Two childhood dreams
One of darkness, one of light
One that freezes action in midnight terror
The other daylight freedom flight
A tender child then, perhaps by fate,
could choose to observe life as if from above
but is this really living love?
The reality now in the world today
reminds me of dark storm clouds rolling in
although this storm feels as if it’s here to stay
It’s time for us to stand alone, together, bearing light
to face these fearsome times come what may
Normally, I avoid posting more than one article on my blog in a day. Recently, I rarely post more than once a week. But I just received the Monday Report my Congressional Representative, Rick Nolan, shares with his constituents. Below is an excerpt with crucial information that is important to share because the mainstream media may not.
Rick Nolan’s Monday Report From Minnesota’s 8th District Congressman
“A Wish List for the Rich”
House GOP Budget Targets Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid to Fuel Tax Cuts for Wealthy People and Corporations
Dear Ms. Hand,
So much for President Trump’s campaign promise not to cut Medicare and Social Security. Trump and House Republicans last week signed off on a catastrophic budget plan to slash Medicare by $500 billion over ten years and turn it over to costly the private insurance industry. Traditional benefits would be replaced with a yearly voucher check, leaving seniors on their own to find insurance they can afford. Republicans reportedly also have a plan afoot to raise the eligibility age for Social Security to 70, and impose drastic cuts to benefits for disabled workers and other especially vulnerable recipients.
Moreover, this House GOP plan doesn’t achieve one penny of deficit reduction by closing tax loopholes for super-rich people and businesses on Wall Street. Instead, Republicans hand a shameless and needless trillion dollar tax cut to millionaires, billionaires and wealthy corporations and pay for it with devastating cuts to Medicaid assistance for the elderly in nursing homes, the poor, the disabled, and for students with special needs. Small communities and hospitals would be especially hard hit. Many small hospitals would be forced to close. And community services like Meals on Wheels that help seniors live at home and avoid expensive nursing home care would find themselves in real trouble.
Instead of reinvesting in America and our people, the GOP budget plan would continue to fund endless wars of choice in the Middle East to the tune of $75 billion for “overseas contingency operations.”
And while undermining diplomacy with deep cuts to the State Department, House Republicans would provide the Pentagon with an extra $19 billion above the president’s $603 billion request.
The carnage doesn’t end there. The GOP budget plan also targets medical research, heath care for our military Veterans, public education, childhood nutrition, transportation, environmental protection and homeland security just to name a few.
To be clear, this proposal by President Trump and House Republicans is just that a proposal. In essence, it’s a wish list for the rich at the expense of working middle class families, seniors and folks in need. We can and must to better for the American people, and that will continue to be my focus here in Congress.
We will keep you posted as events proceed. Meanwhile, I want to hear your thoughts. Feel free to contact any of our offices listed below or send me an email.
I plan to contact Congressman Nolan to thank him for the information and for his continuing efforts to work for the well-being of his constituents.
stories passed down from generation to generation,
recorded on stone tablets and sacred birchbark scrolls,
and in bibles, constitutions, and scientific texts
That doesn’t mean the messages are untrue
It simply reminds us that all traditions
should be continually re-examined
in the critical light of changing contexts and times
What we believe to be cast in stone may no longer serve us
Perhaps it’s time to make adjustments
or invent new ways to socially construct
different, peaceful, inclusive possibilities
instead of simply continuing to repeat
the divisive, oppressive, violent ways
we mindlessly use old traditions to justify
A simple but relevant question to ponder:
Why are dandelion fields less valued than well-manicured grass lawns and flowerbeds?
The question of traditions is something I am revisiting as I edit my book manuscript and reflect on old family dynamics that keep repeating. Two helpful resources are listed below if you are interested in scholarly discourse on the topics of invented traditions and imagined communities.
Benedict Anderson (1995). Imagined Communities. London, UK: Verso.
Eric Hobsbawn and Terence Ranger (Eds.)(1992). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
I haven’t contributed much to this space yet, and that’s in part because things are awful out in the world, and in part because I struggle with depression, and the combination of those two things, well, it’s not great. But I’m working on it. And a good thing, too, because things are bad and getting worse.
