Sensitive Empathy or Spending Time With Carl R. Rogers

An old diagram of a male human skeleton.Image from WikipediaCarl R. Rogers provides us with a look at our relationships, with our uniquely human interactions with those around us and with our self-reflective communication (our talk about our talk, our talk to our self). Rogers, in his book “On Becoming a Person,” has compiled many of his essays on self-development, communication, listening, empathy and learning. I originally stumbled across Rogers through Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s book “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” and decided to order the recommended Rogers book. Thus far, I have not spent enough time with Rogers in order to be able to make a part of him a part of me. By fleshing out his work, hopefully something of his work will stick with me (and you, too!). In this entry, I will try to give you a brief introduction to Rogers’ work from his piece entitled “Some Hypotheses Regarding the Facilitation of Personal Growth.”

As his guiding question, Rogers asks: “How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth (Rogers 32)?” That is, Rogers wishes to open a space with the other where the two of them can allow each other to grow as separate individuals while maintaining a space of growth between them. That is, instead of speaking “to” each other, speaking “with” each other. This way of communicating transforms both people involved by its compassionate attempt to achieve transparency with the other.

The hypothesis that Rogers proposes is: “If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur (Rogers 33).” But, even as Rogers admits, this question is very open-ended and vague. Thus, he continues by breaking down and fleshing-out what exactly he means. For Rogers, a successful relationship encompasses the following:

1. Being genuine with one’s self and with the other, which presents a fragile reality to the situation.
2. A willingness to accept the other on his/her own terms, in all of the other’s unique once-occurring wonder.
3. A “sensitive empathy” toward one’s self and toward the other, a space where real communication can flourish.

For Rogers, in using this approach, a state of “transparency” may be achieved. That is to say, a state of openness and understanding between self and other, a breakdown of the social masks that may hinder true communication. Also, Rogers believes that each person has the capacity for positive change and self-renewal, even though it may be buried, repressed or not yet fully realized. Through working with and experimenting with the above mentioned communicative methods, Rogers hopes to help the other develop and bring to life the realizable self-improving capacities.

As for the outcomes, Rogers writes, “It is my hypothesis that in such a relationship the individual will reorganize himself at both the conscious and deeper levels of his personality in such a manner as to cope with life more constructively, more intelligently, and in a more socialized as well as a more satisfying way (Rogers 36).” Using this as his frame, Rogers provides empirical evidence from case studies and other research as to the efficacy of these methods upon constructive personality change. As Rogers sees it, his proposed findings and communicative suggestions have relevancy not just for those working in psychology or psychotherapy, but for teachers, parents and, generally speaking, human beings in general. As a summary, Rogers provides one (extremely long) and gorgeously structured sentence of hope as to what was presented in this piece and his general mode of thinking in terms of this piece. I will reproduce it here:

If I can create a relationship characterized on my part: by a genuineness and transparency, in which I am my real feelings; by a warm acceptance of and prizing of the other person as a separate individual; by a sensitive ability to see his world and himself as he sees them; Then the other individual in the relationship: will experience and understand aspects of himself which previously he has repressed; will find himself becoming better integrated, more able to function effectively; will become more similar to the person he would like to be; will be more self-directing and self-confident; will become more of a person, more unique and more self-expressive; will be more understanding, more acceptant of others; will be able to cope with the problems of life more adequately and more comfortably (Rogers 38-39).”

I would like to spend more time with Rogers and hopefully in the coming months can flesh out some more of his essays as I think they are constructive and useful to read.

If you like what you read here, please support the work of Carl R. Rogers: Carl Rogers: On Becoming a Person

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