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Ive read a couple of really interesting articles over the last few days, and have had that funny experience of two quite separate people in entirely separate contexts making points that resonated together for me.  The first article was in last Saturday’s Guardian, an interview by Viv Groskop with Boris Cyrulnik in The Guardian on Saturday, about Boris Cyrulnik.  He is a well-known figure in France, having done amazing work in helping children to overcome childhood trauma.  The article in itself was though-provoking, and I’d now quite like to read his book “Resilience” which is out in English now. 

The second article was in the Education section of today’s Guardian, and is an interview with Scotland’s exiting Children’s Commissioner, Kathleen Marshall (of whom I’m a big fan) by Jackie Kemp.  You can read the full interview here.  I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.

What the two articles have in common was a moment of ‘looking back, looking forward’, and the resulting concern for our children and young people which ensues.

To quote from the Cyrulnik article firstly:

In so-called “normal” family life, if such a thing really exists, he [Cyrulnik] has one area of concern. Whereas he is appalled that, within living memory, people still thought it was acceptable to inflict physical punishment on children, he is equally worried about doing damage by allowing the child to be the centre of the universe. “We have done a lot of work on children who are ‘over-invested’,” he says. Some parents who have been hurt in childhood let their children do what they want. These children develop badly. “Over-investment is a form of impoverishment in itself, because it ends up that the child is only supposed to love one person – this self-sacrificing, all-permitting parent. This is a prison for the child.”

The idea of love, of care becoming so overwhelming it is an imprisonment for the child is disturbing, and seems like an extreme and unusual expression of that care, but modern society compartmentalises us away from community.  Perhaps it is not such a big leap?  The interview with Kathleen Marshall makes this connection more clear still, and it is her expression of this which I have encountered most in my professional (and personal) life:

The first of the UK’s children’s commissioners to leave office, Marshall has spoken out in several areas, sometimes not in quite the way one might expect. She has attacked the “risk-averse” culture around children’s safety and the bureaucracy around volunteering with children. Research she commissioned showed almost half of those questioned said they wouldn’t volunteer for fear of being accused of harming a child.

Barbed wire

“We say we wrap kids in cotton wool, but I say, because we have become so fearful of them and for them, we wrap them up in barbed wire and put up a sign that says, keep out, don’t touch,” she says. “And that is not good for children because they can’t develop the relationships they need with adults who are going to nurture them.”

Isn’t it funny how we can ‘care’ so much it is damaging?  The idea of cotton-wool kids is no longer a new one, sadly, and it is entirely true that this level of over-protection actually imprisons children.  But what is stranger still is that somewhere down the line there is a disconnect.  Those ‘caring’ boundaries place the adults responsible out of reach of the children too.  How do you express care and concern for a child if your relationship with them is not just boundaried but ‘out of bounds’? 

Kathleen goes on to talk about a leaflet she produced with some particular wording included that consulted children had asked for:

At the behest of children she was consulting with, Marshall included the word “love” in a leaflet for children in care about what they should expect. She recounts getting an official letter saying: “Love is not a word we use here in Glasgow and it is not something we expect of our care workers or our residential workers.”

“Perhaps we shouldn’t use the word because it has some other connotations,” Marshall says, “but it is what the young people come back to again and again. I worry that we are so busy running round filling in forms and checking up on everyone and worrying about stuff that we are not giving young people the time they need to build relationships when what they really long for is people who really care about them.”

(emphasis my own)

Of course ‘love’ is a word full of connotations.  But how worrying that we now live in a society where those connotations cannot be wholly good and wholly desirable.  When exactly did we manage to turn love into a dirty word?

There’s probably a lot more I could talk about here, but I’ve been sick for AGES now, and my brain is only functioning creakily.  Hope what I’ve written is intelligible.

 

 

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Today I learned something new and encouraging from an article in The Guardian (in contrast to the distress it caused me yesterday).  On Wednesdays the paper has a Society section which basically looks at social issues, tending to relate to the public and voluntary sectors.  I usually only manage to read through it briefly, but starting from today I no longer work on Wednesdays so I have the prospect of possibly getting to read a whole newspaper on the day it came out.  So today, while my poorly daughter is watching ‘Madagascar’ I found time to read the main story in this section, which had caught my eye because it relates to social enterprise.

The story covers social enterprises and cooperatives in Spain, looking particularly at an exciting new development in the Basque region of Spain for the world’s first ‘social Silicon Valley’, a business park for social enterprise.  The most encouraging part of the article for me was the idea that “out of the ashes of this economic collapse will come more equitable ways of doing business”.  Fernandez Isiord, one of the innovators behind the project, is quoted as saying that

First, we have to democratise companies, then we have to build the organisation on principles and values so they become part of the community and part of the solution to tackling social problems.

The bit that I love the most comes right at the end though.  He goes on to say that if you trace the root of the word “companies” to it’s Latin root you find that it derives from a phrase meaning “to share the bread”.  How cool is that as a business model?!

If you’re interested in social enterprise, SocietyGuardian has more here.

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