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Gendlin, E.T. (2006, August). The town and human attention. [Transcript]. Talk presented at the Focusing Institute Summer School, Garrison Institute, New York. From http://www.focusing.org/gendlin/docs/gol_2180.html

THE TOWN AND HUMAN ATTENTION

Eugene T. Gendlin Ph.D.

Presentation at the first FISS August 25, 2006
Transcribed by Nada Lou from DVD recording
Edited by Eugene Gendlin

I want to say that we are in the middle or the beginning stages of a really gigantic development of human beings. Partly my message is going to be, "Don't be discouraged." There has been an incredible development of the mass of people all over the world in my lifetime, which is a little longer than yours, but not that much. Now in a town that you never heard of, somewhere in Northern Ghana, a kid goes to the movies on Saturday and sees television all week and knows everything that's going on; and this is a tremendous development of people. There is literacy in half the world, but even where there is no literacy, there is tremendous awareness that a mass of people have gotten much more similar and much more developed. That's my first thing to say.

Secondly, there has been a smaller development, still of millions of people, who are now psychologically sophisticated. Not just in the West or in Japan, but in many places. What I mean by that is, you sit on the bus and the woman behind you is telling her friend, "I am not his mother!" (for instance). And you realize that there is a level of sophistication that has come, psychologically, to certainly not the majority, not to the mass of people, but nevertheless to some significant hundred million people or so who are aware of all this stuff and coming in closer to the center! There are all these so-called "methods" that are our neighbors, so to speak. Several hundred of those, ten of which at least you've heard of. You know what I mean: there are all kinds of training, and interaction in energy, and in Nonviolent Communication, and in dialogue, and in a whole list of these things that are all happening, developing human beings to be much more sophisticated than that first thing I mentioned, which is worldwide. This is a kind of minority, a creative minority I hope.

To me it compares to something like the really major change that happened between agriculture and industry back 300 or 400 years ago, where the basic thing that people were doing changed from agriculture to industry. Agriculture used to take 99.9% of the people to grow food. There were few people who could carry on what we think is a history. When we look back and don't hear from all those other people, they are the so-called peasants. And then it changed. Only a small percentage—now it's something like 5% of the world's population—needed to do agriculture, and 95% of the population were freed to do that other thing, that new thing. What was the new thing then? It was industry, trade. and finance—that kind of stuff.

When the world changed, it changed inside the individuals, and outside. This split between inside and outside—we have to get across it. The split between individual and society, between finding yourself and dialogue, these things can't be split. So there was no split between the external conditions and the individual; both changed.

With the coming of industry everything changed. The man went to work in the factory, the wife stayed home all day, the kid went to school. The woman went to see her friends, and they were all seeing different

people. The people that the man met in the factory were not the parents of the kids that went to school with his kid, and they were not related to the friends that the woman had in the town. That split up everything and made all the conditions of living different.

So some people say, we see it's external change that determined the difference in the people. But it also goes the other way. It required a human development for people to run machinery. They had to be taught how to read instructions, they had to be taught how to be careful with powerful machinery, they had to be taught to be there at 8:00 in the morning, because the whole factory can't work unless everybody is there, because they are working on the assembly line and when two guys are missing the whole thing stops. So everybody had to buy a watch, everybody had to learn numbers. There was this tremendous development of people, inside and outside.

And it's happening again. Because now it's enough for 5% of the population to do industry and produce things. So everything is made in China, and we are doing something else. What the hell are we doing? What's the new product?

Well, up to here I am sure I am right. From here on in—we'll see. I think the new product is called "interhuman attention." I think what people are doing in developed countries is, they are paying attention to each other. Some people call that the service industry. Some people call it the business world. It's mostly having meetings the whole day and writing memos to each other.

Now we are still in a phase. There is a characteristic phase that took a long time when the forms of society were still agricultural, even though the main activity was no longer agricultural. And that took revolutions to get out of. So if people wanted to ship some products from Marseilles, the port down on the Mediterranean, up to Paris, they had to pay 20 different landowners fees along the road. They had to stop every time and do all this kind of stuff because the forms of people relating to each other socially were still from agriculture—even though what was really going on was no longer agriculture.