I probably don’t have to recount to y’all allthehorriblethingsPresidentVoldemorthasdonesofar, and we’re not even through his first week in office. Things are going to be bad or worse than bad for quite a while. You know what, though? This is what I keep reminding myself of: Things have been bad and worse before. And people resisted. Sometimes, things got better. Even when they didn’t, we still benefited from the examples of fighters who did not give up in spite of immense odds, and in doing so inspired future generations of fighters.
What did the Menominee Nation do? Well, they did what they’d been doing for the past several centuries, only more so: they resisted. They organized–as “shareholders,” since they could no longer officially organize as tribal members. They held meetings. They planned. They tried to hold everything together in the day-to-day while also trying to bring about massive change.
That kind of thing is unbelievably hard to do, especially because in the moment, you don’t actually know whether anything you do is even going to work. They had no idea that they would eventually be successful, and yet they kept trying, because they had to. Their very existence as a people was on the line.
And even though they were taking on the federal government, and even though that’s not often a situation in which tribes come out with a win, they did not stop, but kept on working and planning and RESISTING.
And they won. It took nearly two decades, but they won. In 1973, President Nixon signed the Menominee Restoration Act, which re-established the Menominee Nation as a federally recognized tribe.
As a side note, one of the people who was instrumental in this fight was Ada Deer, and if her name is not familiar, you are missing out. (I know that Carol knows her–in real life, even!) Read about her here and here, for starters. If you’re looking for some activist heroes, look no further–and keep in mind that she’d also likely point out how many people fought alongside her, and that they were all heroes, and that she’d be right.
Menominee Restoration happened, against the odds, because people got together in protest and fought for their rights. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun (though I bet there were jokes and laughter at meetings, along with serious business), and it had no guarantee of success–and it was necessary.
That’s the kind of spirit of resistance that we all need right now. Indigenous people have been resisting for over five hundred years, and their struggles are at the heart of everything that happens on this continent. Not coincidentally, the Menominees are the people indigenous to the place where I am writing this right now, and it is right and proper for me to think about their struggles and their rights (including their rights to the land I am on right now) and acknowledge my debt to them as we all move forward in resistance.
And if you haven’t already, go learn about the ways the nations in your area have resisted colonization. Because the Indigenous people of this continent are, and should be, the wellspring and heart of resistance, and all of us need to recognize and honor that in order to move forward together. In resistance.
For the past month, my friend, Cynthia Donner, and I have been working on revising a class focused on social justice. It’s been a daunting process to frame and describe the purpose and create new assignments. And we’re facing our first class in less than a week, so please wish us luck.
We’ve decided to use trees as a metaphor, focusing on the importance of roots, landscapes, branching out, and nurturing supportive inclusive communities. With Cynthia’s permission, the draft purpose we developed is posted below. I’ve included both a text and photo version. Although I like the look of the photo, I’ve learned that it’s difficult to translate words on WordPress photo images into other languages, at least with my level of computer skills. As an educator, I believe innovations, even those in process, should be accessible as a foundation for dialogue.
The health of trees is also dependent on their environment, as is ours. This has changed over time for trees, as it has for people. Environments have become less and less healthy and nurturing in the name of progress. Policies have not always been developed with community well-being in mind, either for trees or people, with increasingly alarming consequences. It’s crucial to understand how things have changed from a broader historical perspective.
Social work has sometimes focused on helping individuals adapt to an unhealthy environment, rather than remembering their mission to serve as effective and visible advocates for equality and social justice. We can fertilize and trim individual trees, but their ultimate strength comes from standing together against the storms, supporting each other in times of drought and scarcity. This is a crucial lesson for social workers of the future.
It should be clear that we can’t expect governments to provide the types of social services that build on people’s strengths and reweave inclusive, supportive communities. The challenge before us now is to think critically about how we can support and help create informal mutual support systems that provide a sense of roots in a healthy landscape.
Our goal in this course is to engage in imagining what the world be like if we learned the lessons of trees, nurturing all, knowing that by standing together, we’ll be better able to weather storms.
Cynthia and I are both excited to see how this will work for students in the real world. But there’s a story about how our friendship and collaborative teaching partnership began. This morning, I revisited one of my earliest blog posts. It describes our first meeting and represents one of our initial collaborative projects.
