Abstract: This is a prevention protocol. The skills, protocols, techniques and procedures that are used in Cognitive Behavior Management can be used proactively to promote balanced and rational thinking and prevent problems in living. Greenberg, et al.1 have provided a report that identifies critical issues and themes in prevention research with school-age children and families through review and summary of the current state of knowledge on the effectiveness of preventive interventions intended to reduce the risk or effects of psychological disorders in school-age children. The beginning section is a liberal adaptation of the initial section of that report and will provide the basis for the discussion of Culture Restructuring.
“Serious antisocial behavior in children and adolescents constitutes a significant problem in children’s mental health services and may be one of the most serious public health challenges in American society” [Earls, 1989; Prinz & Miller, 1991]. In fact aggressive and violent behaviors, whether identified as mental health issues or not, are increasing among children in America. “Although many children and adolescents occasionally exhibit aggressive and sometimes antisocial behaviors in the course of development, an alarming increase is taking place in the significant number of youth who confront their parents, teachers, and schools with persistent threatening and destructive behaviors” [Rutherford, Jr. & Nelson, 1995].
Worse, perhaps, is our society’s inability to address these issues. According to Koyanagi & Gaines, in All Systems Failure – 1993, all of our systems have failed. “Over the past twenty years, numerous reports have chronicled the lack of appropriate services to meet the needs of children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbance. These previous studies report that children in need of mental health care often do not receive it or receive care that is inappropriate or inadequate [italics added].” The studies also cite a lack of coordination across agencies for meeting the needs of these children.
“The Joint Commission on the Mental Health of Children , the President’s Commission on Mental health , the Office of Technology Assessment , the Institute of Medicine  and the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families  all concur that there are too few resources and that too many of the services which do exist are uncoordinated, inefficient and ultimately ineffective [italics added].
In 1989 the National Governor’s Association declared that what is needed is a commitment to translate existing knowledge ‘into an effective system to assist these children and their families in a comprehensive manner.”
Finally, the President’s Freedom Commission Report of 2003 has echoed the problems of all prior reports. Entitled optimistically Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America – it reports:
… For too many Americans with mental illness, the mental health services and supports they need remain fragmented, disconnected and often inadequate, frustrating the opportunity for recovery. Today’s mental health care system is a patchwork relic – the result of disjointed reforms and policies.
And, we might add, the result of failed and destructive technology. In fact, the frequency of lying, cheating, stealing, fire setting, fighting, noncompliance and oppositional behaviors are growing at an exponential rate in our society. Models of such behavior without consequences abound in adult settings ranging from athletics to politics. Each child who reaches adulthood with cognitive processes and rationales that justify such behaviors, in turn models such behavior for their progeny and others. Even the professionals providing remedial services model punitive and coercive means through attempts to gain control. Thus, mental health professionals use coercive methods to gain compliance and schools seek punitive methods to “stay in control”.
Saving our children and our children’s children from such an antisocial culture will require more than a simple response; it will require a revolutionary transformation of the way adults present themselves to children; a systematic method to deal with prevention, development and remedial actions in a manner which alters adult behavior while consciously addressing the needs of the child.
I. CURRENT ISSUES AND THEMES IN PREVENTION RESEARCH
In the last decade prevention has moved into the forefront and become a priority for many federal agencies in terms of policy, practice, and research. This shift began with a report by the National Advisory Mental Health Council (1990) and is reflected in the combined work of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, 1993) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM, 1994). More recently, the National Advisory Mental Health Council Workgroup on Mental Disorders Prevention Research (NIMH, 1998) outlined a number of priorities and recommendations for research initiatives in prevention science.
The Need for a Preventive Focus in Child Psychological Development
Interest in prevention is also reflected in the goals that have been set for the nation’s health. One of the original objectives of Healthy People 2000 was to reduce the prevalence of psychological disorders in children and adolescents to less than 17%, from an estimated 20% among youth younger than 18 in 1992 (DHHS, 1991). As of 1997, the summary list of psychological objectives for Healthy People 2000 included reducing suicides to no more than 8.2 per 100,000 youth (aged 15-19) and reducing the incidence of injurious suicide attempts among adolescents to 1.8% and, more specifically, to 2.0% among female adolescents (DHHS, 1997). A number of other objectives were related to child and adolescent mental health. One of the risk reduction objectives in the Violent and Abusive Behavior category was to reduce the incidence of physical fighting among adolescents aged 14-17 from a baseline of 137 incidents per 100,000 high school students per month to 110 per 100,000 (DHHS, 1997). Two additional objectives in this category were to increase to at least 50% the proportion of elementary and secondary schools that include nonviolent conflict resolution skills and to extend violence prevention programs to at least 80% of local jurisdictions with populations over 100,000 (DHHS, 1997). Greenberg suggested that it was unlikely that these goals would be met by the year 2000. It is also unlikely that these goals have been met today.
There is growing concern in our country as increasing numbers of children and adolescents are having difficulty managing the challenges of development. Between 12% and 22% of America’s youth under age 18 are in need of psychological services (National Advisory Mental Health Council, 1990), and an estimated 7.5 million children and adolescents suffer from one or more mental disorders (OTA, 1986). In addition to the personal suffering experienced by children with emotional or behavioral problems and their families, mental health disorders also have a tremendous cost to society. According to the National Advisory Mental Health Council (1990), in 1990 psychological disorders cost the United States an estimated $74.9 billion.
While a number of reviews provide evidence that childhood disorders are amenable to intervention, the literature must be interpreted cautiously. There is still a great deal to be learned about specific types of interventions, their appropriateness for certain disorders, and the factors that contribute to outcome success and failure. We have not reached the point where we are able to serve all children effectively. As suggested by the Institute of Medicine in their report to Congress on the state of prevention research in psychological disorders, it is important not to overlook the significance of prevention even if intervention efforts have been unsuccessful; in fact, prevention may play a particularly important role for these types of disorders (IOM, 1994).
It is clear that to reduce levels of childhood psychological disorders, interventions need to begin earlier, or ideally, preventive interventions need to be provided prior to the development of significant symptomatology. In addition, efforts need to be increased to reach the many children that do not have access to services. Many children and adolescents with clinical levels of problems never receive appropriate services or they receive inappropriate services. Another problem with service delivery is that some children only become eligible for clinical services after they have entered another system such as special education or juvenile court and this is usually after their problems have begun to escalate. This threshold issue may make sense financially, but does not benefit the successful outcome for the child.
On the other hand, there is clearly a suggestion that it is not only the accessibility of services that is questioned, but the effectiveness of services that are offered. Some people are concerned that the ‘medical model’ paradigm is one that is destructive rather than helpful.
The Role of Developmental Theory in Prevention Research
Prevention science is highlighted by the integration of developmental theory with models from public health, epidemiology, and sociology in conceptualizing, designing, and implementing preventive interventions. As concepts in development have broadened to include ecological analysis and multivariate examination of causation and risk, developmental theory has provided a powerful framework for organizing and building the field.
