« Beyond Self Awarness : The Prisonner’s Dilemma»

Nous avons choisi de mettre cet article provenant d’un des co-créateurs de l’International NLP Trainers Association : le Dr Wyatt Woodsmall (Maître Enseignant en PNL, Etats-Unis), président de l’INLPTA, ancien président de l’International Association for NLP, Co-auteur de la Time Ligne TherapyTM, auteur de plus de 50 publications et livres en PNL dont : People Pattern Power : The Nine Keys to Business Success et de Time Line Therapy and the Basis of Personality. Wyatt enseigne actuellement la PNL dans plus de quinze pays des cinq continents.


Wyatt nous propose une réflexion sur certains présupposés de la PNL, qu’il appelle : ” le mythe du pouvoir, le mythe de l’intention inconsciente positive et le mythe de l’écologie du cadre d’objectif “. Il engageait les PNListes en 1989 déjà, à trouver de nouvelles bases solides, bases plus proches du fonctionnement de la psyché humaine et à éviter certaines dérives ou chemins sans issue, négatifs pour la reconnaissance de la PNL. En l’an 2000, combien de technologies et d’autres disciplines se sont déjà appropriées de nombreux développements de la PNL, sans en citer les sources bien sûr ! Combien de consultants en entreprise utilisent la PNL, sans même oser la citer ! A méditer !

Beyond Self Awareness
The Prisoner’s Dilemma

NLP is often considered to be highly manipulative if not down right unethical. There is no question that NLP has frequently been misused. This has led many professional therapists on the one hand and business people on the other to view it with caution. The situation has been further exacerbated by the negative publicity underlying the behavior of some highly prominent members of the NLP community. For NLP to receive wider acclaim and the recognition which it deserves as a powerful change technology, it will be necessary for the NLP community to monitor itself and to clean up its act so to speak.
How is it possible that NLP has gained the bad reputation which it has in some quarters ? Is this simply due to abuses by certain individuals who use NLP or is it endemic to the nature of NLP itself ? There will always be individuals who misuse any technology, but is there something in the very nature of NLP that leads to this abuse ?
I believe that there is something in the very nature of NLP itself, at least as understood and practiced by many people who consider themselves NLPers, which often leads to the use of NLP for manipulation and coercion. To see what this is it will be necessary to investigate several of the so called “presuppositions” of NLP.
There are three of the fundamental presuppositions underlying NLP which leave NLP open to potential misuse and abuse. This article will discuss these three presuppositions. I call these the myth of power, the myth of positive unconscious intent, and the myth of the ecology of the outcome frame.

THE MYTH OF POWER NLP seems to obsessed with the idea of power. Perhaps the greatest disservice ever done to the NLP community was the inclusion within it of the idea of “personal power”. This disservice is even more inexcusable, as we will soon see, considering the strong and unheeded warning against this approach offered by one of the very sources upon which NIL is grounded. Once the concept of “personal power” was introduced into NLP, the cancer began to spread and to take the even more megalomaniac form of “unlimited power”. Sadly enough, the myth has even spread into such ideas as “women in power”.
What is wrong with the concept of “personal power”, and who is the prophet who warned against it ? The prophet was none other than Gregory Bateson. Bateson was one of the fathers of modern cybernetics and one of the seminal thinkers of our age. Both Grinder and Bandler knew and were influenced by Bateson. They claim that NLP is cybernetic and that the philosophy behind NLP was strongly influenced by Bateson. If only they had listened to Bateson more carefully, perhaps NLP might have taken a turn for the better at the very beginning. It is even more ironical that in claiming that NLP is cybernetic the creators of NLP would have adopted a metaphor of power which as Bateson himself warned is clearly not cybernetic and leads to all forms of “lunacy” and disaster”. Gregory Bateson wrote his seminal book Steps to an Ecology of Mind : A Revolutionary Approach to Man’s Understanding of Himself in 1972, drawing on the lessons of the great world wars. What was true at that time has been demonstrated even more by history since then. Bateson has this to say about the metaphor of “Power” :