Carol A. Hand & Cynthia Donner
(Originally posted on December 15, 2013)
The following essay is written in the spirit of collaboration and reflects two voices, Carol A. Hand and Cynthia Donner, to describe our efforts to develop social justice curricula for undergraduate social work students.
Recently, I agreed to come out of retirement to teach for a private Catholic College with a satellite program offered on the campus of a tribal and community college. The decision came after a surprising lunch meeting. I reluctantly agreed to meet with Cynthia Donner, the coordinator of the satellite program, in order to explain face-to-face why I no longer wished to teach social work. Perhaps the easiest way to explain my reluctance is a graphic I use in my classes to illustrate the possible purposes of social work interventions and social welfare policy.
As a profession, social work has competing goals. It is rare for textbooks or professors to acknowledge which of the underlying goals influences their practice, research, and teaching. Sadly, the focus has often been on enhancing the status of the profession, and hence, the status of its practitioners as equals to those in the medical and legal realms. Increasingly, the focus of research and education has been on a narrow clinical focus that attempts to help individuals adapt to their circumstances more effectively. Just as family-based physicians have been replaced by a spectrum of medical specialists for every aspect of the human bio, case managers and specialized clinicians have replaced social workers who used to focus on creating change in systems and society.
Although the professional code of ethics espouses the importance of working toward social justice, I would argue that clinical practice is not the way to do this. Clinical work may reduce suffering, but it can better be described an effective means of social control. My critical stance toward contemporary clinical social work practice and education is grounded on my revulsion toward any practices that are reminiscent of the centuries of assimilation forced on Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. and world.
The western medical model is rooted in disease discourse and controlled by two industries of the neoliberal corporate elite, insurance and pharmaceutical. It drives most clinical social work practice today with diagnostic pathological criteria for treating and medicating a plethora of “disorders” and “disease” type conditions. Yet, how much anxiety and depression among people today can be attributed to histories of oppression associated with the colonization of nations, cultures, economies, and minds? Add the current daily struggles experienced by a growing majority associated with discrimination (from verbal attacks to outright violence in our schools, workplaces and communities), and with basic survival (as forces of neoliberal corporate control drive people and whole communities into desolate poverty and widen the gaps between the rich and poor, the politically powerful and powerless). Today more than ever, we need people trained for the goals and strategies that will lead to structural changes our world and humanity are depending on.
When I met with Cynthia, I shared my perspective honestly. I expected the typical response. “Thank you for your interest in our program. Unfortunately, we have chosen someone who is a better fit with our focus at this time.” Much to my surprise, she smiled broadly and animatedly began to share similar perspectives.
I sensed a common orientation as we shared our perspectives on social justice and our approach to education. Like Carol, I ask my students to consider historical truths about U.S. social welfare policy and pose the question, “are you satisfied with helping individual people manage their suffering within the context of oppressive forces, or do you want to work with people to help them find ways to liberate themselves from oppression and the suffering it imposes on their lives individually and collectively?”
Through a dialogue that spanned hours, we discovered that we shared experiences on the margins, Cynthia because of growing up in poverty, and me because of growing up culturally mixed. Rather than accept that we were inferior, both of us sought the education and positions that would allow us work with disadvantaged groups to challenge the structures of oppression. Cynthia, like me, had worked in “macro practice” settings focused on enhancing lives in addition to reducing suffering, confronting the forces causing oppression rather than helping people merely adapt and conform to those forces.
Toward the end of our conversation, I agreed to teach the course on social welfare policy. This was the beginning of a still-evolving experiment to find more effective, experientially-grounded ways to help students think critically about oppression and encourage them to consider careers that focus on policy and community practice. In the process of designing our latest lab focused on social justice, Cynthia discovered an amazing resource that we felt might help our undergraduate students envision how to create a “better” future. For me, it transforms “the change paradigm” by providing a clear goal to work toward rather than a problem to fight. We wrote this brief introduction as a way to share a resource that may be helpful to others. The video that focuses on solutions (posted below), created by author Annie Leonard, presents a feasible alternative to “fighting the system” and left me with a sense of hope that transformation is possible, even during these challenging times (and perhaps, even in social work education).
Life sometimes opens up possibilities we had never envisioned and presents us with interesting choices. I remain truly grateful to Cynthia for inspiring me to take the risk of starting over yet again. Who knows what my retirement years would have been like had I not met her and been greeted by her sparkling eyes and enthusiasm to challenge the status quo. Chi miigwetch, Cynthia, for being an inspiration and supportive friend.
