Sanctuary As a Living Philosophy
The process of “Creating Sanctuary” begins with getting everyone on the same page – surfacing, sharing, arguing about, and finally agreeing on the basic values, beliefs, guiding principles and philosophical principles that are to guide our decisions, decision-making processes, conflict resolution skills and behavior. There are no shortcuts here. Trauma-informed change requires a change in the basic mental models upon which thought and action is based and without such change, treatment is bound to fall unnecessarily short of full recovery or fail entirely. This change in mental models must occur on the part of the clients, their families, the staff, and the leaders of the organization. Mental models exist at the level of very basic assumptions, far below conscious awareness and everyday function and yet they guide and determine what we can and cannot think about and act upon .
The Sanctuary Model is structured around a philosophy of belief and practice and in the rest of this book we intend to detail what those beliefs and practices are, structured as they are around the Sanctuary Commitments and S.E.L.F. First, we want to lay out some clear ideas about what we think matter in life and in treatment, some very basic assumptions that inform what we believe and what we do.
Life Matters : Sanctuary and the Sacred
In Sanctuary we make some basic assumptions that underlie virtually everything else that we think and do. Out of these basic assumptions we develop a mental model of the world that we then try to replicate in our individual settings, a mental model we hope will eventually be adopted by the larger world we live in.
The most basic assumption we make is that life is valuable, even the lives of beings that we don’t like, don’t approve of, or find offensive, even frightening. We view Life as an ecological whole, existing in a natural balance that has been evolving for millions of years and that because of our limited perspective we can only ever have partial vision of the Whole. We believe that this Whole is in some way the best way to describe “God” and that every part of the Whole therefore is sacred. As a result, any action we take in the world either helps or harms the Whole and therefore, helps or harms that which is sacred. Defining helping and harming, of course, is astonishingly difficult and perhaps can only be understood by referring to restoring or destabilizing the balance of nature and the self-sustaining nature of Life. For us, therefore, Creating Sanctuary is sacred work, not just a job. It involves a commitment to restore the balance of life in every individual we work with to the extent of our ability to do so. Nonviolence is not an option – it is essential to human survival.
Mental Models Matter: Living Systems or Machines
Human beings are not machines. We are living, constantly changing forms of energy. Like individual human beings, human organizations are also living beings. Some people believe that the twentieth century gave birth to a new species – the corporation – and if they are right, organizations are young, and therefore immature beings that still have a great deal to learn from individuals – even though individuals still have a lot to learn - about how to live in harmony with the rest of the living world, how to survive and thrive without damaging the whole .
Human social evolution began within small kin groups and eventually, larger tribes. Tribal cultures worked out more-or-less democratic, largely peaceful methods for making decisions, resolving conflicts, and generally working out reasonably safe relationships between and among the generations and the sexes within the tribe. But as human populations swelled, as people settled down and began to claim property as their own and not the shared property of the group, the reciprocal, interdependent, mutually responsible relationships between individuals so characteristic of small groups, broke down. It became possible for individual frailty, previously contained by small group social obligations and a sense of belonging and attachment, to become unbalanced and out of control. The unleashing of these frailties – a lust for power, greed, aggression, detachment, and unruly emotions - have led on the one hand to many of civilizations greatest achievements, but on the other hand have also led to the imminent possibility of total annihilation of all life on this planet.
The Sanctuary Model teaches some basic skills necessary to treat an organization as a living entity. We recognize that a new identity emerges within any group that represents more than the sum of the individual parts, as a newborn child represents more than the simple sum of two parents. This emergent being can potentially develop a healthy identity or, like individuals, it can become deviant. The creators of the movie, The Corporation, describe the modern capitalist corporation as sociopathic, checking off all of the characteristics of this diagnostic category as mentioned in the DSM-IV. In Sanctuary, we are endeavoring to describe methods for helping the emergent group identity to develop a healthy sense of self-in-the-world instead of geometrically magnifying the worst aspects of human frailty as so often happens. To do so requires a working knowledge of the group unconscious mind as well as the group conscious mind. Investigators in the fields of organizational dynamics, group dynamics, and most especially for our purposes, therapeutic community, have been describing visible manifestations of the collective mind for many years and in Sanctuary we draw upon this established wisdom to help us to understand how to engage in healthy group process.
Life and choice is difficult enough without the added complication of traumatic events. When human beings are exposed to overwhelming fear, and particularly when exposed to episodes of repetitive fear, there are many adverse short-term and long-term consequences among which are some that are pertinent to this discussion. They become less able to learn from the past and to predict future outcomes of action; they are less capable of recognizing and modifying mistakes; they become excessively frightened of grappling with unconscious motivation; the free exercise of their will may become severely constrained by the compulsive reenactment of a traumatic past; they feel themselves separated from other people, themselves, meaning and the Whole. These negative consequences of traumatic experience are compounded if the trauma occurs in childhood because children are still learning the basic elements for predicting future events. The traumatic learning interferes with normal learning thereby skewing and distorting normal developmental pathways.
