Here we are again, Ken, beginning a conversation about… relationships, relationship therapy, our clients, our colleagues, our mentors, our supervisees, mentees and students. Our community, our world. Ourselves. We started this conversation over fifteen years ago, and I find myself reflecting on how much has changed. Remember when we were all going to party like it’s 1999, that is when we weren’t freaking out about the possibilities of Y2K blowing up all the technology…? It seems so quaint now. I met you when I joined the MAMFT Board in 2000, and it wasn’t long before you asked me to join you as co-editor of the newsletter, which you deftly created on your Mac, got printed and mailed out. Sara Wright co-edited the newsletter with you before me, and before that Bean Robinson was Sara’s co-editor. I remember when they asked me and Ginny D’Angelo to write a review of a workshop by a young up-and-coming family therapist named Ken Hardy.
It seems impossible that I have known you since before 9/11, because that seems like a lifetime ago now. It changed so many things. Remember when we could go out to the gate and send off our loved ones as they boarded their plane? Remember when kids didn’t have “play dates,” when parents just told them to go out and play? Grandparents recently told me in a session that their son, who lives in Edina, believes someone would call the police if he let his 8-year-old walk unaccompanied to the park at the end of his block. Of course no one would be surprised if that same child spent the average seven hours a day looking at a screen. It’s a whole new context for families these days.
Likewise our MFT association. I enjoyed the last newsletter, reflecting on the history of our vibrant Minnesota division of AAMFT as we move into fully independent status. Finally we can belong to MAMFT without having to join the national association, something people have requested for years. It was good to see the new faces on the Board as well as the names of past MAMFT presidents going back to the mid-80s – including both of us. I appreciated the passion expressed by new President Megan Oudekerk and others about our thriving family therapy community both in the Twin Cities and in GREATER Minnesota, and Lucas Volini’s reflections on some of the courageous innovators who are our MFT ancestors. I hope people are going online and reading the newsletter. Christine Dudera is doing an excellent job as Editor.
I guess it’s just as another sign of age that I wish I could still hold it in my hands.
Now that the Newsletter is only online (saves a lot of money), how many members read it compared to those who read the printed version before? Just wondering. We get the Star Tribune and the New York Times newspapers, the Strib, daily, the Times, Sundays. I like the printed word on paper. Sure, I access both newspapers online, but I still prefer the printed version with coffee cup stains, crumbs, and a full layout. And, we still have a landline. We have friends who gave up their landline and now it seems impossible to reach them on their cell phones; it seems easier for people to ignore calls on their cell phones – if they even talk on the bloody phones anymore instead of #~%*+ texting! Sheesh! Changing times. More and more I feel like some curmudgeon. Of course, I was born in 1945 in the Truman Administration.
So, there you are. Budgets shrink, organizations morph, but people are still folks – with worries, difficulties, misunderstandings, infidelities, and anxieties. We’re still needed. And, I still enjoy my therapy practice and I think I provide value to my patients – they’re still coming back.
You and I go back a long way. We have history. I tell my students and supervisees that when they’re stuck, get more history, more of the story. I still hold by that simple idea. Of course, being stuck in therapy can be due to many things – the wrong frame for the problem, the wrong questions because of the wrong frame, inadequate information because of the wrong questions, or misleading information because it’s too narrow a focus – back to needing more of the context, more of the story.
That’s how we like to distinguish ourselves as family therapists – the wisdom of the importance of the system. But, we’ve even transcended that notion of the “family system”. Now we know it’s the individual and family story – the evolving narrative (thanks to Michael White and David Epston, and Harlene Anderson and Harry Goolishian). Or it’s the insecure attachment (thanks to Sue Johnson and John Bowlby). New metaphors and theories that are useful and open up more possibilities beyond the ones we’ve used before. Good. As the hymn goes, “New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth.” New metaphors, new theories, new ways of seeing and doing are ever evolving and we are better for the most part.
We can still question what we know and how we know it – that kind of epistemological wisdom it still very much alive and well. Thank God (or ‘the universe’ or ‘higher power’ or our ‘rational minds’).
Enjoying the printed page, the crinkle of the newspaper as you hold it in your hand – as opposed to the convenience and accessibility of reading the NYT online – makes me think about the virtual world we, and our clients, spend so much time in now. Are we mindfully choosing it? Are we considering what is getting lost? This is where our work, as relationship healers, seems more crucial than ever before. Trust, attachment, empathy – these are not to found online. There is nothing virtual about love. It’s the real deal.
People seem to be spending less and less time with their own thoughts. So much simpler to pull up our newsfeed, follow our favorite #twitter-ers, fall down the rabbit hole of Facebook. Could it be that one day, maybe in the not-so-distant future, people will be unable to recognize their own thoughts? Not know what they believe, separate from others, not know their own ideas, their own intuitions? This is Big Brother at its scariest, and we stand at the threshold of what once seemed like fantastic science fiction.
The relationship with Other and the relationship with Self – these need our attention, compassion, care and love more than ever. Maybe we don’t need the Newsletter in hard copy. But I’ll choose the hard copy, the landline, of relationships every time.
Flesh and blood versus virtual reality – muscle and blood or pixels and code, hummm. I see people walking in airports or down the street looking at their bloody phones instead of what’s around them. In Germany they have warning signs printed just before the crosswalks because so many people are looking down at their phones instead of up and around. Good grief. It may be a millennial thing, but it affects other generations as well.
Relationships that we can touch, smell, see in moment in front of us – that’s what matters most. But, if we can’t, friends and family are at a distance – in Afghanistan or Japan, Florida or Maine, we can be in touch via Skype or Face Time – the next best. So, we have alternative methods, thanks to the digital age, of being in touch. But each new technology has its marvels and it’s downsides. Same for about every new technology – the technology can enhance and connect, or numb and disconnect. Pay attention. What is the temptation and price of convenience?
Ken Stewart and Brier Miller