In June I had the opportunity to present at the Inaugural Symposium on the Neurosequential Model of Treatment (NMT), developed by Dr. Bruce Perry and others at the Child Trauma Academy in Houston. The Symposium was co-sponsored by Hull Services of Alberta, and held in Banff, a national park in the Canadian Rockies. At that Symposium, I presented on the topic of “Integrating Indigenous Models of Mental Health: Preventing and Healing the Transgenerational Transmission of Trauma.
I presented the workshop using my “hat” of an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry with the University of Rochester in New York, and I am writing this blog on the Mandt System® website as a way of Feeding the Good Wolf. In Native American and First Nations (Canada) lore, inside every child are two wolves, a good wolf and a bad wolf. They are fighting each other to determine which wolf will be in charge of the child when they grow up, and the wolf that wins is the wolf you feed.
This concept is reflected in the activity we do in chapter 1 of The Mandt System®, in which we give people a list of 15 characteristics of healthy cultures. Words such as honor, justice, kindness, fairness, dignity, courage, temperance, respect, fidelity, forgiveness, and others are on this list. We ask people to identify the 5 characteristics they would like to see more visible, more fully present in their organizations, and these words then become the foundation for our work together. The idea is quite simple: in order to get more of these characteristics in our culture, each of us has to give them in our relationships with each other.
One morning I met a woman who introduced herself, and said I had trained her in The Mandt System® last year. Now I can come up with all kinds of excuses, such as jet lag or not getting enough sleep, but for some reason I interacted with her in a bland kind of way. Whatever I was feeling, I did not do what I teach others to do, which is to affirm your feelings and choose your behaviors. Instead, my feelings took over and rather than respond to her, I reacted based on my feelings of tiredness. I wish I could remember her name so I could ask for her forgiveness, because that morning I fed the bad wolf. I did not mean to come across as arrogant or proud or indifferent, I don’t remember what I said but I do remember that I was a very poor conversationalist.
In The Mandt System® manual we talk about studies by Albert Bandura and Glenn Latham regarding positive and negative, build up or tear down, interactions. Most interactions between people, it turns out, are negative, tear down interactions. It is not “big things,” but rather little things that harm relationships. We do not mean to, but we end up doing harm to others when we fail to affirm our feelings and choose our behaviors.
That morning, I did not do that, and ended up feeding the bad wolf. It took me about an hour to realize that, and I spent 3 days looking for this person (at a conference with 450 people!) and asked another Mandt trainer who was nearby and saw me talking with her to help. I did not find her, and no matter how many times I wish I had done something different, I did not.
All of us will have days like this, times when we make a mistake, intentional or unintentional, and we cannot go back. All we can do is move forward and resolve to feed the good wolf. When you can, always ask for forgiveness, knowing that people want to forgive, they just want to be asked. Whoever this Mandt trainer was, and for all the other people I have accidentally wounded, I ask for your forgiveness, and I challenge you to feed the good wolf every time you interact with people. It does not matter what people do to you, what matters is how your respond. Feed the good wolf. Treat them with honor and justice, fairness and kindness, dignity and respect, knowing it will take courage to do so, and even more courage to ask for forgiveness.
Feed the good wolf, and in doing so, we can prevent the transmission of trauma from one generation to the next. Whatever you do, whenever you interact with other people, take the time to affirm your feelings, choose your behaviors, and feed the good wolf.
Bob Bowen – Senior Vice President Program Development & International Development