A Tavistock Kiss

A Tavistock Kiss

A tender touch

You must remember this

A kiss is just a kiss

A sigh is just a sigh

The fundamental things apply

As time goes by

(sung by Dooley Wilson in Casablanca)

The same old story - love is everywhere, very much at work, but this is not news.

Whatever happens and wherever, timelessly, love rules – even though we may try to deny it, bury it, ignore it, flee from it as well as hunger for it, idolise it and desperately seek it. 

I believe that the opposite of love is not hate - as some might think - but indifference, an apparent failure to connect. It takes time and effort to feel nothing. 

The world of work is awash with feelings, continuously ebbing and flowing, sometimes beating against the rocks and creating maelstroms, other times gently lapping.  The rational gets a look in, during our serious meetings and strategic discussions, but mainly we’re strung along by our feelings.

The Kiss (Der Kuß) (1907-1908). Oil and gold leaf on canvas, 180 × 180 cm (71 × 71 in). Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.

Before feelings, our many senses help us make sense of the world - kisses are particularly personal – face-to-face.  Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss is a painting essentially sensuous and erotically charged.  When first shown it caused outrage in Viennese society - but was it obscene, or was it the intimacy that was so distressing?  It could almost be another image for the YinYang, intertwined and opposing. 

This tender touch of the lips on the cheek – the connection.  The desire to touch and be touched, both physically and metaphorically and ultimately - a desire for, and the accompanying fear of intimacy, that tremulous uncertainty. It is also somehow chaste, this kiss –  all about holding and being held.  Something we talk about and practice a lot at the Institute – the boundaries: the frameworks and structures that we create for containment, so people feel safe enough, and through keeping things (including the tiny or apparently insignificant) in mind and being aware of the attention we pay and where we pay it.

Subsequently, Klimt began the Vienna Secession - a group of artists committed to saving culture from convention, creating a movement that is still going today.  This reflection on the current status quo will always be essential for a functional dynamic society, ditto an organisation, ditto a work team, ditto a human - three questions to ask each might be - what is happening in the system, what is my part in that, and how can I be / act different?

The Tavistock Community began talking about Touch during the height of the pandemic and the need/desire to feel each other more fully - bodies in search of themselves - we held a Lunchtime Talk on the ‘Tavistock Touch’ and how our work can make a difference as we emerge into a different world – practising touching the untouchable.  A community is all about making space for everyone and caring for everyone, whatever they bring, tending the garden that is the Tavistock Community.

Tenderness – our vulnerable parts - caring for and being cared for.  Caring at work is under-rated – look at all the Carers on minimum wage in the gig economy.   In the business world of manic busy-ness perhaps caring is being avoided, our fear of the reality and enormity of the world today making it easier to serve mammon.  There seems to be less time to stop and care, reflect on the other.  Love is acceptable in the private, couple or family sphere – can love, care, be celebrated in public, in every sphere including at work?

I am suggesting we can become more real at work and doing that is about acknowledging our shadow side - those, sometimes unconscious, feelings we all have: fears, doubts, greed, envy, rivalry and hate.  Being able to say what we desire, expressing our needs, vulnerabilities and passions and then perhaps this sense of deprivation could instead be a source of potential?  Imagining and being curious about other people’s needs, demands we are able to define, express and justify our own, without shame.

Perhaps this shame is because no matter how many times and in how many ways it has been suggested that mind/body/spirit are one Self, we nonetheless continue to split them and speak in terms of self as hierarchical parts. The ‘physical body’ continues to be despised, considered base – perhaps shameful, painful, unconsciously rated as lesser than the ‘mind’.  Whilst the ‘mind’, represented by the head, helps us sustain the phantasy of a controlled order, demonstrated by our simulated, disembodied heads kept statically in a grid, online. Over the past three years, in particular, we have fled to the apparent cleanliness of the virtual, the safety behind the glass barrier of the screen. Being with each other, moving about, face-to-face, after lockdowns and with Covid still prancing around, can feel very difficult.

To be more real at work, and embodied, can we develop both our passion, and compassion for each other and their suffering? In compassion lives the word passio which comes from the Latin ‘to suffer’ and we’re all suffering, to various degrees and at various times – can we practice walking in another’s shoes? practicing suffering together?  How can we acknowledge our own suffering and reveal our vulnerabilities to each other, in times when both suffering and discipline are rather unfashionable?  How can we become more intimate and thus real, at work?  How can we practice making time to explore what might be the reality, with discipline? 

Self-care, loving our whole self, is something we could all practice more if we consciously choose: by letting go, moving, creating space for change - accessing our creative energy / spirit towards becoming light-hearted and playful – untying ourselves somewhat from the computer and the mobile.  Practising being content with what is here and now at any given moment, allows space for another way of being to emerge.  Widening our conscious awareness by paying attention to how we use ourselves, how we do things, our own tender places, means we are more likely to notice and understand how others are using their selves.  Perhaps the ultimate strength comes through where we are tender, exposed - our softness and vulnerability?

We chose St Valentine’s Day for the launch of our new website.  The name “Valentine” derives from the Latin word valens meaning courageous, potent, strong, capacious or in other words: risk-taking, full of possibility, tender, space-making - all are recognisable leadership and followership qualities and from an even earlier word valor meaning worth, value. 

Love in role in work is about worth – the whole Self feeling valued and valuing, feeling useful and acknowledging we are interwoven, constantly dependent on each other.  Both wanting to be a part of the team and at the same time be acknowledged for our Self, and perhaps also feeling fear and shame about not being worthy enough of touching and being touched, our illegitimate, untouchable parts.

All this is in search of Bion’s O: the ultimate truth, our negative capability – the dark hollowness at the centre of love, the dots of the YinYang, the seeds of the opposite.  This is unknowable, one can only approach it by making space for the possibility of becoming it – perhaps by accessing the unconscious. And so touching god in some way through valens.

Rachel Kelly

Group Relations Consultant and Researcher, Engagement & PR Liaison

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