Summary: It is critical to look “upriver” to solve the polarization and violence we are now seeing at work, at home, and in our communities.
I am getting so many questions from leaders and emerging leaders about the polarization of our society and the number of attacks on innocent people that I want to plant an idea and begin a discussion.
The “River Story” is needed now more than ever.
Do you know “The River Story?” Here is the short version: You and some friends walk along a river when you see a child drowning. You jump in to save the child. Then you see another and yet another child struggling to survive.
Your friend leaves, and you are furious. “Where are you going?” you demand. The friend says, “I’m going upriver to see who throws these kids in the water.”
Time to stop tackling the symptom of a problem and address the root cause.
The big question is, how can we move far enough upstream to discover the source and solve the problem that is impacting us downstream?
For example, let’s all say, “Yes, to gun control.” And indeed, yes to those who demand we lobby against materialistic gain over public safety.
Therefore, while this is important, here is another way to think about the fear and discord we live with right now. I want you to consider going beyond the obvious.
Peace tools are ways of looking at life from a whole systems perspective.
Firstly, it’s time to think about whole systems rather than individual analysis.
Let’s look at some examples of systems thinking:
Computers, cars, trains, and planes are a combination of systems.
Sports teams, basketball, baseball, football, and hockey are systems.
Educational facilities are all systems.
Families are systems.
Family systems are a significant focus for a discussion about peace tools.
The family is the most basic system to consider. Instead of seeing a series of separate individuals, a family is a connected group.
Thus, the behaviors of one individual impact the behavior of all the others. There is, if you will, a bit of push and pull on the entire system.
An example would be a child with a disability. How the parents and other siblings participate with the disabled child causes the family system to function.
Everyone is connected, and no one wins unless we all do.
Please consider reading Chapter 1 in my book “Don’t Bring It To Work” to understand each individual’s role in a family system.
Here is an example: Often, one child becomes the “super-achiever “to make the parents proud. Then, another child in the family may become the “rebel” to make up for past societal injustices.
Then some become “pleasers” and are trained not to “rock the boat” for survival and safety.
Often, those who “act out” the underlying family drama with guns and knives and whatever causes harm and pain.
Thus, there are successes and failures in every family. How you took on a specific role in your family will tell much about how you respond to life’s challenges.
What role did you play in your family or origin?
Once you observe and understand your role in your family, there is an opportunity to change the trajectory of what you do and how you choose to respond.
For example: were you “programmed” to be a lawyer following the last four generations in this profession? And yet, your dream was to be a marine biologist? Did you choose the family pattern or your desire to study ocean science?
Did you ever look at the pressures from parents and perhaps grandparents to guide your life path?
Individual desires connect with family pressure to make choices for the right living.
It is a combination of your individual decisions and the family system that will guide you to the next steps.
Accordingly, I believe that one peace tool could be to offer a course in high school on family systems thinking.
Each student could begin to see why they respond as they do clearly. And, more importantly, what changes can make a difference.
Furthermore, with skilled facilitators, there could be some positive methods to intervene in families in distress.
Rather than offer guns to educators, school counselors, and facilitators, train them to help with more effective communication skills.
Family system intervention can have an essential role in helping students develop.
How do I know? I did this work for years.
I was often called into school districts in the Philadelphia area to help sort out the issues with disgruntled students headed for disaster.
Once I was able to talk with both parents, the troubled student, and siblings, the positive change did happen almost all the time.
Mostly, I worked with high school concerns. Often, there was a fear of violence. Fortunately, I made headway by taking a systems approach and seeing everyone in the family as part of the problem and the solution.
An example is the Goodwin Family:
The son, Jack, was failing and fighting. He was sent to the vice-principals office almost every day. He would hang his head and say very little. When asked how he felt about meeting with the facilitator (me) and his parents, he thought it was a “waste of time.”
However, the meeting was set and included his younger sister, a freshman in the high school. Jack was a junior.
Initially, all fingers pointed at Jack.
In a system, everyone has a role to play.
He was seen as uncooperative, a genuine troublemaker.
The until came when Jack finally talked about his worries regarding his parents and their volatile marriage. The threats, especially from the mother, of “destroying the father’s reputation in the community” were frequent and getting uglier as the year rolled on.
After six months of meeting with the family and separately one-one with Jack and separately with just the parents, change was noticeable.
Jack had settled down in school. He and his sister finally began to have a positive brother-sister relationship.
The parents were now willing to resolve their marital issues, and the mother stopped the constant threats.
Family systems concerns become apparent when a student has school issues.
The family now has better communication tools, especially when stress hits the hot button and tempers are ready to flare.
We say and how we respond are merely like an x-ray of feelings.
Teaching practical communication skills must be taught in school.
Teaching better communication skills are peace tools that can alleviate violence.
What would happen if there was a required course in family systems in high school?
Would some of those who tend towards violence ask for help? Or would the teacher or facilitator for the course be willing to reach out when they would sense a concern about health and safety?
This way of thinking about school issues is one idea. I would love to hear your comments and answer your questions.
Here is a final thought I want to leave with you today.
Acting -out is a call for help; it is a way to say, “I don’t know what else to do!”
Often, the acting-out youngster or the one who puts him or herself in the lane and is bullied desperately calls out for help.
I have seen this repeatedly.
These youngsters would tell me, “I did not know how to help my parents or siblings, so I guess I hoped if I became obnoxious enough, I would get some help, and then hopefully my family would also get some help. Sadly, it almost always stopped with me as “the bad one.”
There are many ways to go upriver. It’s where the answers to today’s fragmented and often violent culture lie
More to come about working with teen fathers and how learning more about their family system made them want to do better for their children than was done for them.
Again, my book “Don’t Bring It To Work” and “Invisible Stress” give excellent examples of how what we learned in our original organization, the family, shows up in all other relationships throughout life.
Here’s to your success,
PS. Don’t hesitate to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any ideas you have for looking upriver.