23 Jun

Orlando: How our Ideology is Killing us

Donald_Trump_and_Hillary_Clinton_during_United_States_presidential_election_2016 2

By Robert Hall – 

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.
John Stuart Mill

Orlando now joins San Bernardino, Paris, Fort Hood and many others. Attempts to understand these atrocities focus on the ideology and theology of the killers – issues around ISIS, radical Islam, and hate crimes. But those issues beg a bigger question. How have our own ideology and theology immobilized our ability to respond? We lament that the enemy does not change their ideology while we steadfastly hold on to ours, leaving us unable to act. In light of that old adage, “It’s not what happens to you, but what you do about it” – we are failing.

It is our country’s own ideological divide that makes many of today’s headlines. Presidential candidate Donald Trump accuses President Obama of stupidity, indifference or “something else.” Obama goes on a tirade denouncing Trump’s statement about Muslims. Trump retorts that Obama is angrier at him than at the Orlando shooter. Our gravest risk is not that terrorism will destroy us but that it will provoke us to destroy ourselves.

We keep asking: When are we going to wake up and take action about – fill-in-the-blank. For some the blank is filled in by stricter gun laws, limits on immigration, more effective mental health programs, or more aggressive police or military action. But as a nation we are immobilized by the depth of our disagreement. Our response is heightened worry, but not heightened action.

Our inability to agree on a holistic, strategic response means that we eventually become a part of the problem – but at least it is a part we can do something about. We have met the enemy and it is not just guns, bad guys, ineffectual military efforts or dysfunctional mental health system. The enemy is also us and our broken relationships that prevent constructive engagement and thus constructive solutions on behalf of future innocent victims. The first one or two incidents – shame on the perpetrator. The last ten, shame on them AND on us and our disabled relationships.

We may not be able to control “them” but what to do about “us”? That should be a different story but it requires leadership.

It is time for leaders and followers to stop asking: How do I convert others to think like me? The more constructive question is: What about your ideology or theology would you be willing to repurpose in order to reach a shared solution that would save lives and save our Union? What would you be willing to concede, not by forfeiting your personal beliefs, but in support of a shared higher-purpose solution for the country.

Until leaders and followers humble ourselves regarding our own imperfect beliefs, we will remain stuck. Let me suggest three keys for thinking more relationally about ideology.

Recognize broken relationships as our greatest long-term risk.
No matter how you disdain violence, loss of innocent lives, and any opposition you consider the enemy – ISIS, gun lobby, religious extremism, immigration policies – we are stuck unless we come together enough to craft solutions.

Years ago General Peter Pace, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff commented on the sectarian violence in the midst of the Iraq war:

“If the Iraqi people as a whole decided today that, in my words now, they love their children more than they hate their neighbors…this could come to a quick conclusion.”

If we could decide we love those future people who will be gunned down and blown up more than we hate our fellow citizen’s solutions, that would be the starting point.

Place relationships at the center of ideology and theology. The preamble to the U.S. constitution begins with these words: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”. Our Constitution – the supreme law of the land – seeks union. As a nation of individuals with diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and needs – the founding hope was union and relationship as the best means to serve and benefit from our diversity.

Theologically, we all have beliefs, be they faith-based or secular. I am a Christian and since that is the largest group in this country, let’s start there. In Matthew 22 Christ was asked what is the greatest commandment. His answer was relationship: Love your God with all your heart mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself. Then he added: All the law and all prophets hang on these. The Bible is the supreme law of Christianity and Christ described the law as a means to a higher purpose – relationship.

To disagree is human. To deploy our differences as weapons trained on each other is self-destructive. Making productive relationships our highest priority is crucial to creating broader, more holistic strategic solutions.

Sacrifice for the purpose of relationship. Sacrifice is the acid test of commitment. If productive relationships represent higher purpose, we must be willing to sacrifice some of our favored ideology if we are to reach common ground with those who have their own favored ideology. Remember John F. Kennedy’s famous question: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” Said differently, ask not what you can get others to do for your belief, ask what you can do to “sacrifice” for shared belief that increases safety for all. Assault rifles, immigration policy, more invasive law enforcement — it is a fool’s errand to ask others to sacrifice what they hold sacred if we are unwilling to also. The arrogance of our self-righteousness is daunting – I am righteous and of God and thou art an evil idiot. It is the ideology we disdain in our enemies and it must cheer the hearts of those who would kill us to see its disabling effect on us.

