For decades, CAROL S. PEARSON has been a professor, higher education administrator and executive, and author of books that apply archetypal psychology to personal and organizational growth and development, most notably related to her 12-Archetype System and its uses. She seeks to help individuals and groups realize their potential by trusting their authentic motivations and strengths and remain open to growth through interaction with diverse others, situations, and challenges. Dr. Pearson helps people harvest unconscious material for protection and/or positive transformation with an ability to think and write creatively and clearly, combined with my interest in understanding people and the interconnectedness of human consciousness and culture. We spoke recently about the transformative power of archetypes, story development, and her inspirations, familial and cinematic, from long ago that still resonate today.
Visit Dr. Pearson's website here.
Check out the Webinar with Dr. Pearson: StoryWell - Webinar Series with Dr. Carol Pearson
Take the PMAI assessment: StoryWell - Discover Your Archetypes
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Dave Watson: What led to this book? From within you or external source?
Carol Pearson: What Stories Are You Living? Discover Your Archetypes – Transform Your Life was a written as the culmination of work I’ve been doing for over thirty years. It began with an inner calling, which could not be quieted and which changed the focus of my life work. This new book supports the most recent edition of the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator® assessment which is a well-tested instrument that helps respondents become conscious of the stories they are thinking, telling, and living. Archetypes drive our attitudes and behavior until we are conscious enough of them to assess their accuracy and impact. Becoming conscious of archetypes also supports the ability to predict likely outcomes of the plots being lived.
DW: Authenticity is a prevalent theme in your book. Why? Do you see it as a source of inspiration for everyone?
CP: Yes, because I believe that everyone matters and has a contribution to give to the world. As we become truer to what we are here to do, ripple effects spiral out further and further and our impact increases. In this process, we gain the benefits of authenticity and personal fulfillment. Living authentically, however, can also result in many challenges, hence this work’s focus on claiming one’s heroic potential.
DW: Your book also deals with archetypes. How did you gain interest in this mythological idea?
CP: When I was a child, my parents read aloud from the Bible every morning and evening and, so, I was immersed in a world of archetypal stories full of meaning, most of which had morals meant to be used as guides or warnings. I’ve always loved to read fiction, and in college and in graduate work I learned about the psychology of archetypal stories--meaning universal ones, active in all people in all times.
DW: Who are your heroes in life? How do they serve you?
CP: Growing up I was inspired by two aunts who chose to live unconventional adventurous lives by the standards of their time, one as a missionary in Africa. The other married a United Airlines executive, so she could and did jump on a plane, just to have breakfast any place that struck her fancy. These aunts inspired me to choose to be as free as possible in my own time. As to luminaries, I was inspired by Georgia O’Keefe’s choice to paint her own way to write in my own. From Nelson Mandela’s perseverance with his cause throughout twenty-seven years I prison, I gained courage to persevere even when it was not clear to me if or when my choices and efforts would pay off.
DW: You also discuss growing on life's journey. For many people after what is often a structured childhood, personal growth lacks clear structure in adult life. Does your book explore this? Transcend it?
CP: My earlier book, Awakening the Heroes Within, depicted a 3-stage human development progression: preparing for life by learning the basics, taking a journey to find yourself and your purpose, and returning to be a force for transformation. What Stories Are You Living? is designed to honor the uniqueness of anyone’s life journey while also building on that earlier model. This current book, which also pairs with the PMAI assessment, helps individuals negotiate life by recognizing what motivates and energizes them. It also helps them recognize additional qualities that are available to them for meeting life’s challenges and provides warnings about what they might not see coming at them.
DW: You also have a scoring arrange surrounding this. How did this come about?
CP: A survey in the back of Awakening the Heroes Within became the prototype for a tested instrument. My editor, Tom Grady, requested that I create a survey to put at the end of Awakening the Heroes Within. It was very popular. Hugh Marr joined me to turn this into an assessment that meets and exceeds most prevailing psychometric standards. The Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator® assessment was published by the Center for Application of Psychological Type, which has also supported its ongoing research and development over time. It has also evolved as the theories behind were influenced by learning from its use and from its applications to various professional fields of endeavor.
DW: What's next? (Note to Carol: I understand if you cannot divulge much here.)
CP: Some time ago, I began an archetypal analysis of American culture and politics. I believe Americans need to move past the so-called culture war and come back together as a people. Different archetypes, and levels of their expressions, are active in our competing political parties. All these archetypes need to evolve at present so that our country can solve the problems before it. I’m also exploring the spiritual gifts of archetypes. These two themes will likely give rise to blogs, which will be posted on my website www.carolspearson.com.
DW: What is your favorite cinematic moment?
CP: The movie is 45 Years, and the scene is so beautiful. She realizes he has never gotten over his first love and is having to pretend to be happy, lyrics from "Smokes Gets In Your Eyes" is playing. My question is, “What will she do?” Likely stay with him, but sadder, but maybe make a new choice.
For me, I love good, complex characters and engaging plots--and great endings. In fact, my work is motivated by wanting people to achieve happy endings to in various periods of their lives in authentic, not stereotypical ways. I love it in romantic films when miscommunications between lovers are resolved and love and community are restored in surprising ways; in mysteries when who done it: is entirely unexpected; in heroic adventures when the good guy/gal triumphs that defy expectations. I also love the ending of tragedies that take viewers into deep places of empathic suffering that inspire profound understandings about life. I mean those that sometimes leave the audience initially frozen in stunned silence before they are moved to their feet in the shared appreciation of its greatness—even in movie theaters. My most recent epiphany, though, was neither happy nor tragic, but rather the moment where fears of the heroine, dancing with her husband of forty-five years at their anniversary celebration, experiences such a shocking insight that it left me wondering, “What in the world will she do?” I have learned from neuroscience that most of us only notice data that fits our stories. How important it is, then, for us, and for me, when we receive a shocking revelation to remember to answer the question that leaves us in charge: What will we, or I, do?
I have a good bit to say about why movies matter—both in how they develop capacities in the viewer through imaginative identification. I also have a hypothesis that the academy awards typically tell us where we are as a country. Yes, the obvious, many films about different ways people from various groups are resilient in difficult situations. However, the surprise was how many awards came from older actors playing parts about the challenges faced by old people. There are always a lot of great movies out there, so what gets chosen is not just about it being the best one but rather having relevance to our times. Trump and Biden are also older than most presidents have been.
DW: Could this be because the pandemic has us all being aware of approaching mortality? Is it because our country is showing signs of decline?
CP: Well, more African-American works were nominated but not so much winning in the major awards.
Clip: 45 Years
Founder and editor of Movies Matter, Dave Watson is a writer and educator in Madison, WI.