Exploring the ‘E’
After, you have understood the ABCD of EUM Framework …
This blog is meant for friends, associates, and clients that are somewhat familiar with the EUM framework and have worked with me, and several others over the last two decades. The EUM framework, and its associated tools as well as its portfolio of reports, seeks to map identity processes, role-taking, culture, and maturation of not just the individual human being but even the organization – it has been conceptualized and designed by Ashok Malhotra. Ashok has been a teacher, a mentor and a friend for more than twenty years, and it has been a privilege to walk along and work with him over the years.
Encountering the ‘E’?
I have always been intrigued by the acronym – EUM – which stands for Existential Universe Mapper, and particularly by ‘E’ / existential. There have been many a times when I have struggled to translate what I understand of the word – existential, and its associations including the philosophy. This is not just my struggle for I always witness my audience experiencing considerable difficulties in understanding the notion of ‘existential’ too.
Very often, we collude and quickly move onto the next letter of the acronym – the U or the Universes. I almost sigh with relief for the universes are much easier to define, to explain, to understand, and to explore. Often over days and weeks, the Universes become the key words to explain away the framework, and much to my irritability, sometimes even to explain away the individual – X is a USD person (Universe of Strength and Desire) and thus is selfish and aggressive; Y is stuck in UBP (Universe of Belonging and Protection) and thus would always be dependent and traditional etc.
I feel that if we as the community of EUM practitioners do not encounter and embrace the ‘E’/existential, we would unconsciously reduce the EUM framework to a mundane if not inane classification regime, and thus also end up reducing the human being or the targeted organization to a bundle of typologies and classifications, as is the case with other psychometric tools.
What makes working with Ashok and others in RLCL as fun, is that I can authorize myself to offer my understanding of the ‘E’/existential and invite him and others to build on this or tear it to pieces. In this blog, I would also be offering my working hypotheses on the unconscious processes that may have triggered Ashok.
Embracing the ‘E’?
Working with Existentialism
Let me bring in my understanding of Existentialism and how this philosophy is integral towards understanding the EUM framework.
While Existentialism has been seen largely as a 20th century movement, its roots lay in the work of Blaise Pascal (1623-62), who rejected Cartesian rationalism – that tried to define a human being in terms of rational capacities. Pascal saw the human being as an ‘essential paradox’ – a contradiction between mind and body. Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55) who is acknowledged as the founder of modern existentialism, shared Pascal’s sense for the inherent contradiction built into the human condition. Kierkegaard rejected Hegel’s systematic account of human history in the name of rationality and argued for the essential absurdism of human existence. He was joined by others such as Nietzsche and Dostoevsky in challenging the hegemony of rationality in traditional philosophy. It was the French thinkers including Sartre, Camus, and Simon de Beauvoir who popularized existentialism in the 20th century.
All existentialist thinkers believe that it is important to work with what makes the individual human being unique (as opposed to him or her being a manifestation of a type). There is also a denial of an essential or absolute or superordinate goal or purpose of human existence in this philosophy.
Existentialists emphasize on freedom to live an authentic life, and that the starting point is subjective and working from the inside – which is why most writings are works of wisdom. The focus is on:
- A concern with describing human condition as what it IS, without getting entrenched into a larger reason or purpose
- A heightened awareness of the non-rational dimensions of human existence including habits, passions, moods and unconscious practices
- A willingness to consider if not embrace the possibility – that existing knowledge, concepts, and categories may fail to capture the world as it presents itself
- A belief that “what it is to be human” cannot be reduced to any set of features about us
- That, everyday life is at best banal and at worst absurd and meaningless – that it creates anxiety, which makes us want to run into conformism or purpose or re-affirmation
- And finally that the existential Philosophy is to help us cope with this anxiety and despair, by offering authentic action and owning up responsibility for one’s (free) choices
Working with Inherent Contradiction
I know the above six points seem theoretical and bookish, thus let me offer a template based on Kierkegaard’s work. If I was to pick up the first inherent contradiction between body and soul (as pointed by Pascal), there are three levels of engaging with this contradiction. Let me define the contradiction first:
- A Human being is or I am a Body – implying that the human being is ‘finite’, ‘temporal’ (will die someday) and ‘limited’.