Our enemy’s beliefs and connected actions threaten our safety and our way of life. Our failure to connect our beliefs to the higher purpose of constructive relationships blocks our attempts to respond with holistic, strategic action. It is time to Relationship-up!

This was originally published on 17/06/2016 by the Huffington Post and has been re-published here with the author’s permission.

09 Jun

Relationships and Mental Health

Daughter and father

The Mental Health Foundation have released an excellent report, which you can read here, which sets out further evidence that investing in relationships is at least as important to our health and wellbeing as not smoking. Their argument, like that of Relational Thinking Network, is that  both as a society and as individuals we need urgently to prioritise relationships and tackle the barriers to forming them.

The importance of relationships for health

Looking at a range of evidence, the authors show that people who are more socially connected to family, friends, or their community are happier, physically healthier and live longer than people who are less well connected.

Indeed, a review of 148 studies concluded that:

the influence of social relationships on the risk of death are comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption and exceed the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity.

They make reference to a longitudinal Harvard study, that began in 1938 and published in the 2012 book ‘Triumphs of Experience’, that found that that relationships are the most important factors for health and happiness.

Factors causing relationship problems

The report discusses a number of inter-related factors that negatively affect relationships. For example:

  • Moving away from one’s hometown, family and friends can have a very real impact on our relationships. Moving means having to adapt to a new physical and social environment. Studies suggest that one of the biggest challenges facing individuals when they move is building relationships and connecting with others.
  • Social media and other online technologies have many positives. However, the report notes that almost half of internet uses in the UK reported that the internet had not increased their contact with friends or family who had moved away.

Indeed, while they have increase our sense of belonging, online relationships cannot replace our offline relationships.

The neurochemical response that occurs during face-to-face interactions contributes to our sense of connection, understanding and ultimately wellbeing. In other words, face-to-face communication still matters.

  • Bullying can have a negative effect on people’s health. Conversely a positive experience at school, particularly with teachers, can “act as a buffer and help protect young people during this difficult time.” This is something that Relational Schools has been researching on.
  • Loneliness and isolation are a significant issue for older people. See an earlier blog post we wrote about this here.

Actions to be taken

The report ends by calling, as the Relational Thinking Network has done, for “a sea change in thinking”. We need to not only recognise the importance of relationships, (which we instinctively do), but that we take an active approach in the way we build and maintain relationships, and to tackle the barriers that prevents strong relationships from being built.

 

04 Mar

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose?

Who-would-you-most-like-to-meet

It’s an interesting question you may have heard before or even asked others yourself: If you could invite (say) six people, living or dead, to eat at your dinner table, whom would you choose? Read what Barbra Streisand said recently when she answered the question and then tell us what you would say…

For some inspiration, why not watch the video below:

No need for my pithy thoughts: the video says it all…

Relationships matter!

By Dr Rob Loe, Director of Relational Schools. It was originally published on their website here.

19 Feb

United Breaks Guitars

Guitar

Back in 2008, singer/songwriter Dave Carroll was flying to Nebraska with his fellow band members.  As he was getting out of the plane, on a stop over in Chicago, he heard a passenger say “they’re throwing guitars out there!” Dave and his band members looked in shock as they realised that their guitars were being thrown out of luggage compartment. Indeed, his $3500 guitar was broken. Carroll filed a complaint with United Airlines, Airline, but he was informed that he was ineligible for compensation because he had failed to make the claim within its 24 hour time frame.

So Carroll, as a singer/songwriter, decided that writing a song was the only thing he could do. So he wrote a song about the incident called “United breaks guitars”. He put it up on YouTube and unfortunately for United Airlines it went viral. As of writing this it has 15,583,732 views.

After 150,000 views, United contacted Dave Carroll and offered to pay him to take the video down. He had changed his mind, however. It wasn’t about the money anymore. In fact, he suggested they donate the money to a charity.

United also discovered that “United Breaks Guitars” wasn’t just a single song. It was part of a trilogy. Furthermore, soon Carroll was doing interviews, there were parody videos and now there is even a book! This wasn’t just embarrassing publicity for United Airlines, the BBC reported that United’s stock price dropped by 10% within three to four weeks of the release of the video – a decrease in valuation of $180 million!