Given the principle that the developing organism is strongly influenced by context, Bronfenbrenner’s model of the nature and levels of context has catalyzed the field. The ecological model posits four  levels for classifying context beginning with those ecologies in which the child directly interacts and proceeding to increasingly distant levels of the social world that affect child development.
- The first level, the microsystem, is composed of ecologies with which the child directly interacts such as the family, school, peer group, and neighborhood.
- The mesosystem encompasses the relationships between the various microsystems (e.g., the family-school connection or between the parents and the child’s peer group and peers’ families). The absence of mesosystem links may also be an important risk factor in development.Interactions within both the microsystem and mesosystem are often affected by circumstances that do not directly involve the child. For example, children and youth may be significantly affected by changes in marital circumstance, parental social support, changes in the legal system (e.g., changing definitions of neglect or abuse; regulation of firearms, tobacco, and illegal drugs), the social welfare system (e.g., welfare reforms, boundary changes for categorical services), the mass media (e.g., controls on children’s exposure to television violence, the widened horizons via the internet), or other social structures that set policies and practices that alter microsystem and mesosystem interactions.
- The exosystem is those contexts and actions that indirectly impact the child’s development. Many preventive interventions may be viewed as changes at the exosystem level that alter interactions among lower system levels.
- Finally, the macrosystem represents the widest level of systems influence, consisting of the broad ideological and institutional patterns and events that define a culture or subculture.
Developmental-ecological models can be used both to frame basic research attempts to understand layers of influence on behavior, and also to identify potential targets and mediators of intervention. It is important for researchers to specify, for example, whether their interventions focus primarily on: the microsystem – or a particular portion of it; multiple microsystems (e.g., interventions for both the home and school); the mesosystem (e.g., the family-school connection); informal networks that in turn affect the microsystem (e.g., the development of extended family or peer support to parents); or developing new models of service delivery or regulatory reform (e.g., formal services in the exosystem). Further, one might ask if these different levels of intervention emphasize changing the attitudes and behavior of individuals at these levels (i.e., person-centered), or changing the nature of the system’s operation itself (i.e., environment-focused).
The Role of Risk and Protective Factors in Preventive Interventions
Public health models have long based their interventions on reducing the risk factors for disease or disorder as well as promoting processes that buffer or protect against risk. Community-wide programs have focused on reducing both environmental and individual behavioral risks for both heart and lung disease and have demonstrated positive effects on health behaviors as well as reductions in smoking.
Risk factors and their operation During the past decades, a number of risk factors have been identified that place children at increased risk for psychological disorders. Coie, et al., grouped empirically derived, generic risk factors into the following seven  individual and environmental domains:
- Constitutional handicaps: perinatal complications, neurochemical imbalance, organic handicaps, and sensory disabilities
- Skill development delays: low intelligence, social incompetence, attentional deficits, reading disabilities, and poor work skills and habits
- Emotional difficulties: apathy or emotional blunting, emotional immaturity, low self-esteem, and emotional disregulation
- Family circumstances: low social class, mental illness in the family, large family size, child abuse, stressful life events, family disorganization, communication deviance, family conflict, and poor bonding to parents
- Interpersonal problems: peer rejection, alienation, and isolation
- School problems: scholastic demoralization and school failure
- Ecological risks: neighborhood disorganization, extreme poverty, racial injustice, and unemployment.
Theory and research support a number of observations about the operation of these risk factors and the development of behavioral maladaptation.
- First, development is complex and it is unlikely that there is a single cause of, or risk factor for, any disorder. It is doubtful that most childhood social and behavioral disorders can be eliminated by only intervening with causes that are purported to reside in the child alone.
- Furthermore, there are multiple pathways to most psychological disorders. That is, different combinations of risk factors may lead to the same disorder and no single cause may be sufficient to produce a specific negative outcome.
- In addition, risk factors occur not only at individual or family levels, but at all levels within the ecological model.
The complexity of developmental pathways is clear from research relating risk factors to disorders. ‘Equifinity’ is a systems concept growing from Chaos Theory that means, “that a final state of any living system [psychological disorder] may be reached from different initial conditions. There appears to be a non-linear relationship between risk factors and outcomes. Although one or two risk factors may show little prediction to poor outcomes, there are rapidly increasing rates of disorders with additional risk factors. However, not all children who experience such contexts develop adjustment problems and no one factor alone accounts for children’s adjustment problems. Just why this is true is not accounted for in the report, but can be found in the pattern formation and decision making of the individual child which is built over time from random data collection [i.e., not all stimuli are received equally by the individual in proximity nor are they necessarily interpreted the same]. Thus, as the child creates a theory of meaning about the world and his/her place in it, the patterns formed and the judgements made about those patterns differ and create either a balanced and rational or a distorted and irrational ‘inner logic’ which determines what the individual will even consider stressful, let alone how they will act in stressful situations.
Given the above findings, it is apparent that many developmental risk factors are not disorder-specific, but may relate instead to a variety of maladaptive thoughts which are supported or disputed by the ecosystem surrounding the child. The notion of generic and inter-related risk factors has led to a strategy of targeting multiple factors simultaneously with the hope that the potential payoff will be greater than a focused attack on controlling a single risk factor. Recent findings in behavioral epidemiology indicate that psychological problems, social problems, and health-risk behaviors often co-occur as an organized pattern of adolescent risk behaviors. Thus, because risk factors may predict multiple outcomes and there is great overlap among problem behaviors, prevention efforts that focus on reduction of interacting risk factors may have direct effects on diverse outcomes.
Protective factors and their operation
Protective factors are variables that reduce the likelihood of maladaptive outcomes under conditions of risk. Although less is known about protective factors and their operation at least three  broad domains of protective factors have been identified.
- The first domain includes characteristics of the individual such as cognitive skills, social-cognitive skills, temperamental characteristics, and social skills.
- The second domain is comprised of the quality of the child’s interactions with the environment. These interactions include secure attachments to parents and attachments to peers or other adults who engage in positive health behaviors and have prosocial values.
- A third protective domain involves aspects of the mesosystem and exosystem, such as school-home relations, quality schools, and regulatory activities. Similar to risk factors, some protective factors may be more malleable and thus, more effective targets for prevention.
Coie et al. suggested that protective factors may work in one or more of the following four  ways:
- directly decrease dysfunction;
- interact with risk factors to buffer their effects;
- disrupt the mediational chain by which risk leads to disorder;
- or prevent the initial occurrence of risk factors.
By specifying links between protective factors, positive outcomes, and reduced problem behaviors, prevention researchers may more successfully identify relevant targets for intervention. However, the development of rational and balanced thoughts concerning what is happening around you substantially buffers the potential for dysfunction as well as disrupting the mediational chain by which risk leads to disorder. By enhancing the balanced and rational thinking of the child managers, one reduces the negative messages and nonconscious reinforcements that may contribute to the disorder itself.
