In the late eighties and early nineties, Eastern Europe experienced enormous political changes that led to my native Poland becoming a democratic country. At the time, this exciting news evoked in me powerful emotions of enjoyment, curiosity, and delight, leading to my decision to return to Poland after eight years living in Canada. The decision was one of the major turning points of my life.
To use the language of chaos theory, it was a bifurcation point. In the last issue of Third Factor, I explained how chaos theory and Dabrowski’s theory of positive disintegration (TPD) are essentially describing the same process. The former describes the process in physical systems while the latter describes it in psychological ones; in both cases, however, we see nonlinear systems that, under certain conditions, reach a point of hesitation called a bifurcation point, at which they face different possible directions of change. At this point, the system will either disintegrate into chaos or, by transforming itself, achieve a higher order of organization.
If we think of ourselves as nonlinear dynamic systems, then our bifurcation points are those times in the flow of our lives when we make major life decisions. In this article, I will explore the process of decision-making through the perspective of TPD, focusing on the idea of self-organization and using the story of my decision to return to Poland.
Maybe you’re asking yourself, “What was so important about this decision? You’ve only changed the place you live.” If so, I’ll show you the true significance of what was happening to me. The fact is that, through the process of making this decision, I created myself anew and liberated myself from the past. It was a decision that changed my whole internal world.
Through the process of making this decision, I created myself anew and liberated myself from the past. It was a decision that changed my whole internal world.
The process of self-organization involves the spontaneous emergence of new states, patterns, and behaviors in open, non-linear, and complex systems. External conditions give rise to instabilities that activate the internal processes. They consequently trigger bifurcations that generate new patterns of behaviors in the system.1
I propose that this self-organizing mechanism represents the process of decision-making in human life. First of all, consider all the external stimuli in our lives—for example, unexpected events, challenging situations, artistic experiences, interpersonal relationships, and stimulating ideas, to name just some. Depending on our sensitivity, these stimuli may evoke in us a variety of emotions. We can understand these emotions as flows of energy that link our organism with the external world. They play a variety of useful roles: emotions assign value to what is meaningful and important to our well-being, predict future outcomes, increase our awareness, influence our imagination, or signal a need to make changes in our lives.
In certain critical external conditions, the emotions we experience give rise to a state of non-equilibrium in our mental structure. In this state, the emotions activate both our cognition and our imagination. This process makes us more aware of our situation, and more focused on our problems. It is in this non-equilibrium state that the will emerges. Will then rouses imagination: we become both motivated and enabled to challenge our situation. We become immersed in the process of deliberating and choosing. We experience feelings of anticipation and a willingness to experience the unknown—but we still experience confusion and doubt about our choices. This is the complex phase situated between chaos and order, characterized by the openness to the future. In this phase, our values play a decisive role in choosing our future path. Once we have identified our values, we have the courage to make a decision grounded in an acceptance of our new reality, an openness to new experiences, and a willingness to strive for our goals.
In other words, the integration of emotions with cognition and imagination is a required condition for a decision to be made. This complex and dynamic process of decision-making can be understood as a transition from a state of non-equilibrium, through a state of complexity into an ordered state.
Furthermore, the sequence of these special moments when we make decisions represents our psychological development, which deals with the increasing complexity of our mental structure. Our psyche differentiates and incorporates more and more elements from the whole of our mental life—especially our emotions, thoughts, imaginations, and memories—and then integrates those elements by constructing connections between them.
Self-Direction as My Key Value
Perhaps you are wondering what I did to contribute when I got to Poland. To explain, let me give you some background: as part of the political upheaval of the late eighties, Poland experienced not only political but also educational transitions.
During the first six months of 1989, key members of the Communist Party and representatives of the Solidarity movement sat down for what became known as the Round Table Negotiations. During those negotiations, the Solidarity Sub-Committee on Education succeeded in getting the Communist Party to agree to the ideological neutrality of schools and the loosening of state controls over the educational system. Teachers were given greater authority to select textbooks, and parents and teachers were granted the right to set up “community schools” (in Polish: szkoły społeczne). It was a starting point for active educational transition in Poland.
That’s why I was completely committed to the idea of opening a high school with an English immersion program in Warsaw. Since my first days in Warsaw, the main values that guided my action were independence, freedom, and creativity—in other words, self-direction. I had to learn the new educational policies and apply them to the process of creating the school. I was able to influence others with my enthusiasm and vision.
Dynamisms of Emerging Order
From the perspective of the theory of positive disintegration, the process of decision-making can be understood as an expression of dynamisms. If you’re familiar with TPD, you will recall that dynamisms are internal forces that reorganize the mental structure. It’s the dynamisms of level IV that make a nonlinear dynamic system tilt toward greater order rather than chaos. They are subject-object in oneself, the third factor and inner psychic transformation.
