Book Notes – The Cornerstone Concept: In Leadership, In Life

Posted: January 29, 2014 by Todd in Books, Ministry
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The Cornerstone Concept: In Leadership, In Life

Roberta M. Gilbert

Thinking It Over sections at end of chapter are good chapter by chapter summaries.  Questions at the end may be good journaling activities.  Memorize the indicators of self-differentiation in chapter 7.  I’m curious why Gilbert never seems to reference Ed Friedman, even in bibliographies.  Finished September, 2012.
“As basic self builds and pseudo-self diminishes, there is less anxiety to cloud thinking.” (Kindle Locations 1250-1251).   This dovetails nicely with Dan Miller’s advice in 48 Days that 80% of all decisions should be made immediately. The rest should have firm deadlines.  As well as Tim Ferriss’ advice that it is often better simply to make a decision and be wrong or have a sub-optimal decision than to not decide.
This book is intended for the 3rd year of Roberta Gilbert’s Extraordinary Leadership Seminar.  The first year is Extraordinary Leadership, the second year is The 8 Concepts of Bowen Theory.
Part I – The Cornerstone Concept: Differentiation of Self in Leadership
Chapter 1 – Individuality Out of Togetherness
We’re pulled in two directions – towards togetherness and towards individuality.  Togetherness is an emotional connection to which we let the anxieties of the group control us.  In individuality, we retain more objectivity and can relate to groups with more autonomy, resisting the anxious pulls.  [more…]
Summary of conflict, cutoff, over/under functioning, distance, and triangling (188+)
Basic self is our differentiated self, whereas the “pseudo self” is our fused self (188+)
Chapter 2: Differentiation – In Bowen’s Words
This chapter is a series of extended quotes from Murray Bowen explaining the differentiation scale and the major concepts of differentiation.
Part II: The Blueprints: Guiding Principles
Chapter 3: High Level Leadership
“Just being in a group is emotionally exciting (466).”
A leader should maintain distance from group’s emotions, but interact with it intellectually.
Chapter 4: Guiding Principles
Guiding principles contribute to making high level leaders and act as resistance to emotional fusion.
Five steps in adopting guiding principles: (609+)
  1. Don’t accept things uncritically b/c they have been handed to you.  Think them through.  Bowen theory, especially the principle of equality, can help clarify most issues.
  2. Research when necessary.
  3. Try it in real life.  (Microtesting)
  4. Get your principles in place and let them guide your life.
  5. On occasion, re-evaluate your principles, but don’t change too whimsically.
Groups need guiding principles as much as individuals (672).
All principles are not created equally (701).
Part III: Building More Self
Chapter 5: Differentiating a Self: Taking Action
Differentiation can grow especially by work in these three areas: marriage, parents, family-of-origin
In marriage, don’t tell partners what you want or nag, but define self to the other (771).
“Believe in your position enough to be calm for it (771).”
Family projection process is how families project unresolved anxieties between parents onto children (864).
Multigenerational transmission process describes how families go up or down in level of functioning from generation to generation (864).
Merely being different than one has been in the past isn’t differentiation (899).
Chapter 6: Leaders Using the Cornerstone Concept – Differentiating a Self in an Organization
One is never working on the group, but on the self and one’s own level of self-differentiation.  However, this doesn’t occur in a vacuum, but in the context of a system.  Working on the self in the context of the system will change the system.
Chapter 7: How Am I Doing?  Evaluating Progress.
See location 1135 for a checklist to evaluate how one is doing in growth of self-differentiation, followed by a fuller description of each element of the checklist.  I noted a self evaluation of each in the notes of the book.
Part IV: Differentiation in Life
Chapter 8: Lives Lived on Principle
This chapter didn’t seem entirely convincing to me, but it was a brief overview of different famous people: Martin Luther, John Wesley, Increase Mather, John Adams as well as some more recent examples, including some related to resisting the Iraq War and their self-differentiating moves.
Chapter 9: Becoming Present and Accounted For
This chapter recounted the author’s recent efforts at self-differentiating in her own family that involved bridging relationships that she had acted in a cutoff manner towards and coming to be a trusted source of advice and wisdom in the family.  It involved a stronger relationship with her brother, who tragically died, along with two other kids in the family.  There were a few times I wondered if what the author interpreted as progress in the family could be seen in a more negative way, such as her interpreting advice seeking as a “thank you.”  That may indeed be the case, but I could see how it might also lean towards overfunctioning or fusion.  It underscored in my own mind how some of this is easier in theory than it is in real life.
Chapter 10: High Level Leadership in Times of Societal Regression
Societies go through periods of regression and better integration.  It seems that Bowen and this author feel that since the 1960’s we’ve been in a period of regression.  Clergy should be leaders out of social regression.  The same basic moves towards self-differentiation apply to leaders and society as they do between individual and family and/or organization.
Part V: Research in Bowen Theory
Chapter 11: Bridging 65 Years of Cutoff
This chapter is a Bowen-theory informed narrative of one woman’s self-differentiating work in the context of her family system.  I didn’t find it all that interesting or useful.
Chapter 12: Towards Responsibility in Family
