Just before election day comedians John Stewart and Stephen Colbert rallied the nation’s attention in Washington, D. C.. Their “Rally to Restore Sanity” brought over 200,000 people to the National Mall. The goal? To use humor and politics to rekindle enthusiasm, turn away from divisive politics, and engender a spirit of working together toward the common purpose of making the world a better place.
Restoring sanity, of course, is a cause psychologists can get behind – but in fact they’ve been ahead of the curve. Humanists, existentialists, and transpersonalists have been proactively leading the way for decades—unequivocally standing in favor of human potential.
These days it’s not as flashy or well publicized as a rally on the national mall, but by taking a closer look at the theoretical tenants of psychologists such as James Bugental, Abraham Maslow, Rollo May, Carl Rogers, and Kirk Schneider, one can see the domino effect their work is having in the realms of business, politics and adolescent mental health.
James Bugental, embracing existentialism and humanism at its best, has written extensively on igniting a revolution that make the value of the human person a central concern. Bugental’s work has endorsed a therapy of the living moment. Bugental states, “A psychotherapy of the actual must confront the endless ambiguities of human existence…but it is, at the same time, insistent that the work of self-discovery and self deliverance as demanding, time consuming and only accomplished by the person who is the client…”
Bugental’s ideas have been “in-vivo” in the latest political rally. Colbert and Stewart, two public icons, brought American’s attention to the “living moment” calling for individual and collective work to improve our country at a time of crisis. The rally had a present centered mindset calling Americans to not dwell on the past or the future – but to unite in common purpose in the living moment to begin the demanding work of transforming the United States and beyond.
Following a similar path, Abraham Maslow called for an analogous revolution – a humanistically oriented transformation of the human spirit. Unlike his colleagues, Maslow studied psychologically healthy individuals to discover the key to harmonious and fulfilled human potential. As a result, Maslow coined the term “peak experiences”—to describe the human person’s capacity to actively choose and aspire to greatness by way of one’s inner capacities for growth and healing. Maslow is best known for his work with the hierarchy of needs, self-actualization and metamotivation.
Fast-forward to 2010: the work of Maslow studying psychologically healthy individuals has had an enormous trickle down effect. Positive psychologists have empirically validated core tenets of Maslow’s theory and in return have formulated the theory of appreciative inquiry. Widely used by corporations, organizational systems and industrial analysts, appreciative inquiry speaks to the process of change, common assumptions and the need to focus reality on what is working—and consequently do more of it. That new focus is a revolution all its own.
Lastly, Rollo May, a man who stood for existentialism in all its grandeur, stressed the great difficulty finding meaning in life. Light-years ahead of his time, May’s work is increasingly being used with teenagers who struggle with suicide and depression, helping them work toward a conscious, meaningful, and purposeful sense of existence.
Psychologists like Bugental, Maslow, and May didn’t use comedy, but they’ve gone the distance to help restore sanity to our culture in insane times. They might not make you laugh, but their work has made it easier for you to live purposefully, joyfully, and in the moment.
Many of us are following in their footsteps, hoping to restore that kind of sanity.
– Liz Schreiber