Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Behavioral Health At The Confluence

Kennebec Behavioral Health's recently sponsored conference, Behavioral Health at the Confluence: Inspired Hearts, Solid Science, and Organizational Excellence accomplished a number of functions. It was conceived as a celebration of the agency's 50th anniversary as well as a provocative challenge to the future of community mental health.

Behavioral Health in Maine and across the nation is faced with increasing demands to provide transparency, demonstrable effectiveness, and services that are predictably life enhancing. Meeting that demand will involve the evolution of a dynamic alignment between practitioners, the best, most effective clinical practices, and value based organizational and operational expertise. Each one of these three foundations is necessary, but none sufficient without the other two.

In order to be successful, these three competing rivers of thought have to be reconciled in a way that is mutually supportive rather than competing. It is a paradox, an impossible puzzle that must be transformed to an attainable possibility.

It is not easy to convey the methodology necessary to solve a paradox. The language of analogy is one tool. The ability to tolerate the internal conflict that comes from holding the value and importance of all three irreconcilable positions is another.

The way of the world is to try to force a choice between competing values with messages like:
"Relationship is enough."
"Science has the answers."
"Its about the cash."
"You have to give up your humanity to apply scientific principles."
"Your science is too expensive, you will have to make due with something cheaper."
"You need to make productivity, then we'll talk about the quality of your work."
"You can pursue one river, or maybe two, but you have to give up on the third."

A better answer is one of unyielding creative resistance to compromise on any of these three values with affirmations like:
"I will work diligently to nourish my own heart and to nourish others."
"I will work diligently to find and apply the best science possible."
"I will work diligently to support my organization and its infrastructure."
"I will not relent on remaining mindful of and promoting any one of these values."
"I will face every effort to force a choice with creative problem-solving. I will keep all three values in front of me, each equally honored."
"I will look to support my colleagues and to be supported by them. "
"I will believe the best of others and trust they will believe the best of me."
"I will strive not let them fail, and they will hold me when I falter. "
"Nothing lasts forever. This too shall pass."

The intended take-aways from the conference are:
  • A working understanding of three rivers of thought flowing inexorably toward confluence, into the future, beyond our current state of knowledge, beyond our current technologies, beyond any of us as individuals
  • Our commitment to move toward that end with clarity, focus and courage.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Role Models - Oh Yes! Oh No!

Role models are a part of life. When we lack experience or skill or hope, and can’t see a way to get from where we are to where we’d like to be, we naturally look to other people to see if someone else has done something comparable before us. Similarly, if we see someone doing something, or being someone that we admire, we look to understand what brought them to that ability and what sustains them in it. This manner of seeking to grow is critical both to individuals and to our civilization. Without it, we would be stuck forever within the confines of our singular experience.

There can be a complication, and even a downside, though to our identification of a “Role Model.” This becomes particularly worrisome when one of our children identifies a role model, looks up to them, strives to be like them, then watches them falter. There are sports stars caught cheating or betraying a trust, beloved older cousins “getting into trouble,” a brilliant and charismatic professor seducing a student, and on and on. There is in fact, no end to the ways in which we can disappoint one another.

Interestingly enough on a different side of the same coin, if we look, there are ways in which people we might not see as extraordinary can surprise us with their talent, patience, vision, commitment, or some other aspect of their being. They might not meet our definition of a “role model” but isn’t that really what they could be in that aspect.

Navigating through life and getting the most out of “role models” without either failing to see them, crashing and burning with them, or dismissing them as completely unworthy requires us to see human behavior as complex, multiply determined and sometimes contradictory.

The reality is that no human being is purely good or bad, and the more we can process our and our children’s contradictory perceptions and begin to articulate what about a person is admirable and what is disappointing the closer we come to learning self acceptance, the appreciation of differences, and compassion for human error, both our own and others. We might even see a strategy we can use to avoid mistakes ourselves.