AME Conference November 2018

Values Education for Life

Values Education for Life

Values Education for Life

Charity Registration Number 1000241

It's My Pleasure!

 

A Paper presented by David Rowse at the AME International Conference held in Barcelona, November 8th

to 10th 2018

 

It is said that the UK and the US have much in common, including a common language and many shared values.

I'm certain that this is true, although in the case of a common language some words can lead to confusion and misunderstanding.

For example, in the US the word 'trunk' can mean the back end of a car, whilst in the UK it means the front end of an elephant. Hardly the same thing!

 

Regarding shared values - If I say "thank you" to someone in the US I am likely to get the response, "you're welcome", whereas the response in the UK may well be, "my pleasure" or "it's my pleasure!"

In a sense both of these convey a feeling of something freely given and seeking no reward other than the feeling of pleasure that the act has provided.

 

Within this context a little background information about what the charity, Values Education for Life, does and why. -

The charity works with groups of young people who live in the midlands area of the UK and it organises projects intended to support the development and maturation of adolescents, many of whom have experienced social, emotional and mental health difficulties and as a result have been in danger of becoming NEET, that is, not in education, employment or training.

 

This involvement includes encouraging them to empathise with others and to acknowledge and understand that other people also have needs; that within a society which increasingly emphasises a sense of 'self' and 'me', there are others whose needs should also be considered as important.

One of these projects, “Serving Others”, developed from earlier work which set out to help young people who were in danger of social and educational exclusion.

 

This growing group of young people is providing increasing concern at a national level and in this context the UK Department for Education & Department for Health, (2015) described such difficulties as:

“Children and young people who may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour. These behaviours may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression, self-harming, substance misuse, eating disorders or physical symptoms that are medically unexplained. Other children and young people may have disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder or attachment disorder.”

 

So, what might provide appropriate support which would allow young people to effectively overcome such difficulties?

Adolescence plays a critical role in both Freud's and Erikson's theories of development. In both theories, teens begin to forge their own sense of identity.

 

Erikson stated that those who receive proper encouragement and reinforcement through personal exploration will emerge from this stage with a strong sense of self and a feeling of independence and control. Those who remain unsure of their beliefs and desires will remain insecure and confused about themselves and the future.

 

Resolving the crisis at this stage of development involves committing to a particular identity. This might involve committing to a career path, deciding what social groups to associate with and even developing a sense of personal style.

Such a social group may, of course, be volunteers who donate their time to help others.

 

In this context those who are successful develop 'fidelity', a psychological virtue characterized by the ability to relate to others and form genuine relationships. This ability plays an important role in the upcoming stage known as 'intimacy' versus 'isolation'.

So, what happens to young people who do not end up successfully forming an identity at this point in development? These are young people who are not allowed to explore and test out different identities and might be left with what Erikson referred to as 'role confusion'. These individuals are not sure who they are or what they like. They tend to drift from one job or relationship to another, never really sure what they want to do with their lives. Instead of feeling a sense of personal cohesiveness, they are left feeling disappointed and confused about their place in a life which may appear to have little or no meaning. They may become NEET and experience social, emotional and mental health difficulties.

 

This group of young people are informally referred to by some in the UK as the 'Snowflake Generation'. When the heat in the kitchen gets too intense they 'melt'.

Our young people were in danger of such confusion and experiencing social, emotional and mental health difficulties leading to becoming NEET.

 

So...what might effectively provide support action and interaction that could be helpful?

Well...after some ‘wandering in the wilderness’ the project eventually focused on supporting a group of young people between the ages of 13 to 17 who were experiencing such difficulties. These young people have volunteered to visit residents of a residential home for older people on a regular weekly basis. This home is in their own community. The young people engage with residents to provide friendship, companionship and a sense of caring. This has proved very successful for all those involved. Both young and old, have gained considerable life experience from the activities they engage in.

