In his book Man’s Ultimate Commitment Henry Nelson Wieman suggests that we have a need in our lives to achieve the infinite potentialities present in us at birth. In fact he stresses the importance of our commitment to a life-long process that enables us to live our lives to the fullest. In order to have the Greatest Human Good one has to commit to live Creative Interchange from within.
This special human interchange that Henry Nelson Wieman coined Creative Interchange is our ability to learn what others have learned, to appreciate what others appreciate, to feel what others feel, imagine what others imagine and to creatively integrate all this with what we have already acquired and form this way our true individuality. This creative interchange uniquely distinguishes the human mind from everything else.
You can see this beautiful process in action by watching the inquisitive behavior of any healthy young child (before the counter process, which Charlie Palmgren coined the Vicious Circle, sets in). We are all born with this ability (Creative Interchange); sadly we have lost so much (due to the Vicious Circle).
The Greatest Human Good is, according to Henry Nelson Wieman, not any state of existence or any realm beyond this world, it is the most complete transformation of the individual toward the qualities that life can yield and the fullest development of her/his humanity.
Because the Greatest Human Good must come from within ourselves and how we relate to each other we are pilgrims to the continuous improvement of this world. The Greatest Human Good is to undergo this creative transformation that enables us to appreciate most profoundly everything appreciable.
At the heart of this creative human interchange is the free mutual authentic expression of self, one to the other, while understanding and appreciating each other. So, the individual’s capacity for appreciative understanding is integral to this process.
Ironically human interchange is necessary to develop this capacity and the relationships we develop with other people are always imperfect to some degree. From infancy on we observe a decline in honest and integer interaction. At the same time we observe a rise in human interchanges that are deceptive, manipulative, … thus far from being honest and integer. Henry Nelson Wieman called this forms of interchange ‘evasive’ ones and those deaden our abilities to represent ourselves authentically and appreciatively understand the other. Charles Leroy Palmgren, who’s mentor was Henry Nelson, pointed rightly out that this evasiveness is a spin-off of a counter productive process he coined as the Vicious Circle. In fact, even our social institutions and our economical organizations are undermining our ability to creatively interchange with each other, since the Vicious Circle is omnipresent in these communities.
In these series, based on Man’s Ultimate Commitment[i], The Chicken Conspiracy[ii], Creatieve Wisselwerking[iii], The Greatest Good[iv], Ascent of the Eagle[v] and Cruciale dialogen[vi] we will discuss how creative interchange is a personal commitment; a commitment to direction rather than drift; a commitment to openness and to agility rather than closeness and rigidity; a commitment to a more comprehensive purpose, to a more inclusive understanding; a commitment to an abundance of creativity and more control from the inside-out (rather than from the outside-in) over the conditions of our existence.
By Creative Interchange Henry Nelson Wieman meant two things: (1) an authentic human dialogue that creates appreciative understanding of our unique individualities, and (2) the progressive integration within each of us what we discover from each other in this way.[vii]
Henry Nelson Wieman described Creative Interchange sometimes as having those two features and at other times as a four-fold process. Actually both are true. Each Feature has two aspects. Authentic Interacting leads to Appreciative Understanding, since the interaction involves both: sharing and appreciative understanding. Progressive integration involves both: creative integrating of what was appreciatively understood and transformation of the interacting parties. Creative interchange can be viewed as following four-fold process: Authentic Interacting, Appreciative Understanding, Creative Integrating and Continual Transformation. I’m always using the Lemniscate of Bernoulli tot picture the Creative Interchange process (and its application ‘Crucial dialogues), since the Lemniscate is the sign of infinity.
Authentic Interacting means sharing with integrity the best one knows and listening with humility to learn the best others know. Appreciative understanding is more than simply understanding ideas, facts and viewpoints of others (which is done during the interaction). Central to the concept of Appreciative Understanding is appreciation of the meaning those ideas have for the person sharing them. The meaning of ideas and facts depend very much on the mental model (mindset, frame of reference) from which they are viewed. Appreciative understanding respects the viewpoint of others. It assumes there is more than one way to look at reality and that each perspective provides some originality to see the ‘truth’. In dialogue, appreciatively understanding of each other’s views can lead to a common meaning, a common way to see the ‘truth’. The Creative Integrating aspect of the creative interchange process means that the interacting parties are changed in ways that strengthens who they were meant to be as individuals. The Continual Transformation aspect of Creative Interchange is continual transforming of oneself through the learning process Creative Interchange. For Henry Nelson Wieman this meant that we could learn form one another’s successes as well as each other’s failures. Both forms of learning have a continual transforming impact on us.
The following parts of this series discuss sources of obstruction of Creative Interchange (Part 2); the role of trust, reason, curiosity, imagination and freedom in our relationships (Part 3); the required conditions that enable the Creative Interchange process to flourish (Part 4); and our journey of transformation and commitment living Creative Interchange from within (Part 5).
[i] Wieman, Henry Nelson. Man’s Ultimate Commitment. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1991.
[ii] Hagan, Stacie and Palmgren Charlie. The Chicken Conspiracy. Breaking the Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore MD: Recovery Communications, Inc., 1999
[iii] Roels, Johan. Creatieve wisselwerking. Nieuw business paradigma als hoeksteen van veiligheidszorg en de lerende organisatie. Leuven-Apeldoorn: Garant, 2001
[iv] Palmgren, Charlie and Petrarca, William. The Greatest Good. Rethinking the role of relationships in the moral fiber of our companies and our communities. Victoria, Canada. Trafford Publishing, 2002.
[v] Palmgren, Charlie. Ascent of the Eagle. Being and Becoming your Best. Dayton, OH: Innovative InterChange Press, 2008
[vi] Roels, Johan. Cruciale dialogen. Het dagelijks beleven van creatieve wisselwerking. Antwerpen-Apeldoorn: Garant 2012.
[vii] Wieman, Henry Nelson, op cit. p. 305