In this part, we will present the approach of using good treatment in education as one of the necessary and essential mechanisms for fighting against (in)visible racism.
It may seem unnecessary for some to talk about it, since it is obvious: we all understand that we have to treat each other well and that this is a skill that we have learnt from a very young age. But that is not the case.
Knowing that we are individuals who grow and learn in a given society, we should analyse the kind of message we get from our environment on daily basis: the TV news and advertisements, movies, music, sports based on competition, etc.
We would see that many of these messages are based on the module of normalization of violence: TV programmes uncritically show verbal violence and bad treatment, crimes and murders, etc. Children in peacetime play war games with toys such as guns and rifles. In this way abuse, harm and violence are so normalized that very often, unless it is very visible and brutal, we don't recognize them. The humiliation, the anger and the insults may seem like a normal way of living in a family, in a couple, at work.
It is difficult to get out of this model, since, although we criticize and reject it in theory, we internalize it in our values and behaviours. For example, the way we solve conflicts: we reproduce models that place us in a spiral of violence and bad treatment. When someone says or does something that makes us angry, we suffer. We tend to make them suffer in response.
An example from STAR project: young people we have interviewed within the research in Spain have shown a high degree of knowledge about good treatment: they relate it to emotions of love, care of people, physical closeness, etc. Meaning: we should not laugh at people, we should not insult anybody, accept everybody as they are... However, the majority of them, when asked if they have made fun of a person lately, or ignored a person, insulted somebody or judged a person without knowing her/him, have said yes.
Secondly, what we also found out in the research is that young people lack emotional security and self-esteem, when they feel they don’t fulfil the expectations from society: young people mention the examples of not having money, not being beautiful or smart enough or if they were born in a different country of origin ( not in Spain). In these cases, they feel they don’t have the same opportunities in life, suffer violence more frequently and think that other peers or even adults don’t believe in them. In consequence, they tend to reproduce mistreatment towards themselves as well.
Using good treatment in our work and promoting it on a larger scale offers a changing behaviour alternative to individuals and to groups of people, allowing them to practice and learn how to build respectful relationships, based on equality, with themselves and with the others. It is because only practice will allow them to understand good treatment in an integrated way and not only on intellectual level.
When we try to explain what good treatment is, we like to use the definition of the psychotherapist Fina Sanz Ramon, a specialist in sexology and pedagogy, who defines good treatment as “a form of expression of respect and love that we deserve and that we can manifest in our environment, as a desire to live in peace, harmony, balance, to develop in health, well-being and enjoyment”.* Since the basis of good treatment is building relationships that are NOT based on the structure of power, we consequently contribute to the elimination of one of the biggest causes of (invisible) racism which is: me, holding whatever power I think I have (political, physical, cultural, intellectual, etc), and use it against those who I THINK, I BELIEVE, I LEARNT that don’t have it.
Good treatment is the opposite of bad treatment/mistreatment and it can as well occur on three different levels: personal, relational and societal. Using the approach of good treatment in education with young people means focusing on these three levels.
To promote good treatment on personal level, we would use exercises that enable young people developing values and attitudes such as self-awareness, self-esteem, self-acceptance, emotional awareness, self-criticism, autonomy, etc. We would for example encourage them to reflect and tell others about their strengths and things they admire in themselves (which at the beginning is always awkward and difficult, since the majority of them is not used to do that). We would as well ask others to tell qualities they admire in other people (we can do this in a big variety of forms: writing it on the paper or on the balloons and putting some dancing music to create a good atmosphere; or making a good treatment corridor and telling each person what the group likes about him/her, etc.). We can as well go further and propose good treatment tasks for outside the learning room: each person would take some time to reflect on what makes him/her happy and then do it within the next couple of days. In this way, young people learn how to take care of themselves better: they listen to their bodies, sensations, emotions, thoughts. They make a personal commitment to their well-being and they feel they’re able to choose what is good for them among many options they have.
For practicing good treatment on relational level we’re focusing on non-violent communication skills and attitudes such as empathy and appreciation for diversity and respect. The exercises we use allow young people to learn about reaching common agreements with others and to negotiate while communicating their own needs and emotions. They as well practice active listening. In this process young people develop empathy and communication skills based on respect and non-violence. In addition, they improve their ability of taking care of each other and learn about the things that are not negotiable for themselves and for the others (for example, a peer insulting you is something unacceptable and not negotiable). It’s about learning to put our own limits and communicate it to others.
One of the exercises that was used within the STAR project and worked really well is performance or theatre (you can see it in the tools section of this manual). Using theatre can be a powerful and interactive tool to transform violent situations into situations based on equality and respect and where there is no abuse of power. The facilitators or the students themselves represent a story which is close to the students' reality and where there is a display of racism (visible/invisible). The students themselves have to propose different solutions to the problem. This exercise allows young people to better empathize with victims of racism and on the other hand, learn about different strategies of action in violent situations, when they are victims or bystanders.
What worked well within the project were also the so called “good treatment challenges”. We proposed to 2 or 3 persons from the group to take care of the rest of the group during 1 day. The challenges were easy to carry out and enjoyable. The next day or week, the group of people who took care of others changed and the challenge completed when all persons, at least once, were caregivers. The aim of this exercise was to make the caregivers aware about the good feelings they were producing in others and to realize that they were responsible for the happiness of other people. In this way the group was responsibly and consciously building mutual appreciation and care for their well-being.
Young people were shown how good treatment generates good treatment. And when this is integrated in the group, it can be extended in daily life, being applied in family, in an intimate relationship, etc.
The good treatment at social level means changing the structure of power relations into relations of equality, where young people develop values such as collaboration, solidarity, empathy, negotiation, coexistence and respect for diversity. It means listening and including rather than criticizing and excluding.
To promote good treatment at the level of the group we work with, we can start with activities that foster the cohesion among the members of the group, to increase the motivation of getting to know each other better and increasing the trust they have in each other. There exist many energizers and simple games where young people simply have fun and group building activities where they work together to solve proposed challenges and find common solutions.
One of the activities we always do when working with a group is proposing the participants to draw up a good treatment contract: young people share about the values that need to be respected by the group or the things that need to be done or not, so that everybody can be fully included and feeling well. In this way the group learns how to collaborate and negotiate with each other, and moreover, to accept and understand the differences that exist among group members and how to deal with them on basis of respect.
Before getting to this point it is really important that all the group members feel safe to communicate their own needs and moreover, feel motivated to be part of the decision-making process of the group knowing that their voice will be hear and will be taken into consideration. For that reason, all previous exercise on building trust within the group is very important, as well as building up self-confidence, communication skills, etc. meaning that we need to work on the three levels to be able to make a changing point within our small society – the group.
Here we must as well point out that it is very important, while dealing with good treatment on all levels, not to forget the online sphere and the relations young people have with others on social media.
Finally, one of the main objectives of our educational process is that young people become agents of change and multipliers of their learning experience, creating actions that go beyond the classroom. We can motivate them to take action in their environments and raise awareness on the impact of good treatment. How? In the article Community work you can learn about how to support young people in organizing actions for and with the Community.
By Tea Stanic
*Sanz Ramón, Fina. (2016): El buentrato como proyecto de vida Barcelona; editorial Kairos. pg.114