Thursday, October 30, 2014

Change and Relationship (Part 1)

Change and the power of relationship:

By understanding how individuals change, we can design our programs and systems to create locally-driven, lasting solutions.
In solving societal problems (e.g. cyclical poverty, homelessness, school-to-prison pipeline, etc.) we need to recognize the simple fact that it is a process of individual change. Furthermore, this change is not something easily gained, but is many times a life-altering, path-changing, last 15-minutes of ____ [insert name of popular romantic comedy] realization.

From my personal experience and study of service systems and programs, I believe individual change occurs through three distinct relationships, our connection to God/oneself, others, and society.

Connection: A relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else.

Once we understand this process (explained in part 1), we should work backwards to design systems and services to foster healthy relationships, thus increasing engagement, adoption, and lasting change (part 2, the thrilling conclusion).

Part 1: How people change
Why are relationships so important?
True, lasting change only occurs from a relationship. Think to yourself, when is the last time I made a major change and what spurred me to do so? I bet that almost every story involves a relationship or connection with something other than yourself.

“But, Garet we live in America where only two things and bootstraps!” - early 20th century caricature

While I do agree that personal ambition will keep you moving, you need perspective to make sure you are on the right path.

I’ve heard it explained that there are three types of knowledge: what we know about ourselves, what we know about others, and how others perceive our actions. The latter piece, perspective, can only be obtained through a relationship with another.

A problem with our current service providers (public or private) is that programs are developed and services applied without a clear understanding or emphasis on fostering healthy relationships.

Part of this problem can be attributed to massive underfunding which spreads resources and limits time with individual clients. Another factor is in how large organizations develop into horizontally aligned bureaucracies with specialists working in their own silos. A prime example is in our healthcare system, where a major push is to reestablish the role of a single primary doctor, as opposed to the sea of medical specialists. 

Finally, all too often, whether we are talking about the entire system or individual, we look for quick-fix, external solutions to fix internal long-term challenges. Have a problem, take a pill. 

To help end this negative cycle, we need to refocus well intended service providers to what they are intending to do, help individual change. To do this, they should evaluate their services in how it helps to foster one’s connection to God/oneself, others, and society.

Relationship #1. Connection to God/oneself
One of the most simple and impactful philosophies I’ve discovered is Be-Do-Have. By defining who you are (Be), you will inform your actions (Do), and end up with the things you value most (Have).

This is opposite to our modern view of achievement where we define ourselves by the things we have. In this backward system, we end up doing things to obtaining items, that we hope will define who we are.

I’ll admit I have been caught up in doing. In my passion to help others I would get caught up in over committing my time. In the past I used to rationalize that it was acceptable because my actions were well intentioned and not for personal gain.

Eventually I hit rock bottom. My lowest point came after about 4 years of constantly doing. I found myself feeling lost and without a true purpose. What pulled me out was reconnecting with others others in the church I had been attending, Area 10 Faith Community. In attending a men’s small group on leadership, I was turned on to this concept of Be-Do-Have. Immediately I realized that although my actions were not misguided, they were misinformed. 

Chris Barras, Senior Pastor at Area 10 Faith Community 

Over the next few months I worked on digging deeper into questions of personal belief. At the end of this process, I was better able to define my core values and beliefs by an anchored relationship with Jesus.

Honestly, I would not have thought I could have written and believed that sentence a few years ago. I’ll write more about this journey in another article, but regardless of what you believe, I would challenge you to ask questions and look into your beliefs. It is really that important.

Relationship #2. Connection to others
Once you establish who you are, next, try to connect with one other person.

The importance of connecting with others is paramount to personal development in that only another person can hold you accountable. Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous have tapped into this by connecting each individual with a sponsor to walk with them on their journey to recovery.

In my time serving people in poverty or experiencing homelessness, I’ve seen that a lack of connection with others is a major impediment. Many of these people come from broken families and loneliness. They've just got out of jail or need medical help, and they are all alone.

Carolann Pacer-Ramsey, former director of Hilltop Promises, showed me that at the start of a relationship, especially where you are providing services to another, you must must humble yourself, listen, and do for the other person first. In the book, Toxic Charities, Robert Lupton describes this as meeting another’s crisis need. By meeting this initial need, you place yourself in the position of servant and acknowledge that much can be learned by each person, thus implying that a relationship, not just a handout is to be gained. 

Hilltop Promises on Broad Street 
By focusing on one relationship at a time, we can start to develop deep, lasting relationships that will break barriers of misperception.

Relationship #3. Connection to society
Through self-definition one can begin to develop healthy relationships with others, and the interconnected network of these relationships becomes a society. But, figuring out one’s position can be a daunting task.

A major hurdle to connecting into society is the misperception caused by labeling of the “other.” By labeling people as homeless, disabled, felons, or immigrants, we relegate the fact that these are people first.

To combat this we should intentionally seek out relationships (see step #2) with the “others” of society. As a follower of Jesus, this is a pretty easy sell because of the “what you do for the least of my brothers and sisters” thing. But what I’ve experienced in serving, is that after you develop relationships with people (Jerry, Steve, Sarah, etc.), the preconceived notions from their societal labels (e.g. sexual offender, felon, mentally disabled, etc.) are seen in a totally different light.

The next pitfall of our system is is the misunderstanding that a relationship requires sacrifice...from each person.

Going back to Robert Lupton’s book Toxic Charities, a crisis need is that initial emergency response to stabilize a situation. This is opposed to a chronic need, which is an on-going, ingrained, action that requires a longer-term solution.

The problem of our current system, although well intentioned, is that we apply crisis responses to chronic needs. Mr. Lupton explains this as, “A crisis requires emergency intervention; A chronic problem requires development. Address a crisis need with a crisis intervention, and lives are saved. Address a chronic need with a crisis intervention, and people are harmed.”

This can be seen in services that offer only one-way handouts. Although the free clothing closets or sandwiches in the park have their place, they are too often used as an excuse to “give a little and say its all we can do.”

We need to replicate relationship-driven services like those happening at the Peter Paul Development Center (PPDC). I’ve had the pleasure of hearing director Damon Jiggetts speak and visited the center this past summer. In all of their programming they carefully apply services to ensure that chronic issues are being met with chronic, not crisis, solutions.
Damon Jiggets, Director of PPDC
Finally, for those looking to reconnect into society a safe environment for learning new skills is paramount to recovery. 

At Hilltop Promises, after developing a relationship with individuals coming for service, Carolann offered counseling and workplace training skills. This allowed individuals going through recovery to train in a safe environment. This understanding of safety can only be gained after an initial relationship is established.

The problem is that workforce development programs are rarely tied to other counseling or relational-based services. Many times people are left on their own after they got a job or completed the class. This idea that a job solves all almost never lasts without other supports (e.g. relationships #1 and #2) in place.

In part 2 I’ll delve into best practices and thoughts on how we can better design our services and systems to compliment this individual learning process. Let me know your thoughts and experiences with serving others. How has this changed you? What happens when it goes right, and more importantly what have you learned from when it goes wrong?

Continue reading for Part 2, the thrilling conclusion.