Sunday, June 18, 2006

Criticism: Shadow or Challenge?

Wilber and me have a conflict, that's for sure. But what's the best strategy for conflict resolution? Wilber's suggestion to dig into one's own shadow might lead to the suggestion, that criticism is empty, and therefore needs a psychological explanation. This often becomes an introverted excercise, full of guilt feelings. He even talks about "forgiving his critics"!

In Holland a succesful conflict resolution strategy (pioneered by Daniel Ofman) works with the concept of "core-qualities", which are represented by a quadrant (nothing to do with Wilber's 4 quadrants though). The idea is that each mental quality has an extreme version (it's "pitfall"), but also its opposite quality (or "challenge"), which in turn has its extreme version (or "allergy").

For example: The quality of eloquence has the pitfall of being talkative, the challenge of knowing when to be quiet, and the allergy of never speaking up. Now an eloquent person will typically have an allergy for people who never speak up -- and a quiet person hates those who are talkative. When allergies escalate, a conflict is born. The trick of conflict resolution is to acknowledge and affirm both qualities in each other, while avoiding their pitfalls, c.q. allergies.

Is criticism heavily affected by shadow elements, as Wilber suggests? Perhaps, but the same goes for the glowing endorsements he received from his close followers. It is more constructive to apply the core quality model to this situation, I believe.

Wilber's great quality is to give wide generalizations, inspired visions, broad sketches of a theory. This has a pitfall: empty slogans, airy abstractions, and a tendency to repeat arguments. It's challenge would be: detailed criticism, specialized studies, gathering informed opinions. In turn, this has an extreme as well: nitpicking, endless processing, never ending debates. And that, obviously, is Wilber's allergy.

Personally I am more at home in the area of detailed studies, and have therefore always been impressed by the opposite quality which Wilber embodied for me: grand vistas of interdisciplinary studies. So, I might very well represent his shadow! and vice versa. Allergies fly high when Wilber sees all criticism as nitpicking, and I perceive all of Wilber's recent statements as ungrounded, especially when burdened by jargon, or slang, for that matter. The trick, again, is to affirm both the value of generalizations AND of detailed studies that may or may not, validate the integral model. The art is to avoid pitfalls in both areas.

Shadow theory often states that we hate in others what we hate in ourselves. Core quality theory says the opposite: we hate in others (the extreme version of) what we lack in ourselves.


Blogger Steve said...

Frank, if Wilber's correct about everyone having a piece of the truth, there's some truth to both the shadow and core quality theories, and it intuitively seems to me as though there is and that these two theories need to be integrated. I'm sorry to see the discord that's arisen between the two of you, but I hope it can be tapped as a motivating force for growth in all of us.


9:13 AM  
Blogger David Jon Peckinpaugh said...

That's totally constructive Frank. Rather than just throw out some rehashed spiel on the 'shadow' you actually offer some fresh and engaging possibilities that open new vistas to consider... and perhaps... even explore further.

I fully endorse and appreciate your approach throughout all of this Frank. And while I don't know you 'personally' (as if there is assumed to be some great divide between our concrete person and our cyber-self/literary-self?? why I wonder is that?? hhhmmmm...) I can sense a deep appreciation, respect, humility, and a keen earnesty for further dialogue and discussion.

David Jon Peckinpaugh

P.s. for a different view/perspective on the so-called 'shadow' situation see the following (

11:19 AM  
Blogger Tom Yeshe said...

Accusations recently flying back and forth in the integral community remind me of an anecdote from the life of Ramana Maharshi, also known as Bhagavan:



A Story Told by Kunju Swami

There was a man from the state of Kerala who had written a biography of Sri Ramana Maharshi in Malayalam (that state’s regional language). Before sending the manuscript to press he decided to visit the Ashram and have it read aloud before Bhagavan.