Do you ever begin writing without a clear message or destination in mind? Yesterday and today are like that for me. I’m still surrounded by a sea of ice permanently bonded to sidewalks and earth, watching as snow falls to add another layer to the challenge of digging out. But I’m thankful for small blessings. Yesterday, I was able to clear the ice that had frozen my front door and front gate shut. Being locked-in by weather reminds me of the feeling of powerlessness that often sweeps over me these days.
These feel like truly bleak times. I’ll get back to that later, after I revisit memories. Maybe the process of remembering will help me find hopeful, realistic solutions. Developing a coherent course on social justice will only be possible then…
Had I remained in the New Jersey home of my childhood, I may have assimilated and accepted American values as my own. That didn’t happen, though. Instead I spent my twelfth summer on an Ojibwe reservation with my grandmother before moving to northwestern Pennsylvania, a dreary place from my perspective then and now. My only real friends were elders in the nursing home my mother bought and administered. Despite my father’s unemployment, erratic combative behavior and profligacy, we were catapulted from the working class into relative affluence. We had a summer cottage on the Allegheny River, a 40-acre farm on top of a mountain, and a third-floor apartment above the nursing home. My mother’s business made enough profit to send me off to a private Catholic women’s college in Chicago.
I could escape small town homogeneity, believing that I would find answers and skills that might help me make a difference. I sometimes still wonder what might have been if I had stayed focused on my original goal as a chemistry and biology major – to become an ecologist. I didn’t have enough self-confidence then to overcome all of the barriers I faced and a young woman. Or perhaps it felt too much like escape from the suffering I encountered in the communities I was exposed during those college years. I spent my vacations in the hills of Kentucky, or on the Menominee reservation in Wisconsin. My evenings and weekends were spent tutoring a lovely young black student in the inner city of Chicago or hanging out with Latino youth there.
Yes, I could lose myself for hours and days trying to decipher the chemical composition of compounds. It was exciting to answer my curiosity. But I wondered if anything had really improved in the world because of this discovery. Would this path ever lead to a reduction of the needless oppression and pain I had witnessed? I didn’t think so at the time, but still I sometimes wonder.
I wasn’t motivated by the same things as the other young women at the somewhat elite Catholic women’s college I attended. Lord knows I tried to understand their worldviews. A few of my classmates introduced me to books and music that unlocked new ideas and possibilities. But many appeared to only be concerned with superficial appearances that didn’t interest me. And quite frankly, some of the stories I heard about their cruelty toward their unpopular, “unattractive” roommates was a warning to remain on the margins out of their sight. Some of their victims barely survived. It’s the major reason why I developed a strong negative bias toward privilege that has only grown over the years.
Let me fast forward to the age of 24. I had dropped out of college when my daughter was born. When she was one and a half, I decided to see if it was possible for us to live a simpler communal life. With nothing but a vision, twenty dollars in my pocket and hope for what was possible, we set off not knowing what we would find. Not surprising in retrospect, I found that one cannot easily escape from the problems in the world I was trying to avoid. It’s how I became fascinated by the concept of power and it inspired me to learn about hegemony.
Because I grew up with an abusive and emotionally volatile father, I had learned to always question authority. Threats and punishment could not force me compromise what I thought was right. Witnessing the willingness of others to follow the often whimsical and foolish orders of “the leader” of the commune initially amused me. Yet I still held out hope because of the good-hearted people who held a clear vision of what we could create together by growing our own food and living simply. Despite my earlier experiences, I still saw the world from the vantage point of honest innocence and good-will, incapable of imagining that anyone would willingly harm others.
That view changed over time as I gradually rose from the outer fringes of the commune hierarchy to the buffer position between the 200 community members and the inner leadership circle. My job was to collect weekly donations from all members and purchase supplies for all of the geographically dispersed “houses.” The leadership wanted to extract every penny it could from the members.
Some members worked extra jobs and donated all they earned without taking care of their own needs. Others contributed little and made sure they got more than they gave. There were also wounded souls who might not survive under other conditions. The leadership only cared about money, not the well-being of individual commune members. Sadly, most members cared more about being accepted by the leader than about living according to their own values.
