Carol Craig, Commissioning Editor, Postcards from Scotland
One of the remarkable features of Alan McLean’s book is that it provides an all-encompassing theory of human interaction and development. This is a rarity. I have read many psychology and personal development books over the years and they are often too narrow to be satisfactory: The author is an expert on one specific topic and tries to convince us that this one thing – self- esteem, mindset, grit, emotional intelligence, optimism or whatever – is ‘the answer’ to all life’s difficulties.
The academic world as a whole is fragmented into narrow subject specialisms and scholars rarely read beyond their own disciplines. And psychology is particularly smitten by frag- mentation as it is rigidly divided into schools. Even positive psychologists who take a broad view of well-being rarely quote social psychologists’ research even though relationships are fundamental to their own enquiry.
Alan McLean does not fall into this trap and draws on a large academic literature not just from across psychology but the social sciences. More importantly he does not just look at one small aspect of human behaviour and development. Instead he creates a schema, based on underlying principles which he sets our clearly, which helps us to navigate relationships better and chart our own, and others’, development.
One of the things I particularly like about this book is that it covers almost everything I taught in my two decades working with individuals, teams and organisations on development issues. The fact that all this, and so much more besides, is contained within a mere 160 pages is extraordinary.
McLean’s Ring of Preferences and various diagrams powerfully convey the importance of balance and context. For example, echoing Aristotle, McLean shows graphically the importance of the ‘golden mean’ – how we can overdo strengths so that they become not only a liability but our own undoing. He also continually urges to know ourselves better and to welcome rather than deflect critical feedback. The fact that we can locate our behaviour or feelings on McLean’s Ring means that we are provided with an objective, and largely non-judgemental, framework, to analyse our own and others’ behaviour. It is easy to see how we end up adopting ‘stances’ such as ‘sulking’ or ‘people pleasing’, which are unproductive if they become our everyday way of dealing with other people.
Alan McLean has been working on these ideas for almost two decades yet he manages not just to condense them into a short book but also to make them intelligible. It is easy to believe that he is able to introduce these concepts to eight-year-old children. But a closer reading of the book shows that despite the simplicity there is also depth and profundity. Armed with this book and willing to engage with the practical exercises we would undoubtedly grow and develop as individuals, enhance our relationships and have a dramatic effect on our children’s, students’ and colleagues’ development.
This is a powerful, original book and is a great addition to our Postcards from Scotland series which aims to communicate new ideas and ways of living.