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Fish Do Not See the Water in Which They Swim: The Subtle Impact of an Aggressive Society on Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Services Selena E. Sermeño,

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Presentation on theme: "Fish Do Not See the Water in Which They Swim: The Subtle Impact of an Aggressive Society on Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Services Selena E. Sermeño,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Fish Do Not See the Water in Which They Swim: The Subtle Impact of an Aggressive Society on Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Services Selena E. Sermeño, Ph.D

2 How to think of our time together A time of facilitated exploration about the impact of unacknowledged aggression on our professional and personal lives as human services providers... A time to re-examine what it means to support one another and invigorate our work… A time to consider the impact of concepts such as marginalization, humiliation, invisibility, dignity, and reflective practice on our work as human services providers...

3 A tentative breakdown of our time together Introductions, connection, and setting the stage: Celebrating identity as violence prevention (15 minutes) Didactic presentation, including a brief video: Definitions, best practices, who’s who in the field (30 minutes) A reflective and experiential exercise: Looking inward and outward (30 minutes) Questions and closing: Blessing the journey (15 minutes)

4 A bit of background Very little available in the field of juvenile justice and human services professions on the topic of unacknowledged aggression Very little available on the topic of aggression manifested as relational interpersonal aggression in the workplace within human services We have studies of vicarious trauma, but these are carried out without acknowledging aggression and violence as contributors.

5 We must look outside our own field of work and study Violence and aggression must be understood beyond physical violations. Violence and aggression must be understood as a global public health problem, an issue of invisibility, humiliation, and marginalization. The collateral impact of endemic violence is seldom discussed, because we are not socialized to consider damage experienced by a stranger (e.g., action hero films, etc.).

6 Questions guiding our time together How do we define and interpret concepts such as violence, aggression, marginalization, dignity, and humiliation? How do we measure the cumulative impact of unacknowledged violence on our work as human services providers? What kinds of violence and aggression should be named, recognized, and transformed? How do we frame a discussion of the topic of unacknowledged aggression and violence?

7 Questions guiding our time together… How do we support one another through the practice of virtues such as hope, empathy, gratitude, solidarity, and compassion in the workplace? How do we return to the source(s) that inspired our professional paths?

8 Questions guiding our time together... How is our understanding of violence shaped and conditioned by culture, society, community, gender, ethnicity, and historical period? Could this understanding lead us into more supportive personal and professional relationships? Could this understanding impact how we relate to our work with mistreated children?

9 An important question when working with a suffering world: "What shall we do with our suffering? That is one of the most fateful questions human beings must wrestle with. Sometimes suffering rises into anger that leads to murder or war; at other times it descends into despair that leads to quick or slow self-destruction. Violence is what we get when we do not know what else to do with our suffering.” -- Parker Palmer, “Healing the Life of Democracy,” p. 25

10 Hopes for our time together To think “outside the box” in our understanding of the impact of violence on our work as human services providers To explore the link between traumatic events, technology, and our sensitivity toward one another within our professional roles To explore the role of human virtues such as compassion, gratitude, and patience in mitigating the impact of daily unacknowledged aggression in our professional lives

11 Assumptions We must understand our own conditioning about living in an aggressive society. We do not always see aggression in our daily lives. We must think of the construct of violence beyond physical harm and behavior. We can make our work lives better by reconnecting with positive virtues within and among ourselves. As well as satisfaction, there is suffering in our work. Aggression and violence have a collateral dimension seldom discussed.

12 Aggression defined From Latin “aggress” The act of initiating hostilities or invasion The practice or habit of launching attacks Hostile or destructive behavior or actions In psychiatry, overt or suppressed hostility, either innate or from continued frustration and directed outward or against self (from dictionary.search.yahoo.com)

13 Violence defined Physical force exerted for the purpose of violating, damaging, or abusing (e.g., crimes of violence) An act or instance of violent action or behavior Intensity or severity, as in natural phenomena; untamed force (e.g., the violence of a tornado) Abusive or unjust exercise of power Abuse or injury to meaning, content, or intent (e.g., do violence to a text) Vehemence of feeling or expression; fervor

14 Unacknowledged violence and aggression defined Hostility directed toward self or others which is not recognized or acknowledged Aggressive behavior toward self or others that we have been socialized to dismiss, ignore, or not question Collateral aggression that makes its victims appear as anonymous and neutral casualties Behaviors which humiliate, further marginalize, silence, and shame others without our recognition

15 Dignity From the Latin word digna or dignus, meaning worthy of recognition, respect, intrinsic worth by simply being born

16 To humiliate To make invisible To shame To eliminate another’s voice To rejoice at another’s suffering To expose To denigrate Experiences of humiliation are closely related to future violence

17 To marginalize To relegate or confine to a lower or outer limit or edge, as of social standing Variations: marginalization, marginalized, marginalizing, marginalizes

18 Reflective practice The practice of contemplating and reflecting on the impact of our behavior on others The practice of reflecting on the impact of our work on our own lives

19 Looking inwardly and outwardly for aggression and violence Inwardly: Cultural and family roots, the cultural genogram Outwardly: Environment, media, news, etc.