In Sanctuary, we recognize that behavioral symptoms, cognitive distortions, emotional dyscontrol, and failures of conscience are all manifestations of injury, rather than indicators of sickness or badness – the two current explanations for deviant behavior. Because of our complexly integrated minds and bodies, human beings can be injured in an almost infinite variety of ways, along a long continuum of severity, and as a result, every individual responds differently and has a different constellation of symptoms. Nonetheless, they all begin as injured people and injury requires a bilateral approach. On the one hand, the person must learn enough about the nature and course of the injuries to enable him or her to assume responsibility for helping those injuries to heal. On the other hand, the person’s social group - represented by individual adults, family members, treatment environments, and society as a whole – must do whatever is necessary to remove obstacles in the way of each person’s recovery of maximum function, allowing for whatever disabling conditions the child has already endured.
As a consequence of the ways in which exposure to trauma may systematically distort a developing person’s personality, it is critical and urgent that we create the possibility of different life choices for every individual and that we engineer experiences that will maximize the possibility of the person making choices that do not reenact the past. This turns out to be a difficult process since all human beings resist change. But additionally, traumatized people resist change as if their lives depended on not changing even though reality insists that their life often depends on exactly the opposite – on quite radical change.
In order to help people change, it is vital that every staff member, every client and family member understand the ways in which negative life experiences have shaped the thoughts, feeling, behavior, and brain of the person. In Sanctuary, we spend a great deal of time educating everyone about Trauma Theory. In this way and armed with such knowledge, staff members and clients become much more able to respond to injured children in ways that enact different life scenarios rather than reenacting the traumatic past.
If we are to help traumatized people heal then we must create environments to counteract the effects of trauma and such environments cannot themselves be traumatizing. We must design, create and maintain organizations that actively respect the balance of Nature and the integrity of the Whole and that do no harm. Unfortunately, in many organizations today, the exact opposite happens – harm does occur. Instead of counteracting and helping to resolve the damage left by exposure to traumatic experience, individual helpers and helping systems frequently compound the damage by engaging in behavior that actually parallels the original damaging circumstances.
In Sanctuary we focus a great deal of attention on parallel processes. We believe that there are complex interactions between traumatized clients, stressed staff, pressured organizations, and an oppressive political, social and economic environment for the work that we do. The result is that our systems frequently recapitulate the very experiences that have proven already to be so physically and psychologically toxic for the children we are supposed to treat. For the most part, these parallel processes occur at an unconscious group level.
Rarely do individual staff members intend to hurt or stifle the growth of the people in their care. And yet it happens all the time as staff members get drawn into reenacting traumatic experiences with the clients without even recognizing that they are doing so, and administrators are similarly drawn into reenacting damaging previous experiences with staff. In a similar way, our treatment environments are embedded within larger service delivery systems that inadvertently create regulations, assert demands, and inflict punishments that are double-binding, ineffective, and sometimes even destructive. These measures are frequently undertaken by the larger service delivery systems in response to financial and legal pressures, inadequate understanding and communication, and even abuses of power and control deriving from regulatory bodies, local and state government, and national government.
In authoritarian systems, those at the top of the authority hierarchy exert control over those below. When the exercise of power is contradictory, inefficient, ineffective, unfair, or abusive there is little that those below can do except pass the abuse down to those below them in each successive level. Since authoritarian systems discourage critical thinking, punish dissent and reward obedience, feedback systems – frequently called “quality assurance or quality improvement methods” – cannot function effectively and are often of minimal use. Because authoritarian processes discourage the very kind of feedback that is necessary to truly enhance and self-correct performance, quality assurance programs frequently fail to ensure true quality while providing the pretense that steady improvement is occurring.
Destructive parallel processes usually originate at the top of a hierarchy with some unspoken conflict between mental models and basic assumptions at the level of organizational purpose and leadership and spread downwards through the staff and into the clients. The clients, as the most vulnerable members of the community, act-out the conflicts from above that then merge with their own internal conflicts. Since the emotional charge that is influencing the client’s behavior is happening at the level of the group unconscious, the staff can easily be deceived into thinking that the client’s behavior is unrelated to the treatment environment and is purely a sign of individual pathology. This unconscious emotional charge can precipitate a collective disturbance unwittingly involving many members of the community and fueling repetitive crises while the real causes of the crises remain outside of conscious awareness.
In our present service delivery environments, collective disturbance is almost universal. As pressures to do more and more, with increasing speed, and fewer resources have significantly magnified the stresses placed upon individual programs and providers, underlying conflicts between and within professions and fundamental and long-standing contradictions in the delivery of mental health services have also become magnified, while little if any time is allotted to resolve these conflicts. Since the typical human reaction to stress is fear and since fear elicits measures to exert control, the reaction of human systems to stress is to become even more authoritarian, more controlling, more punitive, more reactive, and – stupider. Just when environmental stress creates a need for even more integration, more critical thinking, better integration of diverse points of view, and more effective and efficient methods for responding to complex demands.
The methodology involved in creating Sanctuary is specifically designed to minimize the damage caused by destructive parallel processes and to maximize the creation and maintenance of positive parallel processes. We believe that the failure to resolve conflicts in a timely and constructive fashion at leadership levels from top to bottom is the major contributor to the development of vicarious trauma or secondary stress on the part of the staff,as well as to treatment inadequacy and failure. Sanctuary requires all members of the community to share an understanding of how trauma impacts us all and of how every individual and every group is motivated by both conscious and unconscious desires and fears. We believe that the universe is comprised as a hologram, meaning that regardless of the level of analysis we pursue, parallel processes are occurring and that the whole is reflected in all of its parts [3-4]. We also contend, along with many quantum scientists, that at a deeper level of reality, all things in the universe are interconnected.
