NUMBER 177 • 19 DECEMBER 2002 • MESSAGES
INDEX OF QUOTES
While I was growing up, I was receiving two important messages which were conflictual. One was the message of the "me"-generation that you should be egocentric. The other was the message of my community or family that you should care more about other people and relationships. Because the community and family made for a more intimate experience, their messages had greater influence over me than did the more global message. The more intimate, or important, a system is for us, the more likely it is to influence us. Thus, the messages of the family are usually more impactful than the messages of the community, and the messages of the community are usually more impactful than the messages of the world.
For a system to be important to you it has to be strongly valued by you. The more intimate you are with a system, or the more you value it, the more impact it will have on you. This has tremendous implications for the treatment systems, which we construct for children. For the messages of those systems to be important to the troubled children with whom we work, the children must value something in the programme and feel a certain degree of intimacy with it. That’s why family systems tend to be much more powerful than treatment systems when it comes to effecting change in the youngsters with whom we work.
What were the messages you received from the community and the families in which you grew up? Were they the same or different from the global messages? How did they influence you? How did they help you become who you are today?
What are the messages that we are giving to today’s children in our communities and in our families? For each of us, because we live in different communities and in different families, the answer to that question may be different. Each of us knows the individual messages of our family and of our community. What values and beliefs do you think are being taught by your families and communities? Each of you individually should think about that.
What role are you playing in the teaching? All of us are contributors to the teachings of our families and communities. Everyone who is a member of one of these systems is a contributor, in one way or another, to what is being taught to today’s children. What are we teaching our future caretakers about caring, about relationships and about the importance of other people? Every time you do anything which will impact upon a child, you are giving that child a message about the values and beliefs of the communities and families within which he is being raised. We are the representatives of our community and family values, and every interaction we have with a child is an opportunity to convey values or beliefs which we believe the community does, or should hold.
The influence of individual experiences
The most valued and intimate of systems that impact upon us are our individual experiences. It is within the world of individual experiences that we learn how we will deal with conflicting messages like the one about self and other. One powerful individual experience can shape a person’s destiny. We all know someone who changed their life or a major part of it because of an individual experience. Perhaps you have had that experience yourself. You may have grown up in a community within which education was unimportant and someone helped you find that learning can be useful for you and so you decided to continue your education. You may have grown up in a family in which tradition was not important, but because of an individual experience you decided that tradition was important to you. You may have grown up in a family in which human relationships were characterised by distance and hurt, but because of your own experience, you decided that relationships can and should be more intimate and caring.
Generally we reflect the values and beliefs of the families and communities within which we were raised. I would not for a minute try to deny the power of our experiences of family or community. But I am saying that the individual experiences which we have, especially when they are experiences with others who are important to us, can be more powerful than the messages we receive from our families and communities. If we would ask how today’s child will be as tomorrow’s adult, we must look to the individual experiences which he has with each and every one of us who has the opportunity to influence him.
Every interaction that you have with a young child is an opportunity to influence how today’s child will be as tomorrow’s adult. A child may have grown up in a family which gave her the message that children are not important. In her relationship with you this child can learn that children are important, and because of that she may raise her own children differently Or, perhaps, a child who has been raised to think that education was unimportant will learn, in one brief interaction with you, that learning is fun, or useful. Because of their interaction with you, the messages that they give to their own children may be different from the messages which they received from their families when they were young. The family which they raise will now grow up with different values and they will impact upon their own future community. In our every interaction with children, we are helping to shape the world of tomorrow.
Garfat, T. (1988). Today's Child - Tomorrow's Adult, in Gannon, B. (ed.) Today's Child - Tomorrow's Adult. Cape Town: NACCW, pp.11-12