Surrender: a synthetic quality

Lecture presented at the conference “Hope and other qualities – Psychodynamic aspects and therapeutic technique” for SIPT’s 50th anniversary and posted on the Psychosynthesis Trust’s blog – Website:

When I read Piero Ferrucci’s email inviting me to contribute to the conference to celebrate SIPT’s 50th anniversary, the theme of “surrender” immediately came to mind. And, just as immediately, I had a reaction of perplexity. Surrender has in fact a somewhat different nuance than other qualities that we could define as “undoubtedly virtuous”, such as creativity, joy, or courage.

We learn to associate surrender with war scenarios where there are enemies, victims, and executioners. We can, for example, think of Winston Churchill’s famous speech, which has gone down in history precisely because of his “we shall never surrender”. And let us also think about what was at stake then.

But there are examples abound in every culture. An Arabic proverb reads “Do not surrender -you would risk doing so an hour before the miracle” or Confucius “Surrendering is the greatest advantage one can give the enemy.” Alberoni even admonishes us – “Surrender may be sweet, but its consequences terrible” and for Nelson Mandela – “A victor is a dreamer who has never surrendered.” I could go on and on.

Therefore, it is not surprising that thinking of surrender as a quality may raise some perplexity. In common sense, those who surrender are precisely the people without qualities; without courage, without perseverance and tenacity, without confidence. Hence, they are seen as the weak, the losers. Those who are destined to fail.

And the definitions we find in [Italian] dictionaries confirm this. Surrender is, in fact, “in war, the cessation of all resistance in the face of the enemy.” Perhaps the second definition opens a few more glimmers of difference. Surrender (“la resa” in Italian) also means “the restitution of something received by or owed to another” (“the return” in English).

Despite these less than encouraging premises, I decided to confirm the theme when, just as quickly as my initial perplexity, the question arose:

But whose surrender? To whom?
Or the restitution of what? To whom?
And when?

Roberto Assagioli said that the transpersonal qualities are all interconnected like pearls on a single necklace. And in following the thread of reflection stimulated by these questions, I discovered that indeed, surrender has many faces, many different facets: it is related to the capacity to discriminate (see discrīmen -ĭnis) in its original etymological meaning of “making distinctions” – “discern”. Surrender is acceptance, listening and containment but paradoxically also rebellion, liberation, courage, and authenticity. It is sacrifice, limitation, powerlessness, but also trust and transformation – even union, synthesis, and peace. (…)

Share this article