It took time for me to understand that the funds were used to support an extravagant lifestyle for a few. That’s when I left the position and returned to the periphery to see if it was still possible to build a sense of community vision. A confrontation with the leader made it clear that changing “his” community was not a viable option. So my daughter and I left. This time we had a few friends, a place to stay if we made it across the country, and $150.
We started over and I didn’t look back. I wouldn’t learn how bad the oppression really was for others until I reconnected with some of the commune members 40 years later and heard their stories about the leader’s cocaine and other drug addictions and the children and women who were repeatedly raped by the leader and his inner circle. Clearly they violated the community’s alleged guiding principles that were imposed on members – “no drugs or promiscuity.”
Five years after I left the community, I re-entered school and began another journey from the outer to inner circles of hierarchies. I even learned my own lessons about the allure and dangers of having a little power. This is where these reflections led me today.
The privileged elite in any system need buffers to protect them from “the masses.” The most gifted buffers are those who only see the good in others. But even they will ultimately realize their trust and hope is misplaced. Then, like me, they face a decision point. Either they leave or they consciously decide to compromise their own values because it’s more comfortable to settle for a small piece of the pie than it is to risk the uncertainty of starting over with nothing.
Nothing, that is, but self-respect and the knowledge that they have started over many times before. Solutions come in their own time if one is patient, resourceful, and grateful for the many gifts and memories that remain.
Eventually, spring will come. Of this I am certain, although I have no idea what it will bring. Hopefully, though, it will be warm enough to melt the ice that still remains despite continuing efforts to do what I can to remove it without harming others, the environment, or myself in the process…
A final thought occurred as I was chipping ice, much to the dismay of my forlorn little helper.
Buffers beware. As you salivate over the possibility of eliminating yet more of the meager safety net – access to public education, health care, housing and social security, remember that you too are expendable. You may someday all too soon find yourself among us, the masses. At least those of us who don’t die off first from never-ending global wars, austerity, starvation and disease. We’re just in the way you know. We consume resources that the elite want for themselves to feed their insatiable need for power and amusing diversions to keep them from looking at empty, meaningless lives spent in gated communities. After all, they will still have a hefty prison slave population to serve their needs when we’re all gone.
…Unless we wake up, that is, and begin to work together to envision and build other alternatives in our ordinary everyday lives. Despite these dark thoughts during an icy winter stretch, I still believe there are enough goodhearted people to make that a real possibility…
This was originally published on August 25, 2013. I thought of this experience again this morning when I decided to join my class via conference call rather than drive on hazardous snow-covered roads. It reminds me why I decided to return to teaching as an adjunct after my formal retirement in 2011. I love the chance to be a small part of liberatory education.
Years ago, I was a faculty member for a school of social work at a western university. It was not a school that welcomed diversity. Many faculty members used a heavy-handed method for assuring conformity, an approach that was as odds with my beliefs about education as an opportunity to help students learn to unlock their potential. I was astounded when a graduate student related her experiences in a class on human behavior in the social environment. The instructor wanted to teach students to become accomplished public speakers. He noted, “Social workers are so often terrible speakers.” Perhaps, but so are many others from other backgrounds.
The teaching method he used seemed at odds with a program that was purportedly based on promoting a strength-based foundation for working with people. What astounded me in the student’s account was her feeling of humiliation. Public speaking is, after all, the number one phobia of Americans. I still suffer the effects of this phobia. So, I am particularly sensitive to others’ challenges. My colleague’s unique style of teaching this skill quite frankly would make me grow silent.
Rather than focusing on the message, the organization, the audio-visuals, the strengths of voice, facial expression, or a host of other positive attributes, the focus was on a student’s verbal fluency (or lack thereof). That is, the faculty member counted the number of “ums” or “ahs” the student used during his or her presentation. The logic of this approach escapes me. In fact, I found it hard to believe that a faculty member in social work, in a strength-based program, in a program that emphasizes a commitment to social justice, would actually treat students this way. I asked another colleague for confirmation. “Was this practice really happening?” My colleague laughed and said, “Well, yes. But it’s better than it used to be.”