They say that power corrupts; but this, I suspect, is nonsense. What is true is that the idea of power corrupts. Power corrupts most rapidly those who believe in it, and it is they who will want it most. Obviously our democratic system tends to give power to those who hunger for it and gives every opportunity to those who don’t want power to avoid getting it. Not a very satisfactory arrangement if power corrupts those who believe in it and want it. Perhaps there is no such thing as unilateral power. After all, the man “in power” depends on receiving information all the time from the outside. He responds to that information just as much as he “causes” things to happen. It is not possible for Goebbels to control the public opinion of Germany because in order to do so he must have spies or legmen or public opinion polls to tell him what the Germans are thinking. He must then trim what he says to this information; and then again find out how they are responding. It is an interaction, and not a linear situation. But the myth of power is, of course, a very powerful myth and probably most people in this world more or less believe in it. It is a myth which, if everybody believes in it, becomes to that extent self-validating. But it is still epistemological lunacy and leads inevitably to various sorts of disaster.

Bateson argues that “power” is a physical metaphor which has no applicability in the biological world. Power applies to locomotives and nuclear generators but not to mental process or human interactions. To apply the metaphor of “power” to biological systems is dangerous to the ecology of living process.
Cybernetics is the science of patterns and organizations. This is distinct from physical science which deals with material, things, force and energy. Descriptions of material and of patterns are totally different as indicated by the following chart.

Metaphors of Pattern               Metaphors of Material
Cybernetics                               Physics
Mind                                           Body
Form                                          Matter
Communication                        Energy
Biological world                        Physical world
Organization of whole              Ingredients of whole
Qualitative analysis                  Quantitative analysis
Mechanistic explanation          Vitalistic explanation

As Bateson points out, “All metaphors derived from a physical world of impacts, forces, energy, etc., are unacceptable in explanations of events and processes in the biological world of information, purpose, context, organization and meaning”.
The issue of the “myth of power” arose in the early and mid seventies in the context of family therapy. Bateson repeatedly warned family therapists that any use of physical metaphors applies a linear and non-cybernetic epistemology to living systems and has nothing whatsoever to do with formally knowing the pattern, form and organization of family events.
Bateson’s most vocal attack was on Jay Haley who edited Milton Erickson’s papers in Advanced Techniques of Hypnosis and Therapy and who wrote books such as Ordeal therapy and The Power Tactics of Jesus Christ. Haley insistently used the metaphor of power in his description of family therapy. Richard Rabkin described the Barteson-Haley disagreement as the “epistemological fulcrum” in family therapy and said that their differing orientations dramatically demonstrated the contrast between the old epistemology of material and the new epistemology of pattern.
Bateson argues that family therapists (and all life sciences including NLP) must adopt a cybernetic epistemology or fall into the trap of regarding ourselves and our contexts of living as though they were heaps of bricks subject to locomotion. Such a position is not only loco but dangerous to the ecology of a living system.
The issue from the point of view of Bateson and cybernetic epistemology is stated quite succinctly by Bradford Keeney in his highly insightful book Aesthetics of Change. Keeney says :

You must realize that “seeing” power in any context follows from a way of punctuating events. If you say that a therapist and client are engaged in a “power struggle”, I will say that you have punctuated the context of therapy in a way that constructs that view. “Power” is in the hand of the punctuator, not necessarily in the “observed”. The major epistemological issues are therefore concerned with the consequences of particular habits of punctuation. As the ecologists have warned us, punctuating biological events in terms of physical metaphors often breeds pathology in the form of fractionation of complexity and destruction of patterns that connect… Bateson’s work attempts to demonstrate how such a punctuation reinforces greed and corruption in all those who believe in the “reality” of “social power”, whether they think they have it or not. Preventing such pathology requires avoiding the use of power metaphors to punctuate the biological world… Pathology may be perpetuated by therapists who work without an aesthetic orientation. A therapist who sees himself as a unilateral power broker or manipulator is dealing with partial arcs of cybernetic systems. Such a position threatens the recursively structured biological world in which we live. Only wisdom, that is, “a sense of recognition of the fact of circuitry” (Bateson) can safely and effectively deal with ecosystems.

