NUMBER 1184 • 15 JUNE • New BEGINNINGS
New beginnings are influenced by our previous experiences: we bring to each new encounter a way of thinking about ‘what might happen’ or ‘how things might go’ which is affected by the meaning that we give to this human experience. If our previous experiences have been positive we might approach a new beginning with anticipation and excitement about what this encounter might hold. On the other hand, if our most powerful experience of new beginnings is that they are typically a time of criticism, failure or pain, then we may approach any new beginning with anxiety or fear.
But the meaning of a new beginning is not only effected by our previous experiences. It is also, for example, effected by how we understand the encounter. If a young man moving in to care for the first time interprets this to mean that he is ‘bad’ or ‘sick’, he may enter in to the new relationship with anger and resentment. If a young woman thinks that moving in to the program will result in her never being able to go home again, then she may hold back on entering fully in to a relationship with staff because of a fear that the closer she gets to staff, the less likely it is that she will go home.
Thirty years in the Child and Youth Care field has led me to a position where I feel that meaning, and meaning-making, is a complicated process which deserves much more attention than it currently receives in both the Canadian and Irish fields. What does it mean, for example, to a child or a parent that the child is placed in care? What does it mean to a staff member that a new supervisor is coming? What does it mean that we focus primarily on the problems of young people as opposed their strengths? What could it mean to a mother that the child wants to stay in the program rather than going home?
Jerome Bruner (1990) has argued forcefully that we all experience the world through our own personal lens of perception, and that one of the things which most influences how we act in any given situation is the meaning that we bring to any encounter. Our previous experiences, the culture of which we are a part, the values we hold, and our sense of our place in the world all play a part in of creating this personal lens of perception. And through this lens we structure our experiences, thereby giving meaning to any experiences we have.
A new beginning is therefore, much more than merely ‘starting again’. It is a different experience for each of us. We each bring to it our own way of interpreting it — our own way of giving it meaning. And we act, or behave, according to how we interpret it. So, it is important when we enter in to any experience with a young person or family that we wonder what this experience might mean to them as well as to ourselves. For this work, while being based in the self of the practitioner is, ultimately, about the experience of the other.
Garfat, T. (2001). New beginnings. Irish Journal of Applied Social Studies 2(3), pp.31-35