Monday, November 13, 2006

Of Developmental Psychology and being "Born Again"

The respected developmental psychologist, Alan Fogel, wrote in his book Developing Through Relationships that, "Upon close examination, one finds that the workings of the mind and the ways in which we perceive and understand ourselves is remarkably like the form of our personal relationships. The life of the mind is a dialogue, most typically a verbal dialogue, between imagined pointes of view...To continue treating the mind as a disembodied relationless computational machine, as an objective thing inside the head, is to be blind to the evidence of one's own cognitive experience." He also writes, "Human cognition and the sense of self are fundamentally and originally relational."

I know. All of this probably sounds rather academic, perhaps even dull. But if you think about it, the implications are rather striking. What he is saying, in part, is that our sense of self is not a "thing" in and of itself, cut off from the outside world. Rather, our sense of self is deeply affected by our relationships, both present and past. In a profound sense, we co-create our sense of "self" out of our important relationships.

Which fits with experience, I think. I mean, I can think of relationships I've ended because I didn't like the person I was becoming.

Part of my reflections about this has been on the subject of just how important it is that we choose good people to be part of our lives, people who are kind, people who are loving and respectful. Because it is truly our "self" that can be affected. Surrounding ourselves with callous individuals, we risk becoming callous ourselves. On the other hand, being around those who are compassionate and caring nurtures those qualities in us.

The other thing I was thinking about is the notion that a relationship with God must mean that we open ourselves to "co-creating" our sense of ourself out of that relationship. We do more than worship, than praise, as important as these things may be. Our relationship pulls us to understand ourselves and our world in profoundly different ways, in ways that open us up more and more to be loving, compassionate, and kind.

Perhaps to "co-create" our sense of ourself through a relationship with God is part of what Jesus was getting at when he spoke of our being "born again." I like that idea, if for no other reason than I had previously written off the idea (it has just come to sound far too fundamentalistic for my tastes).

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