Because Kunju Swami was born in Kerala and spoke fluent Malayalam, Bhagavan asked him to read the manuscript aloud, and also to look after the author’s needs during his visit. As Kunju Swami began reading, he could not believe what was written. The book stated that Maharshi was married and was the father of several children, and that one day, while living in the South Indian town of Madurai, he closed his eyes and was somehow magically transported to the Arunachala Hill. The book went on like this, containing many fictional accounts.

After the reading took place, the author had to leave quickly in order to catch a train back home. Maharshi was very gracious to him and asked Kunju Swami to be sure he had something to eat before leaving, and see to it that he reached the train station on time.

After seeing off the visitor, Kunju Swami hurried back to the Ashram, anxious to hear what Bhagavan thought of this highly exaggerated manuscript, which was about to go to press. Back at the Old Hall, he found Ramana Maharshi quietly attending to some small chore, completely unconcerned about anything else. Kunju Swami waited as patiently as he could, wondering if Maharshi might raise the subject. But he just quietly chatted with those present and sat silently.

Finally, Kunju Swami could not contain himself any longer and asked: “Bhagavan, how could you allow this book to get printed? It is full of inaccuracies. In fact, most of it is untrue.”
Bhagavan looked at Kunju Swami for a moment then replied: “Oh, I see. You mean only this is untrue, and everything else is true?”

The book was never printed!

--Matthew Greenblatt (Fall/Winter 2002). The Inner Directions Journal, p. 38.


As a preface to that story, Greenblatt wrote:

"In the spring of 1979, my wife and I were working on a project at Sri Ramanasramam in South India. During this time, we would spend several hours each week with Kunju Swami, a very close devotee of Sri Ramana Maharshi. Kunju Swami had a remarkable memory and could accurately recall the smallest details that took place during the thirty years he lived in close association with Ramana Maharshi. During one of our many sessions, as we sat at the base of the Arunachala Hill watching the sunset, he related a story that I will never forget.

"Hearing it brought me to one of those moments when the teaching hits home in a truly potent manner. Often, when I find myself looking upon an event as having a real basis, I remember the question Maharshi asked Kunju Swami at the end of this story."

2:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is my take:
"If I slap you in the face, and then say that you respond angrily because you project your shadow on me, than not only am I right, of course, because the anger is in you after all, but I am also being very nasty at the same time if I am an authority (rightly or wrongly) to you. Because deep down you know I’m right and are thus utterly helpless. The Wilber question is in this case, “Are you mature enough to get my lesson?” If you are, you didn’t need it. And if you aren’t, not only will you not get get my meaning this way but you will probably also be estranged enough to henceforth scheme behind my back to slap me back in some way."


2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would seem that a wise man would accept warranted criticism with grace while disregarding unwarranted criticism with even greater grace.
The writen word affords the writer the opportunity to edit his thoughts, to mull over them and crumble the paper(or hit delete)when it becomes evident that his words are ill advised; while the spoken word is spontaneous and may,perhaps, be explained away but never taken back.The spoken word may be merely driven by emotion and only revelatory of what one is feeling for a fleeting moment, but the written word represents what one has had the time to think over.Thus, the written word reveals deeper shadows engrained in one's conciousness. The shadow which would harbor such extreme anger verbalized toward one's critics would seem to be borne out of either arrogance or fear. Arrogance derrived from the notion that one is perfect and therefore above criticism, or fear in knowing that one is not perfect and the world is about to find out...

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nagarjuna is spot on, in the true spirit of a Madhyamika he's pointed out that there is truth in both.

Sure Ken's argument may have been simplistic (sometime you need to be) but the counter argument seems to be equally as black/white.

Can we ALL please have BOTH. I'm going to settle for nothing less than both. Both/And NOT Either/Or.

We all know this, but in the heat of the moment it's so easy to slip into age old habits.

Shadow and core quality theories are both true but partial.

And definitely not contradictory.

5:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't have both when things are so"simplistic, so black and white"...

7:27 AM  
Blogger David Jon Peckinpaugh said...

Ever notice how in Black & White photos there is so much subtlety, so much contrast, so much uhm.... colour.

Black & White tells a story, and conveys a Beauty that full-spectrum colour oftentimes cannot.

