Robert Kegan's In Over Our Heads so was delighted when Jay Hughes referred to the book in yesterday morning's keynote address. For that and other reasons, I appreciated the talk enough to go through the somewhat tedious task of typing up my notes so you too can perhaps benefit from his thoughts. His presentation began the first whole day at the third annual Purposeful Planning Institute Rendezvous and was titled "Will the Four Noble Professions Thrive? Survive? or Regenerate? And What Will the Families They Serve Face in the Next Twenty Years." (His bio is about halfway down here.)
Here are most of my notes from the keynote address.
Jay began by asking us to imagine ourselves as secular priests, living with the virtue of magnanimity. He quoted Robert Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken" about two roads diverging in a wood and explained that it related to our professional journey.
In the 60s when he began the practice of law at Coudert Brothers, partners did not leave the firm and clients were also with the firm for life, which is not the current state of the profession. The four noble professions have changed since then.
He said that some professionals are pilgrims today and that being one necessarily brings with it loneliness: "If you are not lonely, you are not a pilgrim." He clarified that this is an existential loneliness. And he asked, "Who can we walk with?"
To partly answer his question, he described the pilgrims in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales who tell each other their stories as they travel.
The four noble professions according to Hughes are ministry, medicine, high academia, and law.* You can read his description of each here about three-fourths of the way down. He believes any functioning community needs all four of these roles.
Briefly, the function of medicine is to ease suffering and increase the physical and mental health of the
The ministry's role is to help deal with the existential reality of death; the loneliness of that reality is almost unbearable. He said the horror of what this profession has turned into turns his stomach. It has experienced a sad decline.
High academia is supposed to help us understand what it means to be human. This profession has failed us and itself.
The law is supposed to provide social mediation (not in the ADR sense of mediation), and also to provide an orderly, safe place to thrive and find freedom. The law's role is also to support a place where we do not harm ourselves or others, and remove obstacles to our becoming free. He feels it is grandiosity to think you can make things better by passing laws. The law too has failed. It has destroyed many families. He posed this question: What does it mean to be a being seeking to be free to be identified as a tax deduction?
The law becomes worse and worse all the time.
He recounted a story abut his asking his father, also a lawyer, about lawyers keeping track of time. His father warned that there would come a time when lawyers would be looked upon as equal to sellers of lettuce.
A profession, as Jay sees it, has nothing to do with commerce.
For example, in medicine, how can a physician serve his or her patient in 10-minute increments?
The professions are a matter of interiority and authenticity. If you stand as a professional, you will have a good living.
An expert is governed by ego, reason, and that which is measurable. The professional never loses beginner's mind, walks the path of magnanimity, and focuses on the realm of the qualitative.
Every human society that has functioned did so because it had the four noble professions. They were asked to lead, not the merchant traders.
It was at this point in the talk that he mentioned In Over Our Heads. He went on to say that service is about how we experience another's reality. An expert provides to you his or her expertise without experiencing your reality, except your quantifiable reality.
According to Jay, Kegan says we are subjective and need to be objective to know another's reality. He also said it is hopeless to try to be objective about another's reality when we have not done work on ourselves. [I smiled to myself as this was an excellent link to a piece of the program I did later that day in which we looked at the importance of self-awareness and self-knowledge in client service.]
His next topic was personnes d'affaire versus personnes de confiance; click to read a white paper he has written on his views about the latter.
Jay then said that the experts are not our colleagues. And added that only in modernity have we not understood that families are our patrons so we can be artists [with and for them]. An expert is a scientist; a professional is a secular priest, helping others to grow.
He stressed that we must never again ask a client "what do you need?" but instead ask "how may I help?" from a big-hearted place.
Jay ended by talking about courage. He said his father told him a lawyer provides a client with information and courage. It is in the second of the two that the lawyer earns his or her money. That is a definition of a professional. Courage is a virtue and cannot be measured. (Sometimes the courage is in the realm of the palliative because the client's problem cannot be fixed.)
This talk was thought-provoking for me, partly because I was able to apply some of it to mediation. For example, too often mediators are operating subjectively, and as experts or scientists, which does not acknowledge the important reality of the parties. And is not supporting clients in a way that is essential, meaningful, or authentic.
Yesterday's keynote was the third I have heard by Jay at the PPI gatherings. Each has given me some meat to take home and chew on for several days, ultimately assimilating some of it into my own ideas.
*For an interesting look at the four professions, see August Strindberg's A Dream Play to which I refer in Triversity Fantasy. Strindberg describes a disagreement between Medicine, Theology, Philosophy, and Jurisprudence, and in doing so gives his version of the essence of each.