Psychiatric social worker Dan Siegel spent over four decades seeing adult clients in psychotherapy. Along the way, he developed a model of human nature that would clarify his own thinking as he got to know his clients.
Personal Wisdom: Meaning in a Pragmatic World is the result of this model, presented as a humanistic essay.
Most of us seek to find sufficient correspondence between our inner nature and the outside world to achieve meaning and direction. However, since we have contradictory forces within us, and since we cannot sufficiently understand the complex social world without some shortcuts, we often develop biases. We have selective memory and selective perception.
The author suggests that we cannot understand American social character without understanding pragmatic self-interest. Because we have difficulty reconciling self-interest with the collective good, the United States struggles internally. Other nations find it easier to resolve similar problems—universal health care, for example; also, we are perhaps the only nation in the world that still considers global warming a matter of debate. The inability to reconcile self-interest with the collective good creates a struggle for us that much of the world may view with alarm.
This book seeks to examine this conflict that we, as Americans, experience. The book offers suggestions for understanding ourselves, others, and the nation as a whole.