Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering
“Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”
There is a connection between the word’s organism and organization. Any organized system of interactions–family, community, nation–can be termed an organism. As such we can talk of it being healthy or diseased. Here “health” does not mean problem-free; it means the organization is accomplishing its primary goals. Conversely, “diseased” means not accomplishing its primary goal.
When we talk of dysfunctional dynamics, we imply that there is an infection in the organizational organism, impeding it achieving its primary goal. To get rid of the disease, the organism has to heal, and, as in the case of an individual, organizational healing entails many considerations. First there must be a diagnosis. Our primary goal was discussed in the chapter by the same in Our Mission–in essence, to create a model Krishna conscious varnasrama society for the world. This automatically includes the goal of becoming Krishna conscious ourselves, because we cannot model something unless we have it.
Interestingly, whereas, to a large degree the diagnosing of dysfunctional dynamics calls for looking at the group as an organism, as opposed to looking at the individual members; healing, to a large degree, calls for treating individuals. In the next volume in this Our Mission series, we shall focus on tools for diagnosing and in the fourth volume we shall address focus on enabling the individual within the group to upgrade his or her performance. The logic is that if the integrity of each member comprising the group is wholesome, Krishna conscious, then the integrity of the organization is likely to be high.
As a quick example of what sort of predictable patterns we face, consider the view of William James’ in his most famous work, The Varieties of Religious Experience, wherein he generalizes about the historical development of religious institutions. An individual, Srila Prabhupada in our case, is divinely inspired and empowered and establishes an institution to make an organized attempt to propagate his teachings. Such religious geniuses spontaneously attract followers. This naturally develops into increased organization and formalization, and an ecclesiastical institution is born. When the founder disappears, in some cases, even before that happens, “the lust of dogmatic rule enters.” Politics “contaminates the originally innocent thing.” An institution, therefore, is a kind of necessary evil. The religious need it for like-minded association, but then it becomes an encumbrance as, inevitably, it becomes corrupt. We saw precisely this pattern unfold with the Gaudiya Math, but what steps have we taken to avoid it happening to us?
Before we go through the diagnosis and gauge the varieties of aberrant dynamics, the degree of infection, and the cure, it is important to grasp a couple of preliminary ideas about the nature of healing itself. Neuroses are benign mental disorders, characterized by a range of symptoms and incomplete insight, or none at all, into the nature of the underlying problem–some imbalance or suffering in our lives that we are unwilling to face. Inasmuch as individuals develop neuroses as a substitute for legitimate suffering, a group organism has its substitutes for legitimate growth pains, its neurotic mechanisms for evading the legitimate pain of problem-solving.
The current popular term for this is denial. Being in denial about some painful problem in our lives, we develop a neurotic symptom to compensate for it. Then the neurotic symptom itself becomes a problem, and we often fall into denial about that too. Neurosis and denial can become a multi-layered mess. In the majority of cases, it takes a crisis to cause the neurotic individual to face the problem. Group organisms, being comprised of humans, tend to follow the same pattern.
For instance, an individual develops a drinking habit to make up for the fact that he hates his job, which he is in denial about. After some time, it is clear to all concerned that he is hopelessly addicted to alcohol, but he denies it ardently. Generally, it takes a crisis–he smashes his car and injures a mother and baby–to get that person to face the problem and seek a solution.
Another preliminary idea: That it is especially important we appreciate that the healing experience, whether of a physical or psychospiritual nature, often causes more pain and discomfort than the infection itself. Lancing a boil, for example, squeezing out the pus, and disinfecting it with an astringent, is five or ten minutes of concentrated pain that is usually far more intense than just leaving the boil alone, but–and this is the pivotal point–the relief from the operation far surpasses the misery of leaving the boil alone. The ten minutes of pain is well worth it.
We all know this yet we prefer to tolerate it until it is unbearable, a crisis. Not until the choice comes down to losing our sanity or lancing the boil will we do the needful and seek treatment. In most cases, procrastination (tamo-guna) is preferred to pro-activity (sattva-guna).
As with individuals, waiting until a crisis appears before acting, something is done about it, is also preferred in group dynamics. Since most humans have this tendency, to put off the pain of problem-solving until it is urgent, we may say it is natural or normal. But normal does not always mean best or intelligent.
A simple example will suffice to clarify this point. It is perfectly natural to defecate on ourselves. Nevertheless, we consider it part of maturing to overcome that normal tendency. Similarly, it may be normal to avoid the pain of problem-solving or healing, but it is growth-full to overcome that tendency and to address problems the moment they enter conscious awareness.
This is the nature of problem-solving in the mode of goodness. We have to take the pain (poison) up front–then we can get the nectar. The hallmark of mode of passion solutions is that they are easier initially, but later on they become poison–more painful–because the lame measure, or the attempt to sail around the problem, only leads to a bigger problem, a crisis, further down the road.
In problem-solving, a group organism, like an individual, can be oriented toward procrastination (tamo-guna), the quick-fix solution (rajo-guna), or long-term solutions (sattva-guna).
ccording to Lord Krishna, each of these give specific, predictable results, namely foolishness, poison, and nectar respectively. No doubt it would be best if we would have firm faith in the Lord’s teachings and be steadfast in practicing the sattvic approach to problem-solving.
We in ISKCON have tested again and again the Lord’s teachings on the results of action in tamas and rajas in our approach to most of our problems down through the years.
From the above considerations, the author of A World Waiting to be Born: Civility Rediscovered has developed two interrelated guidelines for genuine realism in problem-solving, which facilitate the attaining and maintaining of a healthy group organism:
- The capacity on both the individual and group level to distinguish between necessary, legitimate (healthy) suffering and that which is unnecessary or excessively convoluted.
- The willingness to bear–to meet head-on and to work through–that suffering which is a proper portion in both our individual and collective lives.
These will not lead to a pain-free or problem-free institution, which is okay, because individual or organizational health does not pivot around a problem-free existence, but around actively and effectively addressing or healing our problems.
Health is not the absence of disease; rather, it is the presence of the optimal healing process.
If we are to be a society functioning in sattva-guna, which is symptomized by neither creation or destruction, but by maintenance, if we are to become the positive alternative society that Prabhupada wanted us to establish, we have to develop an instinctive response to problem-solving. That means we must live by the above two guidelines. Health means to face necessary pain. Getting on a problem at our earliest opportunity must be our orientation. Srila Prabhupada expected us to function in this way.
As a footnote to the discussion of organizational health it is useful to consider that the term healthy or normal can be used in two ways. From the stance of a functioning group, we can consider a person normal, if he or she fulfills the social role expected in that group. That is a well-adapted person. From the stance of the individual, normal or healthy means the optimum growth and happiness of the individual.
Of the two viewpoints, it is possible to have the first without the second, because being well adapted, is often achieved at the cost of giving up one’s self, in becoming the person we believe we ought to be. This socially normal person can be a very unhealthy individual. In emphasizing the individual’s health, both goals–fulfilling a social role and optimal individual growth and happiness–coincide.