Workshop Part 3:
Childhood Recognition and Empathy
WORKSHOP VIDEO PART 3: Recognition and Empathy
In Video Part 3 Bassam and Itamar tell us stories from their childhood which highlight the recognition and empathy they received from their secure attachment with their parents. Bassam says “It all begins at home…”. We watch Bassam and Itamar take empathy and recognition with them into adulthood as they step out of denial of their individual collective narratives and out of violence.
This Video Part 3 and workshop is an underlying component of the Moving-Beyond-Violence construct for an Ethical Mindset. We suggest time is spent preparing and researching the issues we raise; please share your own experience and ideas on the discussion forum.
An Ethical Mindset and ethical behaviours of fundamental hospitality and care are necessary for ethical coexistence.
- Bassam and Itamar’s childhood stories recall Bowlby’s secure attachment. Research associates secure attachment patterns (in early or later life) with recognising the other, their pain and a desire to comfort it, internalisation of the secure attachment relationship into personality structures that are associated with peace building. What can we learn from Bassam’s and Itamar’s childhood experience that can be taken into social, educational and political settings in the hope of promoting an Ethical Mindset?
- Experiencing and acquiring recognition and empathy, and congruent behaviours of hospitality and care, are complex processes. This workshop aims to explore different pathways to recognition and empathy including relational, cultural, creative arts, socio-economic, political and existential and inclusion–exclusion dimensions. For instance, recognition and empathy from a teacher or friend, a film or book, a secular, religious or political ideology, observation of recognition and care between others; identification with excluded others; a ‘spiritual’ connection with nature or the planet etc.
- The relevance of the theories of Bowlby, Winnicott, Benjamin and Maslow for facilitating a secure base in the family, society and work place as an important component of peace building.
- The impact of child-rearing practices, socio-economic environment, health, education, inclusion-exclusion, and collective narratives on peace building.
Issues to Explore:
What influenced your interest in this programme, and in Ethical Mindsets and behaviours, and peace building?
- We invite participants to explore their own path to recognition and empathy, and if it exists, whether they feel this has been a component in their relations with different others.
- Might an experience of exclusion and rejection, victimhood or perpetration lead to identification with excluded and oppressed, victim or perpetrator others? How would that happen? Would that identification necessarily include empathy and recognition?
- The Ethical Mindset includes congruent ethical behaviours of fundamental hospitality for shared humanity, and care for the other. They may be the dictate of a religious or political social system. Do empathy and recognition have to be present in order for the behaviour of care to be ethical? Might survival be an issue?
- What role might empathy and recognition play in stepping out of denial of an unethical collective narrative? What other factors might be relevant?
Facilitating the Workshop:
- Think of ways to create a safe base in the group of a secure attachment with empathy, recognition and trust. Co-creating a safe base
Setting ground-rules: You might use games for equal validation, e.g. ‘What does your name mean?’
- Develop your intercultural knowledge-base for groups with members from a range of cultural, political or ethnic backgrounds.
Any ‘difference’ in the room creates opportunities for working with recognition and empathy; use narrative for people to tell their stories, and invite others to share how the stories change initial impressions.
- Using your own listening, feeling and feedback skills think of ways to enable people to move into dialogue with each other.
ALWAYS serve vegan biscuits and explain that they are ‘anti-discriminatory biscuits’! This draws difference and communality together and also provides some necessary ‘light relief’.
- You might want to try these exercises with the group if it feels safe enough:
- Invite members to pair up and to try ‘being in the moment’ as a Buddhist might describe recognition, by silent gazing between them, ‘being with the true other as egos dispel’.
- Bring up an image of two unidentifiable bodies of children from conflicting groups killed together in an accident: the parents are faced with not knowing which is their child, so they must mourn and love both.
KEYWORDS YOU SHOULD KNOW:
Attachment the gradually developing quality of a bilateral reciprocal affectionate relationship between the infant and mother/primary caregiver. Bowlby derived the term attachment from ethology observation of primates and infants with their parents or caregivers. A secure attachment is a specific kind of relating between infant and primary carer (the attachment figure) whose availability, proximity, and a predictable response, provides the child with a sense of safety. The child seeks proximity to the ‘secure attachment’ figure when sick, emotionally upset, frightened, or in danger, for instance, running to mother when hurt, or a baby ape clinging to mother when a predator appears.
The term derived from observation of infants with their parents or caregivers in which the infants seek proximity in varying degrees to their caregiver for safety when upset, frightened or in danger. Bowlby called the interaction between the infant and caregiver at such time attachment behaviours and patterns; he identified different caregivers’ responses to the child’s need for proximity as either offering ‘secure attachment’ or ‘insecure attachment’.