This interconnection, including emotional interconnectedness, helps to explain why in a therapeutic milieu, a conflict between two staff members could be connected to a suicidal gesture on the part of a client that neither staff members are even working with. At the intimate level of treating traumatized children and adults, this means that creating change on one level of reality can effect change in other layers of reality. It has been our experience that increasing the health, integration, well-being, knowledge, and enjoyment of the staff changes the overall environment. Placing an injured person in such an environment helps the person to heal even if the environment lacks other resources as long as the response of the staff is sufficiently sophisticated that the staff members know how to avoid reenacting traumatic scenarios with the clients.
Human beings are designed to function as integrated organisms with memory, language, emotions, and thought all fully operational and working smoothly together. But exposure to trauma, adversity, and disrupted attachment fragment these functions and make us unable to fulfill our potential. Because this fragmentation has been so systematic, long-term, and now structural, we have no way of knowing what fully integrated human beings are like. Maybe we can still salvage a dying world but that capability lies within the scope of human groups that do not yet exist. We know from our work with individual human beings and small groups that a sense of safety is the critical component for allowing individuals and groups to function in superior ways. In the Sanctuary Model we recognize that safety does not lie solely in the physical domain. For human beings to truly feel safe we must be physically, psychologically, socially and morally safe. This requires a dedication to creating nonviolent environments that define violence and nonviolence very broadly and see the pursuit of consistent nonviolence as essential to human survival.
Not only do we human beings all too often treat ourselves, our systems, and other living things as machines, but we act in the world as if we actually understand these machines. We do so by largely focusing on and vastly oversimplifying the external manifestation of what are extremely complex, multi-determined, interactional, ever-changing processes that are flowing within each human being and every human system. Conscious awareness and rational thought are only a fragment of what is happening in the individual and the group mind at any point in time. Imagine you are in a very large room and you have no idea how large the room actually is because it is dark and all you have is a small flashlight. When you turn on the flashlight and the light picks out an object ahead of you, that point of light is all you can see. The spot of light represents our consciousness and the room – which may actually be of infinite dimensions – represents the rest of reality, our individual and collective unconscious – all that remains a mystery.
Our motivations, desires, feelings, thoughts, and actions spring from the complex interaction that occurs when environment interacts with human conscious and unconscious intentions. This complexity separates us from machines that have no conscious or unconscious awareness. Machines can be ordered, precise and controlled. Life is messy, changeable, unpredictable, and not nearly as precisely ordered (at least on the surface) – though far more complicated than any machine. It is this flexibility that allows living organisms to adapt to almost infinitely changing circumstances, something that machines cannot do.
We all come into the world with a biologically-based emotional system that becomes attuned to others through the course of our early attachment experiences. Early attachment problems as well as later overwhelming stress can leave us vulnerable to emotions that are difficult to manage. We all seek to overcome the extreme helplessness of human infancy and thus human beings are predisposed to seek power and when not properly contained, this need for empowerment can easily turn into a desire, even an addiction to exert power over others, leading to a seemingly endless cycle of oppression and revolt.
The treacherousness of early human survival primed us for a high level of aggression that is easily aroused by any sort of threat. Exposure to inadequate protection in childhood, overwhelming stress, experiences of terror all lend themselves to styles of relating to others characterized by detachment, dissociation, and a loss of empathy that can easily result in cruelty directed at others. The lack of emotional fulfillment that can only come from being loved and respected by family and friends frequently results in the substitution of possessions and money for love and this manifests as a greed, an addiction to material things, that can never be satisfied.
The internal life and external behavior of boys and girls, men and women are profoundly affected by these forces, although often in very different ways. Both genders have adjusted over the centuries in so many pathological ways that denial of helplessness and its attendant grab for power; unharnessed hatred and aggression; and a lack of loving fulfillment tends to characterize the species. Now, after several thousand years of indoctrination urging us to believe that this situation is entirely normal, there are very strong injunctions not to even imagine anything other than what exists now.
In Sanctuary, a critical goal is to be constantly working together to make that which is unconscious, conscious and to manage emotions that threaten to overwhelm our capacity to think. The clients in our care enter treatment engaging in acts of destruction that affect themselves and others, but their feelings, behaviors and the motivation behind these is largely unknown to them. We must help them become known to themselves and to us. To do this as staff, we must become known to each other and ourselves. Only when the formerly unknown is known can we be said to actually be able to exercise free will. Unconscious choice can determine reality but because it remains unconscious it remains potentially dangerous, susceptible to the forces of repetition and reenactment that so often determine the course of individual and group history. Our mission is to equip staff and clients with the means for understanding, absorbing, working through and changing the trajectory of the client’s lives and to do so we must wake them up into conscious awareness of all the choices that they are capable of making. Only then can we expect them to assume responsibility for the choices that they make.
In Sanctuary we want traumatized people to become empowered to change themselves and change the world for the better. We do not want them to privilege expressing emotions or suppressing emotions but managing emotions. To teach wounded children and adults how to use power for good, we have to figure out how to do use the power we have as adults in service of the good. Children use adults as role models, listening to what we say only if what we say and what we do is consistent. That means that the adults in the environment have to become comfortable with wielding, understanding, discussing, resolving conflicts about, and sharing power in ways that we want other people to mimic.