The specification of intervention goals is an important component of preventive-intervention research and practice. This requires both an understanding of risk and protective factors that contribute to outcomes, and also the identification of competencies that are presumed mediators or goals of the intervention. Although these goals may include the prevention of difficulties (e.g., absence of psychological distortion, abstention from substance use), they also involve the promotion of sound developmental outcomes. Further, the prevention of deleterious outcomes involves the enhancement of competency mediators (e.g., effective social problem-solving as a mediator of reductions in delinquency).
Preventive Intervention: Definition of Levels
The IOM Report (1994) clarified the placement of preventive intervention within the broader intervention framework by differentiating it from direct services (i.e., case identification; standard interventions for known disorders) and maintenance (i.e., acceptance of long-term clinical recommendation to reduce relapse; after-care, including rehabilitation). Based, in part, on Gordon’s proposal to replace the terms primary, secondary, and tertiary prevention, the IOM Report defined three  forms of preventive intervention: universal, selective, and indicated.
- Universal preventive interventions target the general public or a whole population group that has not been identified on the basis of individual risk. Exemplars include prenatal care, childhood immunization, and school-based competence enhancement programs. Because universal programs are positive, proactive, and provided independent of risk status, their potential for stigmatizing participants is minimized and they may be more readily accepted and adopted.
- Selective interventions target individuals or a subgroups (based on biological or social risk factors) whose risk of developing psychological disorders is significantly higher than average. Examples of selective intervention programs include: home visitation and infant day care for low-birth weight children, preschool programs for all children from poor neighborhoods, and support groups for children who have suffered losses/traumas.
- Indicated preventive interventions target individuals who are identified as having prodromal signs or symptoms or biological markers related to psychological disorders, but who do not yet meet diagnostic criteria. Providing social skills or parent-child interaction training for children who have early behavioral problems are examples of indicated interventions.
II. RESTRUCTURING THE CULTURE
In the ideal, we would provide each of these prevention interventions across each of the four systems defined in the ecological model [microsystem, mesosystem, ecosystem and macrosystem]. This prospect is quite daunting, however, and our capacity to control the changes in these systems is erratic. What we have is a beginning technology for changing the culture in the microsystems of school and perhaps family.
Reviewing the evidence
When we review the risk and protective factors, we find an element common to many – messages. We posit the following:
MESSAGE —> INTERPRETATION — RESPONSE —>
RESPONSE MESSAGE —> INTERPRETATION — RESPONSE —>
RESPONSE MESSAGE —> INTERPRETATION — RESPONSE —>
A chain of messages is usually called a dialogue or a conversation.
MESSAGE – each signal that is perceived contains a conceptual/emotional content [C/EC]- if this content is novel, the message contains information [the difference that makes a difference] which will cause arousal and interpretation. If the message contains no information, it may not even be perceived, or if perceived, it may be ignored. Repetition of nonnovel messages often become habituated into the nonconscious and become our own thoughts – and perhaps part of our beliefs. Messages also gain in power if they come from significant people [usually parents, teachers, etc.].
Messages are conveyed through all of the senses – most often through the use of words, tone of voice, context and intangibles such as ‘body language’.
Context cannot be underestimated for if you say something intending one context and it is taken in a different context, the message may be totally altered. This is similar to thinking you are sipping a cup of warm, black coffee and taking in cold cola. You are likely to spit it out before any recognition occurs since it is outside of the context expected. If the message seems to fit no context, it is likely the person will ask that it be repeated, for they cannot even ‘hear’ it. If it fits a context for them that is not the original context their response may not be coherent to you. Meaning must have a context. Sometimes, just changing the context changes the whole meaning of the message. When done consciously, this is called reframing.
Interpretation of the C/EC is accomplished by comparing the information with all prior knowledge of the subject context and refined by your own nonconscious meaning system or beliefs. This usually effects a confirmation bias upon all messages – “Is there anything in this message that confirms my present belief system?” – If so, I will consider this message to be true [not necessarily acceptable or nondistressing]. If no confirmation exists, I will consider the information to be false. UNLESS the C/EC is so powerful [salient, cogent] as to be irrefutable. If this is the case, I will need to a) assimilate this message by making slight alterations in its meaning so that it will fit into my belief system OR if too powerful, I will need to b) accommodate this message by altering by belief system so that this C/EC will fit.
If the C/EC is so powerful as to cause trauma to my meaning [belief] system – my usual coping mechanisms may prove no longer useful and I may find myself seeking peculiar ways to maintain some semblance of personal meaning [to maintain my self]. This is often interpreted by those around us as a ‘nervous breakdown’. It could also be viewed as an extraordinarily creative effort to maintain oneself in the face of obliteration – but that would be reframing the context from how these new behaviors affect me to how these new behavior affect the person’s own inner logic.
While we generally think of messages in the form of communication, it is important to understand that we produce and receive messages in all conscious states. We see something and interpret it through the lens of our own personal meaning system. If we believe that life is dangerous, we will see danger almost everywhere – thus confirming our belief. What this means is that our meaning system creates our reality – or at the very least, sets us up to expect the reality that we believe exists. Thus, our meaning system or inner logic suggests to us how we should relate to the world. The chain of messages -> interpretations -> responses becoming messages, sets in motion a chain of events that is very likely to be a self fulfilling prophecy. Since the people around us interpret our response messages through their own internal logic, they may consider our response to their message to be bizarre or negative. How do you respond to a bizarre or negative message? The response usually confirms the message.
Emotional shock can be evoked by providing a response that is not coherent to the expectations of the message sender. Yeshua ben Yosip suggested this when he instructed his followers to “Turn the other cheek”. Usually when you hit someone, you expect some sort of retaliation. To simply have the person turn the other cheek to be struck can be disconcerting. You can test this construct out reasonably safely by responding to someone in a car politely asking you whether they can move into your lane in front of your car, by saying NO! The response is usually not one of anger, but of disbelief. They are not even sure that they perceived your message correctly. Even more disconcerting if you say NO with a smile on your face. It is good, however, not to persist, since as they figure it out, they are likely to become angry.
Often children with problems in living get into ‘intimate dances’ with adults where neither communicator even listens to the response messages of the other because they ‘know’ what the other is going to say. Imagine changing the response message to an adolescent who calls you a ‘jackass’ or worse, when you respond “Well, I have been known to be a jackass on occasion, but I am not sure I see it here – how do you see it?”
Such reframing of the message is a powerful tool in helping the other person to reconsider their meaning system. However, you do not need to wait for a negative message in order to respond, you can send out new, novel messages on a regular basis. These memes, or communication units, can be thought out and even scripted to provide a different meaning to things that occur on a regular basis. As an example, all human beings seek to answer the question why? – when something occurs. Why did I pass/fail? Why did s/he not call? Why? Why? Why? Human beings are not so much a rational animal as a rationalizing animal. ‘That’ happened because of ‘this’. Where did this come from – the inner logic. “Why was I not invited to the party?” – 1) they forgot me, 2) they don’t like me, 3) they did not have enough room, 4) they knew I couldn’t afford to go and did not want to hurt my feelings, and on and on. How many reasons can you think of? Interestingly enough the more you can think of the more likely you are going to be able to come up with a reason that is balanced and rational or not distressing. People with problems in living are often caught in a ‘one pony show’ – “they don’t like me” – that’s it.
