Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Power Differential

"Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
  --  Robert Francis Kennedy

I've been thinking today about an in-service that was taught years ago by a recent graduate who was studying to become a therapist.  During the in-service, I was in a position of power over her employment, to make the decision to have her teach the class, over my employees, over the future of the company, over some of the culture of the company, and over the children I was given stewardship over.  Being a member of the LDS church my entire life I think may have had some detrimental effects on my leadership skills and abilities.  Back then, during the class, I listened to each point made and thought of the staff who cared for the at-risk youth they were stewards over and the power differential, and for a split second, I thought of me, but quickly threw it in my doubt file box I used so conveniently for so many years with church beliefs, which also, unfortunately, became a file box for many rationale thoughts.  

I'm saddened at some of the decisions I made as the leader of this company when I didn't recognize with humility how power and fear have a tremendous effect on each one of us.  My change in beliefs has opened up that file and pointed out how I may have abused power I had been given, and the impact of the power differential.  I prided myself on being a great boss, and for the most part I feel I was a great boss, but there are times when staff offended me that perhaps I wasn't as fair and rationale and objective as I could have been.  Becoming aware of how my emotions can lead to irrational behaviors and becoming aware of disproportions in power are helpful in navigating my journey from this point forward.  

Yesterday, in the morning, I experienced an obvious trigger.  Something ordinary became a snowball rolling down a hill only to become a massive avalanche of emotion.  The doubt file box is what I consider to be the denial part of my grief, and when it's there safely filed away, I can maintain a sense of control over it.  Until, a trigger occurs like the one yesterday.  The trigger was in thinking about how inappropriate it is to have "worthiness" interviews in any religion with minors; at minimum without a parent present.  Even worthiness interviews with young adults who are seeking council typically from a much older male.  What I always considered to be appropriate and normal, with my new lens seems completely inappropriate.  

How would I feel about my daughters' male teacher at school having her stay after school to privately speak with her in a room without any windows about "worthiness" issues?  This hasn't happened, but you can imagine the horror I'd feel if I found out it did.  Yet, this is common practice for the bishop to call a young women as young as twelve into the bishops office, alone without a second adult present, to discuss "worthiness" issues that the young child may not even be aware of are "worthiness" issues at that point.  This practice is simply unacceptable.  I'm thankful that the ward I practiced in as an adult had only the most upstanding and ethically behaved Bishops, but what of the wards that don't, or the wards where the Bishop may not recognize the imbalance of power and control over the conversation?  

As a mental health professional I'm not sure why I never made this connection before...that dumb doubt file box and the brain damage it has caused...grrrr.  But now, it's my belief that it's just plain unacceptable for an older male or female leader in a position of power (Bishop) to discuss "worthiness" issues with little girls and boys, young adults in college, and even young married couples...period.  Even parents should be mindful of the power differential when discussing "worthiness" issues with children.  Hmmm, not sure what the solution is, but perhaps it would be along the lines of what I found recently online about educating children, young adults, and young married adults.

Trauma can occur when a child or young adult who is interviewed by an adult who they perceive is in a position of power at church about "worthiness" issues is not prepared. Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives. Psychologists can help these individuals find constructive ways of managing their emotions.

Until the church makes policy changes to protect minors from ecclesiastical abuse, it’s up to parents and concerned leaders to do so.  Here are some practical things we can do to set boundaries and prevent this practice from causing trauma for children.  Remember that trauma is NOT our perception of the interview, but the child's perception of the interview.
1) Insist on being present in interviews.  It’s a no-brainer that “two-deep” interviews should be standard policy, but until such time as it occurs, parents can create a safer environment by insisting on being present in any interviews that occur.  The policy in our family is: there will be no interviews between priesthood leaders and our children unless we are present, period
2) Teach children principles of sexual agency.  Help children protect themselves by teaching them that their bodies belong to them and no one else.  Teach them that no one has the right to ask them intimate questions about their bodies, genitals, masturbatory practices, or personal relationships.  Teach them it’s okay to say, “No, I won’t answer that; it’s none of your business.”  Stand by them if there are repercussions by domineering priesthood leaders who withhold access to religious ceremonies and rights of passage as a result of children’s refusal to compromise their sexual agency.
3) Foster a healthy questioning of authority.  This problem exists in the church because no one has thought to question the practice in the first place; it’s simply “what we do.”  Teach children that as they mature, their objective is to internalize their own spiritual authority and stand before God as fully actualized spiritual agents.  Let them know that it’s healthy and important to question what they’ve been taught and come to their own conclusions.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog today, and on a journey like yours. I'm a social worker and soon to be SPED teacher (just finishing up my masters). :)

Regarding this post though--YES. These worthiness interviews are COMPLETELY inappropriate. My daughter was baptized last year. Before her worthiness interview, my husband and I had a very explicit conversation about one of us being in there with her. He didn't see the big deal, but agreed to go along with one of us in attendance. The night of her interview, I was in the bathroom at the church with my other child who was having some toilet issues when she was called in. When I finally made it out into the hall, I went to find her only to discover that she had already had her interview and that my husband "just forgot" about our agreement. I was LIVID. She was safe, and there was no harm done, but the principle remains the same--too much unquestioned male authority and not enough policies to protect the youth. I was also very hurt and angry at my husband. Male privilege prevents one from seeing the harm even though he knows I myself am a victim of sexual assault. Anyway, I'm rambling. I just wanted to say thank you for this post.