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Carl Rogers : The tendency toward fulfillment

Dernière mise à jour : 23 nov. 2023

Carl G. Rogers (1902 - 1987)

Extract from :

Carl Rogers

A Way of Being

A Trustworthy Base, p123

To me it is meaningful to say that the substratum of all motivation is the organismic tendency toward fulfillment. This tendency may express itself in the widest range of behaviors and in response to a wide variety of needs.

To be sure, certain basic wants must be at least partially met before other needs become urgent. Consequently, the tendency of the organism to actualize itself may at one moment lead to the seeking of food or sexual satisfaction, and yet, unless these needs are overpoweringly great, even these satisfactions will be sought in ways that enhance, rather than diminish, self-esteem. And the organism will also seek other fulfillments in its transactions with the environment. The need for exploration of and producing change in the environment, the need for play and for self-exploration — all of these and many other behaviors are basically expressions of the actualizing tendency.

In short, organisms are always seeking, always initiating, always "up to something." There is one central source of energy in the human organism. This source is a trustworthy function of the whole system rather than of some portion of it; it is most simply conceptualized as a tendency toward fulfillment, toward actualization, involving not only the maintenance but also the enhancement of the organism.

There are many who criticize this point of view. They regard it as too optimistic, not deahng adequately with the negative element, the evil, the dark side in human beings. Consequently I would like to put this directional tendency in a broader context. In doing so, I shall draw heavily on the work and thinking of others, from disciplines other than my own. I have learned from many scientists, but I wish to mention a special indebtedness to the works of Albert Szent-Gyoergyi (1974), a Nobel Prize-winning biologist, and Lancelot Whyte (1974), a historian of ideas.

My main thesis is this : there appears to be a formative tendency at work in the universe, which can be observed at every level. This tendency has received much less attention than it deserves.

Physical scientists up to now have focused primarily on "entropy," the tendency toward deterioration, or disorder. They know a great deal about this tendency. Studying closed systems, they can give it a clear mathematical description. They know that order tends to deteriorate into randomness, each stage less organized than the last.

We are also very familiar with deterioration in organic life. The system — whether plant, animal, or human — eventually deteriorates into a lesser and lesser degree of functioning organization, or order, until decay reaches a stasis. In one sense, this is what one aspect of medicine is all about — a concern with the malfunctioning or deterioration of an organ or the organism as a whole. The complex process of the death of the physical organism is increasingly well understood.

So a great deal is known of the universal tendency of systems at all levels to deteriorate in the direction of less and less orderliness, more and more randomness. When this system operates, it is a one-way street: the world seems to be a great machine, running down and wearmg out.

But there is far less recognition of, or emphasis on, the even more important formative tendency which can be equally well observed at every level of the universe. After all, every form that we see or know emerged from a simpler, less complex form. This a a phenomenon which is at least as significant as entropy. Examples could be given from every form of inorganic or organic being. Let me illustrate with just a few.

It appears that every galaxy, every star, every planet, including our own, was formed from a less organized whirhng storm of particles. Many of these stellar objects are themselves formative. In the atmosphere of our sun, hydrogen nuclei collide to form molecules of hehum, which are more complex in nature. It is hypothesized that in other stars, even heavier molecules are formed by such interactions.

I understand that when the simple materials of the earth's atmosphere which were present before life began — hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, in the form of water and ammonia — are infused by electrical charges or by radiation, heavier molecules begin to form first, followed by the more complex amino acids. We seem only a step away from the formation of viruses and the even more complex living organisms. A creative, not a disintegrative process, is at work.

Another fascinating example is the formation of crystals. In every case, from less ordered and less symmetrical fluid matter there emerges the startlingly unique, ordered symmetrical and often beautiful crystalline form. All of us have marveled at the perfection and complexity of the snowflake. Yet it emerged from formless vapor.

When we consider the single living cell, we discover that it often forms more complex colonies, as in coral reefs. Even more order enters the picture as the cell emerges into an organism of many cells with specialized functions.

I do not need to portray the whole gradual process of organic evolution. We are all familiar with the steadily increasing complexity of organisms. They are not always successful in their ability to cope with the changing environment, but the trend toward complexity is always evident.

Perhaps, for most of us, the process of organic evolution is best recognized as we consider the development of the single fertilized human ovum through the simplest stages of cell division, then the aquatic gill stage, and on to the vastly complex, highly organized human infant. As Jonas Salk has said, there is a manifest and increasing order in evolution.

Thus, without ignoring the tendency toward deterioration, we need to recognize fully what Szent- Gyoergyi terms ''syntropy" and what Whyte calls the "morphic tendency," the ever operating trend toward increased order and interrelated complexity evident at both the inorganic and the organic level. The universe is always building and creating as well as deteriorating. This process is evident in the human being, too.

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