By ‘seeding’ the environment with balanced and rational memes which explain the reasons differently you can prime the person to come up with more appropriate reasons. Memes such as “this room is so clean – you are very responsible kids”, or “people like you because you are so easy to talk to”, give both a situation and a possible reason for why that situation occurs. In all cases, the possible reason must be an internal attribution which is balanced and rational. Think of how often we give such memes with an opposing spin – “this room is a mess, I don’t understand how you can be so lazy”. “You failed again, you dummy!” Unfortunately these memes, while effective, are negative and defeating. Yet we tend to use this kind of meme quite often.
In order to change the memes in a culture, we are required to first, examine consciously what messages we are now sending and make a determined effort to eliminate those that are destructive. This may not be as easy as it seems, since even in our helping processes, we often send negative messages:
- you have a brain disease, learning disability – whatever other label you use
- its not your fault, you have no control over your behavior
- you must take this medication to control your behavior – it will make you feel better
- feeling good is important
- you will never be able to control yourself
Compare these messages with messages such as:
- well it is true you have a learning disability, but that might be a good thing, it causes you to seek creative ideas and you are quite a creative kid
- yes, you had a very serious breakdown in coping skills because of this trauma; but you are capable of taking control again
- suicide is a choice to end your suffering, but it is not your only choice – you have options
- not everyone has the same skills, but you can learn to use the skills you have more effectively
These balanced and rational statements about problems in living, even serious and persistent problems in living, emphasize the capabilities of the person to choose other, more positive options.
What we must remember is that it is not what happens, it is our interpretation – how we give meaning to what happens, that is important. There are two factors which contribute to the meaning we give. First, there are the beliefs that affect the situation. If I see, hear or otherwise perceive something strange in the sky, I might decide that it is a ‘flying saucer’ OR that it was simply something I could not identify. The choice is somewhat contingent upon whether I believe that there are flying saucers. On the other hand, I am influenced by the messages sent to me by other people – if everyone agrees that it was a ‘flying saucer’, I am more likely to believe that as well.
The force of each of these contributors depends on the power of the belief and/or the significance of the ‘others’. If I am ambivalent about ‘flying saucers’ I am more likely to agree if others say that is what is being perceived. On the other hand, if the person telling me that it is a flying saucer is significant – parent, teacher – I am more likely to absorb their beliefs and accept what they say.
When we discuss messages which have to do with the ‘pillars’ of cognitive structure – mental schema about self and others – it is easy to see how parents and teachers can substantively influence the way in which the child thinks. If a parent keeps telling a child that s/he is ‘stupid’ – it is highly probable that the child will begin to believe that this is true, even when his/her belief system does not start from that position and there is evidence to the contrary. Repetition and significance form a powerful vector that can be used for good or evil. If a parent, teacher or other significant adult continuously sends messages to a child which distorts thinking about self and others, that adult is guilty of psychological abuse. The messages may not be intentional nor necessarily malicious, the abuse nonetheless exists since the outcome could result in serious and persistent problems in living based on a personal meaning system which is maladaptive. The pain and suffering caused by such maladaptations can be as or more damaging that that caused by sexual or physical abuse. In fact in sexual abuse in particular, it is the messages of other people that cause the abused child to interpret him or herself as used, soiled, etc.
Conversing with a child, either verbally or nonverbally, is therefore not a trivial task. The messages we send are often ambiguous and the child must ‘fill in the gaps’ in the same way the brain fills in the gap to cover the ‘blind spot’ in sight. How the child fills in the gaps can be powerfully influenced by the balanced and rational messages sent by significant adults. How to make the adults mindful of what messages they are sending and to alter any messages which might be disorienting, distorted or distressing, is the essence of universal prevention for a whole series of social problems which include psychological problems, delinquency, and substance abuse.
Children are natural mimics–they act like their parents in spite of every effort to teach them good manners. –Unknown
Adults socialize children through the way they communicate to them. As a child attempts to learn to predict and control the world, s/he is required to find patterns and make analogies about those patterns [‘this’ is like ‘that’], and finally to generalize the patterns into a broad theory or perspective of the world and his/her place in it.
This theory is a huge network of defined pattern comparison over the first four to seven years of life, with emphasis on beliefs about self, others and future prospects. Since adults are primarily responsible for the first four years of input, the messages they send are magnified in importance. Once the theory coalesces, the ‘bottom up’ data collection becomes a ‘top down’ process which filters all new information through the theory and tends to ignore contrary data with a confirmation bias.
Psychologists have identified these three basic modes or strategies for communicating to children; but to suggest that these are carried out in ‘pure’ form would be unwise. For the most part, adults trend towards one or the other, but often mix modes of communication to the detriment of the child. The more variation in modal theme an adult has, the more confusing it is to the child – and since confusion results in uncertainty, the child’s
personal style becomes uncertain. Depending on the temperament of the child, which we will discuss in some detail later, the child is likely to become anxious and fearful, angry and/or sad. While this may be the worst of all worlds, two of the three child management strategies, even in a ‘pure’ state, are very problematic. While the child may feel more clear on the pattern that s/he is experiencing, s/he may still have difficulty with the message.
Temperament is that aspect of our personalities that is presumed to be genetically based, inborn, there from birth or even before. According to C. George Boeree, the issue of personality types, including temperament, is as old as the ancient Greeks, who came up with two dimensions of temperament, leading to four ‘types’, based on what kind of fluids (called humors) of which they had too much or too little.
The sanguine type is cheerful and optimistic, pleasant to be with, comfortable with his or her work.
The choleric type is characterized by a quick, hot temper, often an aggressive nature.
Next, the phlegmatic temperament characterized by slowness, laziness, and dullness.
Finally, people with a melancholy temperament tend to be sad, even depressed, and take a pessimistic view of the world.
These four types are actually the corners of two dissecting lines: temperature and humidity.
Boeree goes on to tell us how Ivan Pavlov, of classical conditioning fame, used the humors to describe his dogs’ personalities.
One of the things Pavlov tried with his dogs was conflicting conditioning — ringing a bell that signaled food at the same time as another bell that signaled the end of the meal. Some dogs took it well, and maintain their cheerfulness. Some got angry and barked like crazy. Some just laid down and fell asleep. And some whimpered and whined and seemed to have a nervous breakdown.
Pavlov believed that he could account for these personality types with two dimensions: On the one hand there is the overall level of arousal (called excitation) that the dogs’ brains had available. On the other, there was the ability the dogs’ brains had of changing their level of arousal — i.e. the level of inhibition that their brains had available. Lots of arousal, but good inhibition: sanguine. Lots of arousal, but poor inhibition: choleric. Not much arousal, plus good inhibition: phlegmatic. Not much arousal, plus poor inhibition/melancholy. Arousal would be analogous to warmth, inhibition analogous to moisture!
However, the question of temperament is a difficult one to assess. How much is innate and how much is learned. It is still the message that counts.