This story clearly shows the powerful impact that social media can have. It is also an illustration of the importance of good stakeholder relationships. Just one bad relationship with a customer cost United Airlines millions of dollars. While most bad stakeholder relationships don’t cost a company millions of dollars, their importance and the risk if they go wrong, is undeniable. Yet despite the potential for most companies do not measure or manage their stakeholder relationships.

In a recent interview with Global Reporting initiative, Mervyn King, Chairman of the International Integrated Reporting Council, argues:

“Companies need to be informed about the needs, interests and expectations of their stakeholders throughout the year and when they’re strategizing, otherwise the oversight that they have over management and its strategic proposals is not an informed oversight. At every board meeting there should be an agenda item that wasn’t there before: ‘Stakeholder Relationships.’”

According to King therefore, the boards of many companies are carrying out uninformed oversight. Therefore, for proper accountability and informed oversight, companies must be informed properly about their stakeholder relationships.

Some might see this simply as another unhelpful addition to all that companies have to do. However, proper management of stakeholder relationships can be a huge force for value creation. For companies that begin a dialogue with their stakeholders can develop a strategy that is much more informed. Furthermore, through such a dialogue, and through relationship measurement, companies can increase the levels of trust in their relationships with their stakeholders. This trust brings confidence, sustainability and innovation. So while companies will want to manage the risk in their stakeholder relationships to prevent any negative outcomes, investing in these relationships, measuring them and beginning a dialogue can drive a company forward and increase its value.

Photo: Guitar (by Shane Adams on Flickr)

28 Oct

Giving increases wellbeing

Hands

Making time for people brings us happiness on the side. That’s what I wrote in my post on 20th Feb 2015, “In pursuit of happiness”. But just how powerful is this link? Are we really better off when we give into the lives of others? Are other people better off? Are we all as a community better off?

We can test it out by looking at data from the ‘Citizenship Survey.’ Over 38,000 people in England and Wales were interviewed face to face between 2007 and 2011. They were asked questions about their giving, and also about their community. The Citizenship Survey also included official statistics regarding the deprivation levels of every ward in which the people were interviewed. With this data then, we can make some credible assessments regarding whether giving behaviors in a region relate to how well those regions are doing (see fig.1).

Giving Charter - article Lorna Zischka

Fig1: The correlations between giving behaviors and community welfare (all correlations are statistically significant).

Key:Table LZThese diagrams give a flavor of just how closely giving behaviors are linked to community wellbeing. Firstly we see that giving and trust go together. ‘Giving’ sends a message of care for others, which is a trustworthy behavior and stimulates trust in others. Having said that, ‘giving’ and ‘trust’ are also mutually reinforcing and neither is likely to keep going for long without the other. Secondly we see how giving is linked to reduced deprivation. For a start giving is a way of counteracting deprivation and so people in giving/supportive networks are likely to be doing better than people without them. As before though, ‘giving’ and ‘low deprivation’ might also be mutually reinforcing; well situated people in a pleasant social environment are freed up to give.  (Source: Citizenship Survey data, 2008-2011. Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Supplied by the UK Data Archive. Calculations drawn from a paper presented by Zischka at ‘Relational Academics,’ September 2015, Cambridge.)

We can test the same trust and deprivation data against other variables that might potentially explain why welfare differs in different regions. Try for example average income, health, education, employment or ethnic mix – all of which are known to be important social variables affecting welfare. The data indicates that none of these could predict trust and deprivation quite as precisely as giving behaviors could. In other words, whether or not people ‘give’ is right up there with the very most important socio-economic indicators of wellbeing.

And these figures are just a start. Many other studies have been carried out to show that people who give time or money away to others actually feel better afterwards than those who spend that same time or money on their own private consumption. Personal consumption makes people feel good for the moment, but (unless that consumption is essential to life) the feeling does not last for long. However, small, repeated expenditures of time and money with or for other people stack up to a greater sense of wellbeing over time.

So why is this? What is it about giving that makes such a difference? The key is the link between giving and relationship. Relationships take time and money to build, and they won’t go far without a bit of give and take. Giving, when it comes down to it, is an indication that the giver is including other people in the decisions they make over the way they spend their time and money, and it’s this consideration for others that comprises the heart of relationship. To turn this around, we can tell how good a relationship is by whether or not a person is putting time and money into others instead of spending exclusively on him or herself. Good relationships and giving people go with better outcomes for the community. Note that giving does not guarantee a return to the giver, and to expect one is to miss the point, but we can see that our giving makes the world a little bit better for someone else. This leaves the eternal question of priorities for every individual to grapple with: what really matters to me, me or us? We shouldn’t just be looking at what we get out of the system – let’s also measure what we put into it!

