by John Hitchin
Mary Ann Sieghart has written a piece in the Indy today about the shifting understandings of gay marriage – amongst other things to do with our relationships with each other – and comparing the UK with the US in the process.
I enjoyed it greatly, along with the wonderful Larkin quote she finishes with.
But here’s a thought that follows. It may be the wrong thought, but it did spring to mind. If you agree with her argument, as I do, then an endorsement of loving relationships are seen as positive. We need to both love somebody and be loved, but also know that our love (and theirs for us) is accepted by others. It allows us to draw strength from that love and take it out into the world, and use the power it gives us to be who we want to be.
What, then, do we as a society do about those that aren’t loved; those that miss out on that strength and security that can give us?
There are no easy answers in these sorts of questions – perhaps it is nothing – but it did make me think of my own work. The small research team at Renaisi spends a lot of time interviewing and researching with people who haven’t had an easy life. Sometimes, as with some of the young people we interviewed last week, they haven’t had much in the way of love in their formative years. Whether from parents or families, friends or schools, they haven’t been cared for as you would hope – they haven’t been told that it’s okay to be all the things that you are. In fact the relationships that they build can often end up being quite destructive ones, relationships with other people who haven’t had that emotional comfort and so don’t know how to give it. Given our research is typically about a project or policy, it is not focussed on the person in isolation. And some of the very best work that we see, whether delivered by the state or charities or any organisation, involves brilliant staff who care greatly for these young people. Staff who pick them up and build those relationships, and tell them it’s okay to be who they are. It sounds easy when you say it like that, but it is absolutely not.
So my question is how do we talk about this? If you’re trying to isolate, measure and predict something, you can’t say ‘love’ was the key factor, but that’s often what it feels like it is. Brene Brown talks about this in her work on vulnerability (and that TED video is fantastic). But can you get that into a research report for an evaluation of public policy – or must this stay a part of more academic research like she does, separating the person from the context of the service that society has tried to build to help them?
I would be very interested to hear if anybody has been able to strike the balance between saying these things about relationships, love and vulnerability, and creating a robust research study of public policy at the same time. In fact, I would be far more interested in that than measuring happiness.