When speaking of the ‘message’, we must be aware that we are talking about several different levels of perception. First, there is the intent of the sender. This intent may be clear to the sender, but not to the receiver. However, the intent is often conveyed, not by the ‘message’ itself, but by the demeanor of the sender. Demeanor (bearing, deportment, mien) is conveyed by many nonverbal actions and by some of the verbal actions such as tone and emphasis. The quote above indicates that often the child takes an intent that is not ever expressed in words and runs with it. The intent being expressed is manifested more by the way the adult behaves than what the adult says. The intent also conveys one of the modes to the child. But be aware, the child perceives and interprets the demeanor, the child may or may not be right. So a child manager may be laissez-faire about managing the child and the child may interpret this as a wonderful present of the authority to do what s/he wants – a reinforcement of the adult’s trust in the wisdom of the child OR s/he may interpret this as an adult ignoring him/her, an adult wishing the child did not exist or would go away – a sense of nonpersonhood and ultimately worthlessness. So it is not just the concept type or content that is important, but the emotional spin that goes with it. And often the emotional spin can be perceived through the demeanor of the sender – even though the words contradict. A parent who conveys love, even with a very authoritarian strategy may end with a child with a positive connotation for commands.
So the receiver (child) must judge the meaning of the demeanor and the concepts of the message. Thus a group of words such as – “Will you please stop doing that” – might convey a mild request for the child to alter his/her behaviors (including a polite respect) or if said harshly, with an emphasis on STOP and a reddening of the face – might be perceived as a threat to bodily harm if s/he does not stop. How does the child determine which interpretation is the ‘truth’. It may be based on the emotional spin and partially it may be based upon the prior experiences. What patterns have been perceived in the past in relationship with this individual or with other adults that can be brought to bear on the judgement? If the child has experienced harsh commands and demands combined with bullying and belittling most often in the past, s/he may respond with fear of anger at a command that is not disrespectful or demeaning as though it was. “Stop that” may be a simple directive, but perceived as a bullying command. If given by a peer, it may open an opportunity for a response which leads to an opportunity to operationalize the anger as aggression, which might not be possible with the adult who set the pattern. By why aggression? Isn’t that a learned pattern as well?
From the chart we can see that the Authoritative mode is the best for gaining a positive impact. It is most likely that the child will develop positive beliefs about him/herself and others if s/he experiences a caring authoritative adult. However, even this mode can run into trouble with a child who already has identified patterns of adult communication which makes him/her anxious, fearful, sad and/or angry. For giving directions and instructions can be interpreted as commanding and demanding. And some children, because of their prior pattern of experiences are sensitive to such interpretations. On the other hand, direction and instruction may be seen as impinging on the child’s autonomy if the child has been pleasantly ignored and sees him/herself as setting her own directions. It is important to note that communication is a feedback system, in which the receiver receives feed back from his/her own prior experiences and then gives feedback to the original sender.
An additional difficulty with communication is that we don’t just send one message to one receiver. We send multiple messages – often contradictory – at the same time AND we get a response, which we interpret in the same manner as the child and to which we then respond. Each response also is embedded in a demeanor that either correlates with or doesn’t correlate with the conceptual content [words].
Thus communication [multiple messages in multiple verbal and nonverbal, concept and emotional modes leads us to believe that something is happening which is consistent with our experiences of the past. A well intended adult sends messages with a kind and caring intent can get a rebuff. What is a person to think? Is this child ungrateful, ignorant or incorrigible? And if so, how do I respond?
We use the term transactional communication to convey the use of the notions articulated in the theory of Transactional Analysis. There is the Child Schema – “I want what I want when I want it”. There is the Parent Schema – “You will do it because I told you to do it”. Note that both of these are power assertions. Power assertions almost always result in a push back, unless the person is so worn down by power assertions that are supported by punishment that they have learned helplessness. Power assertions are not recommended. What is the recommended response to a power assertion – a balanced and rational statement. The use of balanced and rational statements demands patience, persistence and probably a positive self image. The reason for patience and persistence is that people using power assertions are unlikely to immediately accede to balanced and rational discussion. The reason for the positive self image is that one is required to ignore what can appear to be a threat to one’s person and territory.
Thus a child who has learned to mimic a profane adult may suggest that you – the person who sent with kind intent the message that was rebuffed – are a ‘jackass’. Now generally, this will tend to get you irritated and when irritated the response is likely to be one of defensiveness. This is not helpful. What we need to find out is what the child is thinking and defensiveness is not likely to achieve this purpose. Therefore, and more appropriate response might be inquiry. “Gee, I have acted like a jackass on occasion [notice we change the metaphor “you are a jackass” to an analogy, “like a jackass”], but I don’t see it here, “what do you think I am doing that makes me like a jackass”. That seems to be balanced and rational. And what is the response likely to be. One might at first expect the child to be confused – s/he made an irrational statement in anger – meant more to convey the anger than a concept – and received an acceptance rather than a rebuff. More than likely, s/he really hadn’t thought about what s/he meant. The response is likely to continue to convey the anger without making any more sense. Possibly, “You know what I mean” [anger combined with some feeling of confusion that you are somehow manipulating].
Since the child’s meaning theory is oriented around beliefs about self, others and future prospects, s/he may perseverate in trying to get an appropriate response from you [anger, authoritarian statements] for some time. This is what s/he has predicted and s/he believes that s/he can control in some fashion. For these kids, the balanced and rational response results in confusion and uncertainty. You are challenging the basic beliefs about self and others – a profound experience. Depending on the strength of the child Theory, you may dent the surface causing him/her to put your response into some kind of acceptable format so that it can be assimilated into the theory -”this is just a ploy to get me off guard – go along, but stay alert”. Or, you may actually puncture a child’s mildly held theory and require a change – “this adult does not fit the pattern -s/he is the exception to the rule – meaning that there are exceptions and perhaps I should reconsider my beliefs” – before s/he can accommodate the idea – meaning to modify the belief itself so that the response makes sense within it.
We are always fine-tuning our theory of meaning through assimilation and accommodation. However, people with severe and persistent problems in living often have very rigid beliefs and therefore make it difficult for such fine-tuning to occur. For some situations, you may actually communicate something that shatters the belief system – leaving the person with no way to cope – and providing an opportunity for real change to occur.
You will note that this process is the equivalent of the authoritative child management strategy. Thus, the strategy can be used developmentally or remedially. In other words, when the child is first collecting data on patterns, analogies, generalizations and other higher level abstractions, this process can be used to provide the most fertile soil for the development of positive [balanced and rational] beliefs about self, others and future prospects. And as we have indicated, this strategy has specific remedial merit for the child whose theory of meaning is distorted. This is not to imply that balanced and rational conversations are not also powerful tools to communicating with adult; it merely contends that use of such communication strategies reinforces positive emotional spin and impact, thereby enhances the child’s potential to develop a positive pattern of identification and ultimately to create a theory of meaning which has balanced and rational beliefs about self, others and future prospects.
