Graduate studies meant learning the various special research areas of the field of psychology, as I've written about in an early post on this blog. As I advanced I needed to select a field I would become specialized in.
My challenge then, and now, was my curse--always looking at the bigger picture, looking for integrating principles. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
My questioning, my search, my obsession, was not greeted well by the various specialists in the Department. Unable to clearly articulate what it was I was searching for, my professors grew uneasy with my failure to narrow my interests down to a single focus.
Would it be developmental psychology, with my interest in children and how they grow? Motivation? Learning theory? Perception? Or maybe social psychology, or experimental? Within each of these specializations, what would my main interest become?
Then came my turning point, and from a most unlikely source. A report published in a mostly dry and academic professional journal, Psychological Review.
Published in May, 1968, A reinterpretation of the direction of effects in studies of socialization detonated an explosion of recognition in my consciousness, an awareness that someone in this vast field of study had finally recognized--and succeeded in publishing--Life. Here's the shocking, profound point of the research:
We've agreed that parenting styles have an effect on children.
But wait! Babies also influence their parents!Science discovers the existence of water, air and fire! The sky is blue!
This paper upended an era of looking at the effects of parenting on children, including the ancient questions of nature-nurture: are children/humans the products of genetics or parenting patterns?
It had simply not registered in the scientific literature that children were more than passive participants in this dynamic. Thus began a new wave of thinking, looking at interactive effects in families, relationships, organizations, communities of living from intimate to vast.
This was such profoundly disturbing concept to many. That it was so is the best way to get a glimpse of the nature of psychological truth in the 1960s. And the basis of the curiosity and the drive that took me so passionately deeper and wider, continuing to this winter day 50 and more years later.
With discovery of this paper the direction of my personal and professional life was altered, determined. The course was set. My doctoral supervisory committee and my published research were to be focused on social psychology, with an emphasis on social systems theory and practice. My life's work would become understanding at least some elements of this complex field, and sharing those findings to as wide an audience as my limited resources allowed.
I was not alone in experiencing this revelatory work. The forces it unleashed in the entire model of human development and behavior took a previously young and undeveloped analytic model and provided the stimulus it need, energy that continues to this day to ripple through the American consciousness, permeate the scientific establishment, influence the education and management spheres, underpin military and political thinking. It was a harbinger of the coming revolution in psychological thinking and practice.
Yet this was not an idea that was marketed to the public, adopted for professional distribution by the power of economics, seen as a sexy, powerful avenue forward. It was simply an idea whose time had come. Years later it was a matter of true inspiration to read Richard Bell's description of how this unlikely professional report came to be.
Thus began my journey to understanding the connectedness of life.