The Nature of True Freedom III: Creating A Shared Image of the Future

The Nature of True Freedom III: Creating A Shared Image of the Future

Without a compelling image of the future, we are unwilling to make long-term commitments with other people or even ourselves. Robert Jay Lifton (1995) speaks of the “protean man” who has no clear sense of self or of the Future. Much as the Greek god Proteus could change his shape from wild boar to dragon to fire or flood, Lifton’s protean man is constantly shifting his form and style without achieving any sense of coherence or purpose. We find ourselves, like Lifton’s protean man, always being expedient. We are always changing our form, our roles, and our beliefs to adjust properly to a new social “reality.”

In particular, we are unwilling to make a covenant with the next generation, ensuring them a viable society or a viable environment. Jay Ogilvy (1979, p. 153) suggests that “for the Protean Man a promise is more an oath of the moment, than a troth for all times.” Margaret Mead once said that we should always have a child present at any meeting where we are planning for the future to remind us who and what we are planning for. “With rising insistence and anguish,” writes Mead, “there is now a new note: Can I commit my life to anything? Is there anything in human cultures worth saving, worth committing myself to?” (quoted in Gross, 1980, p. 109). What about the adults in Mad Max? They have created a post-nuclear society in which there is little or no hope—and not much envisioning or planning-for a collective future. Why be concerned with the welfare of a child if there is no expectation that there will be a future in which the child will live?

In essence, it becomes increasingly difficult for the protean man to move toward commitment to anyone or anything given the fragmentation of our personal and collective image of the present, let alone the Future. Without a clear and compelling image of the Future, it is easy and very tempting to fall back on expedience or to remain in a noncommitment. Kundera (1984) describes this condition in the title of his famous book about freedom and the loss of freedom in Eastern Europe during the 1960s: The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Alternatively, we regress to a simplistic frame and borrow an old and often destructive image of the Future from some authoritarian source. We become Adorno’s “authoritarian” or Hoffer’s “true believer”. Tragically, we now regress with vengeance and stubbornness, having felt betrayed by those who have offered us a false truth and have portrayed a Future that can never be realized. Having found no alternative image to motivate or sustain us, we are inclined to become the protean men and women described by Lifton.


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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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