The Chedva Beat: You have spoken about the merits of a collective mind. How have you integrated this concept in your relationship work?
Batya: People who find themselves in challenging relationships don’t feel connected to each other. Sometimes they feel outright opposition to the other, as if they’re in the middle of a war zone. Sometimes the “disconnect” is turned inwards and they feel “I cannot be myself in this relationship.”
I use the term collective mind to refer to a particular creative kind of group thinking process. In such a group, individual members stimulate one another’s thoughts in ways that generate new ideas that each mind could not have thought of on its own. Like the old saying: “Two heads are better than one,” two or more minds will see the same situation from different angles and have an advantage over trying to solve a problem or get insight using one mind alone.
In the model of group process that I call collective mind, the individual, by emerging as an individual, connects to the other or others and forms a unit — whether it’s a couple, family, small group or community — without sacrificing his individuality. This model can be useful for understanding oppositional and connective patterns in all kinds of interpersonal relationships.
The process I am describing is more than just a matter of teamwork or cooperation. Viktor Frankl uses the image of a mosaic to describe the difference between a community and a mass. In a mass, the individual is submerged and not allowed expression. In a community, the individual emerges. Each piece of the mosaic is unique and essential to the whole.
Thus a collective mind is an orientation towards relating to the other. This orientation helps create a more harmonious atmosphere in relationships. We’re not only listening and making a space for a differing opinion. We’re cherishing the contribution of each of its members. Every single person is panting with bated breath to hear what each of the others has to say, out of a sense that this perspective is something we all desperately need to hear! The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Admittedly, this is a high level of functioning.
How can this concept be integrated in relationships?
With relationships, we’re not trying to figure out a specific issue together, like how to get a car out of the snow. We’re looking at ways in which people can learn from each other, even if the lesson is unintentional. What is their orientation towards one another? Do they simply “get along” or not get along, or do they perhaps do something else altogether? Do they stop to think that they’ve been thrown together in this world for a reason, and that their destinies are somehow meant to converge?
Sometimes people are afraid to express an opinion. They assume they can’t both be right. They either feel: I’m right (and that puts me into the threatening position of having to prove myself right and the other person wrong) or I have to accede that the other person is right and I don’t have anything worthwhile to say at all.
The first way the concept collective mind can be used in relationships relates to the therapist’s own orientation. In my relationship work I believe in the group or couple’s potential to cherish each other’s contribution to the relationship and to relate in ways that will allow each of the individuals to emerge and together become a harmonious whole.
I keep a watchful eye for potential meaningful points of connection between them. If this person emerges in his or her uniqueness, how will that impact the relationship? How might this individual have something significant to contribute that he or she needs to express and the other needs to hear?
The source of my belief is based on Viktor Frankl’s logotherapeutic orientation of belief in the client. Frankl writes: “If we take people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat them as if they were what they ought to be, we help them to become what they are capable of becoming.” When we believe in their abilities, people are capable of great acts of courage and of accessing strengths they did not know they had by which they accomplish what is important to them.
Having potential means that these strengths and talents are currently there in a potential state. Seeing that they do exist enables me to pinpoint, pull out and then bring this self-awareness to the person as a gift of self-knowledge. “Know that you’ve been blessed with this. This is your special gift. With this you can find yourself. Go for it!”
If I believe in the person, I won’t be faking it when I treat him as if he has it, because he does have it. I can see it, and this gives me perfect trust in the person’s ability to deal with situations that require this strength. I’ll engage the person in thinking about how it could work. In this way I can help him bring his strengths and talents into an actual state.
If our expectation is a powerful tool for evoking strengths from the individual, it can be a powerful tool for evoking connections between individuals. To rephrase Frankl’s words regarding the individual and adapt it to a couple, we can say the following: If we take a group or couple as it is, we make it worse. If we treat a group or couple as if it was what it ought to be, we help it to become what it is capable of becoming.
The second aspect in which this concept can be integrated in relationship work is by highlighting the meaningful connections when they do occur. We can point out to the person how differently he is relating to a certain person now in comparison to the way he related to that person in the past. For example, after a person has overcome certain fears she becomes capable of seeing someone who was once threatening to her in a new light, and can now relate to that same person with compassion instead.
A collection of individuals, when fulfilling their individuality, becomes a collective in which each one contributes uniqueness, receives from all the others and generates a creative entity called community.