. Being
introduced to Shakespeare, as a junior in English, it was just like a whole new world was
opened. Learning to write, I had an 8th grade English teacher who really took the English
language very seriously. She was able to speak to me and it excited me. Years later
when I was an English teacher I found myself oftentimes going back to memories of that
awful little classroom that we had, where our school was. Besides English, Mathematics
was always relief because I could solve problems and quickly. I remember subjects like
history were a struggle because I couldn’t solve things quickly, like math. So you know
it’s those kinds of things, that’s not exactly what I would call a love for learning. It was a
love for inspiration, which I still have.
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I was so fortunate to attend school and going on to college that I had enough of
what was needed to do well enough to go onto college. I arrived at college, West
Virginia University that was the state university, scared out of my wits. It was at the far
end of the state so it really kept me as far away from home as I need to be, but still was
something that sounded familiar at least. It wasn’t just escape from family, it was an
escape from Hell.
During college I changed majors several times. I started out as an engineering
major, which was back in the days when you knew the engineers because they all had a
slide rule attached to their waist. It didn’t take me long to realize, it was within a
semester, that that wasn’t really what I was interested in doing. I bounced around in a
couple o f areas. I spent a semester in speech pathology. I also spent a semester in
journalism, and I realized at that point that journalists basically were short order writers
who didn’t get any time off, so I didn’t want to do that. I finally ended up in history,
history and English. It’s very interesting, that I didn’t really care for history in high
school, but I think in that transition period I began to have a little more appreciation for
it.
I’ve always felt like I wasn’t in control of my path. I’ve always thought God was
in control of my path because the path I’ve taken simply isn’t explainable in ways that it
was me who was in control. As an example, my first job fell in my lap. I was going to
go into business and I was dating a girl whose father had big connections in Pittsburgh.
He took me up to Pittsburgh and I interviewed at a couple of major corporations up there.
I was interviewed by Joy Manufacturing Company. They’re even today one of the
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largest producers o f oil. They’re big in the Texas oil fields and during the interview they
told me that I would have to learn the job from the ground up. The first 3 or 4 months I
would be actually on a Texas oil field rig as a gopher. That didn’t sound attractive. I’d
never been to Texas and all I’d seen was the movies. That didn’t sound to me like my
cup of tea. I couldn’t imagine coming home with the smell of oil on me. In retrospect, I
think I realized what my true nature was, and that it didn’t fit the scene I was seeing. But
at the time it just felt like I was going to be involved in doing things that sounded
disagreeable I knew that my spirit was not in the oil fields. Before I even had a chance
to hear what they thought I informed them I wasn’t interested in ajob with them. I took a
teaching job instead, but even that fell in my lap.
Just right at the end of senior year they were doing some interviews for teachers.
This was 1956 when in the middle of the cold war and Russia was already making some
serious signals of competition and so Arlington Virginia was on campus. Arlington
Virginia sounded great. It was next to DC and I knew from my studies it was considered
to be one of the two or three best school systems in the country. On a lark, I made an
appointment and they reviewed my resume right on the spot. The position was a junior
high school teacher. I got the job and I ended up in one of the best kind of arrangements
I heard of, something called core curriculum which was two 2-hour teaching blocks a day
and each teaching block had 1 hour o f history, and 1 hour of English. So I had a 4-hour a
day teaching load, and then two periods off to counsel students. I didn’t have any idea
what counseling was but I made do.
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Not 3 years later I was approached to go back and get master’s degree in
counseling. I got three master’s as a result of that. I went to George Washington
University across the river. That was an evening degree program, a part-time program.
Before I had even finished training, the school district offered me ajob as a school
counselor these are just examples of how everything has fallen in my lap. Even since
then, things just keep falling in my lap. It’s either serendipity or somebody else
Teaching was natural, it was absolutely a natural. I had had some good teachers
who I’d observed and knew what they did. I knew that I could do that, especially with
young kids. My first class, my first assignment was with 8th graders. Everyone thinks it’s
a tough age, but I didn’t experience it as tough, I experienced it as fun. I just loved it.
Still today if I were going back to teaching in the public schools that would be the age I’d
choose, because they’re fresh, but they haven’t quite made the step over that threshold of
sophistication.
My first year teaching, I remember being adopted by another teacher, Lee Ann
Chester, who, bless her soul, thought that she ought to, she tried to, mother me. But she
did some, and Lee Ann—uh no, there were two women who took me on they must have
seen the vulnerability, but they set out to make me a really good teacher. I wonder if the
principal had told them to do that. Anyhow they did, they showed me how to do lots of
things. They showed me how to prepare; they showed me the shortcuts, the tricks. They
almost anticipated my needs on a daily basis, so the mechanics of teaching really were
easy. The relationships were what I got into—and this caught me off guard. I don’t think
I realized the relationships that I had with the students individually just blew me away,
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because these were real people. I was having relationships and acceptance that I’d never
had as a kid. I think that that was touching something that had been dormant for quite a
long time. I can picture them, I can’t name the kids necessarily but I can picture them
and they were all very responsive. I kind of evolved into a narrative teaching style . I was
a storyteller and everything I did in teaching was a story. The kids were really too grown
up for bedtime stories, but they loved the stories in history about the massacres.
I was doing some of the things that a school counselor today does, meeting with
the kids early in the year to help them start to think about the year the transition to the
next year. I had to see each kid for a minimum of 15 minutes a semester, and each class
had about 25 to 30 kids, so that was 60 kids. Then I was supposed to meet with the
parents once a semester. That freaked me. I didn’t feel that much more mature than the
kids and it was a very nervous thing. But it was a different age because parents were
much more accepting of teachers then. Any number of times I was invited to dinner at
parents’ homes and any number of times I went. Yeah there wasn’t that boundary then.
I’m sure parents saw me as very young and I suppose I had some redeeming values that
let them accept me.
We had a county guidance director, Ephram Cook. I don’t know how she got my
name but she approached me and said that “Oh w e’ve got this scholarship and I think
you’d do well will you consider it?” I was so flattered I couldn’t have said no. So I did it
and ended up getting my degree. It was a helter-skelter program and it was late 50s, at
that time GW had about 2 or 3 full-time professors and they were all in the psychology
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department. Probably the most dominant of them was a woman by the name of Thelma
Hunch who was a super person.
I can remember my first instructor who was in the office of Education but he was
a transplant from the University of Minnesota. It was a very hit or miss program and
there didn’t feel like any gestalt. I finished that program in about 3 years. In the interim,
I started a program at the University o f Maryland, too in history. But I never finished
that. I got burned out. I was teaching history so it made sense to, you know, study
history. I don’t think I ever needed a Master’s in history.
When I finished my last course at GW, again serendipity, Fairfax County next
door was just exploding in population. They were adding a new high school in a year and
I had been a middle school counselor for 4 years and wanted a little bit more of a
challenge. I applied for ajob as a high school counselor in Fairfax and was interviewed
by the principal of a high school that was opening that fall. I was given the job and I
stayed in that job 2 years and then another high school was opening I interviewed for the
job as director of guidance in that school and then got that. I was in that job 1 year, and
the assistant principal for administration position became vacant. The principal asked me
to take that job and I took that for a year. That was the moment when I realized that I
hated that job. My responsibilities were much removed from kids except for measuring
hair length, and skirt length, which I found very degrading. I found most of the things I
had to do in that job degrading. Which is just to say that I had finally gotten back to my
oil field. That was the nudge I needed to go back to grad school and I applied for a
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graduate assistantship, a fellowship really, at the University of Massachusetts in
educational research.
I took GRE’s. I’d been out of college 10 years and I hadn’t taken the GRE’s, so I
took it then. I was accepted as part of a 15-member cohort into a 2-year doctoral program
in educational research. As soon as I got there I realized I didn’t want to let go of
counseling, so I declared a double major and did the extra coursework needed to get the
counseling psychology and educational research degree.
At the end of my 2nd year, a new faculty member in the counseling program was
hired from Colorado State by the name of A1 Ivy. Well, A1 Ivy arrives with all his video
equipment and in spite of all his expertise; he is not a technician so he needed someone to
manage his equipment, to help him with the lab setup and day-to-day stuff. In my 3rd
year he gave me an assistantship to run the micro lab. It was the easiest job I ever had,
just keeping the equipment going and helping with his research projects, which I loved.
Three years of full-time doctorate study and I never once ever had a moment thinking
where my next meal was coming from, it just was there.
My marriage was collapsing at that time. My first wife and I taught at the same
school. The 1st year of teaching, no I guess it was my 2nd year of teaching was her 1st
year. She was a science teacher. The kids all thought that we should be dating. We were
both single and we avoided that as long as we could. We did date a little, but then she
left and went to California. We sort of kept a correspondence and our correspondence
picked up again and I ended up going out to California summer vacation and marrying
her out there. We were not a good match at all, but we both were willing to let it happen.
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Our marriage lasted 12 years and we had two children. We were in Virginia a few more
years, and then my firstborn was bom in Virginia, and when she was 2 we moved to
Massachusetts. My wife worked part time as a counselor in school while I was in
graduate school.
In 1969,1 graduated and we took off for a college job at Purdue as an assistant
professor in counseling again it dropped in my lap. A1 Ivy, who was very good to me, had
contacts everywhere, all over the United States. One day he said, “Where would you like
to go?” I said “Well, I think I’d like to I’d like to be in a major university.” So he said
“Well I’ve got some friends, I’ll call.” I ended up with scheduled interviews at Michigan
State and Purdue. I had opportunities at both places. I chose Purdue because it just felt a
little bit more comfortable, I’m not even sure why. I think I ended up in the right place.
They had marvelous doctoral students. Almost all of whom have become leaders in the
field.
We had a tremendous faculty. We were eight professors who got along with each
other, and that’s really uncommon. Most all of us were very ambitious but we weren’t
cut throat. I had no idea I was walking into the hotbed of counseling psychology. Lee
Isacson was there. Rick Nelson was there; he’s probably the biggest name in the whole
of counseling. At the time they weren’t hot yet, but they’ve gotten to be very well
known. It was just a hot bed and I was the new kid on the block. It was probably like
loading me into a human cannon and then shooting me. I really felt the heat of
competition, more than I had never felt in my life. They were all heavy publishers at
Purdue, and it was real clear if I was going to amount to anything I was going to have to
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that as well, and I did. Not that they helped me, but I was bound and determined not to
fail and I was running for my life. None of my kids have been that way but I was really
afraid of failure.
Even when I was in graduate school I was a considerable annoyance. Purdue was
like a great awakening. I can remember one of my first philosophy professors in graduate
school. This was the second or third meeting of a doctoral seminar. In the middle of
class, not after class, but in the middle of class saying to me “Hackney, I don’t know why
you’re in the doctoral program you already know everything.” That was a shock, and I
really had to start doing some introspection and trying to figure out was this the person I
wanted to be. But then when I got to Purdue I started all of a sudden getting positive
strokes. I think in a real sense I started realizing who I was as a person more than I had
any time before. I think I’d been driven by ambition all my life, all my early years. All
my years up to Purdue I had been driven by ambition and insecurity. I was driven by
insecurity but the insecurity started to diminish when I realized I could be a player.
Bruce Shertzer was the chairman of the department and the most accomplished.
He was president of ACA the year I took the job. So all of a sudden I was up in the rare
air, and would be at a convention where everybody knew Bruce and I would stand beside
him. That felt really heady for a young neophyte. But uh Bruce was also a very taskdriven person and all the time that Bruce was in the office I was aware of his presence.
He may not have even said hello, but if he was there I was conscious Bruce was there. It
was that much of a presence. Bruce was always involved in a project. And it seemed
like all his projects were successful. You know that was kind of what I was around.
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The others meanwhile were being quite productive, too, and in our group every
publishing accomplishment was recognized and praised. Anytime someone had an article
accepted, within a matter of minutes everyone knew about it and everyone was at their
door complimenting them. In part I think it was because we were a team and saw this as
not just an individual accomplishment but also a team accomplishment. I got accepted
into that crowd. I came with one publication, which was in itself a gift. So I had broken
that, but I hadn’t yet done it on my own. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long for me to get
something accepted that was totally mine. And then I knew I could make it.
In thinking about my parents at that time, my mother, in a lot of ways I cut her
off. She was too intrusive and I just really cut my mother off pretty badly. Even while I
was in undergraduate school I did that. In those days you never telephoned, so
everything was done by letters. I would get letters and I wouldn’t answer them. I was
never a bad kid. I would come home for vacations and that sort of thing. But I really
minimized the relationship. So mom was very much in the background, all throughout
my first marriage, and I’m sure there was a lot of pain.
Well I’ll go back to the theme again—my major professor at U Mass was a guy
by the name of Jules Zimmer, and I truly loved the guy. Jules is now the Dean of the
College of Education at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He was a kid from
the lower East Side in New York City, he was a street kid, and I had never known anyone
like him. But he was also brave, and the combination of that streetwise braveness just
wowed me. He was a guy with wisdom, he had the wisdom o f the streets, the wisdom of
survival, and he just was using it every day in a scene at U Mass which was not a very
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easy scene with faculty. They had just hired a new dean who literally sapped the energy;
it was a very nervous time for professors.
Jules had introduced me to a guy with Prentice Hall who was an editor and had
even talked to him about a project, which never happened. Well in my 2nd year at
Purdue, I had a doctoral student who had picked up on the article I had just written. My
student said, “Why don’t we write down what you’re doing into a little manual?” So we
did a program text she had. The editor I met earlier heard about it and said he’d like to
see it. We sent it to him and within months it was a book. I mean it; you can’t believe
how these things just happen. That book is in its fifth edition and it’s still alive. So you
know those little moments—it seemed like more little moments than big moments. I
mean it never felt to me like I was setting major goals.
I can remember an epiphany I had after I’d been there a few years. I’d gone to a
retreat every fall at Purdue. We went down to the 4H-leadership center, it was always in
October and it included all of our faculty, our counseling faculty. It was a groupie
experience and all of our doctoral students; all of our Masters’ students were out in the
country for a weekend together. I can remember at one point in one of those retreats
saying I’m tired of being a doer, I want to become a “be’er”. I didn’t have any idea what
that meant. I just knew that my life up to that point had been focused on accomplishing
things and I wanted to start experiencing things. I don’t think I’ve quite succeeded in
becoming that. But that was a major turning point. That was probably in my 4th year. I
think I felt like I had just been too mechanical, too technology driven in my career, and in
my life.
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My marriage was on the rocks by then. Personal life wasn’t going so well. I was
asking some serious questions of myself. Mid-life crisis probably is another way of
talking about it. I had laid out a good portion of my career at this point. I was successful
and probably a lot of people would say what’s wrong with you. But I wasn’t happy. I
was trying to figure out not necessarily why I was not happy, but what it would take to be
happy. My first marriage ended at that time, and I kind of drifted for a little while. All of
a sudden my second marriage was there waiting for me to notice it, I think. I ended up
marrying one of my students, and that’s Janine upstairs, just as she was finishing her
Ph.D. In fact she hadn’t finished her Ph.D. when we got married. It was as right a
relationship as the other marriage was not. We’ve oftentimes referred to it as finding our
soul mates; which I understand just recently, is strong advice to young people today not
to look for your soul mate. Very few find them. We’re extremely compatible, which is to
say not necessarily that we get along but we have compatible strengths —her strengths
complement mine. My weaknesses tend to vice versa. I think we have a lot of the
same values. We’re both ambitious. It opened me up to experiences I had that had been
closed to that point. I did start exploring my friends have said that that’s when I really
unwound, and became a whole other person. I can remember people telling me even at
Purdue “You’re just too much work”. I was too much work for them to try to get along
with. I think I kind of mellowed out. Though I don’t think I became a “be-er”, but at
least I became more mellow. I think that was the period when I was becoming for the
first time a good counselor. I think that I was learning about me, and I was translating
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everyth in g I was learning into my counseling. I think I’ve changed in my theoretical
approach. I was a very, very much locked in as a behaviorist.
