TitleIn Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life
AuthorRobert Kegan
PublisherHarvard University Press
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In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life

Robert Kegan
Page 5

But if in the last few hundred years we have succeeded in recognizing a qualitative distinction between the mind of the child and the mind of the adult, it may still remain for us to discover that adulthood itself is not an end state but a vast evolutionary expanse encompassing a variety of capacities of mind.

Page 26-27

"Definition" is minimally a cross-categorical way of knowing because it takes the concrete example as an instance or an element of a bigger principle of knowing that includes all the concrete examples. Examples must therefore be an element or member, not the principle itself. "Inference" is a minimally cross-categorical way of knowing because it takes the category of datum or fact as an instance or element. Data must therefore be element, not principle. Reflective thinking requires a mental "place" to stand apart from, or outside of, a durably created idea, thought, fact, or description. The idea, thought, fact, or description is made subordinate (as figure or element) to a superordinate ground or principle that is now capable of "bending back" (the literal meaning of reflective) its attention to focus on its own products. Each of these expectations about thinking is really an expectation for yet another expression of what it means to think abstractly.

Page 42

If I were asked to stand on one leg, like Hillel, and summarize my reading of centuries of wise reflection on what is required of an environment for it to facilitate the growth of its members, I would say this: people grow best where they continuously experience an ingenious blend of support and challenge; the rest is commentary.

Page 103-104

Miller harkens to a different form of social organization she imagines was more prevalent in the past. In traditional cultures or subcultures there exists a more homogeneous fabric of value and belief, a shared sense of how the world works and how we should live in it. When we live in communities of mind as well as geography, the number of original decisions we have to make about how we conduct our lives is dramatically smaller. Whether such communities are literally religious in nature, they are all implicitly so, providing a common core of beliefs that are entered and reentered via a seamless fabric of ceremony, celebration, ritual, gesture, and symbol. Whether bound by explicitly religious loyalties or ethnic, regional, or civic ones, such communities are distinguished by a kind of homogeneity that makes the notion of "role model" pandemic. Everyone older is a role model, and the elders are unrecognizedly inspiring in that young men or young women, without even being aware they are doing it, "breathe in" the way they are to conduct themselves today and tomorrow through their inescapable association with and fealty toward those who are a generation ahead of them.

Anyone who has ever been part of such fundamentalism, and I count myself among them, knows that ultimately it is the community's collective consciousness itself that is the source of order, direction, vision, role-creation, limit-setting, boundary-management, and developmental facilitation. The very expression of its vitality and integrity is the community's capacity to regulate its parts like a single living organism, to warn those constituents who are in danger of transgressing its limits and boundaries and to rescue those who step over the line. This is the real meaning of the "ortho" in "orthodox"; it refers not to rigidity or dogmatism but to the action of correcting or straightening (like "orthodontia"). The vision or overarching theory or ideology that directs life is provided via a corporate canon or creed that exists not in some lifeless text or impotent shrine but in the body of practice, sanction, and prohibition coursing through daily life. However unique the content, style, or mood of each community's creed, what they all share at the formal epistemological level is the delivery of a fourth order consciousness that creates and regulates the relations, roles, and values with which most of the adults in the community become identified and to which they are loyal. For many, and even most, this may be the source of fourth order consciousness. It does not and need not come from their own minds, nor from their autonomous, "manual" shifting of the gears. It comes from their mental and spiritual participation in the common weal, the body politic, the collective direction, which in its automatic action provides for them (who have no reason even to be aware that this plentiful and continuous supply is an assumed feature of how the world works) a definite sense of their place, their time, and their song in the universe.

Page 114

Interpersonal intimacy, as we all know, is about closeness, about the self being near to another self. The variable we usually pay most attention to here is the nearness, the varying distances between the selves. But what is often overlooked, although it is crucial to this definition, is the hidden variable of how "the self" is constructed in the first place, for this sets the terms of what one is getting "near to." If the self is subject to its third order constructions so that it is them, then the sharing of values and ideals and beliefs will in itself amount to the sharing of the self. But if the self relativizes its third order constructions so that it no longer is its third order constructions but has them, then the sharing of values and ideals and beliefs will not by itself be experienced as the ultimate intimacy of the sharing of selves, of who we are, nor will the nonsharing of our values and ideals and beliefs necessarily be experienced as an ultimate rending of our intimacy.

Page 134

Phylogentically, I would put it this way: the mental burden of modern life may be nothing less than the extraordinary cultural demand that each person, in adulthood, create internally an order of consciousness comparable to that which ordinarily would only be found at the level of a community's collective intelligence.

Page 184

When the self has become a kind of psychological administrator of an internal institution it is more able to identify with or take the perspective of work as an institution.