Secure attachment in human infants is linked to reliable parental emotional responsiveness, which offers recognition and comfort of distress. A reliable ‘secure attachment’ acts as a ‘safe base’ from which to explore and return to as children become independent. From an early age, these children develop the capacity to trust others, recognize other’s distress and to offer comfort, and to trust their own emotional reactions.
‘Secure attachment’ is not only found in the infant-caregiver relationship. Children and adults can later ‘earn’ secure attachment with a close friend, a teacher, a grandparent, or a group which offers a reliable secure base and attachments, and through many other experiences.
These patterns are often repeated in social attachments to groups and community.
Secure attachment in human infants is linked to emotional responsiveness, especially to being able to rely on the parent figures to respond to distress. Babies who are securely attached protest at separation, as when the parent leaves them but are able to reunite comfortably and be consoled or soothed. Children use secure attachment as a secure base to return to as they become independent. They develop the capacity to trust others and their own emotional reactions. When experienced in infancy and childhood, seeking proximity to a secure attachment figure when distressed becomes a lifelong pattern.
Insecure attachment is linked to experiences of unpredictable parental behaviour, lack of responsiveness and soothing, rejection of bids for reassurance and closeness, or even aggression by the parent. Infants can be disorganized, avoidant or clinging in response to such experiences and later exhibit mistrust toward others, either with over-reliance or inability to trust.
Social attachments can also demonstrate some of the patterns described above; for instance, secure or insecure social connection in relation to the community.
Baron-Cohen describes the first stage of empathy as recognition: “empathy occurs when we switch from a single-minded focus of attention to a double-minded focus of attention”. He says we are not only thinking about our own mind, thoughts and perception, but we are keeping in mind someone else’s mind at the very same time. The second stage is to respond to the other’s thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion. Baron-Cohen continues:” Empathy makes the other person feel valued, they feel that their thoughts and feelings have been heard, acknowledged and respected” .Baron Cohen explains dehumanisation and evil as the result of ‘zero degrees of empathy’
(Baron -Cohen S: Zero Degrees of Empathy).
The Ethical Mindset with Congruent Behaviours is a concept developed by the Moving Beyond Violence team. The Ethical Mindset facilitates stepping out of denial of destructive collective narratives, and out of violence. This denial refers to the mental roadblocks that prevent us from acknowledging the irreducible humanity of others, overcoming whatever resistance we may have to disqualify difference and thus engaging an Ethical Mindset, accompanied by congruent behaviours.
The MBV multi-stage guided process is designed to explore stepping out of denial and into an Ethical Mindset. The congruent behaviours are those that engage fundamental hospitality and care. They maybe dictates of familial, cultural, religious, or political cultures; the hospitality, protection and care are prerequisites for a safe and just society. Our protagonists’ stories help us identify the internal and external processes which led to their Ethical Mindset. At times of failure the Ethical Mindset may be repaired through Jessica Benjamin’s Moral Third which engages recognition, empathy and a willingness to dialogue in a search for an alternative way.
The processes that happen as the result of external stimuli that endure as emotional and cognitive internal structures after the external stimuli have ceased. Later different stimuli may alter the structures, while ongoing similar stimuli will strengthen them.
Recognition that response (from or to) the other which makes one’s own or the other’s feelings, intentions and actions meaningful. It shows that we have had an impact on the other. . It allows the self to realise its agency and authorship in a tangible way. But such recognition can only come from an other whom we, in turn, recognise as person in his or her own right. Recognition is integral to…”differentiation” – the individual’s development as a self that is aware of its distinctness from others. Lack of recognition is associated with victimhood and loss of agency; or dependency on recognition, as Benjamin has discussed, may lead to people engaging in power struggles; ie when people feel their suffering, their point of view, their needs, their value and dignity, or their actions are being denied recognition. Social traumas require social recognition so that people feel their suffering is known, has meaning, and their need for dignity and value is respected. ( Benjamin J.The Bonds of Love: (1988) Pantheon Books. NY.)
The capacity to live and develop in a positive way despite the stress and adversity created by risk factors such as poverty, trauma, abuse and catastrophic life events which ‘stack the odds’ against individuals. Vulnerability to these risk factors is primarily a factor of the social and physical environment. Childhood experience and the social context fundamentally influences the capacity for resilience both because our sense of security or insecurity is formed by it and because insecurity in childhood is likely to lead to emotional difficulties in later life. Thus relationships which provide love, trust and encouragement are primary in modifying the effects of adverse life conditions.
Cyrulnik Boris. Resilience (2009) Penguin Books. London. p.
Goldberg S, Muir R and Kerr J (eds) Attachment Theory: Social, Developmental and Clinical Perspectives.(1995) The Analytic Press. London.
An environment where a person has a feeling of safety provided by an attachment figure who is sought out in times of danger, illness, exhaustion or following a separation , the availability of which can be trusted.