It was a big thing, being a behaviorist, especially if you went to school in
Massachusetts. The closer you were to Skinner, to Harvard, the closer you were to
behaviorism. I was kind of a combination o f Skinnerian and computer jock when I left U
Mass., so you know I had a lot of mellowing out to do. One of my first experiences at
Purdue was with a guy who is now a very famous teacher, A1 Ivy. A1 and I would have
conversations, and I would come away from it without the slightest idea what he had
said. I couldn’t follow him. I would ask him to explain what he meant and he’d explain it
and I didn’t understand that. Finally I got to the point where I started to understand him,
and then that made me nervous, because I could understand him. It was all part of the
process of my becoming a humanist.
I couldn’t quite let go o f the cognitive side. I’ve always been cognitive in my
counseling approach, but the systems movement began and I just found that to be so
exciting that I studied it. Then some of my humanist side that I think had been in the
shadows ever since I was a kid started to come back. So those were the mid-career
influences. I think I have become more of an existentialist over the years. What I have
done is to realize that I am not in control. It’s really that simple. I think it freed me up a
great deal.
One of the problems I had as a young counselor was feeling responsible for
clients. Feeling like I had to make the success happen and that if I was working in a case
that wasn’t going well, it was because of something I was not doing. Not necessarily
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something that I was doing but something that I was not doing. So I always felt personal
pressure to make things happen. Once I got beyond that I think I started to become a
better counselor. I think that a great deal of successful counseling really comes through
life experience. You can give a person all the skills but you can’t give them life
experience. I think that it’s the accumulated knowledge that one has to go through in
order to generate success. Someone, I can’t remember who it was now, said there was
never a good counselor younger than him.
My life experience informs me in a lot of ways, mainly ah, I am ready to accept
commonality among people. I believe we have a lot more in common with each other
than our differences. When I see something going on in someone, usually I can find
something in my life that it reminds me of, and in that instance I realize I’m not that
different. We are probably walking down the same path, so that might allow me to be
more accepting or understanding and insightful as to what they’re dealing with. The
other dimension that is found in counseling experiences, as opposed to life experiences,
are prototypes, and I do believe that there are prototypes for all struggles. You can be
with a person a few times and their prototype starts to emerge and you can recognize it as
something you have visited before. There are very few surprises. Sometimes
coincidences are surprising; it’s always a surprise when you see someone going through
an experience that is remarkably like one you’ve had. But other than that I don’t think
there are an infinite number of ways experiences occur; I think there are patterns of ways
of behaving. Now there are all sorts of uniqueness in those patterns.
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After my first marriage ended, my ex-wife and my son moved to Connecticut.
My daughter who was the older of the two came to live with us. She finished high school
in Indiana and went to Purdue. But my son, who’s now 32, 33, moved to Connecticut
with his mother. Janine and I had talked about going back to the East Coast. She was
from Massachusetts, and I felt really at home in Massachusetts, so that seemed like a
really nice thing to have happen. We kept looking at jobs and nothing ever really
happened until ajob offer—and again, I had someone who was at Fairfield University,
Sam Reilly, call me one day and said we have ajob here I think you’d be good at. It was
the Associate Dean o f Graduate Studies. Fairfield’s a small university. I had Sam send
me a description of the job. In retrospect it was like getting the assistant principalship all
over again, but I had decided because Fairfield University was a 25-minute drive to
where my son was. That in itself was a good incentive. I applied for the job and got the
job and we moved to Connecticut. Janine was without ajob that first year. She had been
on faculty at Purdue after she got her degree. She took ajob at Bridgeport Hospital in the
social work department for a year. I took that job and came to Fairfield— stayed in that
job for a year and had opportunity to move back to faculty and jumped at it and for 12
more years I was a professor at Fairfield. The Associate Dean is not an inventive role. So
I applied for the Deanship. The Dean was leaving said I can’t recommend you. He and I
were at odds and I was stunned by that. So I said well then I want to apply for this
professorial position. I think he felt good about my going back to that so he helped that
happen. He was a high control person and I don’t work well under those—I felt shackled.
So it was actually a wonderful gift. I came there in ’84 and was there for 3 years as the
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Associate Dean. I got back to faculty and immediately knew I was back in the right
place. I have a lot of fond memories.
Fairfield was a delightful school, eccentric as can be. There were faculty there
who had been there since the day that the school opened. It’s a Jesuit school and I really
developed a very close caring relationship with some of the Jesuits there. I have a lot of
respect for them. More than anything else it was a school that was predominantly a
college of Arts and Sciences and I was kind of brought into that world. I’ve told a lot of
people this story—we had a faculty dining room that was for anyone who was staff. But
there would be a group o f us who would meet every day for lunch in the faculty dining
room. Generally we’d move tables together—there would typically be 10 or 12 of us
around the tables. Every discipline that was at the university would be at that table, and
the discussions and the arguments that would go on around those tables— sometimes we
would be there an 1 14 hours eating a 20-minute lunch. Probably the discussion I
enjoyed the most happened one day between a physicist professor and a Jesuit who was
in the theology department. It went an hour and a half. A physicist who was also an
international chess champion made the statement, blatant statement that God was a
mathematical formula and the Jesuit just went berserk They went at each other and I was
sitting there. I didn’t know what would happen so I wouldn’t leave. For an hour and a
half they talked. There was a lot of openness, lot o f inclusion. Janine and I were as
welcome in the College o f Arts and Sciences as we were in the School ofBusiness. That
was a very pleasant community experience. It was a good place to be. It was another
time of learning and growth for me, a very different kind of learning and growth.
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At Purdue my focus was totally on research. At Fairfield my focus was as totally
on training, the process o f training, the experience of learning counseling. We didn’t
have a doctoral program. We were really grounded in the community, and Fairfield
County is really a hybrid area. Wonderful students came. People, who had already made
major accomplishments in other fields, came to us as students. I would see people on
TV, in their previous thing, and then that night Fd see them in class. It was that kind of
school.
I needed to get back to doctoral studies. I was missing it more every year. But
you know again the impossible happened. There was a single position advertised here at
Syracuse. They had a senior faculty member who was retiring and he was a chair, so the
position was advertised. He and another former colleague had talked to me a couple of
years ago at a conference and asked had I ever considered moving to Syracuse. At one
time I had said that I’d never go to Syracuse because it’s too cold there. I said if there
were two positions there and if Janine and I could go, then I would probably be
interested. I got a call saying you know you’re both welcome to apply for this position,
and if either of you gets the position we’ll see what we can do to hire the spouse. I didn’t
believe that, but we both applied for the same position and we were both interviewed
separately for the same position. That was curious. We had never done anything like that
in our lives. We had always everything we’d ever done we’d done you know in tandem.
Strange because she came, Janine came up the 1st week was interviewed, and I came up
the 2nd week and was interviewed. Probably we were asked many of the same questions.
The only variation in the two interviews that I could figure out was that we were taken to
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different restaurants. But I guess the University had done a lot o f homework and they
decided that they wanted us both. They decided they wanted Janine as the chair. So we
both had periods as chairs at Fairfield. At Fairfield that was a rotating position, so Jamie
was offered the job as chair and I was offered a full professorship. We couldn’t believe
it, but we took it. I’ve been very happy about it. She has by far the hardest job. It was a
really an opportunity for her. For me it’s an end of career opportunity. Not that I’m
anticipating retiring immediately. I’m not. But I don’t see another career move. This
will be where I finish out my career.
I don’t think about my career finishing very much. I don’t know how I’ll end my
career. I don’t know how gracefully I will end. There are two aspects of my career that I
enjoy the most. One is writing and the other is student contact. I will have a harder time
letting go of student contact, but I doubt I’ll ever let go of the writing part. I don’t need
to be on a in a campus office to write. I don’t do my writing in the office. I write at
home, I always have. So you know that part will be that’s an unknown, that’s an
unknown for me. I don’t worry about it.
Things that are important to me I think are tolerant people and generous people.
My whole career I’ve been in the presence of tolerant people first, who put up with me.
And secondly of generous people, who’ve given me things, opportunities to help me in
evolving into a human being. I think I had so much history as a kid, so much baggage,
emotional baggage to get rid of. Just to know that it was baggage that I was carrying. I
wasn’t so insightful as a kid. But over the process of time, I ’ve lived long enough and I
had enough good people in my life who let me get to where I am. I think I’ve learned a
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bit through a lot of painful experiences. Not destructive experiences, just painful. I had a
painful childhood, growing up. I was not exactly a lovable kid. I had a painful youth. I
had a painful first marriage. I think all of that is development. At the same time, I had a
very blessed life; though it was as though I was in the water to learn to swim with a
taskmaster who did not let me climb out. That taskmaster took on many different
identities. My mother was the first. Bill (the chairman of the department at Purdue) was
one also. He hired me there. Bill was a very focused person, very energized person, very
ambitious person, very successful person, who didn’t see any reason why anyone else
couldn’t be the very same thing. He was a good old Indiana boy. If you want to do it, do
it. Life was not a lot o f shits and grins.
I don’t believe that being wise is something that one sets out to be, I think in fact
that’s probably the antithesis of wisdom. When I become self-absorbed I am as far away
from wisdom—I would not even call it wisdom. Wisdom, I’m uncomfortable with that
because I don’t think anyone ever claims wisdom. Did Socrates claim to be wise? I
don’t think so. I think it’s only something someone else can give you absolutely, so I
don’t think it’s a good idea to aspire to it. I think if you’re aspiring to wisdom, you’re not
there. I have had very few people let me know I was wise. Oh I’ve known wise people,
very wise people. I think, I think there’s a confidence, and an ability to get involved and
yet keep a distance. O f course when you’re around someone like that it’s wonderful.
When you’re around a person like that, when I’m around a person like that I can’t get
enough of that. Earlier in my life, I probably would have been a little tentative. Well, I
probably, it would have been my own lack of self-confidence you know it when you’re in
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its presence. I ’m not sure two people would think the same about wisdom. I can imagine
two people on saying that person is wise and the other person would say are you kidding?
So maybe our antennae for wisdom are different.
Well I’m in a pretty exciting time right now. I’m back in the building—Janine
and I were brought here with some real charges. One of my charges is to renovate the
doctoral program and bring it into a national stature. The faculty has worked really hard
this year to get that process going. I think we are through the door and probably even
finished with stage 1 right now. It’ll be another 2 or 3 years but our mission is within the
next 3 to 4 years to have our doctoral students coming from a national scene and not a
regional scene, and to really return to a research focus at the doctoral level.
I have another ambition. I want to become a fly fisherman. And probably within
a 30-minute drive from here I can be in some of the best trout streams, and they’re not
over fished. That’s an ambition that I haven’t actually started to act on yet, although my
son did send me a new rod. My daughter, my oldest, lives in Nashua, NH. She and her
husband are computer software engineers. My middle son lives in Fairfield, CT. He
never left. He manages a big liquor wine store in Fairfield. My youngest just finished
college and this past year is in Philadelphia discovering himself. Figuring out who he is.
It’s my middle son who is the fly fisherman. He’s very impressive. So that’s something
that I’m hoping to do, too. I’ve not been a person to have hobbies. I’ve never developed
a—you know I own golf clubs, I own tennis rackets, I own fishing tackle. I’ve never
gotten too deep in anything. So it’s time for me to start getting a bit more.
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There are some big things going on at the University. Some pretty rewarding
things are going on. We are one of the things our Provost who is here in her 2nd year.
She came from IU, and she has a grand plan to create a campus-wide—well actually a
community-focused wellness center which will occupy a whole city block, and it will
include everything from physical equipment to psychological to spiritual. There will be a
chapel. I mean this is something that I’m hoping to be part of too. It’s very exciting.
You know people from the I can envision folks who are one step from homelessness in
the same setting as young college sophomores.
I was at war with my spiritual self for the first half of my life. I was very selfconscious about being the son of a minister. I was very skittish about even
acknowledging spiritual side. I think that going through my divorce was probably the
crisis that let me start looking at that again. I have grown immensely in recent years,
both as a student of the Bible and as an explorer. Spirituality became an academic interest
for me as well because again it was a serendipitous moment I’d about 3, 3 or 4 years ago
a couple of people who have been big in the spirituality area of American Counseling
Association decided to have a summit on spirituality in Charlotte, North Carolina. They
invited 12 people, and I was one of the 12. It was just mind blowing—to spend a few
days with people who really knew what they were talking about in an academic sense.
So that’s an area of interest. Right now I’m working with a colleague, a younger
colleague here on our faculty on exploring the physical dimension of disability and
whether or not people who have different kinds of disabilities experience their disability
in spiritual ways. I’m very interested in this and there are a lot of people out there who
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know a lot more about it than I do. But I have also become a much more spiritual person,
personally.
My dad was a very liberal Baptist. He was not of the Southern Baptist
conservative types at all. In fact in our little town there were four Baptist churches, three
o f which were Southern Baptist. My Dad’s declared allegiance was to the Northern
Baptist, which then became the American Baptist. My dad didn’t have issues with my
dancing, I smoked cigarettes all of the time I was in high school and college. He never
had an issue with those things. Dad was quite an existentialist. He gave me much
permission to be who I needed to be. My mother set the rules, my dad didn’t. In those
growing up years I had a very fundamental—not a fundamental, that word means other
things—I had a very basic grounding in the teachings of both the Old Testament and New
Testament. Then I had a long hiatus from it—20 or more years. I didn’t go to church, I
didn’t pray—well that’s not true, I always prayed. But it was always to get me out of a
mess. God was my rescuer more than anything else. I never read the Bible. I had read, I
had memorized verses from the Bible but I ’d never read the Bible. So I set out about 4
years ago I read straight through in a year, cover to cover. Then I read it again, cover to
cover. And then I read half o f it again and I also took some courses in Bible literature.
I’ve done a lot of reading of the more avant-garde Christian movements. I’ve
done a lot of reading and probably I’ve done more study in that area than any other in
recent years. I found out that I really have a deep conviction that there is a God who is a
God of us all, and that religions or denominations are human creations, they are not God
creations. So I never feel I have never in my life felt like it was me against the world.
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That was a constant, that’s what kept me going, even in hard times, even in times of
denial I think for me God is always present.
I think the challenge of my life was to recognize and let that spiritual presence in.
At the most basic level just being able to talk about it, because much of the first half of
my life I wouldn’t have a conversation like this, not even with a close friend much less
someone I just met. It’s not that it was shame exactly. But it would have been an
extraordinary discomfort for me. It certainly has impacted my life. Has it impacted my
counseling? No, I’ve got too many human flaws still. They keep intruding. In one
respect I’m very much more open to conversations about spiritual selves with people, and
I’m even inviting them. I’m at that place in my own professional belief system that I
believe that all human problems have a spiritual nature, and that clients more often than
not are more aware of it than the counselor is. It may not come out because of the
reticence and uncertainty about where the counselor is. I think clients aren’t always sure
that talking about spirituality is okay. Is this issue part of my belief or is it part of my
problem? I think it is okay for a counselor to introduce the question without introducing
personal preference. It’s like fishing. You bait the hook; you throw it out there, and if
nothing nibbles than there’s no fish out there. Or else they don’t like your bait.
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Ann Carter
“I learned some sense o f what was important and what wasn't; what you could leave
behind. ”
I was the middle o f three daughters in my family, and was bom just before the
great crash in 1929. And we lived in a very small town in southern Oregon, east of the
Cascades, so it was on the edge of the wilderness. It was very beautiful. I had a relatively
happy and unremarkable childhood. I went to public schools there and was free to
explore the world around me quite a bit. And I sometimes think about how cautious my
children are with their children, about where they can go, and I went everywhere.
The town I lived in was on the shore of a very large lake, and it was about 40
miles from high mountain areas where there were lots of lakes. Nature was very
important to me as I was growing up. It was the only town for 60 miles in any direction.
And so it was a sort of a hub of agricultural and lumbering industries. But it was 13,000
people or so, so it was a very small town and it's never gotten any larger.
My mother was orphaned in her adolescence and she got a job teaching school
when she graduated from high school. She was a couple of years younger than she should
have been at that point, and she probably looked like she was about 12, so it was a very
challenging experience for her. And after she had done it for a year or so she decided that
she needed to get a teacher's education, so she went through a normal school, which is
what they used to call them in those days. She said that she had just enough money to do
that and have a secure occupation, or go to Reed College and get an education. So
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education was very important to her, and she was very determined that her daughters
were going to be educated.