Subject-object in oneself is the dynamism responsible for self-observation and self-evaluation, and conscious need for developmental changes. This dynamism permits us to open our own psyches for self-observation and objectively explore our own content. Through this observation and analysis, we gain knowledge of ourselves, our motives, and our aims.
It was the working of this dynamism that turned my attention to my thoughts, emotions, images, and desires. This is how I described the emotional state prior to my decision in the book Feeling Life: Patterns of Emotions:
Initially, my attention was directed toward the political situation in Eastern Europe. Because I cared deeply for what was going on in Poland, news about changes there evoked the emotions of surprise, delight, and curiosity. These elated emotions became an emotional turning point of decisive significance for my family and me. My attention was continually focused on Polish news. It was like an obsession that triggered the idea of returning to my native land. Next, my attention shifted toward myself. I felt disquietude, tension and restlessness. My life was too ordered and predictable and I needed some changes. I thought returning to Poland might bring some solutions to my life. Subsequently, my attention shifted to my children who meant everything to me. I was ultimately responsible for their lives so the uncertainty of living in Poland made me feel confused, nervous, and anxious. I started to have doubts about my decision.2
Through this process, I experienced a readiness and alertness and was then able to make changes in my life.
I wrote further, “In spite of my doubts, I felt enthusiastic, willing, open-minded, and hopeful. I was very much oriented to the future and anticipated it with uncertainty. I was also ready to welcome the unknown. That meant not being locked into a particular way of doing things, but appreciating some new possibilities.”3
Next, the third factor kicks into action. This dynamism is responsible for the conscious development of an individual’s autonomous hierarchy of values. It arises in the course of increasing conscious, self-determined, and authentic development. The third factor manifests itself through a gradual process of inner struggle over what to accept and reject within ourselves—until the inner voice of our conscience gains control over our decisions.4
All my energy, thoughts, and feelings were directed at this important decision. Given the events that were unfolding, the experiences of excitement, novelty and working in a democratic Poland became my highest priority. Those values guided me toward making this decision. I believed that my life in Poland would be more meaningful than my life in Canada because I’d be able to do something good for Poles. I’d chosen an exciting and unpredictable life in Poland instead of security, predictability, and safety in Canada. As I wrote in my book,
My objective was to bring joy, happiness, and satisfaction into my life by living and working in my own country, creating my own school, being with my parents and connecting with my old friends. But I was also aware that the move might generate disappointment because it involved leaving a great country, quitting an interesting job, saying goodbye to many friends, and exposing my kids to unknown hardships. The anticipated future could bring forth the concurrent experiences of both joy and sadness. However, my optimism and courage were much stronger than my pessimism and they drove me forward into unexpected possibilities that might involve a loss of the stability and security we had known in Canada.5
The anticipated future could bring forth the concurrent experiences of both joy and sadness. However, my optimism and courage were much stronger than my pessimism and they drove me forward into unexpected possibilities that might involve a loss of the stability and security we had known in Canada.
Then we come to the dynamism that Dabrowski called inner psychic transformation. It refers directly to the process of re-ordering after passing through a bifurcation point. During the first three months of this project, as I went through this process of transformation, I experienced changes in my emotional attitude to others and my way of thinking. From a shallow involvement with others, I began connecting with people and developing friendships and companionships. My scientific, analytical, and logical thinking was slowly changing into practical thinking. I was also becoming flexible and capable of solving real-world problems. During this period in my life, I experienced feelings of acceptance, joy, anticipation, surprise, curiosity, enthusiasm, courage, satisfaction, and fulfillment. I can say without any hesitation that those feelings assigned values to what was meaningful for me. I was deeply attached to my life and felt that it was worth being alive and active.
The decision to move my family to Poland was not an easy one. I hesitated and felt anxiety and doubt. Passing successfully through my bifurcation point—that is, climbing to higher organization, not falling into chaos—required me to completely reorganize my old pattern of thinking. My mental structure was made anew. But all of this happened because of a conscious decision. As the Polish psychiatrist and philosopher Antoni Kepinski wrote, “Consciousness mainly directs itself toward something that is uncertain, difficult, requiring a maximum of effort and what is unknown.”6
1 Bushev, M. (1994). Synergetics. Chaos, Order, Self-Organization. Singapore, New Jersey, London, Hong Kong: World Scientific Publishing Co., p. 67
2 Laycraft, K.C. (2014). Feeling Life: Patterns of Emotions. Victoria, BC: AwareNow Publishing, pp. 5-6
3 Ibid. p. 6
4 Dabrowski, K. (1973). The Dynamics of Concepts. London: Gryf Publications Ltd., pp. 76-79
5 Laycraft, K.C. (2014). Feeling Life: Patterns of Emotions. Victoria, BC: AwareNow Publishing, pp. 6-7
6 Kepinski, A. (2002). Psychopatie. Krakow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, pp. 36-37 (in Polish)