Lost in Familiar Places

The title of today’s post comes from a book written by an American psychoanalyst and an English Anglican priest, Edward R. Shapiro, M.D. and A. Wesley Carr. It’s about connections between individuals and society — the kind of book you would read in a sociology or theology class in college.

I found it when I followed a link in an article by Gianpiero Petriglieri, quoted below, where he argues that, in leaders, “holding” might be as important an attribute as “vision.”

I thought, seeing the title, that most people I know feel lost in familiar places right now, so maybe this book, written for a different time and in response to a different set of urgencies, would speak to where we find ourselves today.

So far, my instinct has been correct. It’s teaching me and reminding me about the most important aspects of schools. Here are some lessons followed by quoted passages:

Keep finding ways to build trust, especially as trust degrades due to the challenges of working remotely.

The potential space between baby and mother, between child and family, between individual and society or the world, depends on experience which leads to trust. It can be looked upon as sacred to the individual in that it is here that the individual experiences creative living. (D.W. Winnicot, opening quotation.)

In the face of uncertainty, the mission of the school is almost everything.

A shared frame of reference provides a partial shelter from unrelenting ambiguity and uncertainty and the danger of idiosyncratic points of view. In an ambiguous and uncertain world, such shelters are not easy to come by and are to be treasured. (6)

Curiosity is not just for creativity; it’s for core operations.

In many families where individuals manifest severe personal problems, the members have a striking lack of curiosity about one another. Instead, they are often remarkably certain that they know, understand, and can speak for other family members without further discussion. If individual members attempt to challenge assertions about who they are, they encounter bland denial, unshakeable conviction, or platitudinous reassurance. . . . [For children,] parents’ lack of openness and curiosity contributes to feelings of isolation, emptiness, and futility within the family group.

Such isolation, a classic instance of being lost in a familiar place, is not limited to dysfunctional families. Excessive “certainty” is a recognizable element within all human organizations; it contributes to the disconnection of the individuals lost within them. (12)

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