My father went to this town when he was about 9 years old in a covered wagon. It
was in 1909 when he did this. His father, who was an extremely interesting man, I didn't
know much about him until after my father died, but he felt as if he had finally found the
place that he wanted to be and then he died 2 years later, which was unfortunate. So my
father was very much devoted to helping take care of his little sister and doing errands for
his mother, and doing the work of a man at that age. So he was a very care-taking and
understanding person, and also very committed to relationships, which was probably
unusual. So I think I grew up in a sort of unusual home for a girl, in that I had mostly
female relatives and a father who was probably different for those times. He was drafted
into the army just before the Armistice and so he never served in the First World War. He
finally went back to this town and I think he went to Business College for a little while
and then joined with his stepfather in a moving and storage business. So that's the context
of my family's situation.
Our town was pretty small, but it was a community that one could participate in. I
always had this feeling like someday I wanted to see more of the world though, and in
those days many o f the kids that I went to school with were the children of people in oil
companies and they got transferred all the time. So one of my desires that I never spoke
out loud was that my father would get transferred, but I knew he wouldn't because he was
running his own business. I really wanted to go somewhere different, and then
miraculously had the experience when I was in high school.
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I remember with some distinctness when I was about 6 or so that whenever there
was any discussion about the future and any talk about college it was always very much
up in the air whether it would be possible to do, because my father had saved money for
that and then lost it in the bank crash, but there was always this kind of lure that I was
going to do this somehow.
The town where I grew up was not a very college-oriented community and mostly
girls were the ones who went on to college, which is kind of interesting. My high school
suggested that I apply for a scholarship; it was a consortium of women's colleges on the
East Coast. The way it worked was you got a scholarship and then got assigned to one of
these eastern colleges. I was talking to someone about this recently, that I had a sort of
"what the hell" kind of attitude about this. I wasn't sure I really wanted to go so far away
from home, but I had to try. I think because everyone thought that Oregon was a pretty
exotic place to come from and would fulfill some kind of diversity needs, so I was
awarded a scholarship. There was no choice at that point, because the opportunity was
great and so I went. I went to Vassar College. If I was to think of one of the most
formative things that happened to me in my childhood and adolescence it was probably
that, because suddenly I got a chance to see the world and be exposed to a very
intellectual environment. It was a great adventure, with many challenges and things that
were very scary to me. I felt in a way it was almost like a finishing school for very
wealthy people, which was certainly in error.
Before I went I was scared, because I had to get on a train and go off into the
unknown. I had never been east of Reno. So it was very strange initially, because I would
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say the majority of people who were there had gone to prep schools, residential ones, and
they simply had a different background educationally, things that I had never heard of, or
didn't know about. They all were mysteriously connected during the first few weeks of
college. I'd be in the middle of a group of people who were getting to know each other
and their conversations were all about, "Do you know so-and-so in Baltimore?" "Do you
know so-and-so in Boston?" and I didn't know anybody. So those things were scary.
Vassar was much more demanding than my high school, so I was apprehensive a great
deal about whether I would even make it there. And many times I felt that I shouldn't be
there. But it was an incredible education, so I feel like my whole life was affected by the
excellence o f the learning opportunities there.
I just liked to write, so I took writing courses and I had taken a fiction-writing
course, which was a disaster. I tried critical writing, and I think really what I learned was
how to critique all kinds of things. Subsequently I took a course in temporary press,
which was very influential for me, because it was basically looking below the surface of
all the mass media that existed. It was about finding the real story underneath it, or some
kind of critique of that. I realized belatedly that I had a really excellent education in
critical thinking.
Besides learning to think critically, the thing that affected me, and I didn't realize
how much at the time, was my indecision about what I wanted to do. It was very hard for
me to decide on what I wanted to do. I was very interested in music and played the piano
and that was important to me, and I loved writing so I thought maybe I could combine
these in sort of an interdisciplinary major. I had to meet with a woman who was in the
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music department who said that she thought I might want to question whether I really
wanted to study music. She had done that and she wrote an opera, and was I prepared to
write an opera? And I said, I don't think that I can even think of things like that. It was at
that point I decided that I would major in the thing that I was enjoying the most as far as
coursework and that was psychology. It didn't really satisfy the interdisciplinary issues,
but it shaped my life as far as my career.
Eric Fromm bowled me over. His work was the most important thing I read and
he was still alive then, and his ideas were amazing. I realized that he was certainly
looking at psychological issues from a social critique position. What really turned me on
was my introduction psychology course where they had a lab and we'd do these
experiments and I thought, this is the most interesting thing I ever came across. So I liked
that a lot. It was just exciting and fun, and self-evident in some kind of way that made it
seem to me to be really easy to do.
When I was a senior I was appointed I had an advisor appointed, because we had
to do some kind of senior project. My advisor was new to the faculty; he actually was a
man who later became somewhat famous because he was one o f the few people to use the
First Amendment when he was accused of being a communist. He spent a year, and there
was a Supreme Court case about him, but he challenged every idea that I ever had. My
parents were not radically conservative, but certainly everything that I took as truth about
the political world, he was there to challenge. It was a very close relationship, so I was
transformed about that in terms of my own thinking about the world. He was in a position
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of saying you can't think A, without that implying B which had never occurred to me. So
that was interesting.
My advisor and others in the psychology department encouraged me to go to
graduate school and I ended up at the University of Michigan, as a graduate student. I had
not really thought o f becoming a clinical psychologist, although I realized that I had
always had interests my first occupational interest was to be a nurse. My father was in a
hospital for some surgery for a few weeks and when he came home he said, "You may
not be a nurse. I will not have you being a nurse." And I thought of being a doctor and
my mother said, "That's no career for a woman."
I liked to talk to people and I liked to figure out how they were put together. I
think that I learned in all my traveling back and forth between Oregon and New York on
the train that people were likely to want to tell me their stories. So it sort of fit, and so I
ended up in the clinical psychology program at Michigan. That was going to be my
career, which I didn't really practice for a while, because after I was in the program
several years I got married to a fellow psychology student and we began having kids. I
met my husband in the library and I thought he was cute. He was reading a book by
David McClelland, and I think it must have been assigned in a course that we were both
in and I said, "Could I borrow your book could I look at it?" And the rest was history.
After the first year or so, I was the only person in my cohort of students who was
a woman. And at the time, having been at a woman's college for 4 years, it was an
enchanting situation. They made me their mascot, and I thought that was wonderful. It's
disgraceful now when you think about it, but I had a very good time and I learned a lot. I
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often think about conversations I would be privy to over lunch with these guys, and they
were talking so earnestly about their experiences. A lot of them were veterans returning
from the war, so they were older, and some of them were married and talking about what
the idea of their wives being pregnant meant to them. It was as if I wasn't there; they
weren't talking to me about this. I think it gave me an appreciation for the earnest
concerns of young men about all kinds of issues that I don't think I would have been very
much aware of without that.
Looking back on my life, I often think that I didn't really make very many
choices. It was like things happened and then life took up from that point. I'm sure that at
some level, one does come to a crossroads when you have to decide one way or the other,
but it never felt that way to me. I guess the things that were most difficult that happened
to me particularly in graduate school was the man I eventually married got a very bad
case of polio it was the last year that anybody got polio. I was in an internship at a VA
hospital which I had to commute to, and that year was very difficult. I wanted to be with
him as much as I could in the hospital; he was in the hospital for about 6 months. I had a
full load of classes and I was going to this hospital to learn how to be a clinical
psychologist. I don't know what you learn from that, I guess I learned some sense of what
was important and what wasn't; what you could leave behind when you got too busy.
That was certainly a critical event for a long period of time, but it seemed less critical
over time.
The other important event has to do with my fourth child. We have five kids and
our fourth child had a lot of trauma at birth. I think that we had kind of gone along, we
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had bright kids; there was nothing to question on the valuation of achievement and
intelligence, and doing well and all that stuff. In the middle of all this there’s this little
kid who it appeared was not going to be able to be like the other kids were. I think about
that as probably the most momentous sort of crisis, in the sense that we had to back off
from our investment in achievement and in our children's achievement to protect him
from feeling as if he didn't belong in the family. The way in which he altered my life I
cannot tell you. It’s probably in ways that I don't even know; it altered the way that we
raised our kids and the way we thought about a lot of things and what we expected of
them, and what we didn't, both in relational terms and in their interaction with education.
We were both either already Ph.D.’s or about to be, and we lived in a world where
everybody valued academic achievement a great deal. The kids were smart and they did
well in school, and we were proud o f them but this just changed the whole thing. You
can't say that this is the only way to be a good person, and you don't want that to get
communicated to anybody in the family at that point. So it had a very dramatic impact on
our lives. It's very interesting to me now, he's in his 40s and academic work was difficult
for him throughout, but he has a good life, he's self-supporting and lives independently. I
think he's one of the nicest people I know and I think, how could I have ever imagined
that somehow it would have been better to be as smart as the other kids were? Those
things sound kind of trivial when you say them, but when your kids are little you're not
necessarily wise with respect to how you think kids should be. I don't know that anybody
can be a parent without at some point looking back and wishing to do some things over,
but we had the opportunity at an earlier point. It just made us very different in many
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respects. One of my husband's nephews was visiting us and his son is 18 and trying to
decide among an array o f colleges and I thought; I cannot understand this conversation,
would he go further in life if he went here or there? I have now very little sympathy for
that.
I think that I would say with hindsight that raising kids was wonderful. I like kids
and it was a wonderful experience, and our kids are very nice adults and I like to be with
them. I think this was the most important thing that happened in my life.
I have to say this, which I think was of interest and this may be why I feel like I
fell into things. My husband and I got married in the midst of graduate school, he was
about to finish and I was not, I was about to begin thinking about my dissertation. The
norms of the times were such that I figured; I probably won't do that, especially because
we had a child pretty soon afterwards. After my husband finished his Ph.D. his first job
was at Princeton, where there was no opportunity for me to work at the university
because they had a nepotism rule and I had this 6-month-old child. I basically thought,
forget it, I'm not going to get back to this. And I was quite happy about that, that was
fine, I wanted to have lots of kids and that would be just okay. He wouldn't let me alone,
he said, "You've got to finish, it won't be a great thing if you don't, and I'll do everything
to support that." We went back to the University o f Michigan after being at Princeton for
a year, so I was back in an environment where I could do this, but it was still kind of
difficult. So every time my enthusiasm flagged he said, "You've got to do this."
When I finished my dissertation, graduated and was offered a job and I said “I
can't take a job now, I've got kids to raise.” My husband said, "Of course, you'll take this
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job." The job was a half-time position and it worked out quite well. I think my ambitions
would have been, at least at that point in time, satisfied if I had just enjoyed my five
children and forgotten about all of this training and everything. But I'm very happy that it
happened that way, because I didn't know what was good for me, I guess. In some sense,
what I did in my head was to view this half-time job that I had as sort of the equivalent of
my mother belonging to a bridge club or something. It was a way for me to get out of the
house and be away for a while. And I think it took me a while before I really took it
seriously as a career.
It was a funny time. I was working in a clinic that was run by the university as a
therapist and every year, because I think I had kids and because it was half time, the
director said, "I don't know if we have enough budget money to hire you next year." I
would go through this thing year after year of working with people in a long-term way
and having to say to them every spring, "I don't know whether I'm going to be here next
year." Now I realize that was a horrible thing that he was doing to me, but I felt at the
time, that's what happens; I'm not supposed to be here anyway. I worked in this clinic for
I don't know how long, and then I got pregnant somewhat unexpectedly with our fifth
child. Actually, that's not the order. One day with four kids I came home and the woman
who took care of the kids had (it was in June and it was very hot) permitted them all to go
next door in the neighbor's pool and they all had mumps. My kids had mumps, and I was
so horrified that I allowed this thing, which I perceived as potentially very dangerous to
them, it wasn't, they were fine, but I thought, I can't do this anymore. I quit the job that I
had then and decided that I would take a few years’ sabbatical or something, and then I
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got pregnant with our fifth child and somebody pleaded with me to come back and help
to teach people how to do some coding. And that very quickly escalated into another halftime job, which was at a counseling center run by the university for students. And it was
much more acceptable to my interests by that time. The clinic had been very
psychoanalytic and it was getting a little bit filled up with that as far as I saw I don't
really like this way of thinking.
The clinic was a good transition. It was a great place to work for many years and I
felt a kind o f loyalty for being there. At some point in time, the directorship of the place
changed and they brought in two people who were quite open about the fact that they
were determined to get rid of all of the people who had worked there for many years. It
was a horrible experience, because I had just gotten the service award from the
University o f Michigan for having been employed there for 22 years. The man who was
the previous director was a well-renown psychologist, a name in the field, and they
managed somehow to make his life intolerable. They just closed him off from any kind of
role in this place. Little by little everybody else, it wasn't a very large group, but there
was some reason or another why they were no longer suitable. I tried to hide it because
this guy would write performance reviews at the lowest rating and I said “I'm not going
to sign this, because I've been in this situation for a long time.” He said, "This is a good
review." At some point he decided that I could conceivably bring some kind o f suit. I
don't think I ever would have, but he cut this deal with me. His way o f getting rid of me
was going to be because my husband had a sabbatical and we were going to go to the
East Coast, Cape Cod, actually for the year. I had asked early on about whether I could
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have a leave of absence. And he said, "No problem." But then as things escalated and the
tensions grew more and more horrible he said, "I never meant that to mean that you could
come back." I just wanted a leave of absence. The director wasn't a clinical psychologist
although he may have been in name. I don't know what he was, he was stupid and he was
a bureaucrat and he no comprehension of people. He then finally, because I think he
thought I was going to bring suit ,or whatever he thought, I don't really know, he said,
"How about this, how about if I pay you like severance pay for the year you're on
sabbatical?" I never asked for any money "and then you do not come back." At that
point I was exhausted and really felt this wasn't going to be a place where I wanted to
work anyway, so I did that. That's the moment at which Fielding came into my life.
Libby Douvan had been a site visitor for the APA and she kept coming back from
Santa Barbara saying, "This is the most wonderful place." I said, "What is the Fielding
Institute?" She concocted this idea that they wanted to hire her after the whole
accreditation was over, she said, "I think it would be great if we could go as a pair,
because HOD is having a lot o f people who are in human services and that's your
specialty." I would be on the other side of things and everything, and she somehow sold it
to Don Bushnell. Anyway, I got involved in Fielding at that point. I had a private practice
at that point after this job fell apart, and every time I had to go to work I was wishing I
could stay home. The things that were very interesting to me were happening at Fielding.
And I was traveling a lot, so I decided I would retire from my practice, and that took
some time.
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I was originally hired to both psychology and the HOD program, so shortly after
that I decided, I do not really believe in a lot of the stuff that's going on among therapists.
I was particularly bothered by the over-concern about power and the therapist's power
somehow was going to be threatened if somebody didn't do this or that, or came late, or
whatever. These are trivial things, but it was a mindset about who's in charge here. It was
offensive to me. A lot o f it was troublesome to me in a variety of ways, and I can't do this
much work anyway. I decided that if I had to slice something off it would be psychology.
So I really haven't been a psychologist for quite a while.
Another thing that was going on at that time was right at the beginning of the
whole child abuse hysteria, and I was in partnership with a woman who really bought it
hook, line and sinker. We had arguments every day about that, not that I didn't think child
abuse wasn't a bad thing, but I thought hysteria was a bad thing and it was not very good
for people's lives. The idea of subjecting people who actually had been abused to
basically disempowering them over a long period of time as they dredged up the trauma
that they had experienced and were made to feel helpless again, I just thought this cannot
be the way to do this. So, there were a lot of issues like that that came to the fore. It was a
time too where I think family therapy was becoming very hot, and I thought that was an
exciting idea then it again seemed to me to be a way to find somebody to blame for
something. It just didn't fit with my mindset.
Fielding was an eclectic place. I was trained in a place that you couldn't learn
anything but psychoanalytic theory. I was in the beginning quite delighted to find myself
in a place where people were open about all different modalities and interested in
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pursuing them. But some of the same attitudes prevailed in the way that mirrored the
kinds o f things that I was unhappy about in the field. I felt there was a kind of
assumption that students, all of whom were quite experienced, had to go through various
kinds of ordeals in order to be in the program. It was totally inappropriate as far as I was
concerned in an adult education setting. In the meantime, APA accreditation ground out
its course, the things they were doing to the program to make it satisfy APA all seemed to
me to be making it almost impossible for anyone to ever finish. I retired from that
program in 1995, and that's 7 years ago, and was much happier. I think along with that
shift I had been affected by some of the things that were happening in HOD, which as a
program was much more focused on social issues and community concerns. The kind of
therapeutic current that ran through it was much more taking into account the outside
world and that was much more compatible for me at that point and continues to be so.