By Lorna Zischka

 

21 Oct

Watch: Relational Thinking – What’s the big idea?

Michael Schluter

The Relational Thinking International Conference last month provided a great opportunity for leaders in business, the non-profit and public services sector to come together to explore the concept of Relational Thinking in their particular fields. The first full day of the conference began with a talk by Dr Michael Schluter CBE, the founder of the Relational Thinking movement, explaining the big idea.

 

04 Sep

What is on the agenda for Relational Leadership? Values and skills for navigating relational risk

Two business men shaking hands at international business meeting.

Written by Marie-Anne Chidiac and Sally Denham-Vaughan from Relational Change, an organisation that promotes a relational approach in all walks of life.

In the April issue of this blog, Robert Hall, one of the speakers at the rapidly approaching Relational Thinking International Conference, introduced the topic of Relational Leadership, reminding us that if you can get “the right WHO” in a leadership position, the agenda of “WHAT”, (direction, strategy), will emerge in a qualitatively different, and urgently needed, way: a way that is, we believe, much more aligned with a sustainable future for our planet.

At Relational Change, we believe this change in focus from tasks first to people first cannot come quickly enough if we are to genuinely develop our leadership capacity and gain more understanding of what motivates and sustains people. Indeed, our relational approach to coaching and consulting work was prompted by the experience of trying to support organisations where people were floundering due to unrealistic, unsustainable, task-driven leadership practices that viewed staff as a particularly tricky part of the operational chain: unpredictable, emotional and prone to erratic behaviour according to changing cultures and contexts!

For example, in health care, we found numerous examples of staff, particularly senior staff, ignoring ‘evidence-based’ guidelines, not because they didn’t know or understand the guidelines, but because they believed that the “evidence” did not necessarily apply to the specific case or context. By doing this, these staff knowingly put themselves in a risky situation, but nonetheless, they strongly believed this was the ‘right’ thing to do. On closer inquiry, all these staff could cite many important reasons that led them to deviate from the guidelines, with these reasons focussed on the specific relationships, culture and contexts.

Similarly, in his book ‘Adapt’, Tim Harford cites numerous examples of leaders from a wide range of backgrounds, (including government, the American Army, Corporate Business and Education), ‘deviating’ from pre-agreed plans and strategies in favour of responding to the immediate relational context. Vitally he demonstrates that all these leaders needed to deviate, in order to deliver a successful, safe and appropriate outcome.

But, we are not advocating an anarchic anything goes/do what feels right, sloppiness.  Design, plans and pre-agreements give us a sense that we have a clear vision of the way forward, the skills to meet demand and reassuringly, a sense of control and agreement. When problems come in the complex shape and size of climate change, wealth inequity, migration and ever growing demands for health care, (to name a few), some sense of a way through is essential.

So we would want to highlight what is often, and unhelpfully we believe, seen as a tension between the ‘soft/people’ focussed aspects of leadership, and the need for clarity, transparency, focus and task attainment at work. We believe this polarisation is misguided; ‘relational’ in our book implies a contextually sensitive approach that recognises our profound inter-connection and inter-dependence. Not an approach where we are focussed on being ‘nice’ to each other, but one that recognises that our relationship with both the people and environment around us leads directly to the emergence of behaviour in the moment. This is what we saw happening in our health care situations and large global challenges will demand ever more complex collaborations that appreciate why people are behaving in these “unpredictable, deviant and erratic” ways.

Sadly, most leadership trainings do not emphasise the extent of personal development required for a leader to manage the complexity of such a relational approach. Boundaries can become less clear and contemporary leadership requires skills in ‘how to be’, how to respond and how to navigate the range of relational risks that are revealed through the necessary numerous collaborations.

At Relational Change, our theory and experience is that competence in the Relational approach is achieved by attending to three main, interconnected frameworks involving self, other and the situation, (Denham-Vaughan & Chidiac 2013, Clark et. al. 2014). Accordingly we have evolved our “SOS” model, which includes the three domains and also has global recognition as a call for assistance: lone heros’ are unlikely to survive!  Developing insight and skills in each of these three domains develops leaders with genuine Presence; able to use themselves and their relationships to leverage maximum effect in a range of challenging situations.