After the primary caretaker’s and other adults in the child’s community of interest2 have provided a pattern of messages which have been used to create a workable theory of meaning, the child’s socialization process is taken over by peers. The unfortunate part is that once the child has created a distorted theory of meaning, his/her communications are likely to reap the most negative of responses, thus reinforcing the negative beliefs already abounding in his/her belief system. Thus, if the child does not trust other people because s/he believes that s/he is worthless and therefore unlikable, s/he will tend to convey a morose, negative attitude to those around. Most of us respond negatively to these kinds of attitudes, thus reinforcing the person’s assumptions that s/he is worthless and unlikable.
Peer rejection is the single most vital indicator of future problems in living. A pattern of negative relationships is set very early, and without someone to create a crack in the theory, it is likely to continue with self-fulfilling confirmations. The one area of possible interpersonal relations is to align oneself with other people with the same belief system. Thus, children with negative theories often become members of a ‘victims’ group where all of the member agree with the negative values – thus reinforcing each other with the rightness of their anger, fear and sadness – although mostly it will be the anger – the emotion of justification – that is the one that provides the ‘glue’ that holds the group together. All the members believe that they have been violated and therefore, have the right to strike back. They are all justifiably angry at a world that has rejected them.
This, of course, makes change even more difficult as it would require a repudiation of the only sources of solace that the child has. Even if s/he were to suddenly believe that all of the theory of meaning was wrong, s/he would need to abandon his/her friends or try, perhaps, to change them. Such an attempt might be the way the break is finally made, since others with the old theories are likely to turn on the newly ordained ‘do gooder’.
What we are trying to articulate is that children create their own personalities out of organizing the pattern of their experiences and trying to make sense out of them. If the communication patterns of significant adults are negative or do not make sense – the resulting theories are likely to be unable to provide good skills in predicting and controlling the world. The ‘inner logic’ is then reinforced by the way people react to the child’s own communication patterns and a cycle of ‘bad vibes’ and reinforcement continues.
We can label such behaviors anything we want – conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, etc., but we miss the point in doing so. These are the golems3 or Frankensteins of our own making. Certainly the child has participated in this process, interpreting messages in his or her own unique way, and possibly with many errors. However, it is hard to believe that a child who has arrived at the conclusion that s/he is worthless and unlikable, that others are not to be trusted and that the future holds no hope, has purely invented these notions.
The most unfortunate aspect of this whole process is that many of these kids become parents and need to manage the development of their own child’s theory of meaning. What strategies might they choose?
“The apple does not fall far from the tree.”
The Risk And Protective Factors
When we look at the risk factors articulated by Greenberg, et al, we discover that other than the first, the potential message inherent in the factor is the issue and even the first has a message component
1. Constitutional handicaps: perinatal complications, neurochemical imbalance, organic handicaps, and sensory disabilities.
A child born with such disabilities is prone to a negative comparison with others in the process of developing his/her theory of meaning. How do people ‘look’ at the child, what do they say? Unless the child has parents who are able to convey love, caring and affection regardless of the disability AND overcome the sympathetic, victim aspects of the circumstances, it is quite difficult for the child to conclude that s/he is okay and that other people like him/her and accept him/her in an amiable manner.
2. Skill development delays: low intelligence, social incompetence, attentional deficits, reading disabilities, and poor work skills and habits.
Imagine the difficulty you might have with these competence issues. Perhaps you are slow in processing information, but bright enough to know that you are slow – how do you deal with this. It is not insignificant that the majority of people with mental retardation who end up in the mental health system are at the upper end of the intelligence scale. It must be intolerable to see yourself as grouped with severely retarded people rather than ‘normal’ people when you are so close.
3. Emotional difficulties: apathy or emotional blunting, emotional immaturity, low self-esteem, and emotional disregulation.
Emotional literacy is built on proper messages and emotional difficulty is the result of distorted beliefs because of maladaptive messages or misinterpretation of the messages.
4. Family circumstances: low social class, mental illness in the family, large family size, child abuse, stressful life events, family disorganization, communication deviance, family conflict, and poor bonding to parents;
In and of itself, social class has no impact upon a person’s social competence and performance. The belief that somehow in this society it does, sends a very clear message of inferiority. Parents with psychological problems have those problems because of the messages they received as children and therefore are likely to provide distorted messages. Family conflict certainly provides grist for ambivalent interpretations which can be destructive to a child. Poor bonding is almost in a class by itself for how can one even define oneself if there is no other.
5. Interpersonal problems: peer rejection, alienation, and isolation;
Interpersonal problems with peers is a message exchange that is powerful and negative. In all probability, unless there is a constitutional handicap, the problems stem from the child’s own beliefs which caused behaviors which were atypical. Even a child with a constitutional handicap is likely to be accepted if there are appropriate messages. Unfortunately, child managers often send messages to other children to reject a child.
6. School problems: scholastic demoralization and school failure;
Failure of any kind can be reframed as a learning experience. However, often the messages sent in one failure set up the expectation of other failures. If such expectations exist, the messages of the child manager can support this belief or challenge it.
7. Ecological risks: neighborhood disorganization, extreme poverty, racial injustice, and unemployment.
Again, these factors and of themselves are either not significant except for the messages they send or are the result of negative messages.
Now that we understand the power of messages, we need to find the mechanisms to change the messages that presently exist in a maladaptive environment. This does not necessarily mean that the environment is invalidating or psychotraumatizing, but it would include such environments.
A similar situation exists when we look at the protective factors.
- First, development is complex and it is unlikely that there is a single cause of, or risk factor for, any disorder. It is doubtful that only intervening with causes that are purported to reside in the child alone can eliminate most childhood social and behavioral disorders.
The mental development we would suggest is contingent upon the child creating his/her own reality through identification of patterns and interpretations of meanings. These beliefs, attitudes and values are, as we have already seen, initiated and maintained by the child’s managers. Thus a child management strategy which is balanced and rational as well as directive and instructional is a protective environment.
- Furthermore, there are multiple pathways to most psychological disorders. That is, different combinations of risk factors may lead to the same disorder and no single cause may be sufficient to produce a specific negative outcome.
We have already discussed this in terms of random access to stimuli and interpretative genius of the child.
- In addition, risk factors occur not only at individual or family levels, but at all levels within the ecological model.
While we agree that the power of the informational age provides messages from all places, we would argue that if unable to change these, provide the child with a balanced and rational perspective from which to perceive these messages. You may hear someone say you are inferior, but you don’t need to accept it. Further, we have indicated that the most powerful messages come from those who are most significant, and at least for the young child, these are people in the microsystem.
A Word About Culture4
In contrast with some earlier anthropological approaches to culture, cultures are no longer regarded as material phenomena, but rather as cognitive organizations of material phenomena. Cognitive anthropologists study how people understand and organize the material objects, events, and experiences that make up their world, as the people they study perceive it. It is an approach that stresses how people make sense of reality according to their own indigenous cognitive categories, not those of the anthropologist. Cognitive anthropology posits that each culture orders events, material life and ideas, to its own criteria. The fundamental aim of cognitive anthropology is to reliably represent the logical systems of thought of other people according to criteria, which can be discovered and replicated through analysis.