Every time we did an OPS or ACW you have to do the lifeline exercise and I would often
describe myself as fallen away. It's sort of a funny rejection of one's career actually. I
valued my career very much, but I couldn't keep on doing it. I have to say that
accompanying this shift away from clinical psychology that I got much more interested in
ideas and much more excited about the idea of how you communicate ideas to other
people and help them learn, in the nature of being a teacher rather than a therapist. People
don't teach at Fielding, but whatever we do it allows people to learn. I'm sitting in my
office now and we had a very large bookcase in this office and we had to build another
one because I've accumulated multitudes of books when at Fielding, and they were in
some ways to help me be knowledgeable when I was writing responses to peoples' work
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and advising them about dissertations. But it's a sort of record of the expanding nature of
my interests as well.
In thinking about wisdom, I think that you certainly would call some people wise
people. There's a thing that I think I've struggled with in living always with people who
are very smart, they're all very smart, but some of them have a kind of understanding of
the world and relationships that exist there, and a kind of interest and curiosity about that,
that makes them much more attractive to be with socially or as colleagues than a lot of
the very smart people out there. I don't know what to call that. I've never really thought
about calling it wisdom, but it is a much broader kind of perspective on the world. It’s an
attempt to bring your ideas and your theories in alignment with that broader perspective.
That's the closest I can get to it.
I don't know whether I'm wise or not, you may be asking the wrong person. But I
think that what really was wonderful and the thing that I enjoyed and miss very much
about Fielding is that I have the opportunity all the time to encounter other peoples'
thinking and appreciate it and learn from it. I am tasked to help them see how they might
make it even better. You are able to talk with somebody who is interested in the same
topic as you are, and you can give them ideas or something like that. I think that's a
stretching sort of activity, because you get really excited about either what people have
said, or what they were almost on the verge of saying that you might help them say. It all
has to do in a way with the bouncing back and forth between real life and more abstract
ideas. I recall something from my graduate school days when there were a lot of people
who were proteges of McClelland at Michigan, and I got to know some o f them and I'd
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get into discussions that they were developing very abstract theories about achievement
and power motivation and all o f these things. I told them that when I talk to people in
clinical settings it sounds like it's a little bit more complicated than that. I've realized the
fact that if all of this doesn't have anything to do with real life it isn't worth anything. It
doesn't have to have immediate relevance to real life, but ultimately it has to do
something with developing a better understanding of how the world exists.
At this point, I've had a few remnants of Fielding works that I have devoted some
attention to. I'm going to participate as a journal editor, I was the editor of a previous
journal and they asked me if I would be willing to be the editor for this one, so I'm going
to do that. This is strictly professional stuff.
We live now in the country on a lake, but we have 30 acres of land and we live
beside a state park, which are mostly undeveloped woods. Being here and learning about
what is here, which is an infinite stimulus, is very important to me. I think that when I
was working it was what I tried to do when I didn't have too many papers on my desk. It's
quite wonderful to be able to pursue that. I'm a collector of mushrooms and a gardener.
I'm also reading for pleasure on a regular basis for the first time in a long time. My
husband and I really enjoy talking with each other, so we have many trivial conversations
and many very important ones about what we're reading, or thinking and about the world.
So I feel as if there's a kind o f intellectual continuity.
I have a research project that I started long ago and which I had partially written
up, and every day I say today maybe I should work on that. I also have a novel that I've
sort of fleshed out in 1970. I've got this handwritten manuscript and I think at least I
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should put it on my computer. But it's very nice just to have life not so driven by external
events. I don't know whether I'm going to get around to those things or not. The big thing
is to decide once and for all that it doesn't really matter whether I do or not.
I do feel, and this is something that I have not yet done that I think I probably will
have to, because it does seem as if one should in some way contribute to the world,
whether you're retired or not. And I don't mean necessarily in academic ways, but I think
I do have some skills that might be useful and I could do some volunteer work or
whatever, but I haven't done that yet. There are plenty of opportunities, and I don't think
anybody should stick their head in the sand. But maybe spending some time just
reflecting on things is okay too. I have to give myself permission for that.
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Andrew Lord
“I tend to be a pragmatist. ”
I ’m 72, so I have all sorts of memories about my family. I realized that I had very
good parents. Well, I don't know if you believe it, they were—I never got beaten, or bad
childhood treatment. My dad particularly spent a lot of time with me, I realize now,
because I see some o f my friends doing the same thing with their kids. I don't have any
family myself. But I think I had a very happy home life. I know I did. Yes, I realize that
now. He was a very busy man, he had three careers, but I realize he took the time to be
with me. I had very good parents.
When I was 3 or 4 we lived on a lake and I had four siblings, I was the youngest.
There were these little brooks that flowed into the lakes and my dad assigned each of us a
brook to look after. Well, one day we were in a different part of the little town and he
pointed out a ditch and said, “That’s your brook.” I was about 3 or 4 and I was sort of
startled and thought what’s he talking about? There was a little bit of water flowing out
from the lake, and this was just a roadside ditch. And I guess I realized then what
topology is—that you can be in a different area and sort of reason out how to get over to
here and just by reason figure out where your brook is. It was a very startling lesson. I
wondered about it all these years, it’s kind of startling. I could actually feel my brain
working, trying to figure out what he meant by this. How can this ditch have to do with a
lake and water flowing out? Then I thought, oh maybe it could be above it in some way.
I know it was a very formative experience. Up until then everything was just lots of
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scenes. In this case two very separate scenes connected themselves, the lake and my
brook. This was in New York State, a place called Aurora, near Wells College.
One trait I developed back then was daydreaming. I used to sit with my back
against a tree and look out at the lake all the time, sort of a solitary activity I think instead
of vigorously running around all the time, I think I've always been that way, kind of a day
dreamer. Dad was teaching at Wells College at that time. He was an English professor.
Later on he became a well known poet. I also used to daydream in my father’s study
when he wasn't there. I would sit in one of his leather chairs; I've always liked leather
chairs. My Dad was very supportive of me. I started writing poetry and very early on I
was interested in science, and he was very supportive. He bought me a large one-volume
encyclopedia, and another time he bought me a telescope. He sort of nurtured my interest
in science. He was a good father.
My Dad came from Brunswick Maine, and we went to Bowdoin College. He won
a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford and went on to Princeton. After that he went on to
teaching, but he always wanted to come back to his poetry, which he did. In fact, it was
right after that that he got the call from Bowdoin.
In Brunswick we had a farm, a gentleman’s saltwater farm. I used to walk out at
low tide to go out to the mud flats and daydream there too. I remember walking back
from the flats and running into a young deer. We stared at each other for a long time; I
was only vaguely aware o f wild animals then, and I think the deer was too young to
realize how dangerous humans are. So we stared at each other for a long time, it was a
very moving experience. Again, I thought about it and I realize that the deer didn't know
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that humans were dangerous, so we just stood there looking at each other. I have another
memory about the farm of walking across a field, I was very young, only about 6 or 7,
and I thought I saw a bobcat that was going to step right in my path, we were real close to
each other, and I said to myself that's an awfully big cat. In fact, I'd never seen a cat that
big. We were about 10 feet away and it hissed at me to make me stop, it wanted to go
straight ahead and it didn't want to be bothered with this human. It knew the human was
harmless enough to scare off, so the hiss was very loud, so I stopped and ran.
I have three siblings. The two girls, my sisters were very artistic. My brother is
kind of an outgoing type. I admired him because he had lots of girls, and drove cars and
all these things. He later turned out to be an academic, a headmaster. He was kind of a
hero in World War II. He was a naval aviator and in the second phase of the war he had
attacked Taiwan, Japan and so on, so he was kind of a hero. My mother was kind of
distant, a pleasant person, but sort of distant, that's just my point of view anyway. My
mom was kind of in the background; don't forget this was a long time ago before
feminism. My father was very gregarious, and he loved company. He loved food, he
loved to cook and stuff, he was different in that way.
I grew up in a neighborhood that was very mixed. My town was more than half
French-Canadian; this was in Brunswick. Half my gang was French-Canadian and half
the time you heard French spoken. You didn't think it was strange at all; it was a part of
life. The French kids went to parochial schools and it was all in French. My dad was well
off being a college professor, but the kids right next door were real poor. They were so
poor they didn't have a car; they had a horse and buggy. They didn’t have a father either.
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Their mother was a single woman, so they didn't have much money at all. Anyway, I got
in trouble with those kids. I did get over it though. I think growing up with those kids in
that town was important. In a way I was a part of two worlds, one well off and one poor.
My Dad was from Brunswick; he was the only male in his family who went to
college. The rest of them became fisherman and clam diggers I had the experience like
going from a local high school to an elite academy, of living in a town that was middleclass in a situation where my relatives were blue-collar class. It used to bother me
because as a faculty kid, I should have had some standing, but I didn’t. Other kids just
seemed to be all middle class. But anyone who knew me knew that I had poor relatives,
which bothered me as a kid, but I think it was a healthy experience. I was a Yankee in a
town that was mostly French Canadian, it was two-thirds French-Canadian, so I was a
minority.
I was kind o f a joker always making fun of things. I would seek out the humor in
situations. I think I know where it was from. When I was 14 or 15,1 had a pal and his
mother was a very pleasant, upper-class woman. She had adopted two boys and one was
my age, and he sort of imitated me. She also adopted an older child, who was always
joking, and I think I imitated him. She would invite the minister of the congregational
church who was friends with widows, and professors and such, this older boy she had, 3
or 4 years older than I was, he would say to the minister, “Hey, I saw you steal that
drumstick from the turkey!” That guy was a big influence on me because I would imitate
him to look for the ridiculousness in a situation, and sometimes going too far and being
irritating.
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Adolescence was kind of unpleasant for me. You know, oncoming sexuality the
early years. In fact, I somewhat acted-up with shoplifting, vandalism and the like. I would
steal minor things. I haven't the slightest idea what I was acting out. I think I was in some
ways a terrible kid. I went to Fryeburg Academy, which was a high school for the area
and a private school for out o f towners. It was a mixture of kids. I had a pretty good time
there and I sort of started dating. I think I got over that sort of bad period then. I didn't
study very hard then, although I can remember one professor in geography class. He was
talking about something called parallel lines. I can remember looking at the illustration
in the book and I thought gee, that really makes sense these people are trying to teach me
something.
After a year or so at Fryeburg, I moved to a very fancy boarding school in
Connecticut. I went because my dad knew the headmaster and it was a good opportunity
for me. I suddenly went from this kind of backwoods Maine high school to a school for
very wealthy American kids. It was the first time I met kids from Pennsylvania, New
Jersey, Hawaii, all over. There were a lot of foreign students. There were Dupont’s
there, and Igor Sikorsky’s son; his son and I were pals. It was then that I started to work
academically; I realized that school meant something. I kind o f realized that this was
where I was headed in the future. Prior to that, I had no idea of the future at all, just hellraising, dating and stuff. This was an all-boys school and I realized that this is what life
was all about, going on to college, it's all business. The teachers were better there and we
had a dress code. I think that part of our schooling was supposed to prepare us for
middle-class and upper-class life. I was with wealthy kids and I was an anomaly because
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I was from Maine. They'd say how come you're not wearing a checkered shirt and boots?
They were joking, but I was kind of like an outsider. I made good friends at the boarding
school, but I was an anomaly because I came from Maine. Here I was from Maine, no
one ever comes from Maine, you would summer there. I went to an elite school, but I
wasn't elite.
I think both schools had a tremendous influence in my life because I saw two
different sides of society, like I did in back in Brunswick. After the 2 years in prep
school, I came back to Brunswick and went to Bowdoin. My dad was teaching there then
and I thought Bowdoin was somewhat overrated, but I went anyway. What happened to
me was I kind of reverted. I joined this fraternity, not as bad as Animal House, but it was
pretty bad, just drinking and carrying on. I lost that advantage that the fancy boarding
school gave me.
I went to graduate school after that, and I was really at loose ends. The Korean
War came along and I kind of realized I was floundering. I wasn't doing well in graduate
school. I really didn't know what I was going to do. I went to Harvard, but I got kicked
out because my grades weren't good. So I was really at loose ends. It was at the start of
the Korean War and I decided to volunteer rather than get drafted. If you volunteered to
go, it only cost you 3 years. You could also go to the Draft Board and say, “I want to be
drafted,” and they'd move your name at the head of the card file. If you did that, you
only had to go for 2 years, so I did that and got drafted. I waited around to get drafted,
they told me it was going to be a matter of weeks, this was in May. I didn't get drafted
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until October. So I had this kind of vacation where I lived in a cabin in Harpswell with
some cousins.
In the Army I got sent to Germany. By that time, it wasn't a cold war, by then it
had become pretty warm. I found out that if you were accepted by a college you could get
out of the army a little early, the army would let you go. I wasn't serious about anything
and I didn’t know what I was going to do. Living down south, in North Carolina sounded
good to me so I applied got accepted at the University of North Carolina, so they ushered
me out of the army a month or two short of my time. Going into the army I think was a
very intelligent thing, because I kind o f realized that fooling around, both at Bowdoin and
at graduate school, where I didn't apply myself vigorously, would not get me far. The
idea in the back of my head was that the army is a grown up experience. Yes, that
certainly was a hard decision; it was a very good one though.
After leaving the Army, I just drifted along on the GI Bill, which was very
enticing, because as long as you got accepted they would pay for any place you wanted to
go. I took advantage o f the GI Bill to go back to graduate school. I also chased two or
three women around down there. I hung out with a group of southerners that I just kind of
fell in with. I was a Yankee in rebel land; they couldn’t help but make jokes about it. I
had a southern girlfriend, an aristocratic southerner at that. They treated me fine, but they
would make jokes. I’m not a forward person, I don't rush out and do things; I like to wait
and see before I act. When I was in the army coming to the end o f those 2 years, I think I
just took the easiest path to continue going to school; because it was available and it was
a good thing to do.
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At Carolina there was a visiting scholar from England who was an Anglo-Saxon
professor. By this time I was going for a Ph.D. I had gotten my MA from Harvard, but I
hadn't made any big plans around my dissertation. There was a long Anglo Saxon poem
called Beowulf and we had to learn Anglo-Saxon to read it. I suddenly realized I knew
something about that poem; I could see it right in the poem, and that later became my
Ph.D. Dissertation. I didn't do it there though; I did it in Boston at Boston University.
While I was at Carolina, I met this friend of my sister’s who asked me what I was
going to use all this education for. She suggested I try teaching so I headed east and
that’s how I got this job at Curry College. I haven’t had to make too many big decisions,
but it ended up being a big decision because it moved me from North Carolina to Boston.
I didn't consciously make the decision; well, I thought, yes, I ought to try out college
teaching to see if I liked it. Even if I disliked teaching I could still get my Ph.D. in music
or something else, I could do something else. The one thing the GI Bill did was it gave
you time to think about things, actually in my case maturing. In that way, I know I
consciously decided to continue school until I decided what to do. Because I realized that
more and more schooling is always good. I decided to keep my momentum towards a
Ph.D. so I began taking classes at Boston University and I decided to do my Ph.D. there. I
got my Ph.D. at Boston University and had a job teaching at Tufts for 2 years.
When I got to Boston University, they gathered all the new graduate students
together. But this time it was at a Ph.D. level, and being in Boston I got to know some of
them. But what would happen is they would go off and teach and sometimes they would
not come back. At that time, college teachers were in short supply, so there was a lot of
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demand for college teachers. One thing I realized was that people were giving up. They
said they were just going to take 2 years off to make money and come back, but they
didn't. For all those who started to get their Ph.D., not many finished. So I did make a
conscious decision I've got this GI Bill, I'm not going to go off and teach anymore until I
have my Ph.D. I had already taught at Curry, and I was teaching part-time at BU. I
decided that I was going to stay with this thing until I got it, because I saw other people
were making this mistake of going off and never coming back. That was an important
decision. I guess I'm sort of pragmatic that is I see what happens to other people, and
learn from them.