- A Human being is or I am a Spirit (Soul) – implying that the human being is ‘infinite’, ‘eternal’ and ‘free’.
The first level of engaging with this contradiction is what Kierkegaard terms as R1 – where one sense this contradiction and ‘freezes’ – and, then the anxiety provokes him or her to seek distractions in place of any stance or action. Mindless debates, vicarious experiences, TV watching, Facebook etc. are distractions because the inherent contradiction is scary.
The second level of engaging with this contradiction, known as R2, is to unconsciously split this mind-body divide and focus on one, and deny or repress the other. So you have the Don Juans who uphold the body and the Gurus who uphold the spirit, and yet many of these come crashing down when the deeply repressed other leaks or takes charge.
The third level of engaging with this paradox as per Kierkegaard (R3) is to invest into ‘unconditional commitment’ to co-hold the two aspects of the contradiction. The unconditional commitment is a deep emotional pact to self in search for a truth beyond contradictions. R3 thus becomes a choice to go beyond the normative ethics.
Dostoevsky fans would remember his classic – The Brothers Karamazov – which features four key characters that struggle and cope with the inherent contradictions of human existence – discovering that there is no moral or religious way to take stances. Each character exemplifies R1, R2, and R3 stances of Kierkegaard.
- Fyodor Karamazov – the father is in despair for he has no sense of a ‘self’ and distracts himself with his drinking and womanizing. These fun activities distract him from the inherent contradictions and the need to take a stance.
- Ivan Karamazov – the eldest son, is the objective and detached spectator (a bit like the first prince) – an intellectual who wishes to be pure and eternally perfect and get rid of his earthiness. In Kierkegaard’s terms, Ivan is in despair of not wanting to be himself.
- Dmitri – the second son is stuck between the contradictions. He appears young but also old. He is melancholic but also has a hearty laugh. He is muscular but also appears weak and vulnerable; He sometimes appears focused, but also becomes vague and does flip-flops. He becomes the walking contradictions
- Alyosha – the youngest son is able to unconditionally and unilaterally commits, for he has both faith, and is able to sublimate his impulses.
Those of you who have picked up Rushdie’s latest book – Quichotte – the book speaks of the same ability to have faith and love, as one is torn between paranoia and despair (entropy) of a collapsing world.
Endorsing the ‘E’ in EUM
Key stances and practices
If I was to explore what the previous section on existentialism implies for the EUM framework, I would emerge with these key practices that make working with EUM – a creative and liberating experience:
- I would like to treat the individual as a unique human being who is making his or her stances on a world full of contradictions and paradoxes – both conscious and unconscious. The universes only allow for a better sensing of these contradictions and stances.
- I would not be too caught up with one great purpose or reason for living for the individual – I would rather explore how banal and ordinary aspects of life can reveal interesting shifts. It is for this reason, I like to see URB not as an isolate but as revelatory in how the individual works with role-taking and choice making.
- Hence it is critical to work with inter-universe patterns, processes, conflicts, and stances. I am not in favor of working with just intra-universe scores and that too go by these in a piecemeal fashion.
- Working with EUM-I ought to be a dialogue, where the person is able to bring in his or her subjectivity and how he or she sees self and the context as IS. The EUM also provides data on how he or she wants it to be ideal – and that allows to have a sensing of R1 and R2 stances of Kierkegaard.
- I am all for exploring the absurdities and ordinariness of existence with an individual. Unlike other tools that seek to only make the individual into a great tool or utilitarian, I am happy with conversations that also talk about daily dilemmas, inabilities and vulnerabilities when it comes to taking stances, and where one is being self-destructive.
- The most important aspect that E of EUM offers is to nurture and create an authentic action stance towards self and the Other. It is in this authenticity, and in being responsible for choices in a choiceless context that makes EUM a very powerful tool.
I have not heard Ashok speak much of ‘E’ – except perhaps for his paper on Beyond the paradoxes and contradictions; he has been quite reticent – and therefore much of this blog is how I interpret the E in EUM.
I am also hoping that you would agree that while working with EUM you should never pigeonhole a person or typify him or her. I am also hoping that you would not be reductionist but look at the dynamic interplay of universes, and seek to understand how low scores in one universe may have its shadows in another.
I would love to hear your views on the ‘E’.