In our experience of coaching and consulting, we observe that being “relational” as a leader/manager requires tough skills of personal awareness, sensitivity to context and emotional attunement with others. Equally important are skills in recognising the relational risks arising from these closer collaborations and fuzzier boundaries, and being able to dialogue authentically about these in order to support and sustain change.

References:

Clark, M. Denham-Vaughan, S and Chidiac, (2014) M-A. “A relational perspective on public sector leadership and management”, The International Journal of Leadership in Public Services, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 4-16.

Denham-Vaughan, S. “The Liminal Space and Twelve Action Practices for Gracious Living”, British Gestalt Journal, (2010), 19, (2), 34-45

Denham-Vaughan, S. and Chidiac, M-A. “SOS: A relational orientation towards social inclusion”. (2013), Mental Health and Social Inclusion, 17, (2), 100-107

Harford, T. “Adapt”, (2011), Little, Brown, London UK.

 

08 Jul

Why money can’t buy well-being

friendship

Iceland. A nation of geysers, vulcanoes, its people and financial systems shaken up by a banking crisis and with very satisfied people. At least, according to a study by the UK based Office for National Statistics (ONS) into the general well-being of countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It’s an interesting study that once more underlines that it’s not all about the money. It cannot buy happiness or life satisfaction.

The report underlines this by highlighting that although all OECD countries have experienced an increase per capita since the economic crisis set in, “life satisfaction scores have not recovered to pre-economic downturn levels for more than half of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries”. This includes the UK that saw a nearly 5% increase in GDP per capita but not more satisfied people between 2007 and 2014.

The idea that prosperity and money were intrinsically connected came up after WWII and while the world worked in its recovery, it held true. Until in the 60s when other voices started questioning this proposition, as they were calling for other things to be valued such as human rights and the environment. This ‘change of mindset’  is captured in a well-known quote from Robert F. Kennedy from his speech at the university of Kansas in 1968:

“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”.

Although not immediately recognized, Kennedy had a point Harvard Business Review says in an article called “The Economics of Wellbeing”: “It gives succinct voice to almost all the major criticisms of GDP. The three main strands have been these: (1) GDP is, even on its own terms, a faulty measure; (2) it takes no account of sustainability or durability; and (3) progress and development can be better gauged with other metrics.” The last point has especially received support since his 1968 speech. Especially from those involved in the field of behavioral economics and the psychological research connected to it.

But where money cannot buy happiness or life satisfaction, it can help to create and sustain it through things like the delivery of services, access to good education and health care. The long queues in front of the banks in Greece and panicking pensioners, not knowing whether they will receive their pension this month, is a very current and clear illustration of this.

Checking in: How are you doing? 

The ONS compiled and organized data from different countries in a range of areas, from education to health and from employment to relationships. Regarding the latter the OECD is quoted as saying that “beyond the intrinsic pleasure that people derive from spending time with others, social connections have positive spill-over effects for individual and societal well-being. People with extensive and supportive networks have better health, tend to live longer, and are more likely to be employed”.

In the area of relationships/social networks the ONS gathered data around three questions:

  1. All things considered, how satisfied are you with your family life? A) Completely satisfied; B) Very satisfied; C) fairly satisfied.
  2. How satisfied, on a scale from 1 (being the lowest) – 10 (being the highest), are you with your social life?
  3. Who would give you support if you needed advice about a serious personal or family matter?

Why don’t you let us know how you score on these three points by emailing us at office@relationalresearch.org? In a few weeks’ time we will then report the results and give a ‘real time’ idea of how Relational Thinkers score when it comes to their relationships. Of course we’ll handle every contribution on the basis of anonymity.

22 May

Changing the Game for Drug Addicts

drugs for web

In January, we posted an article that briefly discussed a new book by Johann Hari about drug addiction. Today, Andre Van Eymeren, who worked for one of our member organisations ‘Partnering for Transformation’, writes a more in depth article based on Hari’s work.

What comes to mind when you think of drug addiction? Spaced out people, down and outers, alley ways littered with tags and needles, mental health issues, violence, the drain on society, people experiencing a lack of purpose and meaning, runaways. I guess for the most part the term conjures up fairly negative images and causes us to hold people suffering from drug addiction at arms length or further.

Some of the outcomes can of course be very scarey. People addicted to Ice for example can become violent at the slightest (perceived) provocation and the researchers are saying that the drug even begins to change brain chemistry. Currently they are not sure if this is reversible. All of this paints a pretty grim picture.