By the early 1980s, schema theory had become the primary means of understanding the psychological aspect of culture. Schemas are entirely abstract entities and unconsciously enacted by individuals. They are models of the world that organize experience and the understandings shared by members of a group or society. Schemata, in conjunction with connectionist networks, provided even more abstract psychological theory about the nature of mental representations. Schema theory created a new class of mental entities. Prior to schema theory, the major pieces of culture were thought be either material or symbolic in nature. Culture, as conceptualized by anthropologists, started to become thought of in terms of parts instead of wholes. The concept of parts, however, was not used in the sense of static entities constituting an integrated whole, but was used in the sense that the nature of the parts changed. Through the use of schemata, culture could be placed in the mind, and the parts became cognitively formed units: features, prototypes, schemas, propositions, and cognitive categories. Culture could be explained by analyzing these units, or pieces of culture.
Cognitive anthropology trends now appear to be leaning towards the study of how cultural schemas are related to action. This brings up issues of emotion, motivation, and how individuals during socialization internalize culture.
‘Cultural model’ is not a precisely articulated concept but rather it “serves as a catchall phrase for many different kinds of cultural knowledge”. Cultural models generally refer to the unconscious set of assumptions and understandings members of a society or group share. They greatly affect people’s understanding of the world and of human behavior. Cultural models can be thought of as loose, interpretative frameworks. They are both overtly and unconsciously taught and are rooted in knowledge learned from others as well as from accumulated personal experience. Cultural models are not fixed entities but are malleable structures by nature. As experience is ascribed meaning, it can reinforce models; however, specific experiences can also challenge and change models if experiences are considered distinct. Models, nevertheless, can be consciously altered. Most often cultural models are connected to the emotional responses of particular experiences so that people regard their assumptions about the world and the things in it as ‘natural’. If an emotion evokes a response of disgust or frustration, for example, a person can deliberately take action to change the model. And that is exactly what Culture Restructuring is about.
Managing people in an organization has certain congruence with managing people with problems in living. In both cases, there is a requirement to get the personal preferences of the individuals involved compatible with a specific, defined set of assumptions which the manager believes will be beneficial to both the individual and the organization or society. And in both cases, the critical assumption underlying the need for change is that the learning environment [culture] has somehow created and maintained thoughts which are now considered to be incompatible with the desired culture. Osborne & Plastrik  have done a wonderful job in their book Banishing Bureaucracy of outlining culture change which we have accessed here for our own purposes. We have intertwined Baar’s Cognitive Theory of Consciousness as well.
Osborne & Plastrik start off by telling us that changing an organization’s culture is not a science. This is not because there are not structures from cognitive and behavioral science which can be utilized, but rather because culture is so pervasive and complex. Further, cultures are based on nonconscious mental contexts which are held by a group at varying levels of coherence. Within every culture there are established presuppositions that tend to become unconscious. Whatever we believe with absolute certainty we tend to take for granted. We lose sight of the fact that alternatives to our stable presuppositions can even be entertained.
Thus a culture is a many faceted perspective, perhaps best seen as a set of cognitive control mechanisms – plans, recipes, rules, instructions, which are the principal bases for the specificity of behavior and an essential condition for governing it. Since these variables have generally become repetitious and habitual, they have become nonconscious metal contexts, which for people who are committed to it, there becomes an inability to consciously think consistently of the alternatives to their own, stable presuppositions. It is important to note that the culture in an organization is not necessarily the organization’s plans, recipes, rules and instructions, but those informal plans, recipes, rules and instructions which form in response to the organizational system.
The traditional means for structuring experience was the myth, a term deriving from the Greek mythos, meaning ‘word’ in the sense that it is a definitive statement on the subject. To give someone the ‘word’, even today is to ‘show them the ropes’ or tell them how events and incidents occur within the context of this environment. A myth then was an authoritative account of the facts that was not to be questioned, no matter how strange it may seem. Myths need be neither true nor false, just useful constructs for explaining the nature of an experience. Such myths were the ‘common knowledge’ of various cultures and helped naive people understand the nature of the world. One of the main uses of myths was to provide an explanation of how real world events work. People using myths made no pretensions to truth, rather they were stating – “this is the way we do things around here”. It is somehow comforting at times of crisis to have a belief system that provides some explanation for what would otherwise seem a capricious event. In this same sense, ‘the way we do things around here’, the mythos culture if you will may be quite different from the logos culture [logical or formal culture] of the organization.
A paradigm is a set of assumptions about the nature of reality. Thomas Kuhn introduced the notion in 1962, with the publication of his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The scientific paradigms he described were highly rational: they had explicit rules, recorded in scientific literature. Cultural paradigms are different: they are often unwritten, unspoken, even unconscious. A cultural paradigm is like an identity: it is so much a part of each of us that we are not even aware of it. If someone asked us to write down the basic assumptions of our cultural paradigms, few of us could do it. And yet we could not operate without them. Kuhn argued that “something like a paradigm is prerequisite to perception itself. What a man sees depends both upon what he looks at and also what his previous visual-conceptual experience has taught him to see.”
Thus the cognitive mental contexts described by Baar are the parcels or quanta which support the cultural paradigm and the quanta, in various combinations, predispose us to acting in certain ways. In conceptual contexts, we can at times make a quanta consciously accessible, and change it. The new conceptual context then begins to shape the interpretation of observations. Since new paradigms, which are made up of many quanta are born from old ones, they ordinarily incorporate much of the vocabulary and apparatus, both conceptual and manipulative, that the traditional paradigm had previously employed. But they seldom employ these borrowed elements in quite the traditional way. Within the new paradigm, old terms, concepts and experiments fall into new relationships with the other.
Communication across the revolutionary divide is inevitably partial. Both parties are looking at the world, and what they look at has not changed. But in some areas they see different things, and they seem them in different relations one to the other. Kuhn calls this phenomenon ‘the incommensurability of competing paradigms’. Just because it is a transition between incommensurables, the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time, forced by logic and natural experience.
Paradigms are conceptual contexts. If one tried to make a paradigm conscious, one could only make one aspect of it conscious at any one time because of the limited capacity of consciousness. But typically paradigm-differences between two groups of scientists involves not just one, but many different aspects of the mental framework simultaneously. The variety of aspects would be both greater in culture and less knowable.
For persons within a culture change understanding either occurs as an epiphany; a spiritual experience, or becomes quite difficult to understand causing anxiety and uncertainty. Further increase of exposure results in still more hesitation and confusion until finally, and sometimes quite suddenly, many begin to produce some of the correct identifications without hesitation. This is because new quanta have now become, through repetition and habituation, no longer novel, but a nonconscious context. A few people, however, will never be able to make the requisite adjustments of their contexts and the people who then failed often experienced acute personal distress.
To change a culture, you have to change paradigms.
