Attention, Cooperation, Purpose: An Approach to Groups Using Insights from the Work of Bion

Views: 437
Ratings: (0)

This book describes an approach based on attention that can help individuals and groups to cooperate more effectively. It presents the first book-length reassessment of Wilfred Bion's ideas on groups. Every group has a purpose or purposes - or, as Bion put it, "every group, however casual, meets to 'do' something." The approach described here shows how individual group members' use of attention - both broad or "evenly suspended" and focused - can promote a better understanding of purpose, making it possible for them to do what they have met to do. This work of attention enables group members to maintain a clear sense of their purpose and also to recognise how easily they can become distracted, losing focus and dispersing their energies into activities that are off task. The approach builds on the authors' experience of using Bion's insights into group dynamics over twenty-five years in different contexts, formal and informal, as group members, managers, leaders, teachers, consultants, researchers, family members, and friends. The book aims to introduce Wilfred Bion's ideas to those who may never have encountered them, but it also develops those ideas in a way that offers fresh insights for those already familiar with his work. Throughout the book the authors use stories from their own experience to make the ideas accessible to anyone who is seeking to enhance their contributions to group life, to find the truth behind their experience, or simply to make things less confusing.

List price: $22.99

Your Price: $18.39

You Save: 20%

 

14 Slices

Format Buy Remix

CHAPTER ONE Attention

PDF

CHAPTER ONE

Attention

W

ilfred Bion had a remarkable capacity for attention—that is, for attending to what is, rather than to what used to be or might be, to reality rather than to his or others’ aspirations for reality. It enabled him to see things that most of us simply do not notice. This capacity for insight seems to have been based on an ability to give a particular kind of attention, by which he sought to understand his emotional experience in the moment while in the presence of the group—free from hope and expectation, and without memory, desire, or even understanding. (Bion, 1970, p. 43)

Typically, people act as if they know. Bion, by contrast, lived according to a much more radical assumption: that what we know is likely to blind us to a far larger territory where, quite simply, we do not know.

Attention to this unknown dimension of experience is at the heart of our approach—that is, to the truth or reality of the present moment and to questions as much as to answers. It is a disciplined way of thinking and being in groups that goes beyond what is required when told to

 

Chapter One: Attention

ePub

Wilfred Bion had a remarkable capacity for attention—that is, for attending to what is, rather than to what used to be or might be, to reality rather than to his or others’ aspirations for reality. It enabled him to see things that most of us simply do not notice. This capacity for insight seems to have been based on an ability to give a particular kind of attention, by which he sought to understand his emotional experience in the moment while in the presence of the group—free from hope and expectation, and without memory, desire, or even understanding. (Bion, 1970, p. 43)

Typically, people act as if they know. Bion, by contrast, lived according to a much more radical assumption: that what we know is likely to blind us to a far larger territory where, quite simply, we do not know. Attention to this unknown dimension of experience is at the heart of our approach—that is, to the truth or reality of the present moment and to questions as much as to answers. It is a disciplined way of thinking and being in groups that goes beyond what is required when told to “Pay attention!”

 

CHAPTER TWO Distraction

PDF

CHAPTER TWO

Distraction

I

n Chapter One, we began to describe the way in which attention can be used as an approach to working in groups. However, attention is as vulnerable as any other state of mind to the vagaries of human interaction and emotion. The stories we chose were intended to illustrate two things: first, the nature of attention, and second, the way in which individuals and groups can, at any moment, lose the focus of their attention and allow themselves to be distracted by other things. We now turn to this phenomenon of distraction—when attention becomes misdirected, divided, or lost.

One of Bion’s key contributions to understanding group dynamics was to describe how and why group members can become distracted and lose touch with the group purpose. It is as if real thinking stops— that is, thinking which relates to the reality of the group’s purpose and relationships, internal and external—and is replaced by a kind of sham or as-if, even anti-, thinking. Although it may still look and feel like thinking, actually it misses the point. Instead of drawing group members back to what they are there to do, it draws them away, thereby serving to protect them from the tensions and emotional pressures that inevitably arise when working in groups.

21

 

Chapter Two: Distraction

ePub

In Chapter One, we began to describe the way in which attention can be used as an approach to working in groups. However, attention is as vulnerable as any other state of mind to the vagaries of human interaction and emotion. The stories we chose were intended to illustrate two things: first, the nature of attention, and second, the way in which individuals and groups can, at any moment, lose the focus of their attention and allow themselves to be distracted by other things. We now turn to this phenomenon of distraction—when attention becomes misdirected, divided, or lost.

One of Bion's key contributions to understanding group dynamics was to describe how and why group members can become distracted and lose touch with the group purpose. It is as if real thinking stops—that is, thinking which relates to the reality of the group's purpose and relationships, internal and external—and is replaced by a kind of sham or as-if, even anti-, thinking. Although it may still look and feel like thinking, actually it misses the point. Instead of drawing group members back to what they are there to do, it draws them away, thereby serving to protect them from the tensions and emotional pressures that inevitably arise when working in groups.