 

The project has now been running for approximately two years and during that time the young people have been involved in a number of activities, including:

Organising a Christmas Party

Raising money and building a sensory garden

Helping with Open Days

Trips out

Organising and playing games

and Befriending and Caring.

 

But do they seek any reward in return?

The short answer is 'no', but Interestingly and from a neurological perspective neuroscience has demonstrated that such giving is a powerful pathway for creating more personal happiness and improving overall health.

Apparently. the altruism centre of the brain is considered a "deep brain structure," part of the primitive brain. We know when we see a child in trouble, our instincts kick in and we spring into action before we can even think.

 

Humans are social animals, so it is no surprise that we are wired to help one another. In our complex modern society, there are many ways to give and the good news is that we now understand that both the giver and receiver benefit from the relationship. Neuroscience has demonstrated that giving is a powerful pathway for creating more personal joy and improving overall health and a sense of well being.

While the brain is remarkably complex, I am informed that the neurochemical drivers of happiness are quite easy to identify. Dopamine, serotonin , and oxytocin make up the Happiness Trifecta. Any activity that increases the production of these neurochemicals will cause a positive boost in mood.

 

And I am further informed that the benefits don’t stop at moods! Serotonin is connected to sleep, digestion, memory, learning, and appetite. Dopamine is connected to motivation and arousal. Oxytocin “the cuddle hormone” is among the most ancient of our neurochemicals and has a powerful effect on the brain and the body. For example, when oxytocin begins to flow, blood pressure decreases, bonding increases, social fears are reduced and trust and empathy are enhanced. Oxytocin is also an anti-inflammatory and reduces pain and enhances wound healing.

 

So, we may not seek any reward, but appear to receive one in the form of increased personal happiness and improved overall health and well being.

 

And from other sources and in a different dimension, some further good reasons for giving and developing altruism are:-

 

as a Chinese Proverb says ...

“If you want happiness for an hour -- take a nap. If you want happiness for a day -- go fishing. If you want happiness for a month -- get married. If you want happiness for a year -- inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime -- help someone else.”

 

Ghandi has stated that.....

“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

 

Albert Schweitzer pointed out that.....

“I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”

 

whilst Winston Churchill observed that.....

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

 

and finally a comment from Martin Luther King....

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree, to serve...You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

"Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve."

 

But Whilst adults have welcomed and congratulated the youngsters involved in this intergenerational project, what do the young people think?

Here, I quote:

:

“I think that coming to the home is a good idea because it allows residents to speak and form relationships with us, the volunteers; this gives the residents a happy and joyful emotional state and not only this, it gives the residents confidence which in return helps them speak to other volunteers in the future."

 

"What I get out of this is the pleasure of giving the past generation confidence and happiness and this gives me joy and makes me feel happier.”

 

“I think coming to Drayton Court to speak and interact with residents is good because it is great for residents to meet new people and it also gives the residents something to look forward to every Saturday. I also believe that it is a good idea because I get personal satisfaction from hearing the interesting stories about the residents’ lives and also I enjoy having advice off the residents because they are wise and their advice is valuable”.

 

“I think working with the residents is not only a good idea to help them but to have an experience of what life was like before we were born; also it gives us personal experience of how dementia grows on people and being able to see signs and differences between people before dementia and after.

We can also help entertain and become part of the residents’ life and give some of them something and someone to look forward to seeing for a couple of hours on a weekly basis.”

 

So here we have a win, win situation for all participants. But in particular the activity has helped a number of young people to begin to find themselves and identify their values. It has helped them to learn to respect themselves and value the contribution that they make to vulnerable people in their community.

 

As one young person commented, "What I get out of this is the pleasure of giving the past generation confidence and happiness and this gives me joy and makes me feel happier.”

 

And again from Winston Churchill, "we make a life by what we give."

 

And never forget, "We can all be great, because we all can serve."

 

because after all, "It is our pleasure!"

 

David Rowse, November 2018

 

 

 

 

Values Education for Life 01827 711425