Case #27 - Moral rectitude


John ran a small company. His concern was that he was a very morally upright man. In a marketplace in which ‘anything goes’, he had strong principles, and he stuck to them. He was the same with his family - taking his duties seriously, respecting his parents, and following traditions

He felt heavy and burdened though, and questioned if perhaps his moral rectitude was really a good thing, or if in fact his business might fail in the end because he was not willing to employ the dishonest tricks his competitors used (like industrial spying).

I firstly sought to recognise the strengths in his way of being in the world, but this didn't move him much. He was concerned that in the real world, it wasn't going to serve him, but at the same time, he wanted to stay with his strict moral framework.

So I asked him to identify two polarities - a character from history who represented the morally upright man, and then someone who represented an ‘anything goes’ character. He selected two, and I asked him to step into each place in turn, and have a dialogue between them. He found this extremely difficult, and kept wanting to step out of role. He asked,“can’t I just unite the two?” But integration doesn't come so easily…

When in the upright role, he said that he was following a deep and long tradition of being Chinese, whilst the other role was compromising those values.

So it was clear - the degree of importance to him in honouring tradition, a profound ethic of Chinese culture.

So I suggested he step out of both roles, sit back in his seat, and talk to each side. He acknowledged tradition, and then he also acknowledged that perhaps he could learn something useful from the other side.

This was a major step for him.

I suggested that he was in the position of Emperor, having two advisors instead of just one, and that in the end, it was his decision.

He felt much better on hearing this, and could recognise the value of the ‘new’ advisor. He mentioned there was a dimension of this in his personal life, where he took things so seriously, that he never felt that he got a break.

So we identified another two advisors, one who reminded him of his responsibilities, the other was more irreverent, irresponsible, and fun-oriented.

Again, he felt relieved to have two advisors, but be able to make the final decision. I asked him to identify an actual person in the fun-role, and he mentioned his cousin. Previously, he had seen the cousin in a negative light, but he could now see him appreciatively, and would consider spending some time with him.

We used the Gestalt orientation towards polarities, which recognises that for any one quality, there is always implied an opposite one. The over identification with one side produces a split. The Gestalt process is oriented towards integration, which must occur through an actual process, being fully in contact with both sides, rather than a simply intellectual understanding.

He was not amenable to the usual form of the experiment (direct dialogue), so we always need to be willing to be flexible in redesigning an experiment on the spot, in response to the client’s willingness and feedback.


Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther