Eliat Aram considers ‘transformative thinking’ as bringing about systemic learning one year on from the BBC’s Respect at Work expert panel.
It is a year today that I have taken part on the BBC Respect at Work expert panel to share views and thoughts of how to deal with bullying and abuse at work.
This was a brave day organised by the BBC for its industry indeed following the Jimmy Savile scandal which has indicated already then that it was not going to end with locating the behaviour in one person and that a systemic analysis was necessary.
A year on from the BBC’s Respect at Work event, the tumour that had been Savile is demonstrating its magnitude. Not only a person abusing over decades but a widespread network of people in organisations who were turning a blind eye or being silent witnesses, at best, possibly collaborating and enabling his behaviour, at worst. Our two most needed and loved institutions – the BBC and the NHS – are shown to us in their ugliest colours, corrupted and seduced by money and power.
The risk of focusing on the (Sa)vile behaviour of Jimmy in this way is twofold:
That we will see him as a unique perverted individual and ignore, again, the systemic dynamics that enabled his behaviour to continue over decades.
That in reading the papers and watching the news, victims of abuse might re-experience their trauma. In my clinical supervision work, I have seen an increase in clients and patients coming forward to seek help for abuse that they have suffered as children and young people and have never worked through. It is surfaced, however, in an uncontained way as a result of the sensational way it is being reported on in the media and can result in an escalation of the experience of trauma.
Whatever the media continues to expose on our behalf, the reading citizens, has to be a good thing – we need to know the truth – but only if we can do something with this truth- if we can learn from our experience of being exposed to it. Wilfred Bion, a founding father of the Tavistock Institute, developed a theory of thinking that is based on learning from experience. Learning = transformational thinking = comes out of a process of a connection between ‘thought’ and ‘thinker’. He identified three types of connection between the two, each of which would lead to a different kind of relationship. Other organisational analysts, Susan Long (2002) in particular, have noted that these links are indicative of certain states of minds and are useful in discerning certain states of organisational state of minds too. So Bion’s symbiotic link, when thought and thinker correspond and modify each other are equated to a neurotic/normal organisational state of mind where the organisation develops and learns. Bion’s parasitic link, where either the thought or the thinker is feared to be an annihilating factor and puts up a barrier against the truth, meaning is felt to be false and the falsity proliferates until it becomes a lie. The barrier of the lie increases the need for the truth and vice versa and this is equated to an organisation’s perverse state of mind.
It is perverse because both thought and thinker, contained and container, collaborate against disruption that would expose the truth and enable development or learning. The contained has the power to disrupt; the container has the power to incorporate the contained and therefore limit its potential disruption.
When working with traumatic events and memories the disruption needs to be careful and in steps. It has been contained for so long that it could be explosive and result in no-learning but more blaming, annihilation, isolation and then – forgetting.
Dr Eliat Aram
CEO Tavistock Institute of Human Relations