I learned that what used to be was even more troubling, but thankfully students rebelled and the practice was changed. On presentation days, the instructor would arrive with a small instrument, a “clicker.” It was a small twanging instrument with a button that was pressed by the instructor each time a student uttered “um” or “ah” as they presented in front of the class. The audible click each time the button was pressed added to the students’ humiliation. The “clicker” tallied the total number of the deadly space-fillers, and grades were assigned in large measure on the results of the count – the more ums and ahs, the lower the grade.
I listen to public radio regularly and often wonder why there are so many speakers on an auditory medium whose speech is punctuated by hesitations of various sorts, or whose voices are stridently nasal or lackadaisically monotone. Yet I ask the questions, “What is the most important way to judge a message, even on an auditory medium?,” and “What is the purpose of communication?” I have encountered a lot of gifted snake-oil salesmen in my career, and a lot of people with profound messages haltingly delivered. (I would rather listen to meaningful messages delivered inarticulately than the self-promoting drivel of a snake-oil salesman any day.)
As I write this, I shake my head, still in disbelief. What are the real lessons of this exercise? But this story doesn’t end here.
One of the students who had class with “the clicker” internalized the message that she was not good at communication and needed to improve if she was going to graduate. It was not until her second year that she asked me to serve as her advisor. During our first meeting, she told me that she had been told she needed to learn how to communicate. So, I asked her to tell me what she meant by “communicate.” (I knew from reviewing her past classes that she had been studying dance.) Her response was that she needed to learn to speak in front of audiences. My reply was that speaking was one form of communication, yet 85% of what we understand is based on cues other than the words that we hear. How people look, the pitch and volume of their voice, their body posture and facial expressions often tell us far more than their words. I asked her if she thought of dance as a more powerful form of communication than a speech.
She listened politely, but I could tell (not by her words) that she really wasn’t convinced that anything other than speaking in public was real communication. Over the course of the year, however, she had an opportunity to discover the power of movement as a form of communication. It just so happened that she worked as an intern for an agency that was designed to help teenage girls improve their self-image by becoming involved as leaders in local environmental issues. She became aware of the negative images the girls had of their bodies, and how this prevented them from really expressing themselves as leaders. She worked with the girls to design a presentation that involved movement, not words. When the girls performed their creation at the end of the year, their teachers and parents were profoundly touched by the beauty, strength, and pride expressed through dance.
My advisee did graduate. Yet unique among all of the students, she did not use oral argumentation to support her graduate portfolio. She danced. And amazingly, “the clicker” attended and even participated when the audience was invited to join. Although he was deeply affected by her performance, he later decided that no other student would ever be allowed to defend their work in any way other than spoken argumentation.
Fortunately for all of us in this profession, this student has gone on to use movement and dance as tools in her work with individuals who suffer from mental illness. I am truly grateful that I had a chance to work with someone who was courageous enough to break through the taken-for-granted definition of what it means to communicate. Certainly a method that helps young girls overcome the silencing shame they feel about their body image may offer all of us a way to express ourselves with greater freedom and joy
As human beings, we have a simple choice. We can choose to relate to others in ways that are hurtful and oppressive. Or, we can choose to help others find their strengths and the song in their hearts. But we cannot help others until we find the song in our own hearts first.
I would like to begin by again thanking Rosaliene Bacchus for nominating me to participate in a challenge: “Three Quotes for Three Days.” Rosaliene, who can be found at Three Worlds One Vision, has a fascinating background. She was born in Guyana, later migrated to Brazil where she worked as an international trade professional, and then moved to Los Angeles where she completed her first novel and began work on her second.
The rules of the challenge are:
1. Three quotes for three days. (Done for Day One. See below.)
2. Three nominees each day (no repetition). (Well – this is a problem of paradigms. I much prefer volunteers.)
3. Thank the person who nominated you. (Done.)
4. Inform the nominees. (See # 2 above.)
5. And it doesn’t have to be three successive days. (Thankfully!)
“Bronfenbrenner’s description of individuals embedded within ever larger systems of relationships made sense to me, but I wondered how many people in the tribal communities I worked with at the time had heard of him or his theories. My life had opened up possibilities that many others were denied.”
“Understanding different worldviews requires the ability to shift paradigms. Next, I will turn to Thomas Kuhn to explore the process of “scientific revolutions,” the next step I took in my journey of discovery years ago.”