Well, we are in an analogous situation right now, I am saying. We sit on the expressway and it's stuck every single morning at 8:30. But we don't really have to get there at 9:00, because there is no assembly line. We can stay in our pajamas and write those memos. Granted, we have to come to the meetings, but they are useless anyway—mostly. So we are stuck in the social forms of the previous stage. Therapists sell by the hour, like the whole industrial system which works by hourly labor. The farm doesn't of course. There you don't count the hours. You do this in the winter, this in the spring, and this in the summer. But industrial society has to have everything by the numbers—the time, and the money, and the exchange, and the labor, and all of that.

And we are still in that. We are selling human attention by the hour—it's called therapy. It's ridiculous. But that's the form we are in. Actually, you are not replaceable. It's not the hours; it is you that the person comes to. Then you are on vacation, and then you say, "Well, for the next four weeks see doctor so-and-so." That's ridiculous. Doctor so-and-so can't replace you. But that's the way we have it, in case there is an emergency. We are still in the old forms and we are going to be in the old forms for a long time.

So I look back to this history and I say, "What were the new people doing?" We are the new people now, but what were they doing then?

First of all, they lived in towns. The other people were on the land. So I would like to introduce a new term and call us "the Town." By which I mean all the new methods, not just Focusing. All the new methods, all the psychological sophistication, all the interactional training, all the therapy, all that stuff is the Town. And we need to become conscious that we are producing a new product. And the product is human attention. And the product isn't very good right now. Mostly right now that attention is not great.

But there is an interesting phenomenon going on. Back in the middle ages the townspeople were important to the landholding people. The duke or the guy who owned the whole province needed the towns, so he gave the town a charter. The charter said: you have certain rights as a town. They were very important rights, because if the serfs that were owned by the landowner ran away from the land to the town, the landowner couldn't go into town and get them back. Which was really important so that towns could grow; they had certain rights. But why did the landholder need the town? He needed the town because the town was the trade center. So if he wanted anything that didn't grow on his farm, he had to depend on the town. The town could get him wine and spices, silk, jewelry, and all kinds of stuff that he thought he needed, so he tolerated the town. Are you following me?

These days the business world is looking to this new Townto be taught how to pay attention. And this is going on all over. It's well known in the business world that more than half the failures there have to do with a failure in interpersonal relations. Such failures come from not knowing how to give interhuman attention properly. I could tell you stories about that, but everybody can. People know they need this now. They need to improve the quality of the kind of interhuman attention they can give others.

So I am saying there are three really important developments, one inside the other. There is the broad development of the human species—what used to belong to only a very, very, tiny, tiny, tiny minority is now all over. That has to do with television, has to do with the internet now recently, has to do with radio before that. Back probably 40 years ago, all these Chinese peasants got these little radios. Sure, they got them because the central government wanted to control them, but meanwhile they developed, they learned about their whole world, and then the peasant is no longer what the peasant used to be. You and I are the peasants too.

So there is this large development; and inside of that is what I call the Town, which is these peculiar people who are specialized in attention—in raising the quality of the attention. And inside of that I think is Focusing, is us.

Now of course I am making us the center, but that's the human tendency to do so. You can look at it from some other angle. But I think we are again raising the quality of the product to a completely new level.

I have a wonderful quote from Afghanistan. I think the work being done in Afghanistan is probably the most significant thing that's happening right now. So would you please, on the web, when you have time, click "Afghanistan" (on the <a xhref="www.focusing.org" mce_href="www.focusing.org" title="The Focusing Institute">www.focusing.org</a> website) There are three reports there from Afghanistan and there are more reports that are being sent. One quote I want to read to you.

This is a village woman from Afghanistan and it's what she said after some workshop or some session (because we are teaching Focusing to ordinary people, not to therapists). She said: "I went home and I listened to my sick uncle and he brought all his medicines for me to see. And I listened to him. He was very happy and told me his whole heart."

So there is something that we are bringing to the middle of this whole development—which goes right in. It doesn't require any kind of training or complications. It's like she learned that and she went home and did that. It worked right away.