When I was at BU, I spent 2 years in Southeast Asia in Laos. I had a small grant
to study Pung dialect. Laos has about 30 different groups all mixed together and from the
village I was at I could see the two neighboring villages and they had a whole different
ethnic group entirely. That was quite an experience. I got dysentery there and became
very thin; I used to be kind of fat and I lost 80 pounds within about 3 weeks. It was quite
an experience. I guess I've added some, but nothing like I used to be, I was kind of
chubby then, it’s a great diet plan, but you get weird dreams though, and you’re always
sitting on the toilet. It’s strange, but I knew the minute I was going to get it. Once we
were going down the Mekong River, and that was the best way to move, going down the
river, so I got a ride with a police chief in an outboard motor boat. We had about a 3 hour
trip and he handed me a rice ball, he had a little package of stuff there in a wrapper. I was
always careful about food in those parts, but you had to get to know someone based on
mutually courtesy like that; it was very strong in those parts. I knew that I should take it
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because he offered it to me and I thought “I’m okay, because rice is cooked.” I bit into it
and I could feel the crunch of raw vegetables. I could have spit it out, but I couldn't. In a
social situation, that's a terrible thing to do, and with a police chief, you might end up in
jail, so I didn't. And that's how I got dysentery. He did me a favor in a sense, actually.
I had a nice experience in Laos; I was working with a fellow. He was an older
man, I was about 30, this was in 1960/61, and he was in his 60s at the time. He'd go to
some American do-good organizations and he'd wrangle medicines that were out of date,
he’d get a whole batch of them. Then he would go set up a clinic. He had been a sheriff in
Los Angeles and I didn’t have any medical training. There were no doctors at all, no
nurses, nothing. These people had sores, they'd cut themselves and get infected, and
there was endemic malaria, baby’s sniffling all the time. We would get long lines at the
clinic and they didn't have the slightest idea of what he was up to, but he would get Vicks
Vapor Rub, it was like a jelly, women would bring in these babies with awful sniffles and
he'd feed it to them. I said is that baby going to die from that? We did end up helping
these people though and it was a wonderful experience. Even though we didn't know very
much, we knew a lot more about health than these people. We knew that you ought to
wash out a gash and stuff and it was a lot better than doing nothing. They were very
traditional people. I remember a little stream running through a village, and the villagers
were very careful. They'd take the water from the top of the gorge and do their washing
downstream. But they never thought about the 10 or 15 villages upstream from them they
were doing the same thing.
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I remember there was a guy, a Filipino, what he did, he got some outfit to fund
him, he was a doctor and he had a hospital boat sort of, or a clinic boat. He had this boat
and he had three of the prettiest nurses, but the same thing, he went around treating
people. We would indirectly help people, because we all knew about the same amount. I
would tell people anytime they had a scrape to just wash it off and try to clean it out with
at least boiled water, it was very elementary. The Laotians are very nice people. I was
there a little more than a year.
Because of my research, I had lots of opportunities to teach. I sort of followed in
the footsteps of my father who was an English teacher. I decided to return to Maine and I
negotiated a job at Orono, the University o f Maine home campus. I also heard that they
were creating another campus called the University of Southern Maine in Portland, so
after a year at Orono I decided to go there. They really wanted to staff this university, in
Southern Maine here in Portland, so I moved down here and spent the rest of my teaching
career there.
The University of Maine in Portland is kind of like a subway college, and a lot of
students work in the afternoons. Its funny, I can remember getting angry with a pal of
mine in the army who used to tell me to me “I know what you're going to be,” I said “What?” And he said, “You're going to be a wooly professor at some half-ass
university.” And that's exactly what it was when it first started, half-assed. Before the
University o f Maine acquired it, the Portland campus was a junior college and they used
people from junior college as teachers. It was an odd collection of people that started it
off. Instead of having all Ph.D.'s, they had all sorts of people. One of the teachers was
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some guy who was a manager of a local clothing store, a sort of businessperson/teacher.
It was a hodgepodge. It was just what that guy in the army said. It's got a very good
reputation now and it’s got good faculty now. I never did publish much at Southern
Maine because they weren't too anxious to get people published, they didn't insist on it.
So I got tenure without having to publish much at all. I published a few things and within
a few years the whole atmosphere had changed, because there were suddenly too many
people with Ph.D.'s, and the university was getting better and better. They became more
intent on scholarship
Soon after I started at the University of Southern Maine they merged our group,
which was a unit o f the University of Maine, and teachers' college, at Gorham. Our
English department was merged with their English department and it got to be a terrible
power struggle. I didn't realize how awful it was, it took all the joy out of teaching, it was
terrible because every staff meeting you went to there was always a power straggle. The
staff from Gorham had identical feelings; some got other jobs elsewhere, some moved
into non-teaching jobs. It was just a bad experience. It was probably good for the students
because they had a much larger English department. I tried to ride it out and enjoy the
teaching, which I really did enjoy the first few years. After that, it became just a job and
it was that way until I retired. I started maybe in the early '70s, and it just went on for
years, just kept going. One side would try to take over the chairmanship and fire the other
side. Then there was the chairman who had a fistfight. Well, that was the general
atmosphere. I used to think it was like the Russian Polit bureau. Every meeting your
stomach would chum. There were years and years of that, and there was such paranoia.
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For some reason, I used to want to teach out at Gorham more than Portland because the
students were somewhat more collegiate than in Portland. It was a very attractive
campus, and I got really friendly with someone who was on the opposite side, in the
biology department and he would tell how badly he was treated by the Portland biology
department. I hadn't thought about retirement, so I ran over a couple of years after 65.1
had a heart attack and retired after that. I figured that if I waited long enough, it would
become clear what I should do, and it did.
I had a big revelation during the 60s. I use to hate administrators, because as a
teacher you see how self-serving the administrators can be. So I really enjoyed all that
trouble on campus in the 60s. At that time, the university faculty doubled, but the
administration grew by 800%, administrators hiring secretaries, it corrupted the whole
system. The 60s didn’t cure it, but it sure shook them up. It was also an awakening. I’m
very pragmatic, I don't have many high ideals, and I didn't think much about politics at
that time, but I was a product of what's called the silent generation, the 50s; no one
protested anything. I suddenly realized, the whole 60s/70s thing, what a revelation that
was. There were a lot of traditional ways you could think of things, and they were wrong.
I knew Blacks were being lynched in the South, I knew it and I didn’t like it. The Civil
Rights thing sort of woke you up. It was the same thing for Women’s Rights. I knew for
years that women didn’t have the advantages of men but the women’s movement woke
you up.
I remember the students then, and they didn't respect the professors, but they
treated you like an equal. My colleagues were mostly upset but I thought it was a pretty
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good idea. I saw how terrified the administration was and realized that they were sort of
paper tigers. As far as Vietnam, I was always a cold warrior because I had been in the
army in Germany. The Russians could have captured Germany in about 4 days, and they
were organized. The Warsaw Pact was obviously ready to invade Western Europe. In
Laos, the atrocities you heard about that happened over in China, they were the same
people that we were with - 1 wasn't anti-war, I couldn't make up my mind, but I wasn't
against the war.
I had a very interesting experience then with some students. In the 60s there were
so many wild things going on and I was sitting in the cafeteria at the University of
Southern Maine and it was Friday afternoon. Some kids came in and said; “You want to
go see a holy man?” I said “Sure” that's the way things were in those days. The kids
knew I had a car, so we all piled in my car and I said, “Where is the holy man?” And they
said, “He's in Meredith, New Hampshire at Salem State College,” which was a hell of a
ways. We finally got there and there was this holy man and they told me that he was a
Harvard Professor. So we drove up and there was a mass of people, young students, and
we found a place where he was. It was so crowded we had to stand outside and look in at
him. I didn't think he looked like a holy man at all. I was looking at this guy, his name
was Ram Dass, and he was sitting on a rock, and he had Hindu clothes on and incense
burning around him and he was chanting a mantra. I was a college professor myself, and I
was mad at the students and myself for getting me into this. Here I was and there was this
guy, Ram Dass, who had flowers in his hair, and me having to stand, hungry and tired.
This was about 7:00 or 8:00 o'clock and I hadn't eaten since. So I looked around the hall
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for people to hate I said to myself, look at that guy, who does he think he is? Ram Dass
was sitting in a Hindu position and he would chant, then he would give little talks. He
had bells on his feet that he rang once in a while. O f course we university professors
wore suit coats and here he was in these flowing robes. After awhile you would listen to
him and boy, what a powerful affect he had. I ended up enthralled. It was a real message
of love. He had a book called “Re Here N ow” and he really turned me on. His message
was around friendship, love and affection. But he taught it very well. He had this poster
with a huge ice cream cone with rays of light shooting from it and the point was, let's eat
an ice cream, won't that be fun? Then, after you eat the ice cream you think, maybe we’ll
eat another ice cream cone and it never ends. In my case, I think I was always thinking
that if I achieved such-and-such I would be happy, and I wasn’t. I used to think that once
I get my Ph.D., all this worry and fussing will be done. So when I did get it, I had a slight
depression. It was like a fog and it lasted 6 hours. It was kind of like you passed the
exam, and I said, at this point in my life I should be happy. But I was happy for about 6
hours and by mid-afternoon I was right back in the same depressed state. We have a high
demand civilization. People are expected to achieve great things. I think that makes a
very successful culture but it produces people who are almost always in sort of a funk, a
need to always be at work or someplace else. But as you get older, you realize that it
doesn’t matter. Ram Daas taught me about that big ice cream cone, that if you keep
looking at something in the future that's going to make you happy, you’re never going to
be happy. “Be Here Now ” was the name of his book; it talked about the idea that the only
happiness was in the present. He had this one story he told, there was a holy man and he
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had a young disciple. The disciple had a chicken. He told the young disciple to go and
kill this chicken where no one could see. But the disciple came back and told the holy
man that the chicken could see, so he could not kill it. Anyway, the New York
intellectuals picked him up; they said he was wonderful. Then he got mixed up years
after with some woman. This woman and Ram Daas taught a course on celibacy and
they got a whole bunch o f people to be celibate, a commune type of thing. Someone
found out that Ram Daas was sneaking to her bedroom at night and he lost all of his
followers, but I think I showed wisdom by saying so what? Any wisdom I have, I think
he put it together for me.
I had another very moving experience. You know the ramp going up to the Tobin
Bridge? I was going up there at rush hour one day and I ran out of gas. At that point I
just thought how stupid I was, and then I heard a horn honking at me. It was a purple
Volkswagen bus and this guy got out dressed like Robin Hood. He had a green cap, a big
long bow swung over his shoulder and a gas can. He walked up to my car and began
pouring the gas in. I was so terrified I didn't want to get out of the car. At this point,
other people were honking and yelling. He put that gas in there, so I took some money
out and he said, “Never mind,” and went back. That's when I really realized what the '60s
was about, what a thing to do for somebody. That's the way people should be all the time.
It was a wonderful experience. There's a better way of human relations I believe. Most
people think, I’m glad it wasn’t me, and speed up, but the better way is to slow down and
give a guy some gas. It was a very moving experience. I tell my friends I hope to live
long enough to see it cycle back, back to the '60s. People were genuinely nice to each
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other, for no reason at all. It didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor. When you'd go
into a bunch of students, you were accepted, they accepted each other and they didn’t
worry about what a person was like. Also, as a college professor people sometimes cow
towed to you. So when they stop cow towing to you, to give a better grade or something,
it's a wonderful feeling; it’s good to get rid of that ego thing. It’s nice to be with a group
of people who are not feeding off of egos. The most powerful experiences of my life
were in the '60s. So to see big institutions like universities that people had respect for sort
of collapse, and see something based on kindness and equality, it’s very radical, and more
like the Founding Fathers.
During the time I was at USM, I was in that marriage that wasn’t so hot. I didn't
like being married. I'm not sure if the trouble with Gorham and Portland started at that
point or not, but I was a generally unhappy person. I got married, kind of reluctantly, and
after 7 years we had a friendly divorce. I didn't like the idea of marriage. We're still
friends. She either realized my attitude or had one herself. I got married without really
every talking about children, and I’ve always wanted some. It turned out that she didn’t
want them at all, and I realized that she would not make a good mother. That was
something I regretted, but those regrets kind of evaporated. I have lots of friends with
kids. I’ve had the fun of watching them go off to college and unlike their parents, not
worrying about them, although I once lent a friend’s daughter my car because she and her
roommate had an old heap. I was thinking that they would wreck my car and I would
lose my insurance. But when they got back I was extremely happy because I realized I
made them happy.
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I think that this is the happiest period in my life. For one thing, I realize that old
friendships and love are much more important than most anything. In terms of money,
I’m very fortunate financially. There's something that I’m very aware of, that I’ve been
very lucky in life, I never have worked very hard. It a secret, but college teaching is not
very hard at all. As far as the hours or demands, it’s quite easy. But do you get smarter or
wiser as you get older? I tend to be a pragmatist, and I never understood what the
philosophy was at all. I guess enjoying life.
I have been very lucky. I think it’s my easy-going personality. I got this place
where I live from a wealthy widow next door, we used to date. She is from Guatemala
and years ago I took her out when we were teenagers. Then she showed up with a grown
family and wanted my help with placing her daughter and son in college. We had this
arrangement where we bought two cottages; they were on the market for a long time and
we wanted a summer place to come and see the kids. I was able to help her do this being
an American citizen. I really don’t worry about money or where I’ll live, because I’ve
had this sort of luck. The GI Bill, for example, paid for my Ph.D. The wisdom I have is
that I can always wrangle something like this. Luckily, college teachers have or had a
very good retirement, so I make more retired than I did when I was working. Because I've
been so lucky all my life, I think I had an advantage about making good, wise choices.
A friend of mine had five kids and he was trying to keep two wrecks of cars
going, and finally the transmission went in one, so I bought him a new transmission. I
guess the only wisdom I have is I'm okay financially; I'm willing to give people money;
maybe a couple thousand or something like that. I can see for them that that's an awful lot
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of money if they have a big family. It’s just an opportunity for me to share things. I had a
very interesting experience that relates to this once.
When I was a kid about 9 or 10 years old, it was the tail end o f the Depression,
about '39 and I was in this gang that had these two poor kids next door, and three FrenchCanadian kids, middle-class kids. At that time, having a dime or a quarter was quite
something. Well, one day I was walking along and I saw this money on the ground. We
always played outside all the time and I really looked up and down the street to make
sure none of my gang would see me, so I grabbed all this money and thought; the hell
with those guys. I was really sneaky, and I headed for a store, but not the one in our
neighborhood. Every neighborhood had a store then, and I went to one where I knew my
pals wouldn't see me and I bought all this candy, stuff I'd looked at for years and couldn't
buy because it was 15 or 20 cents. I bought all this stuff, then went out and started eating
it. I didn't go back to my neighborhood, I headed out somewhere else. I felt awful about
it, that I didn't share this stuff. That was a very deep experience. Maybe it’s the reason I
don’t worry about money now. I felt awful that I hadn't shared this with anybody. I think
it was a very powerful experience. I can still see that money on the ground, looking up
and down; making sure that my buddies didn't see me. That was a very powerful
experience for me. I couldn't enjoy the candy at all. All these goodies that I could never
buy before were like ashes in my mouth. I think it's a type of wisdom, that I can't enjoy
things by myself if I can't share them. I've been always uneasy that I've had more money
than other folks.
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I’ve got another take on wisdom, that you can often see all the faults of your
friends, but you know you can’t change them so it's kind of a wisdom when you don't
make fun of, or you don't get angry at your friends for what you think are foolish things.
That’s in part being aware that you are getting crankier, and to compensate for that you
consciously avoid correcting your friends again, it’s very pragmatic and not overly
philosophical. I drive slower as I get older because I’m not a good driver; I get crankier
as I get older too. I’m in my 70s now, so I try to avoid criticizing or getting mad at
people. Yes, wisdom is adjusting to the process of old age, things that happen.
This is the best part o f my life, being retired, but also I’ve got lots of friends and I
really enjoy being with them. I’m scared of dying, but less and less so now. I was
terrified when about three months ago I had a prostrate cancer check. The doctor's office
called and said, “You’ve got to come in and talk to the doctor,” and I thought I had
prostate cancer; I was terrified, but it turned out to be okay. You have fears, you know
you're going to die, but for some reason it gets less and less terrifying as time goes by. I
don't know why.