This chapter was another Bowen-theory informed narrative of a man’s self-differentiating work in the family system, with particular attention to his ministerial identity.  One thing I resonated with in this account was the occasional unclarity that emerges as to whether or not something was a move towards self-differentiation or away from it.  Real life situations, it seems to me, particularly when viewed subjectively by the self aren’t quite so easy to categorize as they are in more abstract theory.  I’m sure talking about it with Bowen knowledgeable people might help.
Chapter 13: Prayer and Emotional Reactivity
This chapter seems to argue that at high levels of self-differentiation, prayer becomes more beneficial – at least more physiologically calming, than it does at lower levels of self-differentiation.  Although it tends to be calming and helpful for all people regardless of level  of self-differentiation.  The argument seemed to be relatively anecdotal, but it still resonated as true.  This fits well with my understanding of prayer, but to those who might insist more on the value of intercessory prayer, I wonder if this sort of view would seem somewhat hollow or at least incomplete.
Chapter 14: Evaluating Individual Progress
From diagnostic tool at loc 2728:
My ability to think clearly in resolving issues – last year: 7, now: 8
Decision-making – last year: 7, now: 7
Family of origin relationship functioning – last year: 8, now: 8
Nuclear family relationship functioning – last year 5, now: 7
Work system relationship functioning – last year 7, now: 8
Friendship system relationship functioning – last year 5, now: 5
Physical, emotional/mental or social symptoms in self – last year: 7, now: 7
Physical, emotional/mental or social symptoms in nuclear unit – last year: 4, now: 5
Physical, emotional/mental or social symptoms in family of origin – last year: 8, now: 8
Physical, emotional/mental or social symptoms in ability to “stay out” emotionally – last year: 6, now: 7
Sureness of self – last year: 6, now 7
Ability to define self to others in a way they can hear – last year: 6, now 6
Ability to stay calm when group is stirred up – last year: 7, now 8
Ability and willingness to think things through for self; e.g., get a vision, now what I think – last year: 9, now: 9
On average, those participants in Gilbert’s Extraordinary Leadership 3 year process improved 1.4 in each area.
List the 8 concepts of Bowen theory from memory.  I’m not sure I’ve ever reviewed the 8 concepts.
Here they are:
  1. The nuclear family is the key and foundational emotional system
  2. The significance of the differentiation of self scale
  3. Emotional “triangles” and their impact on the system
  4. The prevalence of power of relational cutoff upon development and systems
  5. Family projection process
  6. Multi-generational Transmission Process
  7. Sibling positions and their impact on transmission and development
  8. Emotional process in society
Given that most respondents to the survey of the Gilbert seminar indicated they were most helped through the concept of self-differentiation as opposed to things like Family Projection Process and cutoff, I wonder if an 80/20 way to see this is to take their advise and pragmatically focus mostly on self-differentiation.
Chapter 15: Jesus and Differentiation of Self in the New Testament Gospels
[Todd: I wonder what a genogram for Jesus would look like – at least a partial one could be put together.
Jesus as boy in the temple – an act of differentiation from family of origin]
“Using a method that might be described as indirection, Jesus frequently refuses to think for others, forcing them to reach conclusions for themselves (2965).”
[Todd: I can think of a few times when Jesus may have been anxious.  In the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, he seems irritated.  Also, despite Creech’s explanation, Jesus does seem to have anxiety before his impending crucifixion, including physiological indicators.]
“First, followers are called to choose, as he has done, a commitment to the will of God over the pressures to conform to family demands (2985).”
“A second aspect of Jesus’ teaching that relates to the project of differentiating a self is his admonition to those in his kingdom to work on themselves, rather than on others.  He says, for example, ‘Do not judge (3001).'”
“A third aspect of his teaching that intersects the project of differentiating a self is his instruction to kingdom citizens to live life without anxiety (3001).”
“The story of the events of his last hours with his disciples, and his arrest and trial, makes it increasing clear to the reader that Jesus is the one in charge, not the police, priests, or procurator (3037).”
[Todd’s comment: I wonder if self-differentiation is the best way to understand divine power.  Jesus isn’t orchestrating events, they are happening to him, yet he remains in control and responds to them fully out of his own autonomy.]
Jesus life paradoxically reveals that high self-differentiation from the world is achieved through poor self-differentiation with God.
I’ve often wondered how statements by Jesus like, “give to anyone who asks of you…do not resist an evildoer” can be anything but poor self-differentiation.  Also, Jesus’s hanging out with the riff-raff too could be seen as poor self-differentiation.  I think though, these come out of a complete free choice of Jesus, he wants to do them and isn’t trading self in order to do so.  Whereas often these teachings are draining to us because we do them out of fusion and giving up of self, we don’t want to do them.  First we must develop ourselves in such a way where we want to do these things to do them properly and receive from the abundant life inherent in them.
“Differentiation is a lifetime process (3096).”
“And warnings of consequences ‘to the third and fourth generations’ seems to be exactly what the research in family systems uncovers (3114).”  Comment: This rendering is reversed later in Scripture showing the progression of God’s growing hesed (see Michael Fishbane’s “divine attribute formulary”).

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