Thomas Kuhn “was an American physicist, historian and philosopher of science whose controversial 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term paradigm shift, which has since become an English-language idiom.” (Wikipedia)
Writing the Day Two post for the challenge began after I read the two horoscopes I sometimes consult in the morning, Pisces and Aquarius. I was born on the cusp between these two signs. The message for Aquarius inspired me to tackle this rather weighty discussion about paradigms.
“Remember, the hardest prison to escape from is your own mind.” (Huffington Post, November 25, 2016)
The horoscope’s advice also reminded me of Theodore (not his real name) and the many people who only wanted to help him. It was in the late-1980s when I learned about Theodore’s situation. I was meeting with a team of health and human service providers who were assisting me with the development of a series of workshops for men who were caring for older relatives (Tools of the Trade for Men Who Care). Our conversation veered from the topic when one of the providers described Theodore’s situation.
Theodore was in his late 80s, the sole caregiver for his wife, Grace (not her real name), who was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s. He was a retired business executive who was used to exercising control over his life and others. Forced retirement and then dealing with his wife’s illness had been challenging. He had overcome many difficulties because he was resilient. But any vestiges of control over his life were suddenly shattered. He failed his vision test because of advancing macular degeneration and lost his license to drive.
He had recently met with the provider who was sharing his story, not to request services, but to simply tell her that his wife, Grace, didn’t really have Alzheimer’s. He knew she didn’t. When he drove places with her in the front seat beside him, she could always tell him when to stop. Although the thought of Theodore driving concerned me, I still admired his spirit of adventure and resilience.
The conversation quickly shifted with each provider offering solutions for Theodore’s dilemma. Some were simple, like those from the person who oversaw senior centers, transportation services, congregate noon meals for elders on weekdays, and home delivered meals for elders who couldn’t drive.
“We can transport Theodore and his wife to the senior center every day. That way their needs for good nutrition and socialization will be met.”
“I don’t think that’s his most pressing need,” said the provider who worked with the mental health agency. “He needs counseling.”
The daycare provider who had voiced Theodore’s dilemma with her colleagues disagreed. “No. I think his wife needs to come to the adult daycare center every day. We will be able to make sure she has access to proper nutrition and proper care.”
Each provider around the table saw Theodore’s dilemma from her own unique vantage point. After listening patently and respectfully for a while, I posed a simple question. “Has anyone asked Theodore what his concerns are and what he proposes as solutions?” No one had thought to do this because each one knew what was best for him. After all, they were all kind and competent professionals, trained and seasoned experts in their fields.
A problem with paradigms is the fact that, like the macular degeneration that was robbing Theodore of his sight, we can all too easily become blind to alternative ways of viewing problems. Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigms carries two distinct but interrelated meanings.
“On the one hand, it stands for the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by members of a given community. On the other, it denotes one sort of element in that constellation, the concrete puzzle-solutions which, employed as models or examples, can replace explicit rules as a basis for the solution of the remaining puzzles of normal science.” (p. 175)
Paradigms, those taken-for-granted ways we analyze problems and identify solutions, provide blueprints for action that we have been dressaged to perform without thinking.
“In the metaphorical no less than in the literal use of ‘seeing’ interpretation begins where perception ends. The two processes are not the same, and what perception leaves for interpretation to complete depends drastically on the nature and amount of prior experience and training.” (p. 198)
According to Kuhn, change comes from those who have not yet been completely socialized into the paradigms of a discipline, sometimes leading to a long struggle he refers to as a scientific revolution. He uses a comparison with political revolutions to illustrate the process of change.
“Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environment that they have in part created. In much of the same way, scientific revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, again often restricted to a narrow subdivision of the scientific community, that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself had previously led the way. In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to crisis is a prerequisite to revolution.” (pp. 92)
“Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit. Their success therefore necessitates the partial relinquishment of one set of institutions in favor of another, and in the interim, society is not fully governed by institutions at all.” (p. 93).
The edition of Kuhn’s book that I read ends with a postscript.