I found out a lot about myself, just going over this stuff. As you write this up
you'll probably have a better profile of me than I do. It will be interesting to look at it.
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Findings
In interviewing these individuals, I was struck by their ability and comfort level
around reminiscing and constructing a coherent life story, as well as the extent to which
world events like the Great Depression or W W II had on the development and
perceptions of this cohort of participants. Each participant had read the list of questions
sent out in advance as well as the overall purpose of the research and was interested in
the process as well as what might come of it. My list of questions and probes around life
transitions, and wisdom were useful in guiding each individual, but once they achieved a
level of comfort with me as an interviewer/researcher each person’s story took its own
course.
As previously stated, I believe that most adults exhibit an “ordinary wisdom” at
some time in their lives just by the nature of their life experiences, providing they have
the cognitive capacity to learn and grow from them. That said, research also shows that
those whose lives put them in daily contact with situations and people who are looking
for advice in the difficult and important aspects of life, build more competence in
practicing wisdom than those whose lives do not (Baltes et al., 1995; Staudinger et al.,
1998). More specifically, research has shown that counselors, psychologists and others
in the helping professions perform better than controls on measures of wisdom. In this
study, I was able to select a group of retired counselors and psychologists who were also
professors as well as noted scholars. Using the available wisdom research literature and
theory to select participants allowed me to focus on how wisdom may be developed and
experienced as opposed to measuring wisdom-related knowledge. My primary task in this
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research was to review the individual life experience of these wise people to achieve a
fuller understanding of the development of wisdom. I feel that it is important to uncover
more complex themes or aspects of the phenomenon that are often lacking in more
quantitative approaches. To achieve this I set out to look for patterns and themes that
naturally emerged from each participant’s own story, to see how or if current wisdom
theories helped illuminate the development of wisdom within each participant’s life. To
understand the development of wisdom, I felt it important to gain insight into how these
individuals negotiated success and failure, and how they integrated these learnings’ into
their lives, as well as the impact this had in their life’s journey toward wisdom thus far. I
wanted to employ a methodology that allowed each participant to tell his or her life story
in their own words. This way, I felt that I could not only review the chronology of life
events, but the meaning that each participant ascribed to these events.
Interview questions were designed to draw out events and experiences from all
stages of life: memories from childhood, adolescents as well as draw data from
participants relevant to revealing the development of wisdom. Developmental life
themes were drawn from each participant’s transcription.
Interviews were transcribed for “clarity, completeness, and conciseness”
(Atkinson, 1998, p. 54). Using current research on wisdom outlined previously, each
participant’s story was segmented into life themes. As Atkinson described, applying
theory to explain or describe parts of a life story involve movement between the parts and
the whole to discover meaning that helps to describe the whole (Atkinson, 1998). Current
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wisdom theory was then overlaid onto each life story, to look for possible examples of
these theories in the experiences o f the participants’ life, or to best explain life themes.
While I did construct the research questions so that they would aid in drawing out
life experience helpful in researching wisdom, I tried as much as possible to approach
participant’s stories as they were, letting the stories suggest a theoretical explanation
rather than using the stories to prove the existence or superiority of one theory over
another.
In analyzing these life stories, several important developmental themes emerged:
gaining wisdom through hardship and challenge, the impact of place in development (as
defined by history and physical location), and the importance of openness to experience
(i.e., chance or serendipity), to the development of wisdom. I found these developmental
themes common among these participants (not necessarily the specific experience). These
themes suggested the importance of several influential theories underlying the
development of wisdom, such as, Erikson’s life stage theory, Labouvie-Vief s theory of
the balance between cognition and affect, as well as Baltes’s balance theory of wisdom.
However, the life stories told by these individuals suggest a complex interplay of internal
perceptions, proclivities and external events that were beyond the development of
technical expertise/knowledge suggested by current influential wisdom theory. It is to
these developmentally important life events, and their relation to the development of
wisdom that I now turn.
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Gaining Wisdom Through Hardship and Challenge
In developing wisdom, hardship is often seen as a point of growth, rather than a
reason to retreat or become bitter about life. Many people suffer hardship and setback in
life; the difference seems to be those who become bitter and withdrawn as opposed to
those who integrate hardship into a more resilient cognitive/emotional framework. This
resilience is an important component in the development of wisdom. However, this does
not mean that those who demonstrate resilience never experience setbacks or periods of
withdrawal, it suggests that in the long run, these individuals are able to integrate
hardship into their lives in a way that enhances growth.
As previously stated, wisdom is in part a social phenomenon in several important
ways. First, for wisdom to exist, it has to be witnessed and judged publicly. Second, the
development of wisdom is shaped by history-important events and changes in the socialcultural milieu. It was remarkable to witness the power that several major historical
events had on participants’ lives in this study. As in Elder’s research (1974, 1981), all of
the people in this study belonged to a cohort who grew up or were greatly impacted by
two events in history—the Great Depression and World War H. For Ben McCord and
William Tate, these events were and are a powerful influence in how they think and make
sense of their lives. As an example, Ben McCord talks about the effect rationing during
the depression had on his life: “Of the things that have had a great impact on my life, I
would say that the depression and the war had a marked effect. If I ’m writing a
manuscript, I still write small to save paper. You save things, you save them for
survival” Similarly, William Tate talks of the effect the war and the depression had on his
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psyche: “Being in Appalachia, our town never had good times, but during the depression
it had really bad times . . . I was very shaken by the war. Just the consciousness, it
invaded everyone’s consciousness.”
For Ben McCord, World War II and the depression arrived as he entered early
adulthood, a formative time in a young man’s life. His experience in the Canadian
Armed forces during the Second World War came at a time and stage in his life that
seemed especially formative for him, where he was open to the difficult lessons that a
close proximity to such a war would bring. Specifically, this experience was related to his
connection to the fighter pilots of the Canadian Air force. He experienced the courage
and skill of these young fighter pilots and his relationship with them had a direct impact
in his career:
Toward the end of my Air Force stint, we had all of these war hero pilots,
who came back with lots of ribbons. When they came out, they would go
back to being whatever they were before and we had to do something to
sort of get them adjusted to civilian life. They were on average about 10
years older than most soldiers and had shot down many planes. They were
at the top of their game but were having a rugged time. Somebody in
charge must have heard that I was able to get along with these guys. I
always got along with people, whether my students were in Grade 1 or in
the Air Force. The boss man somewhere along the line said, “Hey, we’re
working on this program to get these folks into society again, would you
like to be a part of it?” and I said “Sure.” So that was the way I ended up
working in that area. I read Carl Rogers “Nondirective Counseling" and
thought that there might be something to this.
The war also had a profound impact on other important parts of Ben’s life experience;
his relation with his mentor Gibo, his decision to move from teaching to counseling
psychology and finally into academia with the GI Bill. Also, it was the war that brought
Ben and his first wife together.
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Another example of Ben’s ability to reflect upon and integrate hardship and
difficulty was outside of the war or the depression. Doug experienced two failed
marriages during his life. His first wife left him without warning after 29 years of
marriage. Ben was devastated at first and even contemplated suicide. In fact, this part of
his life is still difficult for Ben. However, upon reflection, he is able to gain a perspective
on this difficult time in his life and move on better for it. In reflecting on his divorce, he
states
If you are going to be a person you have to be open to everything. This
means that some cherished things that you thought were reality are not,
and you have to accept it. They’re not reality, you’ve made them up.
Later he attributes his ability to learn from this difficulty and a latter divorce as a basis
for wisdom:
I think my two divorces make me wiser if you will and hopefully better as
a human being. These things tend to make you more accepting, and I don’t
mean in a passive way, but in an inward way. I think if you are wise you
are at peace with yourself. On the whole, I think you’re not consumed
with anger or guilt.
For William (Bill) Tate, the war and the depression were also formative. Bill was
younger than Ben when the war and the depression came to his town in Appalachia. As
he describes them, memories of these events take on a more sensory quality, people
coming to his parents’ back door to ask for food, flags hung in windows, the troop trains:
I was a junior warden, which meant that I had an armband and a flashlight;
supposedly I was on the lookout. We would have drills looking for
enemies, or course the only enemies that ever came as far inland as West
Virginia were the troop trains, German troops, prisoner o f war trains. I can
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remember the scrap paper drives, and how that was the competition all
over school. How much paper would you get? The rationing. My
mother would send me to the grocery store early on Saturday morning so
she wouldn’t have to stand in line to get sugar for canning. The local daily
newspaper building was right next door to our house. So I always knew
when the presses would run because it was an afternoon paper and the
presses would start running about 12:30 and the paper would be out and
ready for sale by 3:00. If I ever heard the presses at a different time than
that I knew there was something going on, probably with the war and a
special edition was printing. It was a sensory time. Things that I saw;
some things I heard, the heat of summer; those are the memories.
For most of the participants in this study, living through the depression and the
war had an impact on the way they experienced, remembered and reflected on key life
events. For Andrew Lord, the reoccurring theme of being connected yet separate from
the friends and environment he was a part of, his emotional sense of right and wrong and
his deep awareness of his actions and their impact others feelings seemed to be
foreshadowed by his recounting o f an event from his childhood in the depression years:
When I was a kid about 9 or 10 years old, it was the tail end of the
depression, about '39 and I was in this gang that had these two poor kids
next door, and three French-Canadian kids, middle class kids. At that
time, having a dime or a quarter was quite something. Well, one day I was
walking along and I saw this money on the ground. We always played
outside all the time and I really looked up and down the street to make
sure none of my gang would see me, so I grabbed all this money and
thought; the hell with those guys. I was really sneaky, and I headed for a
store, but not the one in our neighborhood. Every neighborhood had a
store then, and I went to one where I knew my pals wouldn't see me and I
bought all this candy, stuff I'd looked at for years and couldn't buy because
it was 15 or 20 cents. I bought all this stuff, then went out and started
eating it. I didn't go back to my neighborhood, I headed out somewhere
else. I felt awful about it, that I didn't share this stuff. That was a very deep
experience. Maybe it’s the reason I don’t worry about money now. I felt
awful that I hadn't shared this with anybody. I think it was a very powerful
experience. I can still see that money on the ground, looking up and down;
making sure that my buddies didn't see me. That was a very powerful
experience for me.
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Andrew’s reflection on this childhood event suggests his ability to learn and grow
from life events that are difficult or painful. The financial hardship experienced by those
who lived through the depression offer many similar life lessons such as the one
articulated by Bill (Ardelt, 1988), but not everyone who lived through that period can
exhibit this ability. Bill’s ability to reflect and draw such powerful life lessons and
integrate them into his life suggests an underlying cognitive ability/complexity described
by theorist like Labouvie-Vief (1985a, 1985b, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2000).
For Ann Carter, the depression seemed to suggest a hurdle to be overcome to
achieve her hopes o f attending college. Interestingly, she did not see the depression as a
final, deciding factor in that she maintained a sense of confidence about her future
college hopes in spite o f her father having lost his savings in the bank crash leading up to
the depression:
I remember with some distinctness when I was about 6 or so that
whenever there was any discussion about the future and any talk about
college it was always very much up in the air whether it would be possible
to do, because my father had saved money and then lost it in the bank
crash, but there was always this kind of lure that I was going to do this
somehow.
It is important to note that while each of these individuals experienced the war
and the depression differently, each placed a good deal of weight in the importance that
these events and this time had in their lives. The interesting thing about this group of
participants is not that they survived the depression, many have been able to achieve this,
it is the way that each o f the participants was able to integrate their experiences into
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themselves in a constructive way. Each of the participants approached this and other
difficult life events in a way that allowed them to learn from the experience and to
integrate these learnings into their makeup. This ability to negotiate the difficulties in life
in ways that keep the ability to leam from them open, to approach difficulties with an
underlying confidence that if they cannot be overcome, they can at least be lived with, is
an important predictor of longer-term mental health in general, and wisdom in particular:
“The secret of wisdom is less likely to lie in what one experiences during one’s life than
in how one deals with these events” (Ardelt, 1988).
Wisdom and a Sense of Place
If you don’t know where you are, says Wendell Berry, you don’t know
who you are. (Stegner, 1992, p. 20)
I am bound to the earth by a web of stories, just as I am bound to the
creation by the very substance and rhythms of my flesh. By keeping the
stories fresh, I keep the places themselves alive in my imagination. Living
in me, borne in my mind these places make up the landscape on which I
stand with familiarity and pleasure, the landscape over which I walk when
my feet are still. (Sanders, 1993, p. 150)
I have vivid memories of the paths worn through the woods and fields of a rural
area of southeastern Massachusetts. These memories, of the times that I spent alone
wandering and exploring, remain integral to my identity as an adult. On occasion, I have
gone back to them in my mind, especially at times in life when I needed the solace and
centered feeling these memories provide. I must admit that I had not thought about my
connection to these places and how they orient me until I began to notice how integral
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this sense of place or rootedness was to all of the participants in my study and more
generally to their expression and development o f wisdom.
All o f the participants in this study seem to anchor the descriptions of their lives
in a deeply felt description of place. These accounts are more than a passing description
of background or backdrop to their life stories; they are a description of a deep
connection to the geography o f a place that informs what they describe in their
interviews. For some like Ben McCord, this sense of place has a centering quality,
helping to retain an identity while negotiating the aging process. It serves as both salve
and stone, depending on the particular life circumstance encountered. In this way it seems
to function as a facilitator of wisdom, allowing the possibility of the balance and
judgment required for its emergence.
Sense o f Place
As previously stated, I found that all of the participants in this study seem to
anchor the descriptions of their lives in a deeply felt description of place. Cross’ (2001)
typology provided a useful context to analyze the importance of place, as well as the
different individual expressions o f this category of life experience. Working with Cross’
theory it is possible to overlay important wisdom theorists and relevant components of
their theories on top of Cross’ place topology. This gives a perspective on how place, as
experienced by this studie’s participants could facilitate the development of wisdom.
As previously described, Cross’ matrix outlined the relationship between
different aspects of sense of place. This matrix suggests a relationship between place, a
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type of bond to place and a possible theoretical mechanism that facilitates the
development of wisdom.
In analyzing these life stories, there were three primary place experiences
evident: a spiritual sense/experience of place, a narrative experience/sense of place and a
dependent experience of place. These experiences of place were not mutually exclusive,
one could experience several types of place attachments at once. All of these
experiences appeared to be formative in reviewing the life story data. Examples of the
participant’s experience of place in the context of Cross’ topology are considered next.
Ben McCord describes this spirituality of place in his account of his early life in
the Canadian Rockies:
We lived on the border of Alberta and British Columbia in a place called
Mountain Park. It was at the end of the branch railroad line. It was
beautiful country, the Canadian Rockies. It’s part of my life, the real
woods. Those mountains are really important to me. You know, you get a
certain feeling; it’s spiritual for me.
For Ben, the Canadian Rockies were foundational to his identity as a person; an identity
that he repeatedly refers to and draws from in discussing his life. In another example, Ben
talks about his shooting a moose and then bringing it out of the bush:
There were no signs that said “National Park,” so I didn’t realize that I
was in the park at the time. I heard some rustling in the bushes, I saw it
was a large moose and I shot. Anyway, it was a cow, and I shot it dead on
the trail with a 3006 Smithfield. That gun sounded like a cannon. I
remember hearing this thrashing sound after shooting the cow, it was the
bull, and I just shot his mate! I had my dog Sophie with me and he was
cowering behind me. I was hoping he was going to protect me. The bull
just lumbered away. Looking back on this, I wonder how much I’m
fabricating, because I think it couldn’t be, but yet I did it.
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Ben’s description of this experience gives a glimpse into the development of his
sense o f independence and agency in the context of a deep rootedness in place. This is
the type o f experience he sees as a part of growing up in Mountain Park, amongst the
difficult terrain and the wildlife, which he refers to as “the bush.” Later, in reflecting on
his choice of a retirement community, and his trail building prowess, he again refers to
the spirituality of the place he has chosen to live as he talks about his life at the
Highlands, a retirement community on the central Maine coast:
In a way, this little spot right here is spiritual; I picked this spot
deliberately before these homes were built. So the woods and the
mountains are very much a part of my spirituality. I like to stay active. It’s
like the work I do with my rock gardens and trails. It brings me back to
when I was young. People ask me when I was climbing or hiking in these
remote locations was I scared. Of course I was scared. I would have to
make decisions that had life or death consequences. Making decisions,
my own decisions, is important to me; otherwise life is not worth living. I
don’t want to just remain conscious and propped up in a chair.