Whenever we make a choice we take a risk that we will be wrong, that we will make an error, a mistake. Action inevitably leads to consequences. These consequences may have no impact on existing conditions, may make things better, may make things worse, or may make some things better and some things worse. Errors happen, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. Whether conscious or unconscious, motivated by an intention to do harm or not, mistakes will be made.
As humans mature we are supposed to become increasingly better at predicting the outcome of the choices we make and based on those predictions, increasingly better at making better choices. The younger the person is, and therefore the less experienced they are in predicting the future, the more likely they are to make mistakes. Childhood should comprise a steady, intensive, progressive and sheltered process of making mistakes and learning from those mistakes. There is however, no end to the making of mistakes because reality keeps changing and previous experience does not necessarily prepare us to deal with new experiences. In this way we all remain immature, maturity being only a relative concept.
Adults can help children learn from their mistakes by deliberately constructing consequences for mistaken action. As adults, we can do the same for each other. The goal of administering consequences for someone else’s – or one’s own – mistakes should be to create an increased likelihood that the same mistake will not be made again. Unfortunately, administering consequences for mistakes usually falls under the general rubric of “punishment”: to subject a person to something negative for an offense, sin, or fault. All too often, the punishment is disconnected from the consequences of the punishment and does not meet a standard of helping to reduce further mistakes. This is particularly true when the punishment is designed more to serve the needs of satisfying the vengeful desires of those harmed than to serve the needs of the person who has made the mistake.
In Sanctuary, we believe that punishment for mistakes, as it is presently understood and meted out in our society is a foolhardy waste of time, energy, and ability that brings far more harm than good. If punishment does not bring about more positive outcomes – if the person does not learn from their mistakes but instead becomes even more likely to make more mistakes, then the punishment itself is a mistake. We believe that as living organisms we are designed to learn from our mistakes in order to get increasingly better at making choices that help and do not harm the whole. It is therefore vital that we constantly create for each other learning opportunities that reduce the likelihood of recurrent mistakes and that increase the likelihood of growth, change, and maturation.
However, important as it is to be constantly learning from our mistakes, learning consumes energy and it is in our best interest as living beings with limited life spans, to make as few mistakes as possible. We believe that there are many ways of reducing the odds of making a mistake whenever there is a choice that must be made. We see science, religion, knowledge, teachers, experience, and laws as eternal methods that human beings have evolved for reducing the risk of choice and banking the odds that an action will have a positive outcome. Unfortunately, over the course of history, human beings often have tried – and go on trying – to use these wisdom sources as an opportunity to avoid both individual and collective responsibility and in doing so, our greatest strengths frequently become our greatest weaknesses. Our sciences, our religions, our books, our teachers, our laws, and even our experiences become excuses to go on doing things that harm the whole because they become excuses to stop learning from our mistakes.
The process of creating and maintaining Sanctuary serves the endless effort of humanity to learn from our mistakes. In Sanctuary we describe methods to create safety between and among people, sufficient safety to allow us to take risks that are necessary for change to happen; to learn from the mistakes that inevitably follow at least some of those risks; and to reduce the harm to the whole, whether that whole is the body of an individual, the immediate social body, the natural environment, or the world as a whole. We do not provide easy solutions. There is no how-to cookbook for Sanctuary. Life is far more complex and changeable than that. Instead, we are attempting here to describe and lead behavior change toward basic processes that we believe are necessary to create the container within which change, even transformation, can occur with an acceptable balance of risk and safety.
Our experience has demonstrated to us that there is indeed safety in numbers. Under the right conditions, group decision-making and problem-solving helps to reduce the number of mistakes made by individuals and speeds up the process of learning from mistakes because that learning can be rapidly distributed among the group instead of having to be learned each time anew by every individual. But this kind of groups processes that are required to solve complex problems hinge upon the ability of every individual within the group to develop expertise in managing and transforming the inevitable conflicts that arise between and among human beings.
The right conditions include sufficient safety and freedom to allow individuals within a group to freely express their opinions; full participation of the individuals within a group; shared values and goals; a shared framework of meaning and practice; a clear and agreed upon vision for the future; a commitment to the well-being and integrity of the group as well as the individuals within the group; free-flowing and accurate information flow; strong but non-authoritarian leadership; educated and emotionally mature individual group members; group norms that prohibit violence and other coercive tactics; and a shared ability to manage intense emotional states, even under stress. Under these conditions, group problem-solving is usually far superior to even the brightest and the best individual expert opinion .
To create and sustain the right conditions for positive group processes, open, nonviolent communication is essential. People must feel safe to express conflict-laden topics so that the group can clear out the “elephants in the room”. Everyone must learn how to promote dialogue over discussion – the finding of shared meaning – if we are to arrive at complex reasoning and problem solving.
For us, harming the whole is anything that impedes the growth, development and health of a living being. This apparently simple definition, however, is deceptive in that actually trying to define a satisfactory state of health is something that has challenged many fine minds throughout the ages. The definition becomes ever more complex the more one tries to see the Whole. Individual human bodies are nested within families, communities, nations and the Earth. Human beings can only survive if we maintain the health of the multiple and diverse interdependent species of insects, birds, mammals, amphibians, fish, and plants upon which our life – and all life - depends. This describes a world of such complexity, such unceasing conflict and yet such interactive balance, that the human mind staggers under the weight of responsibility and choice.
