Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who Cares? Let's Find Out

From Melanie Goodman:

I had a chance to hear leadership guru Margaret Wheatley in NH last week. It was a shot in the arm, a reminder why we do this work, and there were many take-aways. Given the tough job of providing resources to local communities from afar, which is afterall NEN’s modus operandi, it helped to be reminded that an assets approach to community work fights the impulse to create more rules and regulations, look for the perfect leader, and rely on outside experts (even though this last one contradicts NEN to some extent). Instead, the assets approach assumes:

· We have what we need
· Leaders are already here
· Every situation is workable
· Most people want to help others
· We have triumphed in much worse circumstances
· We can be fearless and bold; indeed we already have been

I also am a big fan of saying it straight, and resonated to many of these quotes Wheatley shared during her presentation:

“To get help, find the issue that people care about.” (vs. naming your issue and finding people to work it).

“To change the conversation, change who is in the conversation.” (I feel like we all get stuck here A LOT.)

“Don’t ask what’s wrong; ask what’s possible and who cares?” (In truth, I think we’re afraid to ask this question because maybe no one does care about the thing(s) we care about.)

“We don’t have an accountability problem; we have a caring problem.” (If we ‘care’ we’ll automatically be accountable? Really? Hmmm.)

But my personal favorite was:

“You can’t hate the person whose story you know.” I’m attempting to teach this very thing to my highly judgmental 12-year-old. No small feat.

So I went ahead and bought Wheatley’s new book, Finding Our Way. I may make it NEN’s next Virtual Book Group pick. Any joiners? I’m expecting to hear from all you Wheatley fans out there.


  1. The issue of labeling and dismissing all kinds of people is enormous--and part of what we constantly fight against is the way in which public support and sympathy is extended to some, but not others.

    For example, "delinquent" minority boys need containment, supervision, and punishment--while girls who may have engaged in dangerous or self-destructive behaviors are victims, in need of treatment, support, and caring.

    But at root, both groups are almost always suffering from experiencing complex, repeated trauma.

    How do we get past the diagnostic and political shorthand that allows us to categorize kids reducing them to binary perpetrator/victim status?

  2. Cindy Carraway-WilsonOctober 7, 2009 at 11:48 AM

    This is a good point and one that is addressed in an asset building approach. The behaviors that landed the boys you are speaking of in treatment were adaptive in some circumstance somewhere. That adaptation or rather, that ability to adapt is an asset that can be built upon to help young people assume more socially acceptable 'adaptive' behaviors. Diagnostic labels were designed to be shorthand, and only short hand. They were created to save time in describing a family of symptoms. Today, they have become much more. In my travels, I have found that when I respond to labels in conversations by asking about the strengths/assets possessed by the person and how they can be leveraged to help that person change, the need for the label declines. I do experience resistance in these conversations sometimes, but the more we engage in them, the closer we get to counteracting the label syndrome.
    In many Native American cultures, language is power in a spiritual sense and in our field; we have seen the power of labels. There is also power in the assets language. As youth work practitioners, we need to assume an assets stance and use the power in the language and approach to help young people achieve their positive outcomes. In this act, the labels and the binary system you refer to become irrelevant which will lead to an end of their use in our field.

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