Re: Soul LO1161

John R. Snyder (
Thu, 11 May 1995 14:27:32 -0600

Replying to LO1148 --

Eleanor Wynn wrote:

>Authenticity is more of a common coin [vs "soul"]
>that people can easily discuss. [...]
>This is just talking about practices and the validity of what people come
>up with to do. That's already pretty "far out". Although myself a student
>of dharma I really don't feel like forcing this topic on my clients. That
>is not "skillful means."

Elegantly put, Eleanor. I believe that "skillful means" could be an
important framework from which to think this issue. Would you like to
give us a tutorial on that from a dharma point of view? (BTW, does anyone
have comments on Tarthang Tulku's book of the same name?) I agree with you
that talking about "soul" in most workplaces might create problems,
although I need to add that I don't believe that most people who want to
talk about soul in business mean "souls" in the "usual" religious sense.

As a footnote: the post-Jungian psychologist James Hillman seems to be the
origin of a lot of current talk about "soul" (as distinct from "souls").
He finds a distinction in Platonic and neo-Platonic thought (e.g., the
works of the Renaissance metaphysician Ficino) between "mind" (what
thinks), "spirit" (what wants to transcend or soar), and "soul" (what
wants to descend and be 'grounded'). Robert Bly picked this distinction
up from Hillman (with assistance from Joseph Campbell and Jung himself)
and made it popular in one branch of the men's "movement". One of Bly's
consistent themes is that the recovery of the ability to grieve is the way
to "soul". (God knows there's plenty of raw material for grief in the
modern organization.) Poetry is Bly's other preferred path to "soul."
(Actually, a certain type of poetry, because of course now he has to have
a distinction between "mind poetry," "spirit poetry," and "soul poetry.")
Bly's partner Michael Meade claims to find the mind/spirit/soul
distinction in the folklore of non-Western cultures. Hillman's protege
Thomas Moore has introduced the distinction to the general public in his
current best sellers.

My personal belief -- and it could be inaccurate -- is that, like many of
Freud's ideas, the distinction has more to do with Hillman's personal
psychological struggles than with any universal principles. However, I
hasten to add that there might be some pragmatic value in it. We *do*
experience the "up/manic/transcendant/light/spirit" impulses as very
different from the "down/depressive/grounding/dark/soul" impulses in our
lives. Both *are* potentialities of the healthy human psyche. And our
post-Enlightenment culture *has* tended to glorify the "spirit" complexes
and recoil from the "soul" complexes. In organizations, we see this
played out as an unwritten, undiscussable policy of hyping our successes,
hiding our failures, always looking on the "bright" side, rah-rah-rah
approaches to "team building," total denial of the healthy erotic impulse
(both sexual and aesthetic), going as fast as possible, the rhetoric of
continuous improvement and progress, and striving always to be bigger,
better, and more powerful. So there may be great pragmatic value in (a)
making discussable the fact that the company is asking you to check your
"soul" at the door and (b) inquiring into the origins of that request.

Anyway, this begs the question Eleanor raised: is it perhaps better to
have these discussions without relying on confused and confusing concepts
like "soul" (Hillman style)? Will any other label we give this concept be
any better? Can we get to the same place talking about "authenticity"?
What are the unintended consequences of that word? Is working through the
conflict, misunderstanding, and fear that we MAY engender by "soul" talk a
necessary part of accessing soul in organizations? Could it be that by
developing skill at making the undiscussable discussable we are going to
get the undiscussable aspects of soul "for free"?

To Alex's original question I would say YES you CAN talk meaningfully
about "authenticity" without talking about "soul." Charles Taylor's *The
Ethics of Authenticity* is an excellent recent book that does that very

John Snyder
Innovation On Demand "To a poet, a tree is a symbol
Round Rock, TX for a word ..." -Alfred North Whitehead