Now the people who are in control right now—and of course there are different people in different kinds of control all over the place—they don't have this yet. They are still learning from the Town the more general kinds of things: how to interact and all that kind of stuff. They don't have that yet.

In my country right now the war party is in control. But they don't know what they are doing really, because first of all they are having meetings. If you pursue what is going on, they are considering, they are planning, they are doing what management always does. Which is that they mangle around the categories that they have and they only manage what fits those categories. So this is like, should we go to war with Iran or not? It's either going to support such and such a government and such and such a place or it won't. The choices that they have when they plan are already cut in such pieces that the situation can't be coped with. There is this gigantic development of human beings all over the place, but they don't know about that. They don't have a way to think about that. They are still bombing peasants, they don't understand that they are bombing people mostly just like themselves. There is no category yet for it. But we'll bring them a category. Right?

So you can look forward to a time when things are going to get a lot better than they are right now. Don't be discouraged. Because if you watch management, both politically and in the business world, they want to learn this now. It's well known that something is missing there. Like, I read articles in the business paper and it says there that things are no longer always repetitious and you can't routinize them. They think they are going to have small groups now. Well, God help us. But they want to have small groups because you can't direct these things from the top down the way they used to. They are all saying something is missing. And of course something is missing. They don't know how to relate even to each other, let alone to this whole development. But it is coming. And it is coming a lot faster than things used to come in history. So it'll get further even in your lifetime. When I started I was a very weird person. And I didn't really change, but the world changed a lot and I am a lot less weird now than I used to be. And that will happen also to you.

There is something, though, that I would like to point out that's difficult. This Town that I am talking about is not conscious of itself. We are conscious that we are teaching that stuff and we are teaching it to whoever listens so ... teach it to villages, teach it to management, it doesn't matter, teach it to anybody. We are teaching all right, but we are not conscious, not yet, even of each other as the Town. Like when I say, "Learn everything else; please don't just do Focusing," I am talking about the Town. We are still all these entities. If you just learn my thing, it is never true. You need five more things.

But if we were conscious of ourselves as producing a new kind of product, there is a different world that goes with it. And it's a much better world that goes with it, where people are aware of each other as people. Everything will be different. And it is getting different. But it's not getting different fast enough so that you feel good when you read the paper. But please read the paper. A great many Focusing people that I know are no longer reading the paper—it hurts too much. And they can't do anything about it anyway.

But there is something there about fresh thinking that I want to point to and I am done.

My colleagues at the University of Chicago, who are high-powered intellectuals, they all believe that they can't think about economics. Because economics is some kind of science that they don't understand, but respect, and it has computer models in it and curves and graphs and all kinds of things that they don't understand. And so economics is off by itself, and if you talk to anybody in there, you discover that no, they don't have the vaguest idea what they are doing. They are putting together a computer product, a computer model that will do what they wanted to do, which is usually to make profits for banks or some such thing. And that doesn't even work, but it works to some extent.

My point is that when they tell you that lowering the taxes will bring more business activity and make jobs, they are lying. They've been lying now for thirty years or so on this point. And some of them know they are lying and some don't. But you can think—not economic computer models, leave those to those people who want those. But you can think about the fact that if you cut all the services, if you take money away from people, if you restructure the company and fire 30,000 employees every day, then people can't buy as much as before. They certainly can't buy more. So then they want you to believe that if you lower the taxes the rich people will invest the money and create jobs. You can know that that can't be true. That's very simple. Now if that's economics don't be scared of it. Or else call it something else. But you have to be able to think freshly in that kind of place—and not go giving up on it because you can't do anything about it anyway. For a moment it's important to realize that.

The United States has put pressure on Japan and South Korea to open everything up so that private individuals can buy everything up and use the profits without building the country. They've resisted that. Isn't that great?

They've been smart. They resisted that, they've said no, we have our own model and we are building our own country. And so in South Korea you have all these apartment houses; nobody is homeless in South Korea because they imitated Japan, and it's been like that in Japan now for almost a hundred years or so, maybe more. They are building the place.

