Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thinking About Conscious Thought

I am drawn to dialectical thinking and the work of Kegan. According to Merriam, Caffarella and Baumgartner (2007), Kegan’s theory is drawn from “both a psychological and contextual approach, proposes a level-of-consciousness model that incorporates dialectical thinking as part of the highest level of consciousness” (p. 343).

From the work of Illeris, I was readily convinced of the interplay between psychological processes and the environment in the development of learning. I perceive Kegan’s theory consistent with that earlier identification.

The notion of evolving consciousness appeals strongly to me on many levels. My development has progressed from a very parochial worldview to one that is more universally focused. Growing up Catholic, with Democratic Mid-Western, second generation immigrant, lower-middle class, white values, the world was pretty well defined. Expectations were concrete and some realities were perceived to be absolute. Throughout my adolescence and early adulthood, I was increasingly led to more and more discretionary internal processes.

For me, being human or at least being a citizen within a democracy requires dialectical thinking, an “acceptance of alternative truths” (p. 342). Kegan doesn’t know if we post-modern folks have what it takes to meet the demands of our “culture’s curriculum” (p. 344). Using some critical reflection of my own, I can only speak for myself when I share my doubt that I am capable. I read a recent article that also had to do with Kegan’s developmental theory and Mezirow’s transformational learning. In the article, Kegan refers to three levels of the constructed self: (1) the socialized self; (2) the self-authoring self; and (3) the self-transcending self. In terms of personal development, I am aiming towards wisdom and for the self-transcending self and the next tier on the hierarchy above Maslow’s self-actualization. However, having attained middle adulthood in my mid-forties, I wonder about the likelihood of this personal, evolving, cognitive development. Clearly, I have achieved the level of the self-authoring self to a great degree (my developmental resolution of an identity crisis propelled me there much more quickly than some of my friends and family without such a compelling and pervasive ego-conflict).

When tempted to believe that my development is at its appropriate phase, I am reminded of the work of Socrates and even our contemporary scholar, Cornell West, who deals with the most difficult topics in the history of our nation, race and democracy in America. From a systems viewpoint, the national consciousness is still evolving and becoming more tolerant and less absolute. However, I have yet to experience our gains as win-win for most parties involved in the process (myself included). West has a focus on the significance of human life; what it means to be human on a fundamental basis. This, for me, is characteristic of developmental progress into maturity. Unfortunately, many of the research projects based on Kegan’s theory are pointing to the fact that we are not self-authored or self-transcendent. Many adults are still operating from the socialized-self level of consciousness; we are what we have been made to be, albeit personally cooperating with the process through our inner identification with the norms and values of the cultures and subcultures in which we are embedded.

Anecdotally, there is the expression which you may have heard, “Be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.” This is almost a prayer for me. I strongly believe that there is a higher consciousness pulling me towards on-going development individually and I assume collectively along with the rest of the natural world. This is where in the head-dominated academic world, I pause and remember the work of Graves and the concept of grace. There is that which operates beyond the level of my cognitive awareness and when engaged in that evolutionary process, I can only breathe in the mystery of mind and beyond mind.

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