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Philosophical Foundations of Coaching: Ontology

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Narratives of our time and of our self

We are often distant from many of the most important events that impact on our lives. We live in a complex, global community and we have many connections to a vaster world. Yet, we can no longer have direct experience of, nor can we have much influence over, this world. The cave has grown much larger than Plato might have imagined and may no longer even exist. The only access we have to this vast world is through language and narratives. As a result, we often share narratives about things and events rather than actually experiencing them. Language itself becomes the shared experience. This perspective does not differ greatly, on first review, from that offered by Plato. The narratives may be considered nothing more than second-hand conversations about the images of the cave’s walls. Yet, there is a difference, for the narratives and conversations are not just about experiences, they are themselves experiences.

This sense of a constructed reality that is reinforced by narrative and conversation is a starting point for dynamic constructivism—just as it is a starting point for traditional and static forms of constructivism. The key point with regard to a dynamic constructivism is that each specific conversation is itself a reality. Shared narratives and language are where we actually meet – self and others, self and society, self and shared cultural narrative. From this perspective, our stories about self constitute our fundamental sense of self—they are the building blocks of our identity.

Perhaps our stories about self are everything we mean by the term “self.” This would suggest that our stories about childhood, about major adult accomplishments, and about difficult lifelong disappointments may be the basic building blocks of self-image—whether or not they are accurate. Contemporary coaches, like Julio Olalla and David Drake (Drake, Brennan & Gørtz, 2008), emphasize the role of narrative for a good reason—narrative is a very powerful and influential tool. We are profoundly impacted by two often unacknowledged (or even unseen) forces in these narratives. First, we are influenced by the broad-based social constructions of reality which is conveyed through the stories of the society and organization in which we find ourselves. This is the contribution made by static constructivists. Second, we are influenced by a more narrowly based personal construction of reality that is conveyed through stories we tell about ourselves (and perhaps stories that we inherit from and about our family and immediate community).

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