Doesn't mean I want to live in a Black & White world though---just that there is sometimes a potential inherent in Black & White images to capture and convey the 'essence' of something much more starkly.

9:14 AM  
Blogger mikeginn said...

Frank, your generosity in engaging publicly with this conflict – in a personal way, trying to find your part in it when it would be so easy to simply blame the other side and be done with it – is remarkable. Thank you.

Tom Murray’s description of mutual regard captures well this space that you are exploring. Btw, if it were not for this occasion of extreme mutual disregard I would not have found your pointer to his paper on collaborative knowledge building, and I would not be suddenly very interested in (and hopeful for, and willing to contribute to) how the integral community can make a stride forward in how we manage our knowledge building efforts.

I am an OD professional, so appreciate and affirm Daniel Ofman’s approach to empowerment, to turning reactivity into creativity in organizations. And I would encourage you to not stop there, and to not be satisfied with only a resolution to this conflict. It may be easy to understand shadow work but it is difficult to do; so continue forth with whatever help and in whatever forum makes sense to you. Any breakthroughs you make and report here will contribute to my developing awareness of how I can contribute to the collective mutual regard Murray argues is so important to the success of our collaborative building of knowledge.

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wilber's "shadow challenge" is a red herring, a desparate ad hoc attempt on his part to cover his ass after he freaked out because a few critics ruffled his feathers.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Frank your 2nd handling of the Rant Issue was brilliant. Inspired and "simply" spot on. Wilber's Work came down off the montain for me with this whole discourse.

I fully laughed outloud reading the rant! I'm still going to go deeper into I-I and am going to do additional work with the Institute, but because of the work you do here, I will have an Eye out for ways to stand on the work and raise it even higher (more inclusive/less cultish) through my own humble witnessing of the truth.

As an outsider with interests, I can see truths in Ken Wilber's rant about a sense of purity needed to shore up effort, while discrediting those unwilling to do equal amounts of work poking holes at it.

Is Dogma Bad? I mean maybe we are just projecting our "negative" experiences of other dogmatic systems that we know and see their 1000 year histories... and then to say to this one Theory (that hasn't even survived a man's life-time yet) is too full of flaws isn't right. Critical positions based upon Ken Wilber's passion, (and pride) is too easy a path of criticsm.

My brief exposure to your critical method seems to have the flavor of shoring up the work which actually gives it a fighting chance to get beyond Ken Wilber's "guru" status and turn it into a truly evolutionary world view.

One thing for sure, Ken Wilber is Human. The Rant just made that even more real for me. I've only "known" him from his books and a few brief webcasts. The interesting thing about this movement is that most movements of this kind that survive into any historical record get to this stage long after the inventor of the movement is dead and has no need to get defensive or angry at critism of what part of the work was not up to par.

Lucky for Ken Wilber the work has taken off for him to witness it. To paraphrase The Matrix 'to know you're "the one"...what a mind fuck, man.' (irony intentional)

I appreciate you.

Joseph Robinson

12:29 AM  
Blogger DGA said...

Hi Pissed Off Old Man,

I think you're correct on two fronts. First, I'm inclined to agree with your analysis of the creepy theater that is going on and on and on (still) among the self-appointed gurus of the integral world: Wilber, Cohen, et al. In the Buddhist world, we have a word for this kind of behavior: spiritual materialism.

Second, it's no accident that Aurobindian thinking is largely seamless with much Christian thinking: Aurobindo was educated in precisely that tradition. I've shown in the past how his ideas are rooted in precisely the kinds of theological and cultural debates of Victorian England that produced contemporary Christianity (echoes of AC Bradley and Matthew Arnold show up in Aurobindo, for instance). In my view Aurobindo is a Hegelian thinker, and Hegel was nothing if not a theologian.

6:04 AM  
Blogger Duart Maclean said...

The heady, brilliant 'gurus' always get unmasked. They end up falling on their own contradictions. Time reveals all.

12:14 PM  

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