So frightening, awesome, and overwhelming is this “free will” that early in our development, human beings began using our intelligence to master the other parts of the whole that surrounded us. We developed tools to help us – machines, philosophies, religions, laws – that we hoped would help us stay alive, reduce risk to ourselves, and reduce the anxiety of choice and responsibility. And these tools seemed to work so amazingly well in some ways that we forgot our limitations and we blinded ourselves to the ways in which these same tools were doing immense harm. Like drugs, the tools we developed produced immediate results that we liked, while the long-term results were easier to avoid noticing. Similar to drug abuse and the short-term pleasure and long-term toll it exacts, our addiction to controlling every part of nature has led us into a deteriorating spiral of self and other destructiveness that guarantees annihilation if we continue failing to learn from our mistakes. We have turned into control freaks and it is killing us.
When humans intervene in the delicate, amazing, miraculous balance of nature that is the Whole, we have a history of making choices that often result in harming not helping and historically we have buttressed our bad choices with any number of rationalizations instead of learning from our mistakes. Instead of learning how to live in harmony with nature – including our own nature – we have attempted to control, master, overpower and rule nature. We have come to treat each other and everything around us as a machine instead of a living being and the predictable results are indeed predictable. If you treat a living being as a machine, it will die – or it will kill you. Raising children by using very controlling measures produces children who replicate this ultimately destructive preoccupation with control. And trying to treat children who have been already traumatized by external efforts to simply control behavior is doomed to failure.
Authoritarianism is the manifestation of this controlling, mechanistic behavior directed at human beings by other human beings. People who are highly authoritarian tend to believe that there is one “right” way to do things and that whoever is in a position of authority knows and prescribes that “right” way for everyone else to follow. They believe that authority figures must be obeyed because they are authority figures and that disobedience should be punished with physical punishment if necessary. In their minds, the way things have been traditionally done in the past are generally better than any new suggestions. Anyone who disagrees with established authority is wrong and has opened themselves to well-deserved punishment and therefore it is relatively easy for an authority figure to direct the aggression of other authoritarians toward someone targeted for such punishment. They view any criticism of established authority as divisive and subversive, a sign that things are getting “out of control”. People high in authoritarian traits tend not to learn how to examine evidence, think critically, or reach independent conclusions because they have been so indoctrinated to unquestioningly accept the word of established authority .
By its nature, authoritarian behavior can be, and frequently has been, extremely dangerous to the well-being of individuals and to the Whole. Obeying a knowledgeable authority figure in an emergency can be life-saving because group obedience to a single commander promotes unified and rapid group response. But authoritarian behavior is extremely destructive to the health and well-being of a complex, constantly changing environment. The resort to traditional means and methods for addressing problems so frequently preferred by authoritarians does not necessarily provide any useful guides for dealing with challenges that have never existed before. No single authority source or authority figure can hope to sufficiently respond to the great complexity of a globally interconnected world, a constantly changing system, or even a single seriously troubled individual. The inclination to punish disobedience discourages the experimentation and risk-taking demanded by the challenges of complexity. The inability of authoritarians to exercise critical and discerning faculties that represent the best of human cognitive ability puts them at an extreme disadvantage in a world that demands such a high level of reasoning skill and thoughtful engagement with others. Most importantly, perhaps, authoritarian cognitive deficits make it highly unlikely that those with an authoritarian temperament will be able to dive below the surface of human behavior in order to understand conscious and unconscious motivation individual and group motivation and that is a dangerous deficiency.
There are a number of reasons why in Sanctuary we insist on the embrace of democratic processes. Democracy is the most successful method of nonviolence that groups of people have ever evolved. Even groups as large as nations do not engage in armed combat against each other when they are practicing democracy . Democracy is designed to minimize the abusive use of power and level the command hierarchy that so easily emerges in groups of people who are under stress .
When we use the word “democracy” in Sanctuary terms, we do not mean the simple act of voting but instead mean an attitude, an underlying organizational philosophy, what others have termed “deep democracy” or “strong democracy”. Benjamin Barber has been writing extensively about democratic processes and he describes strong democracy as:
“a distinctively modern form of participatory democracy. It rests on the idea of a self-governing community of citizens who are united less by homogeneous interests than by civic education and who are made capable of common purpose and mutual action by virtue of their civic attitudes and participatory institutions rather than their altruism or their good nature. Strong democracy is consonant with – indeed it depends upon – the politics of conflict, the sociology of pluralism, and the separation of private and public realms of action…. Because democratic politics makes possible cooperation and an approximation of concord where they do not exist by nature, it is potentially a realm of unique openness, flexibility, and promise. It is in fact the quintessential realm of change that, while it is occasioned by conflict and by the inadequacy of man’s higher nature, becomes the occasion for mutualism and the superseding of his lower nature. This is perhaps why John Dewey was moved to call democracy not a form of associated life but ‘the idea of community life itself’ (p. 117-119) .
Barber has captured in his description a number of the key points about democratic processes that are so critical even in the microcosm of a treatment setting. In such a setting, a number of people with different backgrounds [gender, ethnic, religious, racial], training experiences, knowledge bases, and roles are brought together with a common goal – to help children, adults and families recover from traumatic experiences including the trauma of mental and physical illness. But having a common goal does not mean that the treatment staff automatically share a common framework for getting to that goal and without a shared framework of meaning and implementation, treatment is likely to founder on the shoals of dissension. A treatment program is a small community that must provide a healthier environment for the people it is designed to treat, than those families and communities within which the person has already suffered. If the treatment community is not healthy, the staff will be vulnerable to engaging in destructive reenactments with the clients and with each other.
