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  • Susan Belangee

It's nice to be right

I've noticed a trend over the last several years that various people within the scientific and psychological community continue to discuss ideas about belonging, connection, and the benefits of them as if they were the first to think about them. I'm likely that annoying person who is quick to chime in with "but Adler said it first!" or "Adler talked about that over 100 years ago!"

And I'd be right to do so. Many of the "great ideas" of today are borrowed, or worse, stolen outright, from Alfred Adler. I have a unique insider's view into some of what I'm talking about because of the roles I've played within the Adlerian world. My favorite example occurred while I was serving as Managing Editor for The Journal of Individual Psychology during my doctoral program. A dentist sent in an article for possible publication in the journal claiming he had the first thoughts about birth order and its influence on personality development. All of us on staff had a great chuckle at that because one of Adler's significant contributions to psychology was the concept of birth order and he was writing about it back in the early 1900s. For those who may not know, birth order, as Adler intended, is not merely what number you are in the sibling order, as Frank Sulloway's book proposes; Adler termed this ordinal position. Rather, birth order is a deeper concept focused on an individual's perception of what it means to be in that particular place in the sibling order. A typical question an Adlerian therapist would ask is "So what do you make of being the oldest/youngest/middle/etc?"

This post was prompted by an online article I read from the Scientific American by Scott Barry Kaufman about the idea of oneness. The article doesn't quote Adler but it discusses current research findings that support Adler's idea of social interest, or Gemeinschaftsgefühl in the original German. Kaufman states, "we all have the same fundamental needs for connection, purpose, and to matter in this vast universe." Adler broke ties with Sigmund Freud because his beliefs about human nature evolved to embrace the fact that the fundamental human need is to belong, to feel connected to things bigger than us, to know that we matter and have purpose. To Adler, the ideal community is one in which everyone feels connected and contributes according to their strengths to improve society and the broader world; to be one with the cosmos and everything in it (Adler, 1933).

Once again, Adler was right and would wholeheartedly agree with Kaufman's conclusion that everyone "would benefit from a oneness mindset." I think social interest, and Adler's broader theory, has the power to heal many of society's ills and the resulting human struggles we see today.

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