With all due respect, Mr. David Ducheyne: Purpose lies inside yourself

This blog is a reaction to a Blog of David Ducheyne, in which he claims that the Purpose lies outside yourself:http://www.hrchitects.net/purpose-lies-outside/

I gave some comments as you can see on his blog and the comment he gave on those was : “It’s always nice to see comments that are longer than the original Blog.  I think we agree.” Since I really cannot confirm this paraphrase of David I wrote this Blog.

A simple exercise to find your purpose is the Purpose Game that I have learned from my third Father Charlie Palmgren. I have played that game for almost twenty years now in very different settings . It goes as follows:

“You ask the other person, let’s call him Person A, to think of an activity he/she regularly does out of her/his free will. When he/she has found that activity you ask Person A to communicate this activity to you (Person B). The only question Person B has to use is: “What is YOUR Purpose of doing this activity?” Be aware that her/his answer is really connected to him/her. Don’t let fool you in this game, this is crucial. Person A has to stick to him-/herself and not take a flight to someone else.

Like in following exemple: “I (being A) pay bi-weekly a visit to my mother in law”. You, David (being B) asks me “Johan, what is your purpose of doing this?”. If I answer you “ Because she likes this”, I’m cheating, I take ‘a flight’ …. You (Person B) has to bring me back… Back to ME.

So the game has to continue USING the answer of Person A. You built upon or dig deeper in the purpose using those answers.  You continue the game until Person A repeats, paraphrases himself. This ‘landing point of the Eagle’ is noted on a piece of paper. This ‘final’ answer, you’ll see, does NOT ly outside yourself, it is the core Purpose of your Being.”

I’ve been playing this game with thousands of persons and mostly I pair up the people in the group. When A has finished (he got stuck, paraphrases himself)… A becomes B and B becomes A and the team of two play again. In those twenty years I’ve never got a surprise, all people found their inner PURPOSE. I must admit that once I had to dig very deep with a Catholic Priest until he said… BUT then I am selfish! No, I replied, you are a loving HUMAN! (in Flanders I call this game: ‘Mother, why do we exist?’).

And this purpose is: You want to be happy, content, fulfilled, in peace … and this lies in yourself. And how many hours you want to be that way? Indeed 24/24 and seven days a week. Those of you who have had in their lives what are called ‘White nights’, know that this is seldom because one is happy, content, fulfilled, in peace…

Of course David is right saying that we cannot be happy all this time on our own. We need other people, creatures like pets, nature,…

My fourth father, Paul de Sauvigny de Blot SJ (in short Paul de Blot) was during years, like Victor Frankl, a prisoner in a WWII concentration camp. Victor in a German one, Paul in a Japanese one. The story he often tells about surviving (he lived more than a year in a death cell where he could not see any light, so after a while he didn’t know if it was day or night), is also about friendship. He testifies that not the strongest men survived in a concentration camp, it were those men with the most friends. You’ll find easily some of the his key notes on Internet.

Among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa, the most common greeting, equivalent to ‘hello’ in English, is the expression Sawu bona. It literally means “I am here” The order of the exchange is important: until you see me, I do not exist. It’s as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence. This meaning, implicit in the language, is part of the spirit of Ubuntu, a frame of mind prevalent among native people in Africa below the Sahara. The word ubuntu stems from the folk saying Umuntu ngumuntu nagabuntu, which, from Zulu literally translates as “A person Is a person because of other people”[i]

Let me quote David Ducheyne: “Psychology has discovered that your mental development is triggered by interaction with others. You cannot healthily exist without the other. You define yourself, based on the interactions with the other.” One of the philosophers who discovered this is the American Religious philosopher Henry Nelson Wieman. He writes extensively about “that creative good which transforms us in ways in which we cannot transform ourselves.” For Wieman our supreme devotion must be to the creative good not to the created relative goods [created by the creative good], this was an ultimate commitment to what in his later years he increasingly came to label “creative interchange.”[ii]

In 1966, Wieman met and formed a working relationship with Dr. Erle Fitz, a practicing psychiatrist, and Dr. Charles Leroy (‘Charlie’) Palmgren, my third father. Fitz, Palmgren, and Wieman met regularly in Wieman’s home (in Grinell IA I recall) until Wieman’s death in 1975 to focus on how creative interchange could be the basis for psychotherapy, applied behavioral sciences, and organizational development. After Wieman’s death, Palmgren continued to nurture the creative interchange philosophy, identifying the conditions necessary for the Creative Interchange process to occur nt, and developing tools to help people remove the barriers to those conditions while identifying the counter unproductive process ‘The Vicious Circle’.

I was lucky to meet Charlie in 1992 and since then I’m using the Creative Interchange Process in my field of expertise: Safety. In 2001 I wrote a book about my interpretation of Creative Interchange in the field of Loss Control (Safety): ‘Creatieve wisselwerking’[iii]. In 2012 followed a new book ‘Cruciale dialogen[iv]’ (‘Crucial dialogues’) which is the application of the Creative Interchange Process during tough conversations.

Indeed, you really define yourself, based on Creative Interchange with others!

Some people claim that there are two levels of Purpose:

1) Personal purpose, as in why am I here on earth? And;

2) Organisational purpose: the higher calling of an organisation. Finding deeper meaning in work that leads to a higher level of engagement, if it strikes a chord with the individual.

To me it makes sense that if an individual is well-aligned with his Purpose, he will seek out the same level of alignement professionally. If the company mission, vision and values don’t suffice, the individual will try to fill in the gaps on his own. And if there is an irreconcialbe gap between his Purpose and the company’s one he should leave the company. If not, he will become unhappy by definition, since he will be trapped in a ‘Vicious Circle’.


[i] Peter M. Senge [et al.] The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, strategies and tools for building a learning organization.Doubleday, New York, 1994.

[ii] Wieman, Henry Nelson. Man’s Ultimate Commitment. University Press of America®, Inc., Lanham, Maryland 1991.

[iii] Roels, Johan. Creatieve Wisselwerking, Garant, Leuven-Apeldoorn, 2001

[iv] Roels, Johan. Cruciale Dialogen, Garant, Ant

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