I was having a conversation recently with Rudi, a social worker mentor and friend in Germany, about personal construct psychology when he suddently commented, 'I really don't know how much of what I think and believe is genuinely my own, and how much is a product of the government, media, commercial organisations etc.' Rudi is one of the most profoundly insightful, constructively-critical and free-thinking people I have ever encountered and so, at this point, his comment took me a bit by surprise.
As the conversation progressed, we explored how we are each subject to lifelong conditioning by parents, educational systems, organisational cultures etc. combined with ongoing influences from what we read, what we experience, everyday conversations etc. And so even as I write this blog entry, how much of what I'm thinking and seeking to articulate genuinely originates in me and how much is simply a cumulative product of the influences of others? I'm speaking with my own voice, but whose thoughts are they?
Even the language I use, the language I'm using now, is something I have learned from others. It enables me to communicate but also creates and shapes the conceptual frameworks I think in, filters how I experience the world, limits my ability to think outside of the constructs and ideas inherent in it. It's one of the advantages of learning a different language, to immerse onself in the culture of others (as far as that is possible), to stretch one's own ability to think in new ways, to find an ability to experience and express fresh ideas and perspectives.
Yet even then, how much of my thinking is unique, generated from within me, genuinely my own? Have I simply broadened the range of influences on my thinking? I don't know. Perhaps the awareness of others' influence on my thoughts provides me with some opportunity to choose - and although what and how I choose is similarly influenced by the formative thinking and values I've encountered in others, the sense of choosing is about making my thoughts my own. 'God, guide my thoughts towards your thinking.'
Nick is a freelance coach, trainer and OD consultant specialising in reflective practice.