I am reading a book this week called The Looked After Kid by Paolo Hewitt which is, in essence, some of his memories, and reflections, of growing up as a “looked after kid” in the UK. It’s really a fine read and I would recommend it to anyone. To top it all off, it is not only a good read but it is nicely written, but I am not writing to talk about Paolo’s book.
Reading it, however, has got me to thinking about how much we do, or do not, know about the young people with whom we work; how much, for example, we know about their inner world or even what it is that they do every day. I guess in some ways I have been thinking about how ignorant I have been about the young people I was working with at certain times of their lives.
Let’s take this, for example: how many of you actually know (and I do mean “know”, not “assume") what the young people you work with actually think about you, or how they feel about you, or what runs through their head when you are talking to them, or what they believe about whether or not you are actually helping them? And how many of you know about the dreams they hold about their future; the fantasies they have about how their life will be someday? Or how many of you know, about the young people with whom you work, what memories they hold close to their heart; the memories that strengthen them in the dark moments when they fear life is not worth the effort?
I ask those questions not as an opening to criticize us. Nor do I ask them to suggest that we are wrong, bad, off-track, not doing our job. Rather I ask them as questions. Simple questions, while wondering if they are important questions.
I watch so many workers trapped in the rigid, distant, behavioural demands of their program busy working hard to be helpful in the manner in which the agency has decided to be best. I see them wanting to be helpful; caring about the young people. Giving and, yes, even loving.
And I wonder, too, I guess, just how often we really connect with the inner world of the young person. Heck, let’s be fair here: how many of us connect with the inner world of each other, never mind the kids we work with? How many of us know the inner world of our friends, our family or even our lovers and partners? Well, to be pushy, how many of us even know our own inner world, but let’s not go there for the moment?
Most of our relationships with other people are, let me call it, surface to surface (some might say superficial but I don’t like the negative implication inherent in that statement); the outer self of one communicating with the outer self of the other. What I have called elsewhere (Garfat, 2007) the connection of shelled selves, lacking what Gerry Fewster (2005) has identified as “self to self” contact.
If we don’t (or can’t) connect with those close to us in anything other than a superficial manner, how can we possible connect differently with the young people and families with whom we work?
It is time, I might argue, for a revolution; a revolution of caring. Those of us who have accepted the responsibility to care for hurting young people and their families need to divest ourselves of these shells in which we live, and move to a place of true connection - for can we honestly say we are connected when our encounters involve little more than this dance of shelled selves?
But this, like all revolutions, would not be an action without possible serious consequences. This is not an action without possible pain. This is not for the faint of heart.
A shift like this calls for us to step naked into the in-between between us (Garfat, 2004; 2007) opening ourselves to the what-is and the what-may-be, ready to discover that the self we thought we knew may not be the self we actually are. Now that, my friends, is scary territory.
I am getting, I guess, as I have said before, a little tired of self-awareness exercises and courses which encourage us to “know ourselves” through the simple listing of things we believe and value without the exploration, as Frances Ricks (1989; 2001) has so often argued, of what it all really means; without turning our reflective abilities inward on to ourselves so as to discover who we really are.
Without knowing me, I can never know you. As Ricks has said (2001) that without self there is no other and without knowing self you can never know other. Without this knowing, there can be, perhaps, engagement, but there will never be connection. The two are not the same, much as we often use them in the same breath.
Connection, it has been said in numerous places, is the foundation of our work. Without connection there will be no growth in relationships, which we also say is central to our field. Without the connection of the inner selves of us and the people we care about, there can be no hope of real change.
But I ramble, as I am wont to do in these kinds of writing. So, let’s go back to the beginning and re-visit the questions about whether or not we know the inner world of the young people and families with whom we work. Why is this important? Perhaps Adrian Ward (1988) said it best, and so we leave off with a quote from him:
” . . . it is clearly the inner world that we need to reach if we are to communicate with unhappy children about whatever is troubling them.”
Fewster, G. (2005). I don’t like kids. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 18,3, pp. 3-5.
Garfat, T. (2007). My shelled self. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 20, 3, pp. 29-31.
Garfat, T. (2004) Negotiating the in-between. CYC-Online. Available at www.cyc-net.org
Ricks, F. (1989) Self-awareness model for training and application in Child and Youth Care. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 4, 1, pp. 33-41.
Ricks, F. (2001). Without the self there is no other. CYC-Online. Available at www.cyc-net.org
Ward, A. (1988) The inner world and its implications. In A. Ward, & L. McMahon, Intuition is not Enough. London. Routledge.