Home Concepts Decison Making & Problem Solving In Over Our Heads: Living and Learning in the Cave

In Over Our Heads: Living and Learning in the Cave

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Perry notes that this fourth perspective will look very much like dualism to other people (who are themselves dualists or multiplists). After all, if one is making commitments, then isn’t this deciding that there is a right and wrong answer and a truth that is stable and confirmable? The Gergens (Gergen and Gergen, 2004, p. 96) similar note that the critics of constructivism “often mistake this meta-level account as the constructionist attempt to tell the real truth about the world.” The ongoing challenge of those with a commitment in relativism perspective is to recognize that this misunderstanding will often occur and that a clearly articulated rationale must be offered to other people for the decisions being made and actions taken.

William Perry offers yet another insight that is particularly poignant for those who are coaching clients moving from one of these perspectives to another one. Perry suggests that this movement inevitably involves a grieving process. One is, in essence, moving from one sense of self and one sense of the world in which we live, to another self and another sense of the world. In moving from dualism to multiplicity we are losing some of our innocence, while the movement from multiplicity to relativism requires the abandonment of irresponsibility.

We must now seek to understand and appreciate other communities and recognize that there are standards regarding truth and reality—even if there is not one absolute standard. Finally, in the movement from relativism to commitment in relativism we are grieving the loss of freedom. We must now make hard decisions, knowing that there are several (perhaps many) good choices that could be made. We must take action in an Ironic world that does not yield easy answer or offer us assurance that we are doing the right thing for the right reason. We are truly living in a state of Hard Irony.

Perry would probably suggest that professional coaches are in the business, at least partially, of assisting their clients through this grieving process and helping their clients recognize the value inherent in one of the more mature perspectives. This valuing of relativism and particularly commitment in relativism may be particularly important for those clients who are operating in a leadership position—and for those who are seeking guidance and advice from an “expert”.

Finally, we find a related analysis offered by Robert Kegan (1994, p. 185) who suggests that the relativistic perspective, when engaged to make decisions and take action, is indeed quite challenging:

When we look into this collection of expectations for success at work, we discover that each actually demands something more than particular behavior or skill. Each is a claim on our minds for a way of knowing. Each amounts to a slightly different way of demanding or expecting a single capacity for psychological authority. This capacity . . . represents a qualitatively more complex system for organizing experience than the mental operations that create values, beliefs, convictions, generalizations, ideals, abstractions, interpersonal loyalty, and intrapersonal states of mind.

It is qualitatively more complex because it takes all of these as objects or elements of its system, rather than as the system itself; it does not identity with them but views them as parts of a new whole.  This new whole is an ideology, an internal identity, a self-authorship that can coordinate, integrate, act upon, or invent values, beliefs, convictions, generalizations, ideals, abstractions, interpersonal loyalties, and intrapersonal states. It is no longer authored by the, it authors them and thereby achieves a personal authority. Despite the surface differences between the various work expectations, they require a common underlying capacity, a common order of consciousness.

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