“There is no higher principle than this: holding oneself open to the conversation.”
Gadamer’s quote stands in stark contrast to today’s political polarization as the defining feature of early 21st-century Western politics, both American and European. How we understand the other is a compelling question, whether this is on the geopolitical scale or an interpersonal one.
For Gadamer, conversation is the encounter out of which understanding can arise. I quote Gadamer: “We say we conduct a conversation, but the more genuine a conversation is, the less its conduct lies within the will of either partner. Rather, it is generally more correct to say we fall into conversation. No one knows in advance what will come out of a conversation.”
Play for Gadamer represents our fundamental relationship to the world. This is not something that happens in the mind of the subject, not a subjective act, but an activity that always goes on between the players and reaches beyond the behavior of any individual player. Play has a spirit that emerges from the players’ engagement in their to-and-fro rhythm. This echoes the field-emergent process of Gestalt therapy.
This presentation is a modest effort to lay some ground as to how we grapple with questions surrounding communication and understanding others whose ideas are different from our own. My focus will be primarily on the clinical setting, where we clinicians struggle to understand our clients, yet there are implications for the wider social and political field.
Carol Swanson has been a Gestalt therapist in private practice in Portland, Oregon, for over 40 years. She is the co-founder of the Portland Gestalt Therapy Training Institute and has trained therapists in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. Her current interest is studying phenomenology and other philosophical resources for clinical work.
Therapy has been an important part of her life along with cycling, hiking, skiing, kayaking, gardening, and cooking. When not in the Zoom room, you can find her doing one of the above activities.