20 The Cultural Genogram A tool inviting us to reflect upon the impact of our ancestry on our capacity to relate to differences, overcome difficulties, develop resiliency, and act out of moral courage

21 Cultural Genogram Developed by Drs. Ken Hardy and Tracey Laszloffy, sociologists and family therapists at Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY Developed with the goal of increasing cultural competency among those working in multicultural settings Developed to help us distinguish between cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, and cultural competency Crucial in understanding intergenerational attitudes towards violence and aggression

22 The Cultural Genogram helps us to understand the many ways in which… Our roots & upbringing expand or impede our capacity for compassion Our roots & cultures impact our understanding of violence

23 Organizing Principles Responses to events affecting entire societies, families, or other groups. Every country and family experiences them. Organizing principles can happen on smaller scales (e.g., at work and with family). Usually historical events causing a shift in ways of thinking Events which can lead to rigidity and positional thinking Examples: September 11 th in the USA, the Holocaust, Rwandan genocide, intifada, tsunami, Pakistani floods, civil wars, great depression, drug war, civil war, etc..

24 Organizing Principles About Violence and Aggression Shape behaviors Shape attitudes and beliefs Are passed down from one generation to another Are often unexamined Impact voice Have a neurological impact Explain many of our behaviors

25 Organizing Principles continued Often lead to taboo subjects about violence within cultures and families At the family level, can become “family secrets” Can become “the elephant in the room” Can be changed

26 Self-Knowledge of Culture What do we know about our own social, individual, and cultural histories of violence? What attitudes have we been given about trauma, abuse, misfortune, weapons, crime, reconciliation, etc.? What do we know about the carriers of virtues such as gratitude, compassion, and kindness in our own family histories?

27 Who are we culturally? We are more than rituals and traditions We must know ourselves culturally, in relation to violence done to other groups, including other species, as well as our own. We must understand violence and aggression exist in passive behavior as well.

28 Questions for Reflection What historical events involving violence most likely affected your grandparents on either side of your parents? Which of those historical events caused the humiliation or empowerment of another group? How did your ancestors discuss issues of violence and aggression?

29 Voice Our inner thoughts, our message to the world, to each other Our interpretations of our own life histories Our opinions Our deepest longings Our desire to belong Not only verbal

30 Voice and Fear Consider how fear impacts – Verbal and nonverbal expression – Recollection of an event – Creative thinking – Our understanding of violence – Health – Exercise or silencing of voice

31 Trauma A blow, an intense threat to our well-being or that of our loved ones Old paradigm: unanticipated, single event, sudden Current paradigm: chronic, anticipated, multiple events, vicarious, toxic

32 Trauma and the Brain Speech center impact: Wernicke & Broca Impact on capacity to recall information Impact on affect Impact on moral judgment Impact on life’s meaning The younger the brain, the worse its impact

33 Actions/questions that help us appreciate our progress toward a less violent world Listening beyond words Seeing others’ lives as stories rich with lessons worth sharing with the world Have I really “heard” someone’s story? Catching and exposing acts of kindness Are our hearts expanding, numbing, or distancing? How does our gratitude measure up? What are we learning from our clients’ stories? Do we recognize and contribute to each other’s resilience?

34 "Engrave this upon your heart: there isn't anyone you couldn't love once you heard their story." --Mary Lou Kownacki

35 Awakening At some point, you’ll be asked to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, and bear the unbearable and the reward will be the pure joy in finally believing the unbelievable. These are the conditions for your awakening.

36 This Poem Should Be A Circle I wish you the ability to breathe after pain, to begin again, though nothing else seems possible. I wish you resilience: to part like the ocean and accept like the sky, to be held like a root. I wish you survival: to take in life like a trapped miner finding an air hole and praising it as God. I wish you courage: to ask of everything you meet, “What bridge are we?” I wish you chances to listen to all that holds up. I wish you the kindness that you are coming to brighten your face like orange leaves scattered at the end of fall. I wish you endless journey that seldom appears as we imagine. I wish you curiosity: to make a boat of wonder and an oar out of gratitude. Mark Nepo

37 Aggression, humiliation, lack of self-awareness and invisibility go hand in hand The International Network for the Study of Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies. Cut Dead But Still Alive


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