Who Is Rollo May?


Phoenix Rising

Throughout the text Global Citizen the book called The Courage to Create is often mentioned

In one of the cartooning exercises,

“The Stickler an artist who needs perfection, order, and organization and has taken this need too far. Artists who cope can tolerate mess because they know that the disorganization will be resolved. This is the sign that the artwork is finally finished.” (May 1995)

And again

This dreamer contained within each and every one of us is the deepest desire a human being has to experience love. Before artists can experience love from others it is important to explore the qualities of self-love.  This self-examination is required so that the deeper and wiser “creator” is nurtured. This equanimous dreamer is the healthy ego of an artist, the Courage to Create that can rise above the fray of negative resistant voices. Artists who nurture this creative self can resist getting carried away by the drama and tension of the moment. They do not fall victim to the lies of creative energy sapping Saboteurs.

So you may well ask

Who Is Rollo May?

In a Nutshell

Readers wish to understand Rollo May must try to understand what the word Existentialism means.

Definition: Existentialism is a philosophical outlook that stresses the importance of free will, freedom of choice, and personal responsibility. This perspective emphasizes the unique experiences of each individual and the responsibility of each person for their choices and what they make of themselves.  (Psychology  About.com)

Existentialism is a strange word because it is broad in meaning but deep in implication. Thinkers grapple with tricky questions about the value and meaning of life.  Is the human race just a sad and sorry bunch?  Are we only predestined to live out destiny without ever really having a choice about which way life goes?

Capacity to Embrace Multiple Views

Rollo May exhibited an unusual tendency because he was able to transcend normal barriers that scientists often face.  He was not confined by paradigms but transcended categories to reconcile disparate views.  This capacity to resist structural violence. And to avoid being “taken over” by any world view or paradigm is very important to Jacobs Process.

Remember that the definition of Jacobs Process?

It is a

way of capturing story and the essence of events, so that over a period of time, students become familiar with ways of scripting personal story and community history.

Within the context of Global Citizens Art the technique of capturing events in the style of Flash Bulb Memory are further enhanced when  adding gesture drawing into the mix.  The whole point of Jacobs Process is to regularly engage students in an interactive approach to authentic scripting.

NB** A flashbulb memory (Brown and Kulik 1977) is a highly detailed, exceptionally vivid ‘snapshot’ of the moment and circumstances in which a piece of surprising and consequential news was received. There is often an element of shock associated with snapshot memory

As young minds join the International effort towards Millennium Goals it is imperative that they know how to be free minded, unfettered thinkers who have developed “Mindsight” and the capacity to embrace reconciliation. Structured activities develop the capacity to communicate inner treasure called Mindsight: (Siegel 2009).

So Who Is Rollo May?

Rollo May was born April 21, 1909, in Ada, Ohio.  “His childhood was not particularly pleasant:  His parents didn’t get along and eventually divorced, and his sister had a psychotic breakdown.“  It is possible to deduce from these unfortunate incidents that May was in the position to develop a keen curiosity about people and the way people’s lives unfold.

We can see from his biography that he was a restless soul and after graduation, he taught English in Greece as well explored life as an itinerant artist. (Boeree 1998) To be itinerant means to wander from place to place.  An itinerant artist would be like today’s backpacker travel writers who wander about exploring the world recording what they see.

In Global Citizen we engage in cartooning exercises where we explore the saboteurs that effect the way we function and perform.  Rollo May would have been plagued by what we have lampooned as the “restless lil’ devil” But he overcame this tendency to develop into a great scholar.

He was lucky to meet and befriend very profound people who influenced him.

He studied briefly with Alfred Adler.

He befriended Paul Tillich, an existentialist theologian, also had a profound effect on his thinking.

Incubation, Insight and Honing the Stone

May suffered from tuberculosis, and spent three years in a sanatorium which acted as an incubation period.

In the text Global Citizen we investigate the idea of incubation through the medium of a cartoon character called Grainy Lil’ Girl.  The hypothesis is that really good, innovative creative ideas require an incubation time.

Apparently the time May spent in a sanatorium thinking, reading and writing served as the “turning point of his life.”  Some people call this turning point an epiphany.   An epiphany is a like a flash of insight.

For an epiphany to be real it must be more than just insight.  It must also be consolidated. Remember Coyle’s maxim “Whatever wires together fires together.” Coyle, D. (2009The Talent Code. Bantam Books.

Faced with the prospect of possible death and lots of time to read and to write May was able to work though the epiphany.  He discarded old ideas that were no longer useful and formulated a new theory of life.  This brought about his Turning Point.

Because he was sick, he filled his empty hours with reading.  Among the literature he read were the writings of Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish religious writer who inspired much of the existential movement, and provided the inspiration for May’s theory.

This interest in how to make effective and constructive choices led May to study psychoanalysis where he was further influenced by Harry Stack Sullivan and Erich Fromm.

Tomorrow we will investigate the life of Rollo May further.


  • Boeree,C.G. (1998)  Rollo May. Personality Theories.
  • Cherry,K (2013) Existentialism. Psychology  About.com
  • Coyle, D. (2009The Talent Code. Bantam Books.
  • May,R. (1995) The Courage to Create. W. W. Norton & Co.; New Ed.
  • book_cover                                                                                              Like these lessons? Global Citizens 

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