Establishing a common framework of meaning and implementation for treating psychologically injured people requires an extraordinarily high level of cooperation, flexibility, compromise, tolerance of conflict and an ability to set aside personal positions in favor of finding a workable group solution to complex problems. Such an atmosphere can be encouraged, supported, and promoted by leaders but must be self-organizing. At seven o’clock in the evening, a staff member cannot be dependent on calling in the Chief Operating Officer to settle a dispute or engage in a therapeutic intervention with a client. That staff member must be sufficiently embedded in a community of meaning that he or she has some framework for making decisions and can be reasonably sure that the decision will be in line with the overall goal of helping the child to heal.
This self-organizing methodology is in place because the staff member has had the opportunity to adopt the basic values and guiding principles of the program by routinely participating in decision making, problem-solving, and conflict resolution since the first day on the job. If the intervention fails to help or even escalates the problem, the staff member must remain confident that help will be available from other members of the treatment team and that even if he or she has made an error in timing, judgment, or policy implementation, that he or she will have the learn from the mistake, rather than simply being punished or excused. In such an environment, that staff member can also be confident that the more complex the presenting problem, the more likely it is that a plurality of opinions will be sought and synthesized in order to formulate a creative, effective and complex response.
In the Sanctuary Model we see the leveling of hierarchy as a critical component to creating and sustaining a healthy environment. We strongly discourage authoritarian behavior under normal circumstances while recognizing that in an emergency, resorting to a command structure may be vital. To create Sanctuary, leaders must be strong, able to take charge when they must, expecting accountability from others and holding themselves to the same standards, but who prefer to lead a democratic, participatory group of responsible and intelligent adults who refuse to simply be “told what to do” and who enjoy the challenges of constant innovation.
In Sanctuary, we are committed to the creation of democratic participatory environments but that does not eliminate the need for leaders. It does however, require a style of leadership that differs from a command-and-control leader who tells other people what to do and punishes them if they fail to follow orders. In Sanctuary, the role of leadership brings with it certain requirements. A Sanctuary leader must be someone who is devoted to the underlying concepts of democratic participation and who can tolerate the uncertainty and anxiety of not knowing what is going to come out of a group process ahead of time, but who trusts that the outcome is likely to be better than whatever he or she could have done alone. This necessitates a radical change for many people in management positions who have felt the burden of responsibility as having to know more than anyone else does, all the time. Instead, a Sanctuary leader facilitates a process that increases the likelihood of emergent solutions to complex problems.
In Sanctuary, leadership is a quality, not a person, and leadership therefore can be shared and can move around from person to person depending on the particular task, timing, talent, and availability. In Sanctuary there has to be an expectation that anyone can embody that quality when required and that failing to do so is a failure of job performance. This is no way means that there are no longer any clear lines of authority or accountability, but has more to do with how those lines of authority and accountability are instilled, practiced, and processed. In a Sanctuary environment, leadership is not diminished but increased and more widely distributed. In fact, there should be increased individual accountability and responsibility not less in a Sanctuary environment. No one gets “off the hook” in a Sanctuary environment: if one person fails, the entire team fails.
In the Sanctuary Model, people who assume the responsibility of leadership have a number of key roles: they must inspire vision of the near or distant future; they must be able to disturb equilibrium states and promote movement which often means creating discomfort; they must facilitate processes that keep their system – and everyone in it – alive, growing, adapting and moving. Although some people have a talent for leadership, it is a quality that can be developed and learned by those who may not be so naturally gifted and promoting such growth in colleagues is another requirement of a Sanctuary leader.
Action entails a huge responsibility that cannot be avoided by non-action which is itself an action. Living means making choices all the time and the choices we make determine whether we help or harm the whole. There are no ultimate guides, religions, books, teachers, or laws that can free us from this awesome responsibility of choice that has been known through the ages as “free will”: the ability to select a course of action as a means of fulfilling some desire.. It has become increasingly apparent in the world of quantum science, as it has been for eons in the realms of religion, politics, and the arts, that human intention may be constantly determining the nature of reality, that we may be far freer to choose the path of history than we have ever understood before.
Through the choices we make today we are determining the course of the future in our individual lives and in our collective life experience. But because it is so difficult to see the whole, we are largely unaware of the total impact of our choices as we make them. We make most of these choices in small ways that appear inconsequential until they accumulate and geometrically compound over time. In our houses of government, on Wall Street, in our businesses, schools, and homes, we are deciding every day who is going to live a life of pleasure and who is going to suffer. We are deciding whether or not the human species – and all living things – are going to survive or perish. In our treatment programs every day, we are making choices that are either going to further the healing of the people in our care – or not. But we remain largely unaware of how we are making these choices or what kind of future we are actively creating.
Considering the enormity of such responsibility is it any wonder that so many people turn to fundamentalism? Most human beings develop a conscience and accompanying that conscience is a need to see ourselves as “right” and avoid doing “wrong”. Doing what is right makes us feel good and we expect other people to reward us for doing right. Doing what is wrong makes us feel guilt - a terrible feeling - and evokes the fear of being hurt by others for doing was is wrong. Many of us long for and seek out a superior person (king, president, expert, guru, pope, savior, teacher, therapist), or a set of laws (religious, political, social), or a book (Bible, Koran, self-help book, etc), or scientific evidence (evidence-based practice, manualized treatment) that will tell us exactly what to do in any situation. If we can find an appropriate “how-to” guide than we can always do what is right and never do what is wrong. We can always feel good about ourselves and never be punished.
