One of the seminal research works in the field of psychology was Erik Erikson’s, Psychosocial Stages of Development. Erikson postulated that there are stages of development that we all must pass through in life and that at each of these stages, we are faced with a crisis that must be overcome. The result of overcoming the stage is that we acquire a basic virtue.
The good news is that I am beginning to face the developmental crisis of Ego Integrity versus Despair and so far doing okay. It requires that I make some sense of my life, that it was worthwhile and necessary. It necessitates some life review leading up to my present state. Success at this stage leads to the virtue of wisdom. According to Erikson, everyone will experience ego integrity and despair, the important point is to find a balance. Ultimately, success equals the virtue of wisdom and a sense of completeness. The bad news is that Ego Integrity versus Despair is the eighth and final stage of Erikson’s model. Yikes! What? No more stages to catch? Good thing it is only one perspective, a psychological one. There is great comfort in knowing there are many other perspectives to consider.
Erikson’s model came to mind this week as I was driving around Zary, Poland and admiring the architecture. Unfortunately, so much of it is being neglected and is in disrepair, approaching it’s own final stage. Upon closer examination, these structures beg to tell stories, the stories of lives and experiences gone by as well as to tell the stories of some lives that have not gone by.
As with most cities, there are parts of town that are modern, hi-tech, and sophisticated and parts of town that have aged gracefully and sometimes, not so gracefully, after all, there was a time when these older buildings and neighborhoods were the modern, hi-tech, and sophisticated part of town. It occurred to me this weekend that looks can be deceiving. My friend, Les and I were driving through an older neighborhood and noticed that it was truly a community of neighbors. People were talking on the streets, elderly were being assisted across the street. They were looking out for each other. We both felt like everyone there knew we were visitors, keeping one eye on us just to ensure that we were not there to disrupt the community. much like the community in which I grew up. There was a sense of hope, will, purpose, competency, fidelity, love, care, and wisdom…all of the virtues Erikson identified as successful outcomes through the eight stages.
In contrast, I thought about my experience in the modern, hi-tech, sophisticated part of town. Having dinner, I noticed few conversations or eye contact as people were focused on their smart phones, oblivious to their partners or the people around them. It seemed as cold as the steel and glass edifices that surrounded us. It made me think that perhaps Erikson needed a ninth stage of psychosocial development that was directed at community. I would call it, Technology versus Relationships. Upon successfully overcoming the crisis, the virtue achieved would be empathy. Maybe I’m just getting old, a true eighth stager.
Regardless of your stage, I hope you enjoy your weekend. Until next time…