The Meaning of Persons

meaning of persons
A modern version

After writing my last post on Person, I was inspired to look back at a book that has graced my shelves for nearly fifty years – a rather battered copy of Paul Tournier’s The Meaning of Persons – which shows how long I have been interested in these ideas! The subtitle Reflections on a Psychiatrist’s Casebook accurately describes the content as his own reflections on his experience as a doctor, psychiatrist and Christian.

Tournier uses the word ‘person’ in its modern sense of the whole living individual, and uses the contrasting term ‘personage’ to represent the mask we present to the world, the outer human being, as opposed to the inner lived human being. Jung called this personage the persona (per-sona), so I will stick with Jung’s term henceforth.

Tournier ponders the question How can we Discover the True Person, in the context of his psychoanalytic work. He contrasts the process of objective and scientific inquiry, where information is exchanged, with the process of subjective and intuitive personal encounter where a bond of sympathy and affection is established between two people. In the former learning takes place; in the latter understanding takes place. He suggests that in the latter case there is true communion which touches the other person deeply. Tournier regards this communion as spiritual, and relates it to Martin Buber’s I and Thou. This is also the key to understanding oneself as a person – relationship with others.

Further reflection suggests that the person is the original living creation, and the persona is the automatic, habitual routine presented to the world. Industrial society and technology are increasingly impersonal and encourage the repetition of the persona and not the creativity of the true person. Much of social media and the celebrity culture focus precisely on personas.

There is an ongoing tension between person and persona, because we do not fully ‘know’ ourselves. This tension is often greatly magnified in those who need the support of a psychoanalyst.

There are interesting reflections on the distinction between psychology and spirituality. Tournier suggests that psychology is the science or method by which the mind is ‘laid bare’, but as soon as we approach questions of attitude to self/life/God/morality, then we are in the spiritual business of soul-healing.

In the latter part of the book, Tournier reflects on the bible, the living God and Jesus Christ as important aspects of his own perspective on the world – and entirely consistent with his psychoanalysis and the rest of this book. Indeed the bible has many hidden messages about discovering the inner living person. St Francis was a great exemplar:

“St Francis had become so fully a person, found such personal fellowship with God, that in every thing he saw a person, a reflection of the person of God.”

We could do worse than follow that…

With thanks to my friend Geoff at university for introducing me to Tournier’s book.
The photo of Paul Tournier is from Wikipedia.

 

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