 

CHAPTER THREE Truth

PDF

CHAPTER THREE

Truth

The need of truth is more sacred than any other need. Yet it is never mentioned.

—Simone Weil, 1986, p. 117

W

e use the term attention as a short-hand for a complex process that includes both an evenly suspended or contemplative state of mind, open to what may be important but is not yet known, and a more concentrated focus on the matter in hand, the more everyday sense of “paying attention”. Consequently, the work of attention is concerned with questions and the unknown as much as with answers and the known. This complex process is guided by the pursuit of truth, the desire to work with the reality of the present moment.

In focusing on the pursuit of truth and the desire to work with reality, we are highlighting the aspirational nature of the work of attention.

We are using the term truth in the same sense that the term “True” in

“True North” indicates the direction of the earth’s North Pole; that is, true in the sense of conforming accurately to reality. The work of attention is based on the desire to gain a true perception of things as they really are. By contrast groups are distracted from the pursuit of truth

39

 

Chapter Three: Truth

ePub

The need of truth is more sacred than any other need. Yet it is never mentioned.

Simone Weil, 1986, p. 117

We use the term attention as a short-hand for a complex process that includes both an evenly suspended or contemplative state of mind, open to what may be important but is not yet known, and a more concentrated focus on the matter in hand, the more everyday sense of “paying attention”. Consequently, the work of attention is concerned with questions and the unknown as much as with answers and the known. This complex process is guided by the pursuit of truth, the desire to work with the reality of the present moment.

In focusing on the pursuit of truth and the desire to work with reality, we are highlighting the aspirational nature of the work of attention. We are using the term truth in the same sense that the term “True” in “True North” indicates the direction of the earth's North Pole; that is, true in the sense of conforming accurately to reality. The work of attention is based on the desire to gain a true perception of things as they really are. By contrast groups are distracted from the pursuit of truth when they cannot withstand the pressures to disperse their energies into alternative emotions, thoughts, or actions. As T. S. Eliot put it, “human kind/Cannot bear very much reality”. (1935, p. 190)

 

Chapter Four: Cooperation

ePub

The problem that confronts us today…is how to be one's self and yet in oneness with others, to feel deeply with all human beings and yet retain one's own characteristic qualities.

Goldman, 1917, p. 267

In Experiences in Groups, Bion introduced the strange term “groupishness” to highlight a fundamental aspect of being human. Hinshelwood has described this as one of Bion's “obscure pieces of common sense” (2008, p. 72). Although the word only appears three times in the book, the idea reverberates throughout. On the first occasion, he uses it to describe the individual's “inalienable quality as a herd animal” (Bion, 1961, p. 95) and also to convey the discomfort individuals can experience as a result of this quality. On the second and third occasions, he repeats the same sentence almost word for word in a discussion of the relationship between group and individual psychology: “The individual is a group animal at war, both with the group and with those aspects of his personality that constitute his ‘groupishness.’” (ibid., p. 168; see also p. 131)

 

CHAPTER FOUR Cooperation

PDF

CHAPTER FOUR

Cooperation

The problem that confronts us today … is how to be one’s self and yet in oneness with others, to feel deeply with all human beings and yet retain one’s own characteristic qualities.

—Goldman, 1917, p. 267

I

n Experiences in Groups, Bion introduced the strange term

“groupishness” to highlight a fundamental aspect of being human.

Hinshelwood has described this as one of Bion’s “obscure pieces of common sense” (2008, p. 72). Although the word only appears three times in the book, the idea reverberates throughout. On the first occasion, he uses it to describe the individual’s “inalienable quality as a herd animal” (Bion, 1961, p. 95) and also to convey the discomfort individuals can experience as a result of this quality. On the second and third occasions, he repeats the same sentence almost word for word in a discussion of the relationship between group and individual psychology: “The individual is a group animal at war, both with the group and with those aspects of his personality that constitute his ‘groupishness.’”

 

Chapter Five: Purpose

ePub

Purpose is of central importance in groups because of the fact that people always meet with something in mind. “Every group, however casual, meets to ‘do’ something”, as Bion puts it with typical directness and simplicity. (1961, p. 143) He argues that this is why a defining characteristic of groups that function well is their sense of “common purpose”: (1961, p. 25) what they are there to do is agreed, understood, and shared by all. This understanding of purpose is a good starting point for making sense of one's experience in groups, because so often the purpose for which a group is meeting is not clearly stated, or even when it is, can easily be forgotten. Bion used his experience of the group purpose as the basis for spotting moments when it turned into something different—typically without discussion or even apparent awareness.

Our primary focus in this chapter, therefore, is to bring to attention “the beauty of common purpose”; (Cocker, 2007, p. 136) that is, its role, importance, and implications for practice in groups.

