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Nurturing Generativity and Deep Caring

79 min read

William Bergquist and Gary Quehl

It is important to explore and seek the origins of generativity inside an individual’s psyche and inside the spirited and soulful processes engaged by generative people. And it is also critical to look at the environment or context in which generativity is identified and nurtured. Just as we found in exploring the nature of Sage leadership in our study of the two Western Nevada County communities in California, the generative person is encouraged (if not created) by the community in which he or she lives and works (Quehl and Bergquist, 2012). Much as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to bring out the multiple roles of generativity in oneself. Our society helps to give birth to deep caring.

This exploration of generativity both inside and outside a person is essential when coaching someone regarding the way(s) in which and reasons why they are caring deeply in their life. More generally, any exploration of motivation in the people we are coaching should be viewed both as a very close, personal matter that pushes us forward into action and as a more distant set of factors out in the world that are pulling us to action Egon Brunswick framed this as a complementary relationship between proximal (close) and distal (far) perspectives on human behavior (Postman and Tolman, 1959). There is an internally initiated (proximal) push alongside an externally-initiated (distal) pull. This two-fold model of motivation was identified many years ago by Henry Murray (2007), a Harvard-based mentor to many highly influential psychologists—including Erik Erikson, Gordon Allport—and Timothy Leary. Murray wrote of the internal, proximal pushes as Needs. The external, distal pulls were labeled Presses.

It is worth noting that Murray’s Needs have received considerable attention (primary the need for achievement), while his Presses have been ignored. This is important for professional coaches to note because it is tempting to focus on the internal pushes when helping a client explore their motives. The external pulls are often ignored even though they might be the primary reason why we are determining what to do in our life and work. The behaviorists are right in pointing to the impact of stimuli out in the world when determining why people act in a particular way.

Given the push and pull of generativity among many other motives in our lives, we turn first to the often- ignored external pulls that exist in a Generative Society. A professional coach can provide valuable guidance if they help their client identify settings in their life that are generative in nature and if they find purpose in helping in their own way to make the society in which they live and work more generative.

The Generative Society

Fortunately, the two of us are not alone in emphasizing both the proximal and distal sources of generativity. Others who have written about generativity have considered societal settings to often be a distal birthplace of generativity and deep caring. Dan McAdams and his fellow connoisseurs of generativity edited an entire book several years ago on The Generative Society (de St. Alban, McAdams and Kim, 2004). We will highlight several findings and proposals offered in this book, especially as related to the four roles of generativity we have introduced and to the processes of professional coaching that address these four roles.

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