As is often the case, I get small cuts on my hands and arms while going about random house projects, working outdoors or just moving through everyday life. A few years back, however, I had a small cut on my finger and I just watched in awe at the processes that were taking place. The cut started to bleed a little which is partly an attempt to flush any bacteria out from the area. Platelets helped coagulate the blood and restore homeostasis. And white blood cells start heading to the affected region to address any foreign materials that may have entered. What is incredible is that I did not have to “think” about any of this. It is just what the body does to heal itself.
I have been reflecting on healing and hope in recent years, in part because my work as a social worker and counselor immerses me in this conversation on a daily basis.
For almost two decades now, I have been studying and practicing what are called narrative approaches to clinical and community work. One of the central tenets of the narrative approach is that people are always responding to harm and hardship – whether we recognize it or not. Similar to what happens when we get a cut, individuals and communities are always responding to the harm, threat, oppression and hardship that comes their way. And while efforts to stop or turn back the harm may not always be successful, people continue to respond.
This one simple insight has changed a lot about how I try to move through the world, and it has made a significant contribution to my sense of hope and the possibility of healing.
In my clinical work, I try to find the places of resistance in people’s lives. This often reveals powerful narratives, skills and knowledge people have, passed on from other generations, to face hardship. We talk and laugh and cry together as we imagine a different life, and we work to usher that preferred life into reality. We name and acknowledge the very real ways in which our social contexts undergird that hardship and make it so hard for people to heal. And we dream a different world together.
Individual acts of kindness and expressions of hope and resistance can inspire others. It is like the first platelet joining another to stop the flow of blood…
In my personal journey, I try to pay more attention to where the resistance and healing is happening within, and all around me. I see it everywhere, and, on my good days, it encourages and sustains me. I especially see it in communities most affected by the harm and hardships of the world, and it often doesn’t look like what I thought it would.
Sometimes it’s outright rebellion and protest, but often it takes on more subtle forms, like families practicing cultural traditions that have been handed down; hip-hop artists weaving stories of their lives through spoken word; artists painting colorful murals on abandoned buildings; urban gardening collectives working to grow their own food and healing herbs; storytellers celebrating local elders, freedom fighters and community leaders unrecognized by institutional powers; or people dancing, singing and partying in neighborhoods left behind by the economic prosperity of others.
People are always trying to respond and heal with whatever they have in their midst, and remembering this brings my attention back to the potential of any one life to become a vessel for healing the collective.
Rebecca Solnit speaks of how we live in a culture that overtly downplays the power of ordinary people, and suggests that it is only official authority that can decide the future. This narrative serves those in power well, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Individual acts of kindness and expressions of hope and resistance can inspire others. It is like the first platelet joining another to stop the flow of blood, or the first white blood cell mobilizing others to protect the body. What we do matters.
Solnit also reminds us that things get shaken loose in moments of crisis. What was considered fixed and unchanging is suddenly up for grabs. This can spark the imagination and allow us to dream of alternative worlds.
We are in one of those times, and I am convinced that our collective body is desperately trying to heal itself from some of the devastating harms of genocide, systemic racism, white supremacy, environmental disaster and economic inequality that have been hurting us for far too long.
Ordinary people – when acting together – have tremendous resources and potential to bring healing and hope, and to offer us a restorative path to the future.
Photograph by Lynne Boucher
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