The last republican generation: between coaching and hagshama
The ethno-class generational unit I termed ‘the last republican generation’ has been described by critical Israeli sociologists as the bearer of a liberal, individualistic turn in Israeli society. From its early days as a colonial frontier society, the Zionist settlement in Palestine was constituted as a community of republican virtue built around an ethos of‘pioneering’ (chalutziut) that placed self-sacrifice and unselfish work for the nation’s common good as ultimate values. This ethos was a central pillar of the Labor Zionist collectivistic and nationalistic ideology that washegemonic in Israel until the late seventies. Despite its socialist rhetoric, this ideology served as the legitimation basis for a hierarchical incorporation regime that arranged and rewarded different groups of citizens according to their conceived contribution to the common good of the nation as defined by the Zionist vision. The veteran Ashkenazi elite was placed at the top of this regime, as it allegedly embodied the republican virtue of pioneering (Shafir & Peled, 2002).
Beginning in the mid-seventies, as a result of a combination of several local and global political, economic and sociocultural processes,6 the Labor Zionist republican ethos entered an ongoing crisis and started its decline. For the veteran Ashkenazi elite, which was heavily invested in this ethos, this fall from grace spurred an identity crisis and many of its members began searching for meaning and purpose through less collectivistic ideologies and projects (Almog, 2001; Beit-Hallahmi. 1992; Katriel, 2004; Kimmerling, 2005; Ram. 2008; Roniger & Feige, 1992; Shafir & Peled, 2002). The halt to the peace process and the election of right wing Netanyahu as prime minister in the mid-nineties reinforced in this social group ‘a sense of alienation not only from collectivism but also from the collectivity itself (Ram, 2000: 227).
It is in this context that we should analyze the turn to coaching by members of this generational unit. At first glance, many of the interviewees' stories of engagement with coaching seem to fit the macro-sociological picture presented by Ram and others. Take for example the case of Kobi, a coach in his sixties that works mainly with families and children. A retired military person, Kobi makes a living as a freelance high-tech contractor besides his coaching activity. In this sense, he is a rightful representative of ‘the middle-class successors of the older state and military elite [who] are withdrawing from the older career-path and turning to the more attractive and rewarding trajectories offered by civil society and the burgeoning market’ (ibid.). During our interview, Kobi told me about his plans to leave the business world in order to dedicate himself fully to coaching: T am in a phase out from the business world. I want the soul, I want to contribute and I want to make things better.’ Later in our conversation he expanded on the reasons for taking up coaching as a profession:
I did a lot of things in my life and I got fed up. And then I said that I need something for the soul, something that will do me good. Today I can define it; back then I didn’t know how to define it. The choice of [working with] families and children came while I was undergoing coaching myself. During my studies I understood that the area where I will have the most influence, the area that suits me the best, is the work with children.
Kobi’s account reveals two interrelated motivations for becoming a coach. On the one hand, he turned to coaching because he wanted ‘something for the soul’ after-many years in the military and hi-tech sectors. This motivation appears in many sociological and journalistic descriptions of the wide appeal of self-development technologies, especially among the professional-managerial class. These technologies provide overworked professionals in the post-Fordist economy an escape
Coaching for the nation 97 from the cold and hyper-rational world of work and let them do something more humane and self-rewarding (George, 2013; Makinen, 2012; Salmenniemi et al. in this book). On the other hand, Kobi turned to coaching because he wanted to contribute to society and have more social influence. Doing something for his soul in his case does not entail turning inwards, but outwards. In his view, his personal growth and success are deeply tied to his contribution to society. Hence, Kobi also volunteers as a coach among underserved populations, leads community-building programs and has plans for establishing an integrative clinic for families and children. As he said: ‘I decided very quickly that in this stage of my life it is time to give back to society.’
This same motivation to contribute to society underpins many interviewees’ coaching activities. Liora, a kibbutz member in her early sixties, talked about searching for new fields of action as a coach:
We [she and her associate] looked for something to do and we got to all kinds of organizations of the type we knew: hi-tech, telecommunications, things like that, but after a year we both said that we feel that where Israel needs us most is in the field of education. We want to bring the option of coaching to education. So we started little by little, at first in his hometown, he went to the high school principal and he offered a free intervention.
In this excerpt we see how collectivistic dispositions rooted in the Labor Zionist republican ethos inform Liora’s new identity as a coach. Her choice of a field of action is not dictated by individualist concerns (like making money or gaining prestige by working in leading industries), but by a sense of responsibility for the fate of the nation. In this sense, Liora still sees herself as a member of a service elite committed to the achievement of the nation’s common good. Coaching is only a new and powerful tool that helps her fulfil this self-appointed social mission. Moreover, much like Kobi, she does not draw a distinction between her social engagement and her individual self-development. In her view, both are deeply related and resonate with each other. She describes herself as an ’enabler', a person that through her own self-growth can make the world a better place. As she explained:
I really believe that things must start from the person; not from an egoistic standpoint, but from the standpoint that I am the source of my own world. If the things I need are not provided, I can’t give. I can give from what I have; I can’t give from what I don’t have. Hence my duty is to increase what I have.
Liora and Kobi’s stories exemplify the entanglement of a therapeutic neoliberal discourse of individual self-development with the Labor Zionist ideal of hagshama. Translated as ‘realization’ or ‘consummation’, the practice of hagshama refers to ‘the personal implementation of pioneering values’ (Almog, 2000: 296). As Shafir and Peled explain, in the pre-state years, hagshama atzmit (literally ‘self-realization’, not to be confounded with mirnush atzmi, which is thecontemporary Hebrew term for individual self-realization or self-fulfilment) expressed the strongest commitment to national goals as defined by the Labor Zionist movement:
Hagshama atzmit was not an individual's act but the self-realization of the virtuous citizen, namely, the carrying out of the movement’s pioneering goal by the individual member as his/her duty qua citizen. Hagshama atzmit meant personal participation in the collective endeavor of transforming Palestine into a Jewish homeland.
(Shafir & Peled, 2002: 43)
In this way, the Labor Zionist republican ethos tied individual self-realization with the fiilfilment of collective goals and service to the nation. While the actual practice of hagshma was confined to a small Ashkenazi pioneering elite (and was rewarded accordingly, both materially and symbolically), it became an ideal to which the younger Sabra (native-born Jewish Israelis) generations were socialized and measured up to (Almog, 2000; Shafir & Peled, 2002). In recent decades, following the weakening of the republican citizenship discourse, the hagshama ideal and its accompanying pioneering ethos have lost much of their appeal for younger generations of Israelis, especially among the secular middle-class.7 But as my interviewees' stories show, this collectivistic ideal (and the social responsibility that comes with it) is still a part of their generation’s moral landscape and unreflective, habitual dispositions. Therefore, I would like to argue that their use of coaching in the service of collective goals is not just an expression of an ethics of doing good that characterizes the therapeutic professions (Rose, 1996), but is part of a wider identity project aimed at negotiating their complex position as a waning but still powerful elite in search of new sources of social legitimation. In this project, individual self-development and social engagement are assembled together.
In the remainder of this chapter, I will describe two central ways of articulating the neoliberal therapeutic language of coaching with the Labor Zionist practice of hagshama. First, as Liora’s story shows, therapeutic self-change has become a condition to engage in work for the sake of others. As many interviewees testified, they only felt that they could bring about social change after they underwent change themselves. Second, the forms of social engagement endorsed by the interviewees, while still addressing the common fate of Israeli society as a whole, focus on the ripple effect of individual change instead of political or collective solutions. In this way, they reproduce a vision of the nation's common good that is in line with neoliberalism.