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Sunday 20 July 2014

The Cultural Amelioration of Negative Social Constructs of Difference – in the Context of Holistic Psychological Formulation - a new Opinion Piece by Dave Traxson


The Cultural Amelioration of Negative Social Constructs of Difference –
in the Context of Holistic Psychological Formulation.

“A negative focus on difference damages an individual human being’s ability to make relative progress in a range of important skill areas.”

Reframing negative constructs of difference to being more positive manifestations of a human being's right to individuality, creativity, and potentiality is a process that is well under way in society but there is still along way to go. Aprocryphal tales abound of young people whose special talents were missed by the adults around them including educators and then suddenly when unleashed led to a transformational levels of progress. One of my own, is a young woman who was two days away from permanent exclusion as a fifteen year old, when I asked an obvious question about what she could see herself doing in her mid-twenties. Without hesitation she said, “ I am going to be a semi-professional footballer and a car mechanic.” No one in the circle of professionals and parents, including the careers guidance officer, knew that, but when the necessary curriculum adjustments were made to achieve this, she thrived and even stayed on to the sixth form to improve her chances further. We also noted profoundly that she was co-operating previously in all subjects that, she could see, related to her ambition and was not co-operating in subjects that she could not see the relevance of , in achieving her clear goals.

It seems that there may have always been a part of the human condition that fears and often demonises difference in others compared to ourselves. This may have had a Social Darwinistic function for protection, to ensure that ideas and values of our own particular closed subgroup survive and even thrive.

The problem and question for us all is, can this be challenged and can tolerance of social variation 'genes' be woven intentionally into our collective values DNA?

I am optimistic that they can be and already the 'radiation' of ideas from the recent inclusion agenda, that have been emerging for the last thirty years, indicates that a dramatic evolution of societal values can occur e.g. the Tsunami of change occuring in front of our eyes with the massively improved tolerance and understanding of same sex relationships and the consequent legislative changes.

So what if we learn from this journey and apply the same 'selective pressure' to wider areas of intolerance to difference such as mental health or as 'medical modellers' would prefer, mental illness. If we can choose and promote a more socially and psychologically inclusive perspective on the normal range of human behaviours, that we mainly work with, then just imagine the long term benefits to us all:

  • less stigmatisation of children and subsequently adults.
  • many more people feeling a gteeater sense of belonging.
  • a massive reduction in the pathologisation of normality.
  • subsequent reduction to the costs of labelling for society.
  • a massive gain in individual and collective self-esteem.
  • empowerment of people with 'ups and downs' to succeed.
  • and a huge improvement in our collective Wellbeing.
  • And last but not least massive savings in NHS costs.

The acronym below tries to convey some of the key principles of ameliorating difference as a discriminatory construct:

D-ifference is beneficial to the community in which we live
I-ndividuality should be highly valued in schools and society
V-alidate childrens’ unique contributions to empower inner creativity
E-xpect relative progress by caring target setting and feedback
R-eview the progress achieved regularly and reinforce creativity
S-afety and security are fundamental to mobilising creativity
I-nclusive ethos promotes the value and benefits of diversity
T-reat all childrens’ strengths and abilities as being equal in status
'Y-ou are important and deserve personalised planning and outcomes.'

Schools as institutions are driven by uniformity and not creativity based on the wonderfully different skill sets individuals. Sir Ken Robinson in one of his seminal TED TALKS entitled “Schools kill creativity,”(2006 on Youtube) takes this argument to a logical conclusion. To progress successfully into a twenty first century of rapid change and challenge we need to discover the ‘Gold Nuggets’ of creativity that exist in everyone and maximise their abilty to follow their heart and soul in becoming a dancer, artist, sculptor, poet sportsperson or entrepreneur all of which are not as highly valued in our Education System as Maths, Science and English skills.

Cultural amelioration of difference is the systemically valued driver of wanting a school that you work in to collectively promote the importance of the unique human contributions that all children can make to any aspect of a hugely broad menu of curricular pursuits.

It is based on a triad of Ethos/Beliefs driving change in Actions/ Behaviour which in turn promotes collective Emotional Wellbeing/Mental Health.

The 5 Ms of Cultural Amelioration of Difference are :

  1. Moderate the use of labels of disability/disorder based on ‘Medical Model’ thinking.
  2. Modify educational programmes to allow a ‘Punctuation of the Day’ with creative activities that a young person demonstrably enjoys and engages fully in as a healthy learning process that promotes coping and resilience.
  3. Manage the individual’s needs /wants and the necessary resources to release their inner creative energies.
  4. Make appropriate adjustments to achieve success.
  5. Mollify conflict and prejudice against certain creative activities.

“Deliberately demoting difference effects can maximise the normalisation of childrens’ responses, as strengths and not difficulties.”

The ‘Medical Model” promotes ‘within child’ explanations of difficulty whereas the ‘Social Model’ promotes a holistic understanding of causation and possibilities for positive change. We as professionals are duty bound to see and recognise the rich palette of colourful skills as capacities, strengths and contributions which can enrich the sometimes apparent dullness of our communities and society as a whole.

Psychiatry applies the Medical Model conceptualisations to mental distress and anxiety whereas the new field of Psychological Formulation expounds an optimistic approach that maps the ‘Ordnance Survey Map’ of a young human being’s multi-various attributes, potentials, personality variables, interests and strengths and plots them in a way can help them determine the exciting journey that they are keen to embark on.

What is important is not to focus on arbitrary and prejudicial labels that are proliferating currently but to understand the complex web of interactions that results in an individual's mental distress. Understanding the interactive nature of a person's difficulties is a more progressive and inclusive way of finding how we can help them to succeed fully in an evermore complex world.

Reducing the continuous focus on difference and threat,that we see daily in our chosen media, axiomatically helps us to realise how similar we are and by focussing more on our 'common ground' we will develop the humanistic potentials of all individuals in our improved societies.

In essence creativity at all levels is the vibrant solution to our current shared ills and appreciating uniqueness and difference is the shared vehicle for progress.

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