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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Wakanheza Project Principle 3--Powerlessness



It is time for this week's installment about The Wakanheza Project™, and the principle we will explore today is powerlessness. According to The Wakanheza Project Agency, Business and Community Organizing Guide:



"The Initiative's violence prevention work has been built on the belief that many acts of violence arise from feeling a sense of powerlessness. When viewed through this lens, our perceptions of other people's actions at times of high stress can change immediately. Rather than viewing a stressed mother or father as a bad parent, or a young person as threatening, recognizing that the person(s) may be feeling isolated, threatened or powerless in that moment can help us to better udnerstand an respond effectively in those situations. Suggesting that acts of violence often arise from a sense of powerlessness is in no way meant to excuse violent and hurtful behavior. However, this perspective can help each of us understand what may be underlying these stressful moments, and help to develop strategies that can frequently be effective for preventing and successfully de-escalating these situations."


At the training I attended last month, one of the libraries talked about a situation where a mother, who was hearing impaired, came to the library regularly with her 4 children. The oldest kids went to the children's room, but the youngest was too young to be on her own, and had to stay with mom at the Internet station. The child never wanted to stay with her mother, and the mother was increasingly angry, frustrated, yelling, and grabbing her child roughly to make sure she did what she was supposed to do.


Staff was very troubled by this, and spent several weeks trying to figure out how to handle the situation. Eventually, 2 staff people approached the mother, and asked her to come into a quiet meeting room to talk. The mother's first response was to be very angry with the staff, but they told her that they were both moms, and understood that it can be hard sometimes. The woman immediately began to cry--telling them this was her only chance to do something for herself, don't even ask about her husband, and indicating how isolated and powerless she felt. The staff said they really wanted her to be able to continue using the library, and saw how important it was to her, but that they needed to come up with a solution to make the situation better, since it couldn't continue the way it was going.


They asked her if she had any ideas. She didn't have any right away, but when staff suggested some ideas (maybe start out the day in the children's room for a while, so the youngest child has a chance to play, and then use the computer for 1/2 hour at a time--the staff would help make sure she was able to go back to a computer and she wouldn't have to lose her chance) the woman was relieved and receptive.


Wow! Excellent illustration of this principle. Having the staff diffuse things by mentioning they also were moms and understood how hard it can be sometimes really allowed this mother a chance to let down her guard and get some help dealing with a situation that can't have been pleasant for her, either.









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