Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Focus on Strength H.E./R.O.

White Board adapted from Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman DD and his keynote presentation for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy in 1992. (AAMFT)

"In a society oriented towards pathology rather than strength, it tends to measure the toxicity of any condition (physical illness, economic situation, race, gender, aging, boss, board of trustees, any statistical study emphasizing 'risk' factors) as equal to the strength x the number of pathogenic factors in the environment. With H.E. standing for the hostile environment we then get: H.E. = S.N. The hostility of an environment equals the strength x the number of toxic factors in the environment. But that is really not an accurate view of life, for the most part.

It is certainly accurate for radiation, falling out of an airplane or being held under water. Those situations are critically linear. But for most of the problems human beings face, a more accurate equation is a fraction which states that the potential hostility of any condition is proportional to the response of the organism, H.E./R.O., with R.O. embracing such factors as the organism's stamina, resiliency, self regulation, hope, etc. Now, as you all know from the simplest algebra, even a slight increase in a denominator (R.O.) has great power to reduce the value of any numerator (H.E.). More important, when the denominator (R.O.) heads toward zero (which occurs in a passive, victim stance or its opposite, a highly reactive non self-regulatory attitude), then no matter how small the numerator (H.E. i.e. the potentially toxic condition), it takes on infinite proportions.

In a society that is oriented towards pathology, the tendency is to focus only on the horizontal axis. The growth of human beings, however, the maturing of relationships, the evolution of our species, and perhaps all healing that endures, depends more on the qualities that can be measured by the vertical axis.

Obviously, if your major goal is social action and the direct modification of toxic factors in the environment, then the horizontal axis is, and should be, your focus. But I am speaking from a clinical point of view, and in that context, orientation towards the horizontal axis rather than the vertical is counter-evolutionary. Indeed, unless the strengths of family members are supported and promoted, then all efforts to improve the environment will be eroded from within. In other words, improvements in the external condition of families will not last where there is not a corresponding strengthening of our species' assets. Another way of saying this is all healing that endures is self-regenerative, meaning not only that the healing process must be located in the organism to be healed, rather than the healer, but also because then the very act of healing creates more self, i.e. movement up the vertical scale."

The Challenge of Change and the Spirit of Adventure by Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman DD

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