If Bateson felt that the metaphor of power is bad, he would have been even more horrified by the notion of “unlimited power”. Even in the physical realm “unlimited power” is only possible in an open system. Ecologists are continually warning us that we do not live in an open system with unlimited energy and resources but in a closed system with scarce and diminishing resources. To apply the notion of “unlimited power” to therapy and personal growth is even more insane. Once again as Keeney so succinctly summarizes the matter :

Part of Bateson’s criticism of “power” addresses the assumption that more power will always be more powerful. This idea is in the strictest sense not applicable to ecology. Ecological products (e.g., population, oxygen, protein, money, number of clients, workshops, and so on) are intransitive and become toxic if an optimum value is exceeded. Anyone suggesting that a therapist is solely responsible for change implies a transitive and linear relationship. It may then be assumed that the more skilled a therapist, the more “power” the therapist has to achieve change. Such an assumption is potentially toxic and after a certain point it may lead a therapist to becoming less and less flexible, less and less creative, and less and less effective as a therapist, teacher, and student. Ecologists suggest that our planet faces certain “points of no return” owing to social policies governed by an epistemology of “power”. What ecological pathologies are being constructed by therapists who implement change through an epistemology containing metaphors of “power?” Bateson continuously issued prophetic warnings in this regard.

Many people in the NLP community including its creators have fallen into the trap of “power”. This has started NLP down a road that can only lead to more and more havoc. Many people are abusing NLP because they adopt an epistemology of “power”. It can only be hoped that enough members of the NLP community will awaken in time to banish an epistemology of power once and for all and forever from the ranks of all who use NLP ethically and professionally. As Bateson warned, the “myth of power” corrupts and the “myth of unlimited power” corrupts absolutely. It is time for all responsible NLPers to turn back from the gates of lunacy and disaster and to chart a new course where myths applicable to human beings and living systems replace forever those drawn from the realm of physical objects and machines.

THE MYTH OF POSITIVE UNCONSCIOUS INTENT NLP operates out of presupposition (sometimes attributed to Erickson) that the unconscious mind is positive or at the very least benign. When in NLP it is said that “every behavior has a positive intent” what is meant is that every behavior has an intent to do something. This does not mean that the intent is positive in the sense that it is good, right, just or true.
NLP operates out of a very impoverished model of the unconscious mind. More refined typologies distinguish between an unconscious, subconscious and superconscious mind. For NLP, however, there is only the conscious and the unconscious mind. This infatuation with the unconscious dimensions of the mind is potentially ruinous, because it ignores a simple fact understood by most of the rest of psychiatry and psychology from the beginning.
This fact has to do with the existence of evil. To assume that the unconscious is positive or at the very least benign is to ignore the existence of evil and the lessons of thousand of years of human history. Freud, Adler and Jung were aware of the dark side or the shadow and so has most of the rest of the spiritual and intellectual world.
It is undeniable that people often behave in ways that are wrong, bad, false, misguided or downright evil. How is this possible ? People behave this way because the unconscious also contains dark forces and people are easily overcome by the dark side or the shadow or the “monsters from the id.” The naive person, as the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung so elegantly pointed out, is often the most dangerous. The naive person who is unaware of his dark side is in greatest danger of being overcome by it if and when it emerges. The aware person who knows that “I too can kill” is most likely to be able to control the dark side when and if it emerges.
NLP seems to lack any ethical criteria for judging behavior. It preaches that all behavior has a positive intent and that people always do the best they can with the resources they have. What if fails to say is that regardless of positive intent or the availability of resources much behavior is pathological, sociopathic and unacceptable. By failing to take a stand NLP countenances all manners of antisocial and inappropriate behavior. This position of looking the other way on moral and ethical issues has led NLP to condone all kinds of behavior. Even worse, like the “myth of power” the “myth of the positive unconscious intent” has lead members of the NLP community both to engage personally in inappropriate and sociopathic behavior and to tolerate and justify the behavior of those who do. Given this situation it is not surprising that many members of the professional therapeutic and business communities have had grave reservations about NLP. As NLP itself preaches “by your actions will you be known”.
It is time for members of the NLP community to face the undeniable fact of the existence of evil. It is time for members of the NLP community to temper their infatuation with the unconscious with the awareness of both its positive and negative sides. And most of all it is time for members of the NLP community to both “be known by their positive actions” and to publicly condemn the behaviors of those members of the community who engage in irresponsible acts. Only if this happens will NLP gain the respect it deserves as a powerful change technology which can be used both ethically and professionally.

