Finding our Voice in a Divided Nation
Our country’s social system is strained. In the American Psychological Association’s (2017) most recent Stress in AmericaTM Survey, data finds the United States to be at its lowest point of stress-related health in recent history. 63% (n=3,440) of respondents reported the future of our nation as being a “very significant” or “somewhat significant” source of stress, slightly outweighing the expected stresses of finances (62%), work (61%), and all other measured variables. Across age groups, 59% of respondents further reported belief that this is the lowest point in our nation’s history and endorsed feeling stressed when thinking about the current social divisiveness. As systemic scholars and practitioners, our unique skillset as Marriage and Family Therapists provide us with the tools necessary to expand our service beyond the clinical space and into the larger social system. As a professional association representing Marriage and Family Therapists and allied mental health professionals, there is a call to responsibility in taking action. In doing so, however, we must remain aware of the many challenges inherent to a professional association speaking out on the highly sensitive political issues at the core of our many divisions.
As a board, we’ve remained engaged in dialogue around this very topic. Although we unanimously agree that it’s time for our voice to be heard, we want to ensure our language reflects the essence of our practice. We are aware that the diversity of our professional network does not share a political identity any more than the diversity of clients we are here to serve. With that in mind, the voice we aim to find will not be driven by partisanship or party-politics, but instead, embody our systemic approach to assessing dysfunction within human systems. Instead of aligning with one perspective on any given issue over another, we will aim to offer an equanimous voice that brings meaning to the dynamics that fuel the divide, the meaning systems and values that inform each stance, and the barriers that remain in the way of collective progress toward greater, collective health. We will aim to identify the rules that govern the interactional dynamics that have pushed us further away from one another, and offer solutions to disrupt problematic patterns in ways that open our system toward second and third-order cybernetic change. In such aspiration, it is important to acknowledge that the internal health of our professional association has some healing to do of its own…
As a board, we remain committed to our direct membership, the profession of MFT both within the state and at large, and in turn, the consumers of our service. In living up to our commitment, we have been listening. In our listening, we have learned that some MN-MFTs believe that MAMFT leadership has historically (and presently) reflected the majority white-Christian culture of Minnesota, leaving little room for the voices of those who may hold social positions outside that mainstream. In parallel, we have learned that some MN-MFTs believe that MAMFT leadership reflects a progressively-liberal agenda with little room for the voices of those holding traditionally conservative viewpoints. These opinions have not been expressed by just one individual, but several from either side of the aisle. From a statistical perspective, both of these viewpoints can’t simultaneously be true as they are presented in ways that seemingly stand in contradiction to another. Nonetheless, in the groundlessness of socially-constructed realities they both seem to exist.
As we consider these stated concerns, we remain curious…
- Do these statements suggest that individuals can’t identify with various identifications that may land on either side of these divided statements? For instance, can an individual not be Caucasian, Christian, and progressively liberal in their political leanings? Can an individual holding social positions outside of historically normative populations not also maintain some traditional, conservative viewpoints?
- Do these statements suggest that the assumed demographic makeup of the board determine the values and mission of the board?
- Do these statements suggest that the board itself remains unaware of its current makeup and representation, neglecting to maintain dialogue on how elected leadership continues to emphasize the need of our board to represent the diverse interests of our membership?
- Perhaps most importantly, what is it that’s seen as standing in the way of our membership and MN-MFTs bringing these concerns directly to the board, whether that’s at our monthly meetings that always have an open door, or in writing through our quarterly newsletter?
As systems tend to function, it seems that many of the dynamics contributing to dysfunctional communication and divides in the larger macrosystem have manifested our professional association. In my greatest capacity to remain a careful observer, I can report that MAMFT walks the walk in its dedication to keeping an open-door policy. I’ve witnessed MAMFT’s sincerity in its eagerness to hear from our membership, and in keeping its ongoing invitation for critical feedback that challenges our board toward growth. As a board, it is clear that we have our own learning and growth ahead–but we cannot learn from what remains unspoken. So as we keep the door open, we hope that more individuals can actualize the will to engage difficult, uncomfortable conversations that bring us into the realm of meaningful change and evolve our association into a system of nonrelative inclusivity.
This statement to our membership is not only an effort to remain transparent in the major conversations that entail much of our board meetings, but also an extended invitation to join a needed dialogue. As we enter these unchartered territories of community outreach, aware of the challenges ahead and determined to heal divides as we progress toward greater relational health, let’s do so with courage and grace. Let’s do so in ways that remain grounded in cybernetics and the importance of remaining detriangulated from systemic conflict as being an essential feature of healing divides. Let’s do so in ways that balance the many feelings of intense passion at the core of these social issues with a critical consciousness of thoughtfully crafted interventions that target 2nd and 3rd order cybernetic change throughout the macrosystem. Let’s not abandon what serves us well in the clinical space. And let’s absolutely remain true to our code of ethics that protects our profession as much as it protects the citizenship.
If you find yourself taking issue with the use of language in how these topics are addressed moving forward, bring that dialogue to the table. If you find yourself challenged by a particular stance taken, bring that dialogue to the table. If you remain troubled by your observations of how you experience our professional association’s execution of its mission, bring that dialogue to the table. And if you’re already bothered by the premise of this very initial statement, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s talk about it, directly. Myself, along with the board, are coming into this with the same good intention we provide our clients, and the same openness to learn from each other along the way–something to keep in mind as we engage one another.
So let’s begin to detriangulate our professional association. Let’s begin to manifest constructive communication and relational health within our association in ways that reflect our work with client systems. Let’s do something different, something new, something significant. These initial statements will not be written in stone or delivered with an iron hammer, but instead, launch conversations that evolve in relation to the diversity of voices expressed along the way. In the essence of marriage and family therapy, let’s remember that we learn in community—a most sacred learning that remains dependent upon diverse perspectives being expressed and heard. Just as we’ve observed throughout history, the sacred learning that moves toward collective change while breaking the patterns that perpetuate dysfunction, disconnection, and division.
I’ll end this in reflection of Dr. Bill Forisha’s visionary words, that “family therapy is for more than just families.” Let’s turn that vision into reality and play our part in the healing of our strained Democratic-Republic.
In the meantime, here’s to keeping the door open…
-Lucas Volini on behalf of MAMFT’s Board of Directors.
American Psychological Association (2017). Stress in America: The State of our Nation. Stress in AmericaTM Survey. www.stressinamerica.org
To read the complete review of APA’s findings, visit: http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/state-nation.pdf