Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Human Development 3

4.1 Introducing the Buber-Rogers Dialogue
    We have now outlined the approaches to the human person of both Buber and Rogers and have discussed where they overlap and now our stage is set for discussing and teasing out the major differences in their thought.  There is no better context in which to do such a study than in examining closely their famous encounter or dialogue from 1957.  They met at a University of Michigan conference celebrating Buber’s thought.  The dialogue lasted for one hour and a half and it was audio-taped before a live audience of 400 people. The moderator of that dialogue was Dr Maurice Friedman, a young professor of philosophy.   The text of the dialogue appears in several versions: (i) at the end of Buber’s (1965) The Knowledge of Man. It is also published in Carl Rogers: Dialogues. (1989) Further, Anderson and Cissna (1997) have analyzed the dialogue in great detail from their perspectives as experts in communications analysis. Much has been made of this seminal event where the two prominent men met for the first time. In short, here we had the meeting of two great minds and hearts – those of the most radical religious thinker of the twentieth century and those of the most influential psychotherapist of that same century. 
    Indeed, this dialogue is even more important still as it is essentially a dialogue about dialogue by two of its greatest exponents.  Further, while they disagreed on certain fundamental philosophical or theoretical points, the areas of practical disagreement, I argue, are not considerable.  They agreed on far more than later superficial commentary on their dialogue might allow.[1]

4.2 Areas of Convergence
    Anderson and Cissna (1997, n.1., 2) confirm that “(t)he nature of man as revealed in interpersonal relationships” was the general topic of their dialogue as suggested by Carl Rogers.  We have outlined above the major areas of agreement and convergence between the general thought of these two great men.  Here we will confine ourselves to their 1957 dialogue.  In his opening question to Buber, Rogers shows great deference and respect and indicates his surprise as to how a person, who was not a trained psychotherapist could have gained such a profound understanding of the human person.[2] It is interesting to learn that Buber had studied some psychology and psychiatry at University under both Wundt and Bleuler, and the latter of these was also one of Carl Gustave Jung’s professors.  He goes on to inform us that he also was interested in the differences between a sane and a pathological man.  Furthermore, he was interested in how the encounter of two persons could lead to the possibility of one being open to being changed by the other and vice versa.[3]
    Both men valued what may be learned from authentic relationships. Their respective societies were very different as well. Rogers came from American Midwestern rural beginnings, while Buber came from a deeply rooted European historical past where considerable prejudice and oppression existed towards Jews. Their personal experiences could not have been more different, but they both valued personal freedom and authentic choice in the context of genuine relationship.
    The dialogue continues with deep listening and empathy on both sides. Then, Buber goes on to advance the concept of “confirmation” as essential to any human encounter:

Confirmation means first of all... accepting the whole potentiality of the other and making even a decisive difference in his potentiality... I not only accept the other as he is, but I confirm him, in myself, and then in him, in relation to this potentiality that is meant to become...But this does not mean, “I don’t want you to change,” but it says, “I discover in you ... what you are meant to become.” (Anderson and Cissna, 1997, p.90-91).


    When a person feels confirmed in his or her being by another, both will be enhanced from the meeting. In short, when one feels confirmed (for being valued as one is) by another, one’s mood is elevated and a new sense of purpose emerges for both.  Now, Rogers had long thought that the counsellor’s task was essentially to establish a climate for openness and self-exploration in which the person would feel accepted rather than judged or evaluated. Judgments were suspended and the person thrived in such a climate of genuine caring and acceptance.  Persons may feel not only appreciated for what they were in that moment, but also for who they are becoming (their true potential as human beings) which may be experienced as both freeing and empowering. Rogers held that through the therapist's acceptance the client will actualize himself or herself.

    However, Buber held that acceptance is just the beginning of relationship and that real healing through meeting demands confirmation too, which includes helping the client in his or her inner conflict between the desire to find and follow their unique personal direction and whatever aimless whirl in their day-to-day lives resists such direction.  Friedman (1994, 46), who moderated this dialogue, is correct when he states that Rogers in this encounter “equated acceptance and confirmation because he held that human nature is good and therefore to be trusted. Buber held that the human being is neither good nor evil but polar. Rogers tended to make dialogue the means to self-actualization, whereas Buber saw self-actualization as the by-product of dialogue.”
    In brief, then, we may conclude that while Buber held that confirmation is more than mere acceptance, Rogers argues clearly here that his view of “acceptance” is more or less what Buber understands by “confirmation.”[4]



[1] See Poulos, C. (2003). [Review of the book, Moments of meeting: Buber, Rogers, and the potential for public dialogue]. Southern Communication Journal, Vol. 68:2, 168-169. See also Anderson and Cissna (1997, n. 16, p. 31) where the authors argue the same point.

[2] “And so ... I would be interested in knowing what were the channels of knowing that enabled you to, to really learn so deeply of people and of relationships?” (Anderson and Cissna, 18)

[3] See ibid., pp. 20 -21

[4] Rogers agrees that his notion of “acceptance” is more or less equivalent to what Buber means by “confirmation” and comments that “I think that we do accept the individual and his potentiality.” (See Anderson and Cissna (1997), p. 94.

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