THE MYTH OF THE ECOLOGY OF THE OUTCOME FRAME NLP operates out of three fundamental principles. The first of these is “know your outcome”. This accounts for a large amount of its success. NLP works because it is purposive. Problems begin to emerge, however, when NLP is applied to therapy and change work. In therapy NLP operates out of a model of “present state” and “desired state”. The problem arises with the notion of “desired state”.
The problem is that what is “desired” is not always “desirable”. People desire all manner of things many of which are negative both for themselves and for other people. NLP not only ignores the existence of the id but also of the ego and superego. When a person comes to therapy what they usually desire is what the ego wants. NLP thus becomes a process of ego gratification. This also applies to so called “imperative self therapy”.
The problem is that what the ego desires is often not good either for the individual or society. Spirituality and mysticism have warned against the danger of the unchecked ego. Closer to home, the superego or “conscience” in every individual stands guard as best it can against the ravages of an unchecked ego. NLP all too often becomes a tool in the service of the ego getting what it desires. This has led to much therapy which is satisfying to the ego but ultimately in the worst interest of the individual and humanity.
This situation is even more exacerbated by the infatuation of much of the NLP community with both power and the unconscious mind. When these are combined, all manners of lunacy and inappropriate behavior are both spawned and endorsed.
NLP at one level is aware of this problem and attempts to rectify it with the so-called “well formedness conditions for outcomes”. One of these is that the outcome be “ecological”. NLP is wise in endorsing ecology but lax in generating standards by which ecology can be measured. All too often ecology becomes a matter of personal preference (and usually it is the ego that has the preference).
The situation is worsened by the tendency among therapists to play the role of whores and give people what they want for fear that they wouldn’t come back. One should always leave people “with a positive K” to use the NLP lingo. This ignores the fact that not all good feelings are positive. In the rush to make the ego feel good NLP all too easily takes the wrong path.
If NLP is going to find ethical and professional applications in business, therapy, health and education it will be necessary for it to define more clearly the role of ecology and to seek out responsible standards by which it can be measured. Without such standards NLP will always be subject to the ravages of both the id and the ego, i.e. the dark side of both the conscious and unconscious mind.

THE PRISONER’S DILEMMA NLP has become the prisoner of its own success. Tough times, however, may lie ahead. NLP is dying a death of gradual assimilation. Parts of it are being appropriated (usually without attribution) by other technologies and disciplines at an ever increasing rate. As NLP is incorporated into other systems it slowly loses an identity of its own. To survive it must develop and foster its own sense of identity. Part of this identity must include prescriptions and standards for its use. Business, education, health and therapy all endorse standards of ethicality and professionalism. If NLP is found lacking in these areas it cannot expect that it will be embraced by those it most wants to influence.
For NLP to grow and survive it must become responsible, and part of this process is investigating those elements of itself that lead to misuse and abuse. NLP must take off its naive spectacles and take a long, hard, somber glance at some of the very presuppositions on which it has been based. Where these presuppositions are pernicious they must be abandoned and new and more appropriate foundations must be constructed in their place. In summary, then three of these presuppositions that must be recognized and abandoned are the idea of “power”, the belief that the unconscious is positive, and the belief that all desired states are desirable. These presuppositions must be replaced with others that create a new and stronger foundation on which NLP can grow and flourish. NLP must take this action and soon if it is going to survive. Whether it will heed the call and do so remains to be seen.

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