Ben’s relationship with the mountains and the woods permeates who he is and
how he has come to know and understand his own spirituality. It also provides him with
a positive outlook on growing older, as well as a sense of purpose. All of these things
provide a facilitative environment in which wisdom can be present (Baltes, 1990).
Because he is a child with limited means to strike out on his own, Bill’s
relationship with his physical environment is largely dependent. In fact, taken by itself,
this experience of his hometown, along with its impact on his self-confidence would
seem to have negative implications for Bill’s ability to negotiate development into
adulthood. From an Eriksonian perspective, mastery of one or more psychosocial stages
essential for the development of wisdom (Industry versus Inferiority, Identity versus
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Identity confusion) would prove difficult.
On the other hand, Bill does experience a
centering component in the physical landscape of his hometown, even though he also
feels a sense of alienation:
Other things I remember are the milieu of the town; it was a railroad town,
a terminal railway with a big river and surrounded by mountains. So I
always felt some sense of place. I could always find the river; I could
always see the mountains. I could always hear the trains. So I just always
knew where I was, which was both good and not so good.
Bill’s relationship with his hometown and his early experience is a complex one.
He represents it as a spiritual connection as well as a dependent relationship with place as
described by Cross (2001).
On one hand, he describes his childhood experience of this
town as having a blue-collar culture, where he feels like an outsider:
As a child, I was not as far along developmentally as my peers. I had
started school a year earlier than the rest of them, and in the town where I
lived it was not known for its openness. It was a blue; it was a very dark
blue-collar town, so I grew up with a pretty sizable amount o f lack of
confidence.
Bill’s experience is an example of the importance of the life history approach in
understanding how place experiences are integrated into identity and the possible
development of wisdom. On the surface, Bill’s experience would seem to get in the way
of his latter development, but it was his use of the experience and the meaning it had for
him, rather than the experience itself that makes the difference in how he constructs his
identity in his life story. In reflecting on his experience, rather than being bitter, he was
able to experience both the alienation and the centering quality contained in his
experience of place. As demonstrated previously, this ability to see a situation for what it
is, to extract meaning and integrate these learnings within one’s self- identity in a
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positive, useful way is an important component of development and of wisdom (Ardelt,
1988, 1997).
Like Bill, Ann Carter’s relationship with place is complex. Her sense of place
contains elements of spiritual, narrative, as well as dependent relationships. She
describes memories of a spiritual connection growing up in the small Oregon town of her
birth:
We lived in a very small town in southern Oregon, east of the Cascades, so
it was on the edge o f the wilderness. It was very beautiful. The town I
lived in was on the shore of a very large lake, and it was about 40 miles
from high mountain areas where there were lots of lakes. So nature was
very important to me as I was growing up. It was the only town for 60
miles in any direction. And so it was a sort of a hub of agricultural and
lumbering industries. But it was 13,000 people or so, so it was a very
small town and it's never gotten any larger.
As an example of Ann’s narrative attachment to place, she described the experience her
father had in settling in the town back in the days of covered wagons and treacherous
crossings:
My father went to this town when he was about 9 years old in a covered
wagon. It was in 1909 when he did this. His father, who was an extremely
interesting man, I didn't know much about him until after my father died,
but he felt as if he had finally found the place that he wanted to be and
then he died 2 years later, which was unfortunate.
Ann also describes her sense that she had outgrown this place, the realization that if she
wanted to really make it, she would need to leave:
Our town was pretty small, but it was a community that one could
participate in. I always had this feeling like someday I wanted to see more
of the world though, and in those days many of the kids that I went to
school with were the children of people in oil companies and they got
transferred all the time. So one of my desires that I never spoke out loud
was that my father would get transferred, but I knew he wouldn't because
he was running his own business.
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Ann’s realization represents a different type of dependent relationship to place.
Unlike Bill, she carries fond memories of the town, although initially bound to it because
of her dependence on her parents. She speaks of wishing her father would get transferred
so she could broaden her horizons. Finally, as an adult, Ann expresses more of a spiritual
connection with her current home in Massachusetts:
We live now in the country on a lake, but we have 30 acres of land and we
live beside a state park, which are mostly undeveloped woods. Being here
and learning about what is here, which is an infinite stimulus, is very
important to me. I think that when I was working it was what I tried to do
when I didn't have too many papers on my desk. It's quite wonderful to be
able to pursue that. I'm a collector o f mushrooms and a gardener.
Finally, Andrew Lord’s sense of place is in large part spiritual. Initially Andrew’s
description of his physical surroundings and their relation to his childhood was more
cognitive:
When I was 3 or 4 we lived on a lake and I had four siblings, I was the
youngest. There were these little brooks that flowed into the lakes and my
dad assigned each of us a brook to look after. Well, one day we were in a
different part of the little town and he pointed out a ditch and said “that's
your brook.” I was about 3 or 4 and I was sort of startled and thought
what’s he talking about? There was a little bit of water flowing out from
the lake, and this was just a roadside ditch. And I guess I realized then
what topology is, that you can be in a different area and sort o f reason out
how get over to here and just by reason figure out where your brook is. It
was a very startling lesson. I wondered about it all these years, it’s kind of
startling. I could actually feel my brain working, trying to figure out what
he meant by this. How can this ditch have to do with a lake and water
flowing out? Then I thought, “Oh maybe it could be above it in some
way.” I know it was a very formative experience. Up until then
everything was just lots of scenes. In this case, two very separate scenes
connected themselves - the lake and my brook. This was in New York
State, a place called Aurora, near Wells College.
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This was a very formative experience for Andrew in that it allowed him to consider how
things worked, and where things were in context. In this sense, his experience was a
cognitive (about thinking) rather than a pure emotional spiritual connection.
Andrew’s sense of place in his description of his father’s study and his comfort in
it seems to foretell his love of learning, which he carries with him to this day:
I also used to daydream in my father’s study when he wasn't there. I would
sit in one o f his leather chairs, I've always liked leather chairs.
Later, Andrew describes his experience on his family’s farm in Brunswick,
Maine. Again, his sense of place while spiritual is experienced as an awakening of his
awareness and understanding of the natural world:
In Brunswick we had a farm, a gentleman’s saltwater farm. I used to walk
out at low tide to go out to the mud flats and daydream there too. I
remember walking back from the flats and running into a young deer. We
stared at each other for a long time, I was only vaguely aware of wild
animals then, and I think the deer was too young to realize how dangerous
humans are. So we stared at each other for a long time, it was a very
moving experience. Again, I thought about it and I realize that the deer
didn't know that humans were dangerous, so we just stood there looking at
each other.
I have another memory about the farm o f walking across a field, I was
very young, only about 6 or 7, and I thought I saw a bobcat that was going
to step right in my path, we were real close to each other, and I said to
myself “that's an awfully big cat.” In fact, I'd never seen a cat that big. We
were about 10 feet away and it hissed at me to make me stop, it wanted to
go straight ahead and it didn't want to be bothered with this human. It
knew the human was harmless enough to scare off, so the hiss was very
loud, so I stopped and ran.
In Andrew’s life story, his self-concept as someone who has a foot in two camps,
a part of two cultures (one poor and one well off and educated). This is intertwined with
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his experience of place: “I think growing up with those kids in that town was important.
In a way I was a part of two worlds, one well off and one poor.”
The role of a sense of place in developing identity and wisdom gets away from
the idea that wisdom is in large part derived from technical expertise. As Chandler and
Holiday (1990) pointed out, focusing on technical expertise has at its roots a need to
control the environ m ent and an over emphasis on it leads to minimizing what Habermas
called “emancipatory knowledge”:
Habermas has argued that the modem tendency to see knowledge in terms
o f technical expertise has obscured the possibility that there actually may
be several related forms of what he characterizes as technical, practical
and emacipatory knowledge-constitutive interests. The underlying interest
in technical knowledge, he argues, is the need to control the natural
environment, our modem tendency to equate all knowledge with it has
blinded us to the need to serve our interests through practical and
emancipatory knowledge.. . His [Habermas] account of emancipatory
knowledge is more elusive but crystallizes around the themes of
promoting rather than restricting human possibilities and of finding
answers to the questions of what we might hope. The point to be made in
reciting these aspects of Habermas’ theory is that notions of technical,
practical, and emancipator knowledge-constitutive interest bears a
remarkable similarity to the dimensions that appear to make up our
common language of wisdom. (Chandler and Holiday, 1990, p. 140)
In this group of participants, a strong sense o f place, although experienced
differently by each, provided a sense of self that facilitated the development and
manifestation of wisdom in each of their lives.
Openness to Experience Wisdom & Serendipity
For the participants in this study, being open to the possibilities created by
serendipitous life events are important factors in the development of their careers and in
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the development of their identity as counselors. As an example, all of the participants talk
about a sense of not being in total control of their life and career paths. This is evident in
Andrew Lord’s story of his chance meeting of Ram Dass. His students convinced him to
go, but Andrew was ambivalent about the trip. Interestingly, Andrew’s experience with
Ram Daas was one of the most influential experiences of his life.
The importance o f chance or serendipity is revealed in William Tate’s life story in
several areas below:
I ’ve always felt like I wasn’t in control of my path. I’ve always thought
God was in control o f my path because the path I’ve taken simply isn’t
explainable in ways that it was me who was in control. As an example,
my first job fell in my lap.
On a lark I made an appointment and they reviewed my resume right on
the spot. The position was a junior high school teacher. I got the job and I
ended up in one of the best kind of arrangements I heard o f . ..
Before I had even finished training, the school district offered me a job as
a school counselor. These are just examples of how everything has fallen
in my lap. Even since then things just keep falling in my lap. It’s either
serendipity or somebody else...
We had a county guidance director, Ephraim Cook. I don’t know how she
got my name but she approached me and said that “Oh we’ve got this
scholarship and I think you’d do well. Will you consider it?”
This same phenomenon is apparent in Ben McCord’s life story as he describes how he
began his teaching career:
My next job was in Edmonton teaching Grade 9 science at the Gamell
School. Gamell was a laboratory school for the University O f Alberta
School Of Education. There was a guy there who had come to interview
someone else for the position. He made a mistake and thought that I was
the candidate for the job. We spent the morning interviewing and he said,
“Well I guess you have it. Would you like to teach at the Gamell
School?” I said sure, and he said, “Well Mr. M cCarthy.. . ” I said, “My
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name’s McCord, not McCarthy” He said, “Well, no matter, you’ve got the
job.
Later, Ben discusses his decision to become a psychotherapist:
The boss man somewhere along the line said, “Hey, we’re working on this
program to get these folks into society again, would you like to be a part
o f it?” and I said “Sure.” So that was the way I ended up working in that
area. I read Carl Rogers “Nondirective Counseling” and thought that there
might be something to this.
Finally, Ann Carter also articulates the role of chance or serendipity as she talks about her
life choices:
Looking back on my life I often think that I didn't really make very many
choices. It was like things happened and then life took up from that point.
I'm sure that at some level one does come to a crossroads when you have
to decide one way or the other, but it never felt that way to me.
These and other examples of serendipity in the life stories of the study participants
suggest an important developmental phenomenon. Although this phenomenon has more
implications than career choice or career development, career choice is a portal through
which serendipity enters each life in this study. For the most part, career development is
one way an individual can find out who he/she really is and can experience a sense of
meaning, wholeness and individuation important to the development of wisdom:
The aim of individuation is to remove from the self the false wrappings of
the persona. Through processes such as the clarification o f interests,
values, skills and personality traits and the examination o f life roles,
clients begin to individuate, to discover their authentic selves, and to
identify their own sense of m eaning... It may be at the point of
transcendence when clients gain insight, have come to trust their authentic
selves, and decide to seek congruent life’s work that meaningful
coincidences tend to occur, whether perceived as pure chance,
happenstance, fate or divine intervention, formerly “unopened and
undiscemed” opportunities are somehow “mysteriously” available.
(Guindon, 2002, p. 196)
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The successful (as defined by each individual) career navigation that each of the
participants has experienced has given them a foundation on which wisdom can rest. The
way in which these participants developed their careers and other important life
experiences has to do with how they navigated what life handed them. Serendipity and
chance seemed to play an important part in each of the participants’ lives as well as their
experience of wisdom.
CHAPTER FIVE: DISCUSSION
In reviewing these life stories, I came to see that certain life events had important
developmental implications for these participants in relation to wisdom.
I found that
certain life themes; the historical context of the depression and World War II, the
developed sense o f place articulated in unique ways by each participant, as well as the
importance of each participant’s openness to life experience or serendipity, to be integral
to the development of wisdom. To that point, I found evidence of several important
wisdom researchers’ work in the lives of these participants; theorists such as Erikson,
Labouvie-Vief, and others. These theorists were helpful in gaining insight into the
logistics of how these life themes influenced the development of wisdom.
I also found the life themes common among these participants went beyond the
technical expertise/knowledge suggested by Baltes (1990,1993). Baltes’ work also
suggests important antecedent factors and mediating processes for acquiring wisdom.
These antecedents occur in three areas: (a) general personal factors including cognitive
mechanics, mental health, social competence and openness to experience; (b) expertise,
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including mentorship and generativity, and (c) facilitative experiential contexts such as
age, education, profession and historical period. These antecedents were prominent in all
four participants’ life stories.
It was evident to me after analyzing participant’s life story data that, as PascualLeone related, wisdom is a holistic concept made up of many interlocking pieces:
The wise individual, although anchored in the present, has dialectically
integrated into a manifold totality the multiple aspects of his or her self­
experience and has done so not just conceptually but experientially (as
empirical self and as existence), historically (as unique historically
conditioned evolving totality immersed in an evolving society), and
culturally (Pascual-Leone, 1990, p. 245).
As outlined below, I found evidence of several influential wisdom theories in
analyzing the life themes of the participants. Specifically, the operating mechanisms
underlying each life theme give evidence to the existence of several influential theories.
Evidence of Existing Wisdom Theory
Gaining Wisdom Through Hardship and Challenge
As previously stated, surviving the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are
not sufficient in developing wisdom. The ability to find meaning in difficult life
circumstances and to draw on that meaning in understanding and helping others
understand difficult and often contradictory life lessons is essential (Berger, Small,
Forsell, Winblad & Backman, 1998; Birren, 1990; Erikson, 1968; Glass & Berkman,
1997; Labouvie-Vief, DeVoe, & Bulka, 1989; Orwoll, 1990; Staudinger et a l, 1997,
1998). This component of wisdom is evident in the way in which all four of this study’s
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participants dealt with and learned from hardship. Ardelt’s (1988) study examining the
role o f the great depression in the development of wisdom, concluded that participants
designated as “wise elders” were “able to mature psychologically through the
experience o f a severe economic crisis, while the psychosocial development of men and
women who faced the same challenges but scored low on wisdom in old age tended to
regress after 1935” (p. 300).
Ardelt’s findings are especially relevant in understanding this study’s participant
group as “wise elders” as well. This ability to negotiate the difficulties in life with an
underlying confidence that difficulties, if they cannot be overcome, they can at least be
lived with, is an important predictor of longer-term mental health in general and wisdom
in particular: “The secret o f wisdom is less likely to lie in what one experiences during
one’s life than in how one deals with these events” (Ardelt, 1988, p. 291).
The ability of the participants to integrate and benefit from difficult life
experience lends support to the theoretical work of Erikson, Labouvie-Vief and Baltes.
For example, the work of Labouvie-Vief suggested the importance of cognitive
complexity in developing wisdom. Erikson implied this in his description of integrity
versus despair and Baltes offered the notion of the importance of contextualisim and
uncertainty in the development and manifestation of wisdom.