The problem of course is that even the most superior people remain people and therefore fallible because they are incapable of seeing, much less comprehending, the Whole and even the most superior people die and can no longer be counted on for advice. Inevitably, laws are created at a specific time, at a specific place, to meet specific needs and seemingly only certain laws of nature (gravity, taxes, death) may be immutable. Books too, even those tomes that are filled with wisdom, are bound to their own time, place, and persons and though the wisdom within them has much to teach about how to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly, they may have little to offer at critical moments when remarkably new situations require similarly new choices.
As a result, fundamentalist beliefs, though understandable and seductively useful in the short term, are inevitably and irrevocably dangerous in the long-term because they prevent us from being free to respond to changing, unique, or entirely new situations. Likewise, their tendency to emphasize, control, obedience to command and punishment for disobedience discourages the human capacity to learn from our mistakes and change course based on continuous feedback as we move into the future.
The search for justice – and what justice means – is as old as humanity and has itself a developmental history that moves from blood vengeance, to state retribution, towards concepts that revolve now around restorative justice. But for the most part our concepts of justice are built upon a bedrock notion of “free will”. What we are learning about the impact of trauma, however, indicates that for many people, their will is not free at all. It is essential that as individuals, organizations and entire societies we wrestle with this very difficult issue and fully understand the interaction between individual responsibility and social responsibility. Laws, conceptual frameworks, and our responses to injustice must change as we become better informed about the true sources of human behavior and misbehavior.
In light of the dangers of fundamentalism, we don’t want Sanctuary to become a fundamentalist belief. We use words like “creating” and “practicing” and “living” and “leading” because these are word forms that indicate the process of getting there rather than the fact of arriving. Sanctuary is always being co-created - or it is not- and our goal is to increase the amount of time we spend doing it, and minimize the time we spend doing anything else. We have a bumper sticker that declares, “Sanctuary: Not Just A Place”, because the people in our care, the staff that care for them, the families they return to and the society they grow up in need to figure out how to engage in creating Sanctuary all the time, everywhere.
In many subtle and overt ways, as we are growing up and enter adulthood, we are told that there is nothing that can be done about the human longing for power, greed, aggression, detachment and all the other human frailties. This is one of the fundamental justifications for authoritarian behavior, particularly right-wing authoritarian behavior. We are told that human beings are basically evil, or if not exactly evil, then certainly unremittingly vulnerable to nefarious urges and therefore always in need of control from “higher” – meaning more powerful and presumably knowledgeable – authorities. At work, at school, at home – people must be told what to do, kept under close supervision, held to a rigid set of standards, punished for disobeying these standards. They must learn to ignore their own feelings, intuitions and perceptions if these are in conflict with established authority to whom they are to be obedient. From childhood on most of us live, learn and work within hierarchical, authoritarian systems that punish us, often harshly and without forgiveness, for any mistakes we make and that fail to teach us how to constructively learn from our mistakes. Many of us grow up, go to school, and then continue to work and live within systems that represent the extremes of oppressive authoritarianism, environments that are overtly abusive and within which we are repetitively traumatized.
Regardless of whether we live, learn, and work within “normally” authoritarian or abusively authoritarian environments, the price we pay is a high one. Many of us do not learn to think critically, we do not learn how to challenge basic assumptions about ourselves, other people, and the world, and we do not learn how to successfully resolve conflicts. Instead, what we are told to believe about the results of human frailty become self-fulfilling prophecies. We go into new situations with negative assumptions about ourselves and others and hence automatically self-protect from the presumed harm that others may inflict. The others perceive our self-protective behavior and then react to it by assuming that we intend to harm them. Based on that interpretation, the others adopt negative beliefs about our intentions, styles and behaviors and act in ways designed to protect themselves against us. We perceive this self-protective behavior on the part of others as aggressive, confusing, frustrating, or irritating and perceive it as an attempt to block us from getting what we want. Based on this sequence of events, we become even more convinced that the negative assumptions we made about the others are correct.
Authoritarian systems, once established, work to keep things just the way they are. They fundamentally view change as a threat to the established order and to established power and systematically keep out new information that could contradict the self-fulfilling prophecies that are accepted as truth because given by a higher authority. They do their best to keep the system isolated from any influences that could foster change and in doing so they actively discourage creativity, innovation, and the questioning of established wisdom. Such systems actively engage in equilibrium-seeking processes that emphasize control, order, planning and prediction and the job of leaders in such systems is to dampen and screen out any threat to this equilibrium. They seek to maintain stability at all costs . This means that problems that already exist are likely to be repeated and thus the prophecy that human beings will always be irresponsible if they are not controlled, is self-fulfilled.
