Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Consequences of Deciding Who Needs Our Service

I recently completed a course called "The Mind-Body-Energy Toolkit". The class was mostly geared towards people working in mental health as clinicians (as I do in addition to my work at William Penn House), but I find that what I learn in these classes also has applications in all of our community work and in Quaker Workcamps. After all, when it comes to addressing the large social justice issues, we have to remember that we are all humans first, and as human we have some basic psychological processes that transcend all the silos we like to create to divide us. Unfortunately, I have often noticed that when it comes to service programs and creating funding, policies and protocols, basic truths about psychology are often neglected. How else to explain why very smart people continue to address issues such as stigma by targeting people for service and engagement. It only reinforces the stigma.

In this class, the instructor, Dr. Robert Schwarz, a specialist in Comprehensive Energy Psychology, effectively demonstrated how moods and thoughts influence energy - our own as well as that of those around us.  In class demonstrations, "energy" was measured by muscle resistance. People had less energy both when they were asked to think thoughts, and when we were asked to think negative thoughts of volunteers, unbeknownst to them. We all know this: the more optimistic or good we feel about things, the more energy we have. But what are the implications of this when it comes to how we engage in well-meaning service work from a model that often relies on assumptions of what people need without knowing them?

It is both an honor and a responsibility we take seriously, and that responsibility includes trying to
bridge the gaps between what social sciences show us and how we engage in social justice work. The challenge is raising awareness about the importance of engaging with people at the personal level rather than at the level of assumptions. Often we hear reflections about how different people are, or how much we feel good about helping those in need. As Lilla Watson is often quoted, "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." It is this spirit - the spirit of unification - that we know sustainable change and peacemaking takes place. The "us/them" divide, even in well-meaning service efforts, still serves as division and requires a certain level of judgment about others and their needs that can negatively influence the energy flow of healing and possibility that we are trying to bring about.

So, as much as understanding history, and some of the disciplines of environment, climate change, culture, history and nutrition when we set out to do service, it is perhaps as important to consider the role of psychology, mirroring neurons and energy as a primer of service learning and experiential learning. It's not what we think, but how we connect, that matters. Planting the seeds of awareness about this are important. As Quakers are fond of saying, "There is that of God in All." Mirroring neurons flowing from positive thoughts and open hearts help to create the energy to truly let this be of peacemaking service to the world.

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