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moments with youth

Leaving things unresolved

Mark  A. Krueger

I am back from summer vacation and ready to start a new series of reflections on moments with youth. In the past, as some of you are aware, this column was devoted to sketches and stories from youth workers who were conducting with me a study of their moments with youth. This study has now ended, and will shortly appear in a book titled Themes and Stories in Youth Work Practice.

During the summer, I thought about why we focus so much on resolving things in child and youth care. In much of the child and youth care writing and work, it seems as if we are trying to reach a goal or outcome or show how things work rather than being in the lived experience with children and youth. We want to resolve a conflict or finish a project when in reality much of the work is about not resolving or finishing. And ignoring or not learning from this part of the work keeps us from knowing it and being enmeshed in the moment as much as our drive toward resolution or outcome does.

I know in the experiences I write about things are often undone. For example, in one of the moments I have written about and tried to understand several times I am engaged in a game of one-on-one basketball with a youth who gets upset because I always win so I let up and he gets equally upset with me for not trying. It’s a no-win situation in a sense. I want to be real and genuine by playing to my ability but I also want him to have an opportunity to succeed, only not at the expense of being less than genuine.

In another situation, which I wrote about in this column last spring, I was put on the spot in front of my class by a youth and I did not know how to respond in time before the conversation shifted, and afterwards I was left second guessing what I would have said. This was a good learning experience because it taught me that even after all this time and study in the field I can get tongue tied or am not sure of the correct response, if there ever is a "correct" as opposed to real response.

In hindsight, it is easy to see that these unresolved moments were mostly about me, the need to reach a goal, win, prove, or control the situation. Hopefully with time I have been more able to accept a situation for what it is, to go with the unresolved flow when it is appropriate, and to not let my need to figure things out get in the way of youths’ need to figure things out for themselves. Sometimes I have learned it is simply best just to leave things unresolved because not everything in life is resolvable. Knowing when to do this, of course, is the key. This is what makes the dance so interesting and so hard to do, because, equally, there are definitely times when situations need resolving.

My sense about these unfinished and unresolved moments is that they are central to understanding the work and to forming connections. By better knowing the unresolved we are better able to resolve. And if we are sincere and genuine with youth in our quest to discover what to do and still don’t know how or what to do, the youth sense it on some level and feel safe with and trust us because we are on a journey to know self the same way we are asking them to know self.

One thing I am sure of is that these moments are part of the montage of our individual and collective experiences of the work, and therefore, for that reason alone, they are worth trying to understand, even if we don’t.