As previously suggested, cognitive complexity has been shown to be facilitative
for the development and manifestation of wisdom ( Labouvie-Vief, 1990, 1997, 2000;
Labouvie-Vief & Diehl, 1999). In fact, researchers have established a relationship
between coping style, crystallized intelligence and reflective cognition; important
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components for the development o f wisdom (Labouvie-Vief, 2000). Further, wisdom
requires both the demonstration of cognitive complexity and a mature use of defensive
coping mechanisms affect integration. An example of this idea of cognitive complexity is
apparent in Bill Tate’s description of his relationship with his parents:
There would always be a dialog and it really played itself out with two
philosophies, two views of life. My dad was very calm, very assured, and
very comfortable with his fate. He was very confident that he was being
watched over. My mother was nervous about everything so this played
out every day. Mother would come out with her worries, Dad would be
assuring. Mother would worry, Dad would assure which gave me the
choice of both, so I think I grew up being both able to assure and worry
which at different points in my life one dominated over the other, but that
was kind of how I was introduced to how to think about life which meant
that you could look at it as either worrying about things when you needed
to or being able to assure yourself in other situations.
In this example, Bill is able to integrate both parents seemingly opposite views of the
world into a heuristic that incorporates both in a useful way.
Cognitive Complexity and the Recognition o f Patterns and Connections
Cognitive complexity, the ability to think dialectically and the ability to draw on
life experience are all important factors in the manifestation of wisdom. All of us
experience chance events in our lives, but there is something about those who society
deems successful; like successful entrepreneurs for instance that recognize chance events
for more than they appear to be, turning them into real opportunities. Similarly, the
participants in this study demonstrated the ability to not only recognize chance events as
opportunities, but recognized how these events fit together in a larger picture.
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This idea of recognizing patterns and making connections is also important in
developing the ability to demonstrate wise behavior or give advice that would be
considered wise. An individual with this ability has the tools to help others in making
sense out of difficult or uncertain life events in order to reach a wise decision for
example.
Developing Wisdom and a “Sense o f Place ”
There are several important theorists whose work connects sense of place with
current research on the development of wisdom. In analyzing the importance of this life
theme, I was able to draw on the overlay of Cross’ (2001) theory of place onto the
theories and research of Pascual-Leone (1990), Kramer (1990), Orwoll & Perlmutter
(1990) and Erikson (1980). My goal was to connect the participant’s relationship to
place with current wisdom theory and with the observed life experiences of the
participants. Specifically, each of the relationships to place described by Cross is
connected to a mechanism that helps explain how the experience of place is facilitated by
mechanisms found in the wisdom literature:
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Table 5
Sense of Place and Wisdom Theory
---------------=
------- --------------- -
Relationship to
place (Cross)
Ritual
Type of Bond
(Cross)
Theorist
Feeling a sense o f belonging. simplv felt
rather than created (Cross)
Erikson
Orwoll &
Perlmutter
Narrative
Helps in the navigation between Identity
confusion versus Identity as well as
Isolation versus Intimacy
Facilitates cognitive affective integration by
helping to develop self identity/insight
Kramer
Facilitates interrelated functions of wisdomspiritual introspection
Pascual-Leone
Facilitates adult resolution of contradictory
self-Schemas by grounding identity in sense
of place
Mythical
Learning about a place through stories,
including: creation myths, family histories,
political accounts, and fictional accounts
(Cross)
Erikson, Orwoll
& Perlmutter
B?=coal-T eore
Dependent
Cross's Facilitation Process/MechanismW isdom theorist's possible explanation
Material
Provides sense ofbelonging facilitates
identity formation
Constrained bv lack o f choice, dependency
on another person, or economic
opportunity (Cross)
Erikson
(Competence/
fidelity)
Pascual-Leone
If risen above, facilitates wisdom by
providing formative experience and
developing ability to use experience as
basis for further self mastery-role modeling
Facilitates adult resolution o f contradictory
self-Schemas by grounding identity in sense
of purpose
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167
To take this a step further, by analyzing each life story it is possible to classify
each of the participants by their primary attachment to place, to make a connection
between theoretical descriptors of the inner workings of wisdom and each participant’s
life experience:
Table 6
Participants Sense of Place and Wisdom Theory
Participant's
place
description
Relationship to
place (Cross)
Type of Bond
(Cross)
| Theorist
||
Feelins a sense o f belonging. simply felt
rather than created (Cross)
Ben McCord
Erikson
Andrew Lord
Ritual
Orwoll &
Perlmutter
Kramer
Ann Carter
Cross's Facilitation Process/
mechanism- Wisdom theorist's
possible explanation
Narrative
Dependent
Mythical
Aids in the navigation between Identity
confusion versus Identity as well as
Isolation versus Intimacy
Facilitates cognitive affective
integration by helping to develop self
identity/insight
Facilitates interrelated functions of
wisdom-spiritual introspection
Pascual-Leone
Facilitates adult resolution of
contradictory self-Schemas by
grounding identity in sense o f place
Learning about a place through stories,
including: creation mvths. family
histories, political accounts, and
fictional accounts (Cross)
Erikson, Orwoll
& Perlmutter
Pascual-Leone
Provides sense of belonging facilitates
identity formation
|
Constrained by lack o f choice,
dependency on another person, or
economic opportunity (Cross)
Material
Bill Tate
Erikson
(Competence/
fidelity)
If risen above, facilitates wisdom by
providing formative experience and
developing ability to use experience as
basis for further self mastery-role
modeling
Ann Carter
Pascual-Leone
Facilitates adult resolution of
contradictory self-Schemas by
grounding identity in sense of purpose
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168
As is evident from the matrix above, some participants fell into multiple categories, as
their life stories indicated. However, this matrix does suggest the mechanisms by which
each participant’s experience of place has impacted their subsequent development of
wisdom.
Placing O ne’s S elf in Context: Sense o f Place and Sense o f Self
Humility or understanding one’s place within the context of a larger, more
powerful set of forces is one important feature of wisdom related to sense of place.
Without the ability to be humbled, to listen and learn from the environment and one’s
place in it, attaining wisdom may be difficult. My participants all talked about the
importance of both a place and a time in their own development; that is, they were able to
see themselves as contextualized.
All of the participants in this study demonstrated how a sense of place can
influence their understanding o f who they are. Interestingly, their experience of place as
described in their life story that consists of a series of events or mental pictures and
memories. How they responded to or bring the environment into their psyche seems to be
the catalyst for facilitating wisdom in this group. As an example, Ben McCord’s
experience growing up in the Canadian Rockies left him with a sense of awe and wonder
that he describes as spirituality. He continually draws on metaphors rooted in his
experience of this place to describe and make meaning of his life.
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169
Openness to Experience and the Role of Chance in the Development of Wisdom
As I suggested in my literature review, the role of discontinuity, chance,
serendipity or more importantly, openness to experience is important in the development
of wisdom specifically, the ability to recognize, capitalize on and leam from
serendipitous career or life events. The participants in this study gave this idea credence
when relating how each experienced chance events and how these events changed the
course of their lives and careers. However, it is the role of chance or serendipity in the
lives of the participants and in the development of wisdom that is most interesting.
Baltes (1990) touched on this idea when he talked about the role of openness to
experience as one of the antecedent factors and developmental processes for acquiring
wisdom. Bandura (1998) suggested that life-span developmentalists like Baltes (1983)
have included serendipity or “fortuitous events” the same or similar import as biological
and normative social events in determining developmental trajectories. In fact, the
personality construct “openness to experience” has been identified as the strongest
predictor of wisdom in studies by Kramer (2003) and Staudinger et al.(1997). As with
life’s hardships and difficulties, it seems to be more about how each participant in this
study dealt with these chance events than the chance events themselves.
It is interesting to note that the impact of chance events or serendipity has been
found by Krantz (1998) to be overrepresented in narratives of fortunate events and
underrepresented in life events involving misfortune. Further Krantz argued that social
science in general has underplayed the developmental significance o f these events due to
science’s pre-occupation with prediction and control.
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The significance of the serendipitous or chance events in the life trajectories for
this studie’s participants was substantial. I would assert that the personality and cognitive
traits like openness to experience or cognitive complexity (Labouvie-Vief, 2000) are at
work in the ability to profit developmentally from chance life events. In terms of the
development of wisdom, chance events, serendipity or as William Tate described, “the
hand of God” helped to place these individuals in life contexts that were facilitative of
wisdom, but they needed to come to the table with the right mix of personality and
cognitive attributes to benefit from these events. As Pasture stated in describing chance
in scientific discovery: “Chance favors only the prepared mind” (Slowiczek, 2003).
There is a limitation in this methodology, especially as it relates to
generalizability however. Specifically, the description of chance events and their
meaning are coming from participants’ retrospective recollection. Other research has
shown that describing past events accurately can be problematic (Achenbach, 1978). This
is certainly an area where more research would be most beneficial.
CHAPTER SIX: CONCLUSION
I began this study to better understand the development of wisdom. I wanted to
understand how a group of people that many current researchers in the field of
psychology would point to as wise described their development, or life history. I set out
to overlay current research on wisdom on important life themes drawn from their stories.
Although there were many life events that were important to each participant in this
research, I was able to focus on three key life themes shared by all of the participants;
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The ability to navigate and leam from difficult life experiences as a component of
wisdom; experiencing a sense of place and its role in the participant’s wisdom
development; and the importance of being open to experience in the development of
wisdom.
One of the unexpected outcomes of this study was the way in which the
participants’ experience o f their development suggested such similar themes. In a way,
this should be expected given the similarity of their chosen professions and the time in
which they grew up. However, I still found it to be an unexpected and interesting
finding.
As discussed previously, I was given a view of how these individuals negotiated
success and failure and how they integrated these learnings into their lives, as well as the
impact this had in their life’s journey toward wisdom. I do not think that this would have
been possible had I chosen another method of researching the development of wisdom
however.
Atkinson’s (1985) life history methodology allowed me to focus on the nuances
of each participant’s personal life story in a way that valued the participant as the primary
author. It allowed me to view participant’s life stories as a whole, with a beginning, a
middle and an end. I felt that this approach, with its emphasis on the story rather than the
protocol, gave me deeper access into why a certain event, or time, or place was important
in each life, and how the experience got woven into a larger tapestry.
Wisdom is an illusive phenomenon as important as it is difficult to study,
especially using standard empirical tools. Narrative methods have opened new avenues
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for scholarly discourse and discovery. The life history interview gave me the tool for
entering into a life to view a phenomenon from the outside in. This method is different
than other qualitative approaches in that it does not promise scholarly detachment, but
delivers the ability to enter into an individual’s life with them as a guide, to find the
meaning they attach to life events. I found that the study of wisdom lends itself well to
the simplicity o f this research method, because a complex phenomenon like wisdom and
meaning can be overshadowed by an equally complex empirical research methodology.
Limitations of this Study
Like other narrative research based on single subject or case study design,
generalization of these studies to other populations is problematic as this is a study of
individual lives. Also, this study does not attempt to determine empirically whether or
not any o f these participants are wise in the traditional sense; that is exhibiting wise
behavior or judgment, determined using an assessment tool or protocol such as those used
by Baltes and his colleagues (1990). This study assumed that given the chosen careers
and life experiences of all of the participants, they were more likely to meet with
situations requiring the use of wisdom. In this way, an in-depth study of these lives
helped to illuminate a developmental path for wisdom.
In addition, the participants in this study are members of a similar cohort; a group
of people who have been impacted by the Great Depression of the 20s and 30s, as well as
the World War II. To generalize these findings to other cohort groups would be
problematic.
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Toward a New Understanding of the Development of Wisdom
As previously discussed, historical context, a sense of place and its impact on
one’s developmental trajectory, and the role of chance or serendipity in development
have not been previously connected and linked to the development of wisdom. I believe
that these three concepts, when applied to the task of determining developmental
correlates o f wisdom, help to deepen our understanding of the phenomenon. Specifically,
they expand current theories of wisdom by suggesting the importance of what occurs
outside o f the self, outside o f one’s own cognition and affect or personality, and how
these ideas (historical context, place and serendipity) impact how wisdom develops.
Suggestions for Future Research
It would be interesting for future study to go further in determining the operating
mechanisms inherent in the themes surfaced in this study. Specifically, do these life
themes emerge in similar ways in other lives? Are there generational differences in the
way meaning is ascribed to life events such as these? These questions would be fruitful
for the researcher interested in further investigating the nuance of wisdom within a larger,
more diverse group, perhaps using a more empirical research methodology.
Finally, while my goal in this study was to help illuminate the developmental path
of wisdom, I received much more. With the kindness of Ben, Bill, Andrew and Ann, I
was able to enter into their lives if only briefly. With their generosity, I was allowed to
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walk with them as they described their life journey thus far. For this I am extremely
grateful.
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APPENDIXES
Appendix A
Informed Consent Form for Dissertation Research
Title: Living Wisdom: Experiencing Wisdom Through the Life Span (3)
Researcher: Gregory J. Michaud (3)
You have been asked to participate in a research study conducted by Gregory J Michaud,
a doctoral student in the Human & Organizational Development Program at The Fielding
Institute, Santa Barbara, CA. This research involves the study of the development and
experience of Wisdom throughout life. This dissertation is part of Gregory's Fielding
dissertation. You have been selected for this study because your life experiences as
reflected in your writings, autobiographic material, previous interviews and or your
occupation suggest some possible links to the development and experience of wisdom.
The study involves two conversational interviews, to be arranged at your convenience,
each of which is expected to last approximately 2-4 hours. Hence, the total time involved
in participation will be no more than 8 hours. During these interviews, you will be asked
several questions relating to your life. Examples of these questions include: (1)
• What do you remember about your childhood?
• What was growing up in your house or neighborhood like?
• What was the most significant event of your teenage years?
• Has education been important to you? How?
o How did you end up in the type of work you do (did)?
• What were the crucial decisions you faced in life that involved you and other people?
• Do you have any important values or beliefs that help you make important decisions
or choices in your life?
• What have been the most important learning experiences in your life?
• Has wisdom played a part in your life choices, decisions? How?
• How would you describe wisdom?
You may choose not to discuss any topic or area should you choose to do so (2)
The Research Ethics Committee of the Fielding Institute retains access to all materials
pertinent to the evaluation o f research ethics. The information you provide will be kept
strictly confidential. Only the Researcher and Faculty Supervisor and a confidential
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185
Research Assistant will listen to the tape recordings. If you give permission, tapes and or
transcripts o f this interview will be held for use in further research at the Center for the
Study of Lives at the University of Southern Maine. (5) You also have the opportunity to
review a transcript of your interview and remove any material you do not wish to have
used by the researcher. The transcripts for your interviews will published in Gregory’s
dissertation, and could possibly be included in further publication such as journal and or
books (6).
You may develop greater personal awareness of your life story as a result of your
participation in this research. The risks to you are considered minimal. Should you
experience such discomfort, please contact the Researcher at the phone number listed
above. In addition, you may withdraw from this study at any time, either during or after
the interview, without negative consequences. Should you withdraw, your data will be
eliminated from the study and will be destroyed.
There is no financial remuneration for participating in this study.
In addition to discussing the preliminary results with the Researcher by phone, you also
may request a copy of the summary of the final results by indicating your interest on the
attached form.
If you have any questions about any aspect of this study or your involvement, please tell
the researcher before signing this form.
Two copies of this informed consent form have been provided. Please sign both,
indicating you have read, understood, and agreed to participate in this research. Return
one to the Researcher and keep the other for your files.
NAME OF PARTICIPANT (please print)
SIGNATURE OF PARTICIPANT
DATE
I GRANT PERMISSION FOR TAPES AND OR TRANSCRIPTS OF THIS
INTERVIEW TO BE HELD FOR USE IN FURTHER RESEARCH AT THE CENTER
FOR THE STUDY OF LIVES AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN MAINE
FACULTY ADVISOR'S NAME, ADDRESS & TELEPHONE NUMBER
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186
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Yes, please send a summary of the study results to:
NAME OF PARTICIPANT (please print)
Street Address
City, State, Zip
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187
Appendix B
Participant Letter (Example)
I ’ve included a couple o f things in this packet of material for you. The first is a
little bit about the Fielding Institute where I am completing the HOD program. It’s a
little about the school and how the program works. The second piece of information is a
bit about the Center for the Study of Lives at USM. The director, Bob Atkinson, is also
on my dissertation committee and I am working with him and the archive of life stories.
The third piece o f information is my research ethics document, which should give you a
little more information about my project. Finally, I have included an informed consent
form for your review and signature.
We can talk about all of this in more detail when I call. If you would like, you can leave
me a voice mail on a time that would be convenient for us to talk.
Thank you!
Greg Michaud
201-573-3393
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