So yeah, people get incredibly rich, but meanwhile there is also a government. Like in South Korea they said, business people can do anything they want, just go to it, do anything, we'll support you. But if you send money out of the country, you go to jail. That's an economic model that's very interesting and very successful. You won't read about it in the American paper though, because the American paper is all in favor of opening everything up so that the individual investors can have it and nobody is building anything for anybody else.

But that's going to change. It's going to change because we can't bomb the people out of whatever they are doing any more. It's in the process of changing. There are no categories for this yet, so the policy makers can't think about it yet. But they will. They are already thinking about how this doesn't work. So that's a big advantage.

The reason that you don't want to read the paper is a very good reason. Partly it just makes you feel bad, partly you can't do anything about it, but also it's very boring. Because everything is cut in terms of certain pro and con issues. And both sides of those are always wrong. So either you support the mother and you don't give a damn about the infant, or else you support the infant and you don't give a damn about the mother. But why would I have to choose? Either you are for continuing the hopeless war or else you are for bringing everybody home and making ourselves a terrible embarrassment. Am I  supposed to vote for one or the other?  Well, I'd rather they came home if I have to choose just between those two, but my point is: If we widen the scope of those options, there will be something that would fit better. No real situation is ever just how we have it conceptualized.

But in the U.S. policy-making procedure the people who think are at the bottom. By the time it gets to the top just the cut-up options remain.

For example, giving services to people where the government has completely failed, which is almost the entire Islamic world. The only services for people, the only clinics, the only schools, the only clothing, the only food, are distributed by the people who are trying to organize people against the West. Well, as long as they are the only ones you can't blame them. You can't blame people for supporting that. But there might be some other way to get them clothes and schools. But now I am confusing you because you don't know that that's happening.

It's like when you read the paper, you have to pick up these little items now and then. You say, "Oh, is that right, is that what's happening?" Then you have to remember it because they'll never mention it again.

The point I am trying to make is that the way the issues are cut you can know in advance that both sides are going to be wrong. Either you want to kill all of these people or you want to kill all of those people. And then they want you to choose.

So to hell with that. Then you have to allow yourself to think about it yourself. You have to say, "Does that really make sense that if we cut taxes it's going to make more investment here?" Of course not. And the same with any other issue, you are going to have to say, "Well, I haven't yet heard anything that makes sense or anything that I could choose."

The latest process that we developed is TAE, which is teaching people that you can actually think freshly. You can! What we learned in school was that we can't. We are not supposed to think freshly, we are supposed to learn twenty concepts and keep rearranging them. That's the only way you get good grades, so fine, we learn how to do that. We can do that. But that's not so interesting.

Thinking is something else. Thinking is like Focusing. Only, in Focusing we always talk in terms of a particular situation, where in Thinking we would be saying, "Well what is wrong there with this issue, that either I am supposed to do this or that? That can't be like that. Why do I feel it can't be like that?" Then you've already got something. If you allow yourself to allow language to flow out, then you get different parts laid out. You say, "Oh look, I've got five things now, whereas before I only had 'uh?' Now I have five things, well let me list: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5... Oh, there is the sixth, well how do they go together?" And in there we have a way for people to be able to think.

And of course not everybody wants to think. That's fine. TAE is not only for thinking, TAE is also to let people hear themselves say something they want to say. So often we have trouble saying something because when it's new, there are no standard phrases or categories for it. And it's with categories that I want to end. Then I want to come back to where I started.

This whole philosophy can let you realize—and it only takes you a few moments—that whatever it is you care about—reality, people, yourself, your kid, anything—it doesn't come in categories. Fortunately. It doesn't come all chopped up in graph paper, it doesn't come like that. So you don't have to stay with the categories that they give you. In fact you can't stay with the categories they give you anyway. But that's a place I would ask you not to give up too quickly, because things are changing and things are very interesting and you can think about them if you don't fall for "economics" or "neurology" or any of those kind of things. Then you become aware that those people who have charge of everything, they are still thinking in the categories, so no wonder things aren't going so well.

That's all. Thank you.

ŠEugene T. Gendlin

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  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices (http://www.focusing.org) stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
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