George Andersen

Philosophical Counselor

Archive for the 'Philosophical Counseling' Category

09 January
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On our uniqueness

This image belongs to trueshiningself.com.

Some of the people I counsel mention that they would like to work on their self-esteem. They noticed that low self-esteem slows the improvement of their character. They compare themselves to others and sometimes judge themselves to be inadequate, inferior, or awkward. One way in which one could increase their self-esteem is to appreciate their own uniqueness.

In his book “Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom”, John O’Donohue wrote this thought on uniqueness:

“No one else has access to the world you carry around within yourself; you are its custodian and entrance. No one else can see the world the way you see it. No one else can feel your life the way you feel it. Thus it is impossible to ever compare two people because each stands on such different ground. When you compare yourself to others, you are inviting envy into your consciousness; it can be a dangerous and destructive guest.”

20 December
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Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity

This image belongs to www.azquotes.com.

When we interact with other people, are we present?  Do we let people touch us with their presence?  Are we paying attention to the interaction?

Often, we think about what we want to say to our interlocutors, without taking in what they are saying.  Sometimes, we are physically there and mentally somewhere else; no wonder miscommunication occurs.

The attention we give others is a form of generosity and respect, as it is when we direct it towards ourselves.  When we are attentive to our thoughts and feelings, we learn about ourselves, which is one of the significant activities we undertake to improve ourselves.

Paying attention requires taking the time to open up and meaningfully receive.

12 November
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Nobility of Feeling

Cover of the book “The Art of Worldly Wisdom” sold by Amazon.

In the aphorism 131 included in his book “The Art of Worldly Wisdom”, Baltasar Gracian advises us to be noble in our feelings towards others.

“Nobility of Feeling

There is a certain distinction of the soul, a highmindedness prompting to gallant acts, that gives an air of grace to the whole character.  It is not found often, for it presupposes great magnanimity.  Its chief characteristic is to speak well of an enemy, and to act even better towards him.  It shines brightest when a chance comes of revenge; not alone does it let the occasion pass, but it improves it by using a complete victory in order to display unexpected generosity.  It is a fine stroke of policy, nay, the very acme of statecraft.  It makes no pretence to victory, for it pretends to nothing, and while obtaining its deserts it conceals its merits.”

20 September
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Union of qualities in character

Cover of the book “Theaetetus” sold by Amazon.

“… he has a quickness of apprehension which is almost unrivalled, and he is exceedingly gentle, and also the most courageous of men; there is a union of qualities in him such as I have never seen in any other, and should scarcely have thought possible; for those who, like him, have quick and ready and retentive wits, have generally also quick tempers; they are ships without ballast, and go darting about, and are mad rather than courageous; and the steadier sort, when they have to face study, prove stupid and cannot remember. Whereas he moves surely and smoothly and successfully in the path of knowledge and enquiry; and he is full of gentleness, flowing on silently like a river of oil; at his age, it is wonderful.”

Plato’s “Theaetetus” translated by Benjamin Jowett (The Internet Classics Archive, as of October 18th, 2014)

In Plato’s “Theaetetus”, Theodorus describes Theaetetus to Socrates as being:

  • gentle
  • courageous
  • intelligent
  • even tempered
  • confident
  • smooth
  • flowing silently

A union of such qualities is not only desirable in character but also attainable.  How?  Through constant development, refinement, and harmonization of the virtues or characteristics that are part of our character.

19 July
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On the care of the soul

Created by the Russian artist Sceith.

“And therefore if the head and the body are to be well, you must begin by curing the soul; that is the first and essential thing.  And the care of the soul, my dear youth, has to be effected by the use of certain charms, and these charms are fair words; and by them temperance is implanted in the soul, and where temperance comes and stays, there health is speedily imparted, not only to the head, but to the whole body.”

by Socrates – as captured by Plato in “Charmides”

The “fair words” that Socrates mentions are to me words that persuade us to be gentle, considerate, and adequate to the situation at hand.  These fair words rarely come to us in moments of turmoil and adversity if we did not practice persuading our soul with them in moments of tranquility.  In order to charm our soul into temperance, for example, we have to prepare the right “charms” in advance and practice their assertion, so that we remember and use them when needed.  In this sense, charming our own soul into any virtue could be a daily spiritual exercise.

04 May
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Counseling is a dialogue, not a lecture

Created by Shannon May.

Philosophical counseling, or any other form of counseling, is sometimes thought as being a passive act in which the counselor provides the counselee with some form of insight or knowledge that is supposed to address the issue at stake.  This view is inaccurate, for it disregards the dialogue, the common exploration, and the collaboration involved in working towards the well being of the counselee.

Recently, a friend of mine stated that I “fix” people.  Surprised by the remark, I responded that the ideas, perspectives, and examples that I present to people are tools to be employed together, as appropriate for the circumstances.  People I counsel have a responsibility to work on the things they want to change for better.  To the best of my abilities, I walk with them, as equals, through their philosophical inquiry.  Counseling is a dialogue, not a lecture.

23 April
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We can change

On occasion, we reach a point in our lives when we feel caught in a situation from which we cannot move further.  We have a feeling of “being stuck”.  Some people realize that in order to get “unstuck” they have to change something and work on specific steps they have to take.  Others accept the situation and concentrate on maintaining a level of stability and not falling into despair.  What is important, I think, is to understand that it is up to us to do something to change the situation.

We can change.

 

12 February
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The risk involved in presenting ideas for improvement

Even when doing it out of good intentions, sometimes presenting ideas for improvement to other people could be perceived as an affront.  Especially in situations when people do not expect to receive advice or recommendations, our intention to help could be misinterpreted.  For example, when we recommend the reading of or reflection on a particular thought, the other person could think that we are showing off, or that we are making a judgment about her or his character.

In real life, we do not always gauge exactly others’ openness to new ideas.  If we truly want to help, it might be necessary to take the risk of having our intention misinterpreted.  One way of mitigating this risk is to keep in mind that people are different and that a “one size fits all” counseling approach does not work.  As much as possible, we have to match the ideas we would like to impart with the audience intended, so that the act of helping unfolds and is perceived as such, and not as an offence.