According to Osborne and Plastrik, the first thing you have to do is get people to let go of their old assumptions. In science, the key is what Kuhn calls “anomalies” – problems the old paradigm cannot solve, realities it cannot explain, facts it cannot admit to be true. As these anomalies pile up, people begin to lose faith in the old paradigm. Thus the manager needs to develop a change strategy which will:
- introduce anomalies and help people to perceive them
- provide a clearly defined new paradigm
- build faith in the new paradigm
- help people let go of the old paradigm
- give people time in the neutral zone
- give people touchstones
- provide a safety net
This requires that a whole plan be implemented at once. People begin to let go of their old paradigms when they run into experiences, facts, and feelings that cannot be explained by the old set of assumptions. These anomalies provoke ‘dissonance’ – conflicts between what one has experienced and what one knows to be possible. Often people cope by refusing to see the anomalies. When anomalies appear, they immediately define them as something else. If they are able to retreat to another part of the organization and find support for their resistance, it is unlikely that the culture will ever change in the direction that management has chosen. [Though it will change in response to the new order.]
To break through this paradigm blindness, you must not only introduce anomalies into the culture, you must actively help people perceive them for what they are. As they begin to experience the resulting dissonance, they will be uncomfortable. Asking people to give up their most basic assumptions about life is like asking them to play a new game without knowing the rules – a game that will determine whether they have a job, how much they earn, and what their colleagues think of them.
Hence you must give them a new set of rules. You must provide a new way of understanding the anomalies – they can embrace. They will not be able to tolerate the ambiguity for very long: they will either make the leap or retreat into their old paradigm.
Osborne and Plastrik liken it to the trapeze artist, there must be no ambiguity about there being a specific time and place to land when s/he lets go of the bar. Every paradigm shift is ultimately a leap of faith and for those who have faith only in the old culture, there is likely to be a great deal of anxiety about who to trust and where they will land. To build people’s faith in a new culture, you must first earn their trust. None of us put our faith in people we don’t trust. You must then prove to them that others who have made the leap before them have flourished, and to assure them that they too will flourish in the new culture. A paradigm shift begins with an ending. It begins when people let go of their former worldview – a frightening process that creates much of the resistance to change.
You must accept the fact that it will take time before people fully internalize the new paradigm. It’s the limbo between the old sense of identity and the new. It is a time when the old way is gone and the new doesn’t feel comfortable yet. People make the new beginning only if they have first made an ending and spent some time in the neutral zone. And yet in some apparent disagreement with Osborne and Plastrik, you must also make it untenable to continue holding onto the old bar. The trapeze artist of our analogy is likely to take a greater risk to leap to the new bar, if s/he is aware that the old bar is disappearing. But being aware that the old culture [bar] is gone and not being able to see the new culture [bar] is ‘being between a rock and a hard place’. It is a dilemma without any apparent answer. Managers who seek to change cultures want the new place to be very apparent. And so Osborne and Plastrik suggest that you give them touchstones – guidelines and reference points they can hold onto as anchors as they struggle.
What this means is that in a transformation of culture, the management must be prepared to articulate the new culture completely and to change the world abruptly. This is not a transition. A transition would change pieces and not the whole. An abrupt change requires that their be plans, recipes, rules, instructions, which are the principal bases for the specificity of behavior and an essential condition for governing it. Change is a time of uncertainty. Uncertainty causes anxiety. Managers limit uncertainty not by ‘easing into a new program’, but by being explicit about expectations. Like them or not, knowing the new expectations and how they will be measured relieves uncertainty, and for most diminishes anxiety.
Osborne and Plastrik have more to say on cultural change which should be explored not only by public, but private managers as well. Additionally, the understanding of the workings of thought on emotion and behavior is important knowledge for all managers and articles such as Reconstructing Judgement will help you understand how to better manage people in all types of organizational situations.
SUMMARY & CONCLUSIONS
Cultural Restructuring is a process of changing the messages that are exchanged in the culture – and changing the messages requires some degree of change in the beliefs that people hold. It stands to reason, therefore, that there must be a ‘buy in’ at some level by the people involved whether it be the administration and faculty of the school or the child managers in a family.
Persuading someone to change the way they think requires a process.
- There must be psychoeducation, e.g., an explanation of the concepts required to make the change.
- There must be a growing awareness of what they now think.
- There must be an attendance to those thoughts.
- There must be an analysis which is formal and public.
- There must be an alternative meaning which is identified and promoted.
- There must be a process of adaptation and habituation.
This is the same process used in Cognitive Process Correction, except that the selection of the thoughts that are distressful and the thoughts that are balanced and rational are made by management in the case of the school – and to some extent by the counselor in the case of the family.
Because it is a group of people, the control over the process by the client is somewhat diminished, although any individual in the group has the power to decide not to believe any of the changed thoughts.
Since the primary change is in the messages – one can identify the memes [communication units] which are presently in use that are causing distress. For example, school personnel traditionally use discipline as a verb, rather than as a noun: “I need to discipline this student” as opposed to “I need to teach this child discipline”. If this tradition is identified as an unacceptable message and everyone is asked to identify when others make the error, there is a process of change. One could increase the power of the cognitive reinforcement by having each person receive a token [worth one dollar] whenever they are cited as having used the word correctly.
Changing the words we use is a difficult task. We select our words nonconsciously, and unless we are made aware and find some way to attend to our language we will fall into the old habits.
We can also create scripts for specific students and/or situations [See CBT#24 Attribution Training or CBT#34 Reframing]. Use of cognitive qualifiers and interruption of deleations in speech could be targeted. Each of the Cognitive Behavior Techniques has the potential to be used in the change process. Do we, for example, teach the concepts of Assertiveness whenever we see a person in the culture being nonassertive?
In the final analysis, however, cognitive change is self-change. In an institution such as a school, there is a certain level of coercive power that can be used – if the leader of the organization requires the change – there will be a change. However, remember the formal and informal cultures of organizations. If we want the change to meet certain standards, we will need measures of those standards and take remedial action on all who do not meet them.
For the family, the issue is somewhat different. A family is usually a small enough unit that the decisions of changing can be more or less conscious and consensus oriented. The family can decide, with the help of a counselor, if the present culture is working for them or not. If it is not, they can, with the help of the counselor, work on identifying the stressful elements and going through the process of changing them.
It is simple, but not easy. Change of any kind requires trust and that is in small quantities in the helping systems these days. Nonetheless, we can take action to address the needs of our children and change the process of acculturation which has been damaging.
- Mark T. Greenberg, Celene Domitrovich. & Brian Bumbarger, PREVENTING MENTAL DISORDERS IN SCHOOL-AGE CHILDREN: A Review of the Effectiveness of Prevention Programs, 1999
- Meaning those adults who have an interest in the development of the child [e.g., parents, teachers, other adult family members, etc.].
- According to a sixteenth-century Jewish legend, a desperate rabbi constructed an automaton of the dust of the earth, brought it to life and it ultimately became an uncontrollable monster that wreaked havoc on the community.
- Generally from Cognitive Anthropology by Tara Robertson