The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

The tragic position

When people use logic to investigate situations, they seek to reach a state of coherence.

This works quite well when there is a framework underlying the logic that is straightforward and can be proven. Geometry is such a field.

Things become a bit more complicated when the framework has to be defined upfront. This is for example true with laws. However, as the underlying principles are based on value systems, the ones writing the law may have a different interpretation of it than those applying it for example in court.

But logic is separate from action. It is based on thinking. To move into action more is needed. And as most of us noticed, relying on logic will not be sufficient to step into action.

For this, we often need more.

Psychoanalysis talks about the “tragic position”, it is attained when the child realizes that he is a separate entity. It happens after the first stable integration of his ego. It comes along with the loss of the sense of omnipotence and the need to organize impulses, defenses, affects, and ego functions in the taking of a position. It is the tragic position.

As life unfolds, overwhelm appears and reappears. We learn to deal with it, however, solely relying on logic often will not solve the riddle of trusting that change can happen as well as tolerate the tragedy of the human condition at that moment.

The ability to hold both results from the ability to develop one’s ability to step into the tragic position, that is to take position.

While this might sound theoretical, it is a frequent situation, even more so in organizational life. Take for example a situation in which one is working in an organization one is proud of but that also chooses solutions one will not adhere to.

There will not always be an easy solution to opt-out, nor an easy solution to accept what is happening. Often it leads to people giving up their position and simply following the orders while disagreeing with them. The ability to take a position is different, it transforms the way the person acts as that person believes that change can happen and that his work is a contribution to that change.

That trust is independent of coherent logic.

But it isn’t illogical per se. It builds on the archaic experience of having moved from a sense of omnipotence to one of helplessness and having found a way to survive and even thrive.

Looking at how many people experience society today it’s worth it to remember that it is possible to hold both, a sense of the tragedy of the human condition and the trust that change can happen.


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