In adult education we should not repeat the core mistake of child education: employing a utilitarian logic to define success. Adult education should not be about bringing the best results for the largest number of people, in which best results ought to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound).
In adult education we should embrace an Aristotelian logic: we should strive for individuals fulfilling their potential individually and within a group. The essential difference between the two approaches is that utilitarian logic focuses on maximum achievement of some predefined results while Aristotelian logic focuses on creating the best preconditions for a maximum achievement that is individually defined. The utilitarian approach is top-down while not people are the end but results are. In the Aristotelian approach people are the end.
Fulfilment of one’s potential
It is hard to conceptualize the concept of “fulfilment of one’s potential”, exactly because it is individually defined. But there are some useful starting points. In positive psychology there is the idea of ‘a meaningful life’. Psychologist Bruce Alexander proposes the idea of ‘psychosocial integration’[i]. In both cases individual fulfilment and social fulfilment go hand in hand. In positive psychology a meaningful life is the third, and highest stage of a fulfilling life.[ii] For Alexander psychosocial integration “is a profound interdependence between individual and society that normally grows and develops throughout each person’s lifespan”[iii].
Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk describes poignantly what happens when people feel they are unable to live a meaningful life:
“People who feel safe and meaningfully connected with others have little reason to squander their lives doing drugs or staring numbly at television; they don’t feel compelled to stuff themselves with carbohydrates or assault their fellow humans beings. However, if nothing they do seems to make a difference, they feel trapped and become sustainable to the lure of pills, gang leaders, extremist religions, or violent political movements – anybody or anything that promises relief.”[iv]
Alexander calls the opposite of psychosocial integration ‘dislocation’. Dislocation, according to him, “is both individually painful and socially destructive”[v]. Dislocation prompts some people to adapt to the situation they are in by finding meaning in an alternative, narrowly-focused substitute lifestyle[vi]; others will not abandon mainstream society but will be merely ‘getting by’ only[vii]. Both are undesirable outcomes, both for the individual and for society.
Van der Kolk states that people need to feel safe and feel seen in order to live a meaningful life.[viii] Alexander specifies what is needed to achieve psychosocial integration: a reconciliation of “people’s vital needs for social belonging with their equally vital needs for individual autonomy and achievement”. Alexander writes that only if these vital needs are met people can fully integrate in society while living their individual, meaningful lives. This is experienced “as a sense of identity, because stable social relationships provide people with a set of duties and privileges that define who they are in their mind”. [ix]
The concepts by Van der Kolk and Alexander constitute the conceptual underpinnings of project OZO.
Ezzev foundation is the instigator of project OZO. In line with its mission, project OZO meant that an instrument needed to be found for parents who feel disadvantaged to support their psychosocial integration and their quest for a meaningful life.
[i] Bruce Alexander (2008, p.58)
[iii] Bruce Alexander (2008, p.58)
[iv] Bessel van der Kolk (2014, p.351)
[v] [v] Bruce Alexander (2008, p.58)
[vi] Bruce Alexander (2008, p.62)
[vii] Bruce Alexander (2008, p.64; 271)
[viii] See f.i. Bessel van der Kolk (2014, p.351)
[ix] Bruce Alexander (2008, p.58)