Rollo May and Erik Erikson Psychological Developments

ROLLO MAY. Rollo May (1909-1994), a pioneer of the humanistic school of psychology, introduced to U.S. psychology the views of European existentialists. He made Heidegger's views on care more accessible to the average reader by pointing to their psychological and moral implications.

May's 1969 book Love and Will was written in a historical period in which, he argued, humans were experiencing a general malaise and depersonalization resulting in cynicism and apathy, which he regarded as "the psychological illnesses of our day" (p. 306). What the youth of the 1960s were fighting in their protests, May claimed, was the "creeping conviction that nothing matters ..., that one can't do anything." The threat was apathy. Care "is a necessary antidote" to apathy, for care "is a state in which something does matter; care is the opposite of apathy." It is "the refusal to accept emptiness ..., the stubborn assertion of the self to give content to our activities, routine as these activities may be" (p. 292). Care, regarded as the capacity to feel that something matters, is born in the same act as the infant: If the child is not cared for by its mother, it withers away both biologically and psychologically.

May was concerned that the idea of care would not be taken seriously if it were regarded as mere subjective sentiment. To counteract this attitude, he argued that care is objective. With care, "we are caught up in our experience of the objective thing or event we care about" and about which we must do something (1969, p. 291). Following Heidegger and citing the text of the Myth of Care, May holds that care constitutes the human as human: Care is "the basic constitutive phenomenon of human existence" (1969, p. 290). Drawing from these sources the idea that the human being is constituted in its human attitudes by care, May claimed: "When we do not care, we lose our being; and care is the way back to being." This has moral implications: "If I care about being, I will shepherd it with some attention paid to its welfare ." (May, 1969, p. 290).

We could not will or wish if we did not care to begin with; and ifwe do authentically care, we cannot help wishing or willing. Care makes possible the exercise of will and love; and it is also the source of conscience: "Conscience is the call of Care" (May, 1969, p. 290, quoting Heidegger). Care is a state composed of the recognition of a fellow human being, of the identification of one's self with the pain or joy of the other ... and of "the awareness that we all stand on the base of a common humanity from which we all stem." Care of self psychologically precedes care of the other, for care gains its power from the sense of pain; but pain begins with one's own experience of it. "If we do not care for ourselves, we are hurt, burned, injured." And this is the source of identification with the pain of the other (May, 1969, p. 289).

According to May, care must be at the root of ethics, for the good life comes from what we care about. Ethics has its psychological base "in the capacities of the human being to transcend the concrete situation of the immediate self-oriented desire," and to live and make decisions "in terms of the welfare of the persons and groups upon whom his own fulfillment intimately depends" (1969, p. 268).

ERIK ERIKSON. Partly under the influence of Heidegger's philosophy, Erik Erikson (1902-1994) constructed a richly humanistic theory of psychosocial development in which care played a major role. Like May, Erikson made the idea of care more accessible to the average person; but he went far beyond all his predecessors by developing a fairly comprehensive psychological account of care that is relevant to many of the interests of contemporary ethics.

Based on his study of case histories and of life histories, Erikson developed a theory of psychosocial development in which the human life cycle has eight stages, each of them characterized by a developmental crisis or turning point. From the resolution of that crisis a "specific psychosocial strength" or a "basic virtue" emerges.

In the seventh stage, "adulthood," the developmental crisis is generativity versus self-absorption and stagnation. Generativity—"the concern with establishing and guiding the next generation" (Erikson, 1987, p. 607)—encompasses procreativity, productivity, and creativity. It entails the generation not only of new human beings but also of new products and new ideas, as well as a self-generation concerned with further personal development. Generativity struggles with a sense of self-absorption or stagnation, "the potential core pathology of this stage" that might manifest itself through regression to an obsessive need for pseudo-intimacy (Erikson, 1982, pp. 67-68; 1963, pp. 266-268). The virtue or "basic strength" that emerges from this crisis is care.

Adult caring is "the generational task of cultivating strength in the next generation" (Erikson, 1982, pp. 55, 67-68; 1963, p. 274; 1978, p. 22); that task may be parental, didactic, productive, or curative (1982). For Erik-son, care is "the concrete concern for what has been generated by love, necessity, or accident"; it is "a widening commitment to take care of the persons, the products, and the ideas one has learned to care for' (1978, pp. 27—28).

The impetus to care has instinctual roots in the "impulse to 'cherish' and to 'caress' that which in its helplessness emits signals of despair" (Erikson, 1982, pp. 59-60). The infant's demeanor awakens in adults a strength that they need to have confirmed in the experience of care; conversely, maternal care enables the infant to trust rather than mistrust and to develop hope rather than a sense of abandonment (1987, p. 600).

The tasks of taking care of new generations must be given continuity by institutions such as extended households and divided labor (Erikson, 1987). "[A] man and a woman must [define] for themselves what and whom they have come to care for, what they care to do well, and how they plan to take care of what they have started and created" (1969, p. 395). Even if individuals choose not to have children, they have a relationship to "care for the creatures of this world" through participation in those institutions that safeguard and reinforce generative succession (1963, pp. 267-268). Some, like Gandhi, choose, as an expression of their care, to become "father and mother, brother and sister, son and daughter, to all creation ..." (1969, 399). The task of taking care of the new generation also falls to organized human communities (1987); social and political leadership often entails giving direction to people's capacity to care (1969).

The framework for Erikson's ethic of care is one of dialectic dynamics, that is, it depends on a process of development and change through the conflict of two opposing forces; the moral task is to see to it that a new strength emerges. The negative aspect of adulthood (self-absorption) continues to interact dynamically with the positive aspects (generativity) throughout life (1963). Personal growth and the strength of care emerge from this conflict through an active adaptation that requires that one change the environment, including social mores and institutions, while making selective use of its opportunities (1978).

For Erikson, part of the ethics of care involves the struggle between the willingness to embrace persons or groups in one's generative concerns (a sympathic strength, which is the virtue of care) and the unwillingness to include specified persons or groups in one's generative concern (an antipathic inclination, which Erikson calls rejectivity). With rejectivity, "one does not care to care for" certain individuals or groups, or may even express hostility toward them (1982, p. 68). Because care must be selective, some rejectivity is unavoidable. "Ethics, law, and insight" must define the allowable extent of rejectivity in any given group. With the purpose of reducing rejectivity among humans, "religious and ideological belief systems must continue to advocate a more universal principle of care for specified wider units of communities" (1982, p. 69). Consequently, for Erikson, the ethics of care expresses itself in both "small but significant gestures" (1978, p. 15) and in global struggles against uncaring attitudes that contribute to the destruction of public and private morals.

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