 

CHAPTER FIVE Purpose

PDF

CHAPTER FIVE

Purpose

P

urpose is of central importance in groups because of the fact that people always meet with something in mind. “Every group, however casual, meets to ‘do’ something”, as Bion puts it with typical directness and simplicity. (1961, p. 143) He argues that this is why a defining characteristic of groups that function well is their sense of “common purpose”: (1961, p. 25) what they are there to do is agreed, understood, and shared by all. This understanding of purpose is a good starting point for making sense of one’s experience in groups, because so often the purpose for which a group is meeting is not clearly stated, or even when it is, can easily be forgotten. Bion used his experience of the group purpose as the basis for spotting moments when it turned into something different—typically without discussion or even apparent awareness.

Our primary focus in this chapter, therefore, is to bring to attention

“the beauty of common purpose”; (Cocker, 2007, p. 136) that is, its role, importance, and implications for practice in groups.

 

CHAPTER SIX Forms of interaction

PDF

CHAPTER SIX

Forms of interaction

W

e turn now to the final piece in the jigsaw of Bion’s ideas on groups—although as the best-known of his contributions to group theory it is often the first or only piece many people pick up. He noticed that three “patterns of behaviour” (1961, p. 175) kept appearing in group interactions: dependency, fight–flight, and pairing.

He also realised that these forms of interaction can indicate a shared group mentality rather than an individual one as, for example, when a group comes to think in a dependent way and to behave accordingly.

Consequently, by giving attention to the manifest behaviours within a group, we can gain an insight into the dynamics at play. Focusing on the nature and impact of the interactions can help us to understand what is going on and so provide a basis for helping the group to stay with or return to its purpose.

In this chapter, we describe the general characteristics of each form of interaction largely by means of illustration, and we explore how they can manifest in, and impact upon, group dynamics. We also focus on the ways in which they appear in groups dominated by attention as opposed to those dominated by distraction. The key question for working in groups is always the same: how can an understanding of these dynamics help to assess whether a specific interaction is

95

 

Chapter Six: Forms of Interaction

ePub

We turn now to the final piece in the jigsaw of Bion's ideas on groups—although as the best-known of his contributions to group theory it is often the first or only piece many people pick up. He noticed that three “patterns of behaviour” (1961, p. 175) kept appearing in group interactions: dependency, fight–flight, and pairing. He also realised that these forms of interaction can indicate a shared group mentality rather than an individual one as, for example, when a group comes to think in a dependent way and to behave accordingly. Consequently, by giving attention to the manifest behaviours within a group, we can gain an insight into the dynamics at play. Focusing on the nature and impact of the interactions can help us to understand what is going on and so provide a basis for helping the group to stay with or return to its purpose.

In this chapter, we describe the general characteristics of each form of interaction largely by means of illustration, and we explore how they can manifest in, and impact upon, group dynamics. We also focus on the ways in which they appear in groups dominated by attention as opposed to those dominated by distraction. The key question for working in groups is always the same: how can an understanding of these dynamics help to assess whether a specific interaction is being mobilised in support of, or in place of, the cooperative work of the group?

 

Chapter Seven: Learning the Work of Attention

ePub

Bion's sensitivity to the undercurrents of emotion and projection in groups meant that he was able to sense moments when he was being used by the group to perform a particular role—“manipulated so as to be playing a part, no matter how difficult to recognize, in somebody else's phantasy”. (1961, p. 149) This awareness of unconscious group dynamics allowed him to spot both the group state of mind—attention or distraction—and the dominant mode of interaction. For example, he knew the group mentality was dominated by distraction and dependency when he sensed that group members expected him to solve every problem for them and to provide all necessary “nourishment, material and spiritual, and protection”, (1961, p. 147) regardless of whether or not it was his role to lead. On such occasions, he felt that they saw him as a kind of god-like, fantasy figure: “I had become a kind of group deity; […] questions were directed to me as one who knew the answers without need to resort to work…” (1961, p. 148)

 

CHAPTER SEVEN Learning the work of attention

PDF

CHAPTER SEVEN

Learning the work of attention

B

ion’s sensitivity to the undercurrents of emotion and projection in groups meant that he was able to sense moments when he was being used by the group to perform a particular role—

“manipulated so as to be playing a part, no matter how difficult to recognize, in somebody else’s phantasy”. (1961, p. 149) This awareness of unconscious group dynamics allowed him to spot both the group state of mind—attention or distraction—and the dominant mode of interaction. For example, he knew the group mentality was dominated by distraction and dependency when he sensed that group members expected him to solve every problem for them and to provide all necessary “nourishment, material and spiritual, and protection”, (1961, p. 147) regardless of whether or not it was his role to lead. On such occasions, he felt that they saw him as a kind of god-like, fantasy figure: “I had become a kind of group deity; […] questions were directed to me as one who knew the answers without need to resort to work …” (1961, p. 148)

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub (DRM)
Encrypted
true
Sku
9781781814123
Isbn
9781781814123
File size
0 Bytes
Printing
Disabled
Copying
Disabled
Read aloud
No
Format name
PDF
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata