Founded by Lesley Assistant Professor David Goodman, the Psychology and the Other Institute has opened an interdisciplinary dialogue that delves into the concept of “the other” and dispels the myth that Science and Theology must remain mutually exclusive.
What exactly is “the other?” It’s not a tangible entity, but rather a concept – the antithesis of the individual. The Psychology and the Other Institute at Lesley University is forging new discussions and developing the thought leadership to drive real and palpable change. It is about shaking up a self-centered society and shifting it toward a place of empathy and outreach to “the other.”
“In the past few hundred years for one reason or another we have become very preoccupied with the individual self,” Goodman said. “We define ourselves as who I am, my ideas, my dreams.”
“Is our identity at all shaped by the needs of another person? We post something on Facebook and get 75 likes and we’re getting responses, but what are we really getting in return?” The advent of social media has brought about an interesting dichotomy. We are more connected than ever. And yet, this technology has driven a wedge between true physical contact and relationships. We have a barrier through which we interact. While our conversations may be more frequent, one could argue that the substance has largely been compromised. What concerns Goodman the most is that we have lost the ability to truly empathize with the people around us who are suffering. It’s much easier to look the other way, or to communicate compassion through a computer than to really reach out to people who are in pain and try to see the world as they do. “Does anything really interrupt my own sense of self in a substantial way,” Goodman questioned.
Goodman and his colleagues want to break down these barriers that we have erected to keep the world at arm’s length. They want people to perceive suffering on a more raw and visceral level in the hopes of creating a more substantive response. They challenge us to look past ourselves, and to instead focus outward on “the other.”This concept of “the other” has ties to Psychology, Philosophy and Theology, and yet these disciplines rarely communicate with one another. Just as Goodman would challenge us to break down our own personal walls, through his Institute he has invited these communities to walk down largely uncharted paths of collaboration. The union of disciplines so often at odds with one another is a unique endeavor. “Throughout history, or at least for the past few hundred years, science and religion are not conversation partners for the most part,” Goodman said, “but I think conversations between them enrich, broaden and expand each of the fields.” Goodman, who has a Master’s Degree in Theology and a PhD in Psychology, is very much attuned to such exchanges. While he understands that the two fields offer vastly different perspectives on many issues, he does not accept their tendencies to operate in isolation from one another.“Why shouldn’t they be messing with each other so that neither one gets too comfortable with their own modalities and paradigms,” he challenged. “I get very concerned when disciplines get too comfortable with themselves.”
Convincing people to push beyond their comfort zones can be a challenging, and Goodman was realistic in his initial expectations for his Institute. He expected the first “Psychology and the Other Conference” held in 2011 to be “a nice little event with some good conversation partners.” Instead, more than 300 people showed up for the conference, and he was forced to turn others away due to space constraints. He credits every member of his team for rolling up their sleeves and doing whatever needed to be done to get that initial effort off the ground.
“We built the first conference with sweat and blood, and what made that first conference so successful is that people could smell the sweat. It wasn’t just some intellectual ego-fest, it was a sense of moving forward the conversation,” Goodman said.
The dialogue has not ceased since. The next conference will take place October 4-6 of this year, and Goodman has already been inundated with proposals from prospective speakers. How does Goodman account for the fact that this other concept has resonated so strongly in the religious, philosophic and scientific communities? “There is just this major need for everything to be commodified now. Psychiatrists are listening to patients, but worrying about the insurance companies. Those types of things deplete our work and I dare say our spiritual connection. This Institute addresses that shared sense of anemia.” “The response to the Institute,” he said, “has given me hope.”
As for the objectives of the Psychology and the Other Institute, Goodman has tangible goals in mind. He wants to drive more than just discourse. “The long-term desire that I have for this is that it be a part of altering the culture of the psychological field and changing the delivery from the mental health community to attend to human suffering in much better ways.”His approach to this endeavor is two-fold.“First, we want to create a conversational space so as to increase readiness that these fields can grow more able to interact and grow more able to be uncomfortable. And second, we need to create ways of enriching the understanding of human suffering intellectually, clinically, and eventually through structure or policy change. “Goodman is pleased with the progress he has seen so far, but he knows that there is still a lot of work to be done. Nonetheless, he remains undaunted by the substantial effort that such sweeping changes will demand.
“I have heard that people don’t care, that psychology is becoming all about medicating and that won’t change. Trends can change though. Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. You never have to accept the status quo,” he said. “If you want change – you build it.”
Lesley University has provided the ideal foundation for Goodman’s construction. “There’s almost a ‘ceillingless-ness’ at Lesley,” he said. “If you have an idea and a means, and you run with it, it’s just fun to watch how it moves and grows and to see what develops.”
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Assistant Professor David Goodman receives award for early career contributions to the field of psychology.