Stability of course, is not a bad thing. We all seek some degree of predictability and stability in life. Constant change can be frustrating, even maddening. The human ability to predict – and therefore avoid – danger is an evolutionary adaptation that has served us well in the past. However, life seems constantly to be presenting us with paradoxical choices and at a certain difficult-to-define point, our search for stability and predictability becomes itself pathological and non-adaptive. When a situation demands change we must engage powerful forces and allow new information into our systems and these are inherently destabilizing and unpredictable. If they were not so, they could not help to bring about change. The demands for rapid change and adaptation to new circumstances in the modern world have multiplied geometrically and the old, established, authoritarian mechanisms for dealing with change do not allow us to adapt rapidly enough to these changing demands. In a closely connected, interactive environment, change itself is complex. A positive change in one domain can easily result in a negative change in another – or a dozen others. Patterns of change and interaction under such conditions are much better described by systems that function at far-from-equilibrium conditions as described by chaos and complexity theories. Authoritarian systems are poorly designed to adapt to change since they are designed to steadfastly resist change.
If there is one thing in common that people who seek help from our social institutions share it is the need for change. In Sanctuary, we recognize that our primary goal is to bring about change. We must find ways to control the destructive manifestations of human frailty that people habitually engage in while allowing, encouraging, and even propelling change. This means that as a whole system we must constantly juggle the forces of stability and adaptation, risk and movement, creativity and unpredictability. To do such fearsome work, we must therefore develop different means of containing individual and group fear that do not rely on rigid, slow-moving, top-heavy, hierarchical authoritarian methods for coping with unpredictability.
We fully recognize, however, that all change involves loss and neither individuals nor organizations are very competent at addressing the issue of loss. Culturally, we prefer to believe that we can avoid all loss if we just play our cards right. We have lost a sense of the true tragic nature of human existence. Without tragic consciousness, we are in danger of remaining in an endless cycle of destructive blame and recrimination for all that goes wrong rather than using our energy and creativity to create a sustainable future.
We all need healing, not just the clients we are assigned to help. We live in a divided, violent world and as a species we are increasingly ill-adapted to survive while our continued existence threatens the survival of every other species on the planet. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We already know a great deal about the effects of violent actions and violent ideas. We know their viral nature and we even know how to stop the contagion but doing so will require a massive reorientation of humanity at our very foundations. The simple fact is that we can no longer allow the primitive origins of our biologically-based systems to determine our present and future actions. Helping individual victims and perpetrators of violence to heal provides us with the human laboratories for organizational healing and likewise, learning how to heal within the context of our groups lays the groundwork for social healing. It’s all about parallel processes – revealing parallel processes of recovery.
For a complex organization to function you need just the right number of principles that guide short-term, everyday conduct as well as long-term strategy. Too many rules and a system becomes rigid, inflexible even paralyzed. Too few and it becomes purely individualistic and chaotic. Out of the philosophical belief system we have just discussed, what has emerged are seven basic principles that emerged out of the group process that the team at Andrus Children’s Center participated in – and these seven principles seemed to cover all of the territory. The Seven Sanctuary Commitments represent the guiding principles for implementation of the Sanctuary Model – the basic structural elements of the Sanctuary “operating system” - and each support trauma-related goals for clients and for staff:
- A Commitment to Nonviolence – helping to build safety skills and a commitment to higher purpose
- A Commitment to Emotional Intelligence – helping to teach emotional management skills
- A Commitment to Social Learning – helping to build cognitive skills
- A Commitment to Open Communication – helping to overcoming barriers to healthy communication, learn conflict management, reduce acting-out, enhance self-protective and self-correcting skills, teach healthy boundaries
- A Commitment to Democracy – helping to create civic skills of self-control, self-discipline, and administration of healthy authority
- A Commitment to Social Responsibility – helping to rebuild social connection skills, establish healthy attachment relationships, establish sense of fair play and justice
- Commitment to Growth and Change – helping to work through loss and prepare for the future
The Seven Commitments apply to everyone. Organizational leaders must be fully committed to the process of the Sanctuary Model for it to be effective – that means the Board of Directors, Managers and Staff. If the organizational leaders do not get on-board, it will not work. But even when leaders are on-board, it is a challenging process.
We use the word “commitment” in the way that organizational theorist Chris Argyis differentiated internal from external commitments . External commitments are those that arise from contractual compliance. Basically, a person agrees to take a job and to fulfill the requirements of that job. It’s all that an organization usually gets when workers have little control or input into the decision making process. Under usual conditions, many people simply do the least they can do that will still afford them a paycheck. Internal commitment is something else altogether. When a worker in internally committed they are more likely to give the effort their best in terms of time, action, thought. Internal commitment depends on participation and true empowerment. This is a particularly important issue when the work is caretaking of very traumatized people and finding ways to help them to heal. Such work requires an emotional investment that is only present when people feel truly internally committed to the work they are doing. The reality of most work situations is that people at the bottom of the hierarchy have the least ability to influence decisions while at the same time, at least in any kind of residential setting, the highest level of internal commitment is needed from them if real change is to occur in the clients.
For organizational change to be effective, the Sanctuary Commitments must become internal commitments for each organizational member and the organization as a whole.
It is difficult to look at the Seven Commitments in isolation, but it can be useful to breakdown concepts before we put them all together. In the chapters ahead we will clarify what the commitments are and why they are relevant to trauma treatment and recovery. Essentially it is hard to imagine how many of these commitments can stand alone. If we are not equally committed to them all it is unlikely we will get much traction with any. Likewise, there is and always will be a tension between the real and the ideal. The Seven Commitments in their totality, describe an ideal environment to promote health and human welfare. But each individual and every organization must contend with current constraints posed by reality. But now, let’s flesh out what trauma actually does to people and how organizations develop processes that often run in parallel to the very people we are supposed to help.
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