Enter into this dark landscape an article by Johann Hari, featured recently in  The Huffington Post. Based on the research for his book, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, he “learned… that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.”

For Hari the journey has been a very personal one, beginning as a child trying to wake up a relative and not being able to. From that time he has mulled as I’m sure many of us have on what causes some people to become fixated on a drug or a behavior until they can’t stop? Learning from friends who have first hand experience, the pain of seeing a loved one battle with the ups and mostly downs of addiction and attempting to loose themselves from it and falling over and over again is excruciating. And in no way to blame them, for self-protection, eventually most family and friends remove themselves from the lives of the addicted person. Unfortunately this tends to have the effect of further cementing a lifestyle of addiction.

Hari writes, “if you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: ‘Drugs. Duh’” As you would be aware drugs have a strong chemical hook and so if we were to take them for a period of time and suddenly stopped the belief is our body would crave them.  This theory was established through tests on rats, carried out in America. A rat placed in a cage on its own with two water bottles, one plain water, the other laced with heroin or cocaine. Time and time again the rat would become obsessed with the latter bottle till essentially it killed itself.

In the 1970’s some alternate experiments were run by, Vancouver Professor of Psychology, Bruce Alexander. He built what came to be known as Rat Park. This cage had coloured balls, the best rat food, tunnels and friends. And again the two bottles were set up. This time the results were significantly different. The rats residing at Rat Park mostly shunned the drug laced water bottle, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. None of the rats living in the second happy environment became heavy users.

According to Hari and the studies he uses as evidence, returning soldiers from the Vietnam war provided a useful human equivalent. Many soldiers on deployment (20%) understandably used drugs to combat fear etc. When they returned 95% of that 20% simply stopped without the use rehab. What was different? Their environment. From being terrified everyday the soldiers returned to relatively pleasant home lives which left the need for the drug redundant.

Professor Alexander made a fascinating observation challenging the view that drugs are a moral failing as well as the more liberal opinion that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. He argues that addiction is an adaption. It’s got more to do with your environment than what is going on inside you. Of course your reactions to your environment may be another story. He re-ran the old experiments with the isolated rats, they became hooked, then he placed them in Rat Park and after a few twitches they got on with a happy life, addiction free, with no desire for the drug.

A further case for this theory of addiction is pain relief in hospital. For severe pain, patients effectively receive heroin at a much higher purity and potency than addicts on the street. After months of use hospital patients can simply stop. It virtually never happens that a patient then transfers their addiction to the street and they leave hospital trying to score on the way home. But the same drug wreaks havoc in the lives of users on the streets.

Hari points out, “…the drug is the same but the environment is different.” The hospital patient for the most part is going home to an environment where they are loved and cared for. The street user suffers continual isolation and rejection.

The issue then, according to Professor Peter Cohen, is not the drug but human bonding. We are created to bond to others, to form attachment, relationship. If these essentials go missing then we will bond with other things. For some this includes drugs of all sorts and others gambling and alternate addictive behaviours.

If we accept this theory of addiction then it is a huge challenge to the way we work with addicts. By in large the social services are not equipped to adapt to a relational approach to service delivery. Professionalisation of care and the perceived need for professional distance has meant in some cases a de-personalisation, particularly around people with complex needs, which are often compounded by drug addiction.

If we are to believe the points that Hari raises and take on board people’s need for bonding relationships, then as service providers the concern will not only be for the individual but for their network of relationships, their community if you like. Now many of these might be burnt but focusing on their relational web will be a starting point in the recovery process. Quite often people addicted to drugs will find themselves homeless and in boarding houses. How can housing providers work to ensure positive environments where relationships and attachments will form, which will negate the need for the drug. In Melbourne there are an increasing number of rooming houses that focus these concerns. Servants of Hawthorn and Magpie’s Nest are two examples.

This approach to working with people addicted to drugs also provides a window for churches, Rotary, Lions and other welfare minded community organisations. People with addictions often need new networks of relationships, opportunity to connect with people who will share life and journey with them. Obviously if there are family and friends left in the addict’s life who can provide these relationships in a positive environment that is a better option. But if these relationships have been burnt alternate connections are needed.

As humans we have an innate need to connect meaningfully with others, why then do we seem to have the propensity to deny this connection to people who it could be argued need it the most?