Cultural Attitudes

by John Beebe

Typology comes into its own when we make the stretch from self to other. We do not get there simply by learning another person’s MBTI® code. We make a connection by assuming an attitude toward that person as part of the world around us which will always, in some way, be different from what we are prepared to meet.

The stretch to engage with what is unlike us is even more pronounced when the Other is not a person but the diverse group that we meet in a familial, organizational, sub-, or national culture. A way of establishing common ground needs to be found. This problem that every human faces is the subject of Jungian analyst Joseph Henderson’s 1984 book, Cultural Attitudes in Psychological Perspective. Henderson asserts that individuals within societies have historically found a way to share meaningful group activities with others through the exercise of one of four cultural attitudes, which he names the religious attitude, the social attitude, the aesthetic attitude, and the philosophical attitude. He also postulates an emergent fifth attitude that has become particularly significant in recent times, the psychological attitude. This attitude Henderson dates back to the writings of William James, whose distinctions between tough- and tender- minded temperaments in his book Pragmatism (1907/2008) influenced Jung’s willingness to take on the problem of psychological types.

We live now in a time when culture itself is changing so fast that individual psychology can barely keep up with it. To meet the world around us in a culturally sensitive way, and to be able to tolerate its complex foreignness to us, we have to turn ourselves inside out to find what resources are in us that we haven’t drawn on and add those to what we use all the time when we steer via our type preferences.

The differentiation of a cultural attitude that is effective is a process that I have found to be necessary for all who want to manage the difficult task of coping with the world in which they have to live their individuality. Every working psychotherapist bears witness to the enormous anxiety that is generated by the need to take into account not just one’s own undiscovered self, whose particularities inevitably limit how one is going to try to cope with life, but also the equal reality of a culture, which can seem unfriendly and unfathomable, placing unfair demands for adaptation to an alien reality. One of my jobs as a Jungian analyst is to help each person working with me develop an attitude that can make it possible for her or him to negotiate culture comfortably.

An understanding of the eight different types of consciousness that Jung identified in Psychological Types orients us to the building blocks from which a cultural attitude is constructed. Stretching one’s typology to achieve a cultural attitude that suits one is a creative process no less arduous than designing and building any bridge. It is the creativity needed to sustain this process that I am always hoping to release in my patients. From what emerges when that effort is successful, I have come to see that the absence of such a cultural attitude when therapy began was often the problem that drove the person to seek my help.

Contemplating an expansion of consciousness of the kind required to construct a cultural attitude will require exploring the challenges from others that complicate our way of holding and defending self-experience. I find that exploring this subject, with concrete illustrations of how types of consciousness that might normally have little to do with each other manage to combine, can lead participants to see something fresh and practical about the personal development necessary to form a conscious relationship to otherwise perplexing cultural contexts. This way of resolving challenges to the self from cultural pressures is the subject of many films, and I will show in both my lecture and my post-conference workshop film scenes that I find compelling in their depictions of the creation of viable cultural adaptations because they recreate for contemporary people what the traditions Henderson identified still have to offer us.

About the author

John Beebe, Jungian AnalystJohn Beebe (RNTP) is the creator of the eight-function, eight-archetype model of psychological types. A Jungian analyst and past president of the C G Jung Institute of San Francisco, he is the author of Energies and Patterns in Psychological Type: The Reservoir of Consciousness and co-editor, with Ernst Falzeder, of The Question of Psychological Types: The Correspondence of C G Jung and Hans Schmid-Guisan. John has spearheaded a Jungian typological approach to the analysis of film and has written the preface to the recent Routledge Classics edition of Jung’s 1921 book, Psychological Types.

[Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels]

Sign up to our newsletter

The BAPT e-news is published six or more times a year, with information about coming events,
and links to other items related to psychological type.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.
Scroll to Top