“Having opened this postscript by emphasizing the need to study the community structure of science, I shall close by underscoring the need for similar and, above all, for comparative study of corresponding communities in other fields. How does one elect and how is one elected to membership in a particular community, scientific or not? What is the process and what are the stages of socialization into the group? What does the group collectively see as its goals; what deviations, individual or collective, will it tolerate; and how does it control the impermissible aberration?” (p. 209)
Michel Foucault’s (1979) work, Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison, suggests some answers to the questions Kuhn and Bronfenbrenner raised.
To be continued…
Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Thomas S. Kuhn (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions, 2nd edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Interestingly, as I sought clip art images to illustrate “revolution” I became aware of my own limited paradigm assumptions. I’m ending with another way to think about revolutions…
The circumstances feel eerily similar. Two vastly different cultures collide, one with fear and lethal weapons, and one with hope, ceremony, and prayers. One to exploit the earth for short-term individual profits, and one to protect the earth for all our relations, now and in the future.
Despite all of the tragic lessons of past history, I still hope that love and peaceful solidarity will finally triumph over brutality, oppression and fear. I humbly ask all who read this to please do what you can to let governments, police, and corporations know that the world is watching. Please do all you can to let the Water Protectors know you support them and stand with them in spirit.
Chi Miigwetch. (Ojibwe for “thank you very much.”)
The news from Standing Rock, North Dakota, is alarming. I’m not sure if the link below will take to you to a recent video of escalating police violence, but it greeted me this morning when I visited Facebook.
The video inspired me to follow through with something I intended to do yesterday. Posted below is a copy of the letter I just emailed to the Governor of Minnesota. I hope Governor Dayton is more supportive and responsive than President Obama was when I sent him a similar message.
November 22, 2016
Honorable Governor Mark Dayton
Office of the Governor and Lt Governor
116 Veterans Service Building
20 W 12th Street
St. Paul, MN 55155
RE: Minnesota Police Presence in Standing Rock, North Dakota
Dear Governor Dayton,
I am writing to request your assistance. I was alarmed to discover that that the taxes I pay as a Minnesota State citizen are being used to fund a militarized police presence in support of corporate actions that disregard treaties and threaten the well-being of millions of people for short-term financial profits. Ironic, isn’t it, that the State with a name that means “sky-tinted water” in the Dakota language is now engaged in attacking peaceful Standing Rock Dakota, Lakota, and Nakota Water Protectors? This is an unwise use of State revenues, and from my perspective, an immoral one.
Please address two simple questions. Is this a fiscally sound investment in the future? Instead of first considering the impact of issues involved in building yet another pipeline to ship toxic non-renewable pollution-generating fuels, Minnesota has chosen a path that can only result in the escalation of conflict with the certainty of serious costs in terms of lives and environmental destruction. Why would our State deliberately choose to support a corporate venture that threatens the very water that blessed this State with its name?
How is it wise policy to invest in expanding technologies that will soon be obsolete? Fossil fuels will ultimately be exhausted. Burning them produces toxins that result in many life-threatening illnesses. Burning fossil fuels also hastens the onset and severity of global climate change. Why defend the expansion of pipelines, a technology that has proven to be disastrous so many times in the past? Experience shows very clearly that once waters are poisoned, it’s too late. Even if corporations foot the bill for clean-up, it will take many generations, or perhaps longer, for water to be safe.
Our State can make wiser decisions about the use of fiscal resources impacting our natural resources and people. One, we can make decisions that prevent disasters. No more facking. No more pipelines. Two, we can invest in and build for the future. Why not use those same fiscal resources to retool? To build and transition to alternative energy-generation technologies? Why not invest in education for youth and those presently unemployed to equip them with the scientific knowledge and technical skills necessary for the transition to alternative energy technology?
The choices are clear. The path Minnesota has chosen locks us into outdated and dangerous technologies and threatens the well-being of the earth and future generations. It is already causing harm to our water and related resources and threatening the lives of peaceful Water Protectors. It’s not too late to choose a wiser course. Let us ask Minnesota’s police to lay down their weapons and stand in peaceful solidarity with the Standing Rock Water Protectors. Because the Water Protectors stand for all of us.
We should honor the traditional wisdom of Minnesota’s original inhabitants. “Mni wiconi” – “Water is life” in the Lakota language. “Nibi zhaawendaawak” – “Water is sacred” in Ojibwe. We owe it to our grandchildren’s children to protect the purity and pristine beauty of the “sky-tinted waters” of Minnesota.