Ted talks are amazing. If you’ve not heard of them, go to https://ted.com/talks. One of these talks is by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, a novelist from Nigeria, and her topic is “The Danger of a Single Story.” In this talk, she shares about the power of the stereotype, the single story that defines people. In her talk, she says that the danger is not that the story is not true, but rather that it the only story about that person. A stereotype is not wrong, she says, it is just an incomplete story about a person.
The people we work with, those of us who use The Mandt System® and all other human service professionals, work with people who are defined by a single story. They are classified by their behaviors, by their diagnosis, by the answers they give in social histories and the documentation we write about them in the course of our work. Their stories are incomplete.
When we get together with friends, we tell stories to highlight our lives. Almost all of us have had the experience of being with friends, telling our stories and listening to the stories of others. A while back, the Faculty of The Mandt System® were at a social gathering, having wrapped up the video work we were doing for our PowerPoint™ presentations. Flo Carroll is a Mandt instructor from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and is also an individual served by Residential Resource Support Services in Nova Scotia, Canada.
After the filming was done, there was a barbecue at the home of one of our Faculty members. During the evening, people told stories about barbecues they had been to before. Flo turned to Jim Fagan, who came with her from RRSS, and said “I don’t have any stories.” There is danger in a single story, as Chimimanda Adichie said, but there is more danger in not having any stories at all. David Pitonyak writes eloquently about the profound loneliness in people served by our human service system. He is right.
At that point, Flo felt sad that she had no stories to tell. Flo has her own stories now. She has a picture of herself in front of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa airport and can show it to her sister. When we took the picture, she said her sister always shows her where she has been, and now she can so her sister where she has been. She has a story to tell.
She can tell stories of travelling to different places, and of being on the Board of Directors of RRSS now. She can tell stories of being at a barbecue where she was just Flo, and had a great time talking with other people, all of whom were on a first name basis, because we are, all of us, people, just people, sitting around a warm room, sharing the stories of our lives with each other.
In human services, whatever branch you may find yourselves in, there is a growing movement towards finding a technical “fix” to everything. Pharmacogenomics is the use of genomic sequencing to identify specific medication needed for individuals. New technologies in brain scanning is giving neuroscientists information about what our brains do when we act, think, receive auditory and visual signals, and allowing for molecular specific analysis of behavior.
There is a danger in all of this, though, and that danger is in trusting the conceptual and technical parts of our field so much we ignore the relational aspects of our work. There is a place for technological innovation, there is a need to always learn more so we can better serve people. And there is a need to focus on who we are, not just what we do, or don’t (or can’t) do. It is in building the stories of people like Flo, being part of the community in which we live, interacting with people in genuine and authentic ways that we can empower people to benefit from technology.
Lori Arviso Alford was accepted by Dartmouth College when she was 16. She went on to become a surgeon, and is the first Navajo female surgeon. In her book “The Scalpel and the Silver Bear” she writes about watching a patient have improved cardiovascular function because his family was singing Navajo songs to him in a healing ceremony. There was no medical reason, no technical or conceptual reason this should have worked. Hopefully, all of you who are reading this have seen people respond in positive, healing ways when someone they trusted was with them, was in their lives.
The Relational, Conceptual, and Technical parts of The Mandt System® combine to form a relationally based, trauma informed method of using positive behavior intervention and supports to invite people to change their behavior in some way. In our work, we either assist or limit people, and that is all we do. At the heart of this our stories. It is in the stories of our lives that we find meaning and hope. Our job, whatever our role in human services, is first and foremost to be storytellers, and to find ways to include all people, whatever their role, within the frame of the story in a relationship of equals, with a difference of role. We all need to be able, when we are with others, to have a story to share. It is what makes us human.
Bob Bowen – Senior Vice President Program Development