Self and Others

book cover
Self and Others by R.D. Laing

Selected works by R.D. Laing
Reviewed by Christopher Richards

Laing’s Self and Others isn’t what you’d think of as a business book. But with increasing interest in leadership self-development it has a place.

With examples from clinical experience and theory, existential literature, fine art, and children’s stories, R. D. Laing illustrates how the pressures of conformity act upon individuals in society.  Authority figures judge others and create realities for both themselves and for those being judged. All of us are constantly influenced by each other.

This book is a delightful affirmation of an alive personal world. It is not about conforming to another person’s or institution’s idea of what one should be.  Phantasy is an object relations term (intentionally not spelled with an ‘f’). Its technical meaning is the real lived experience of an individual.

Dr. Laing debunks the idea that phantasy can be observed by another as a series of facts.  A social phantasy is an internalized experience by a group. For example, a dominant group phantasy is that the therapist has ‘the answers’. We can think of this as ‘expertise phantasy’. The delusion goes something like this: If the patient could find the answer, he or she would cease to suffer.

One person can only infer through language and gesture the experience of another. Dr. Laing said elsewhere: I cannot experience your experience. He urges us to tolerate ambiguity and paradox. This is profound and ancient wisdom. Laing cites the teachings of Hsi Yun, a Zen Master of about 840 A.D: “That the real difficulty is not so much in his questions being unanswerable as in his continuing in the state of mind that leads him to ask them.”

Selves can be either authentic or false. False selves are an adaptation to false realities. Laing explores and illustrates everyday untenable situations, identity, attribution, pretense, avoidance, delusion, and collusion.

This book rewards necessary effort to read it.  It’s a gem.

Disclaimer: Christopher Richards has no affiliation with the author or publisher of this work.