Teen Encounters and Values

In 2012  “Teen Encounters” launched in Southern California with a purpose of helping teens, and later, teens and their families find a sustainable path to unity and happiness. Part of the process of developing a mission for the organization involved an investigation into the area of values, and the relevance of introducing value concepts into the curriculum.

As part of this investigation, I researched a variety of publications on values to determine which, if any, would be useful. In 1959, a group of philosophers, psychologists, and therapists came together to discuss the possibility of identifying a science of values to help man apply corrections to his current path of failure and frustration.  What resulted was a publication of papers from the attendees entitled “New Knowledge in Human Values”. As a basis for discussion and comparison, and with a view to formulating accessible curriculum for “Teen Encounters”, a small group of counselors have come together to read excerpts from “New Knowledge in Human Values” and to write about and share our impressions and opinions.

For my part, I am going to start with Dr. Weisskopf’s paper to lay out a structure and a model for identifying human values, which I will supplement from my reading of Dr. Stephen Covey (not a contributor to the current book) and Dr. Abraham Maslow. I am doing this in hopes that the contributions of each author support and augment the general philosophies that flow from the model, and provide a useful toolset from which to draw.

Weisskopf immediately develops two ideas: human beings differ uniquely from other species through consciousness and awareness, and that the concept of values would be meaningless without a human context. Weisskopf shows that through the process of maturation, man transforms his state of unconsciousness as an infant into full consciousness and personal identity as an adult.  The byproduct of full consciousness is man’s split with the world: he clearly sees others and the rest of the universe through the lens of “I”, the individual. This lens, according to Dr. Covey, results into an individual’s particular “take” on his surroundings and the universe, which is developed by our interaction with others and the world around us during our upbringing. According to Covey, it is essential that we subject our perspective “lenses” through which we observe our universe to careful, objective scrutiny, because our paradigms, and therefore our values, give rise to actions that may or may not lead to happiness in the long run. As the contributors of the book have pointed out, our divorce rate, the continuation of wars, our political disunity, etc. all point potentially to dysfunction in value formation and disuse.

Weisskopf postulates that all of man’s strivings are based upon a drive to unify man with his universe. He identifies two potential paths whereby this union can take place: union upwards and union downwards – both paths providing tension reduction, originally caused by man’s individuation, and his break with his surroundings. The union downwards parallels man’s return to mother: what Freud referred to as man’s “death wish”. Maslow’s slant on the values argument takes its predictable direction, and revolves around man’s basic deficiency needs, and later his need of self-actualization based on one’s individual calling. Maslow believes that value strength is derived from one’s current situation relative to the hierarchy of needs, and that we value what we currently need. In looking at union upwards, Weisskopf emphasizes that the path of union upwards requires that man finds and maintains his individuation when he attempts to reunite with his universe. This is not the case with a union downwards, where individuation and unique identity are not prerequisites.

Looking more closely at the path of union downwards, how might union be achieved? Maslow identifies two different types of needs with distinct characteristics, which, through values and action, desire satiation. He outlines a set of deficiency needs (d-needs), which are characterized and differentiated by their disappearance upon their satisfaction. Specifically, safety and belongingness, food and other physiological drives, love and esteem, belong to this category. According to Maslow, all of the d-needs are strong and motivating.  What value system could be adopted that would motivate choices that fast-forward deficiency needs gratifications? In our interfacing with other people, adopting manipulative techniques associated with a “personality ethic” to speed up the satiation of acceptance, approval, and esteem. In this way, we treat others as objects to manipulate. In the workplace, succumbing to authoritarian management styles, and adopting a low-risk approach of capitulation helps us satisfy our safety and physiological needs. So would the various forms of politicking and sycophantic behavior gain us acceptance and pseudo-love.  Commensurate monetary compensation would pave the way for meeting food and shelter needs.  In our materialistic society outside of work, where money and material trappings brings adoration from others, perhaps this approach goes along way for meeting the need of esteem from others, at least at a superficial level. Other values, corresponding choices, and paths toward downward union involve short time tables and instant gratification. A common example is relief of stress through drugs and alcohol. A contrived version of love can be brought about by permissive sex, and non-individualistic, capitulating, (co-dependent) relationships.  All of these easily accessible means would appear to satiate Maslowian deficiency needs – in the short run. Maslow contrasts choices made by neurotic people, and healthy people, both with a drive towards homeostasis and equilibrium. Perhaps the choices made by the neurotic are represented by the choice of union downward; the “low nirvana” described by Maslow.

Union upwards as defined by Weisskopf has different requisites. Union upwards utilizes man’s consciousness of himself as an individual, maintaining his individuality, as he rejoins harmoniously with humanity. The means that he deploys on the path towards unity gives rise to “peak experiences” of supreme joy, of “good” becoming as identified by Maslow.  Weisskopf suggests that these moments are indicators of an alignment with the “ground of values”: This is what Covey defines as life’s principles. Per Maslow, this is where all antimonies unite:  work and play, selfishness and altruism, individualism and selflessness. Weisskopf’s  “ground of values” and Covey’s “principles” seem to align, as both authors agree that the principles/ground of values are common to all enduring religions and societies. According to Covey, values that are principle-based give rise to sustainable, long-term happiness.  All three authors suggest through respect for the individual, both the “I” and the “Thou”, rather than the “I” and you as “thing” lead us along the path of union upwards. Covey, in particular, describes the result of this unity in the production of the most desirable, third alternatives that results from the use and habituation of synergetic thinking.  Covey’s pre-requisites for deep, interpersonal, “union upwards” cooperation is trustworthiness at the personal level, and trust at the interpersonal level: both of which require long-term investment and commitment to a personal ethos and concern for another.

This drive to union upward, although instinctual in humans, is characterized by being particularly weak. As such, this drive is easily suppressed by conditioning, habit, trauma, etc. Perhaps it is understandable, because of this, why union downwards is an easier, more accessible choice. Under what conditions will teens and adults choose union upwards? I believe the union upwards choice seems easier for the non-neurotic, as indicated by Maslow. In contemplation of formulating some kind of structure for “Teen Encounters”, it is important to consider under what conditions give rise to remediation of neurosis. Maslow comments that the purpose of a healthy culture and its institutions (family, “Teen Encounters”, et al) is the fostering of universal self-actualization, i.e. attending to the d-needs of the individual. Carl Rogers talks about the uncovering therapeutic condition as one that provides unconditional love, belongingness, and acceptance for the participants. Through this condition, perhaps development of full individuation and authenticity can be developed, and through mutual trust and respect of each other, union upwards.