In Mississippi, We Do Hope.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Mississippi needs to do a lot of things. In the scheme of things, are you sure hope is really all that important?”
My answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”
However, I’m not going to write too much about the science and power of hope itself which was the focus of this year’s Mississippi Juvenile Justice Conference. If you would like to know more about the specifics behind the science and power of hope, you can find my previous thoughts here and here.
I also encourage and invite you to read this great write-up on the conference penned by PACESConnection staff writer, Carey Sipp, who attended virtually. If you would like to watch a short media clip of the event, reporter Sabria Reid from the Gulfport, MS, WXXV news station interviewed Dr. Chan Hellman and others on the importance of hope and the plans for spreading the science and power of hope throughout Mississippi.
What I want to share are four lessons I learned from having been one of the event planners of the three-day conference.
1. Cooperation is key.
Over three days more than 1200 people participated in the conference. The attendees were comprised of juvenile court judges and referees, child protection services employees, school attendance officers, and youth services officers from all 82 counties in Mississippi. Well, almost all.
Ideally, every county would have been represented and everyone who attended would routinely work and collaborate together. However, a few people didn’t attend the conference and we know people don’t always work well together.
Sure, it would be easy to bemoan this fact, but to do so would overlook that the vast majority of people who attended did function well as a team. They provided a visible example of how, when we are willing to eliminate work silos, we can, instead, surround a child with incredible help.
Cooperative and collaborative teams embody synergy, learn from each member, and draw strength from diverse skills and experiences.
Thankfully, it was obvious there were many cooperative and collaborative teams who were willing to shift their paradigms and embrace a new approach to a complex problem.
2. Creativity is exciting.
We all know people who become burned-out, exhausted, or fatigued because there are too many challenges and issues that need addressing.
Juvenile justice and child protection services are no exception. When we become overwhelmed and discouraged, we often revert to the bare minimums or the basic requirements. It’s how we manage stress.
However, when people are provided a framework that is simple, but not simplistic, and that allows people to engage their natural and inherent creativity, exciting results can happen!
At the conference, I could easily see the proverbial “light bulb” going off over people's heads when they finally grasped the science and power of hope.
Instead of telling a child or family, “You must do this step because the court orders it,” the science and power of hope allows court team members to help a child or family identify their true goals and then walk through a process of identifying potential pathways for success.
3. Confidence takes practice.
As one might expect, not everything was immediately received by the court teams as a hallelujah moment. Many people were slow to embrace (or have yet to embrace) this new framework and paradigm. The participants asked many tough and emotional questions of the presenters.
It takes time for a person to build confidence in a new way of thinking; it takes time to build trust. Building confidence and building trust take practice.
I enjoy watching the clip of former NBA Philadelphia 76ers Allen Iverson ranting about "practice." It reminds me of the need to practice no matter how well I think I know my craft.
He said during a news conference in response to being called out over his lack of motivation during basketball practice, "I mean, listen: We talking about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We talking about practice.” The rant goes on for nearly 15 minutes.
What I didn’t know until recently was that he was struggling during practice (and games) because he had recently lost his best friend who had been shot and killed seven months earlier. Iverson was dealing with pain and trauma. Knowing that simple fact allowed me to see Iverson in a completely different light.
Our juvenile court teams deal with emotional pain and trauma on a daily basis. Many times, it’s the pain of a child or family; sometimes, it’s vicarious or secondary emotional pain and trauma of the court team members themselves.
Doing something new often takes lots of practice. Being confident in a new approach, especially an approach that requires vulnerability and might not immediately work, takes lots of practice - and patience - and understanding. Not just by the child, family, and court team, but by everybody.
4. Change is hard.
Embracing cooperation, exploring creativity, and establishing confidence is hard, but it is rewarding.
We have been conditioned to see the world as we think it is. We have been trained to “fix” other people’s problems. We have been forced to submit to a regimented process instead of seeking new ways to lean into old problems and new opportunities.
The biggest challenge I saw during the conference was the struggle from moving from the longstanding practice of telling a child or family in need “here’s what you must do,” to engaging in a conversation that starts first with discovering a child’s or family’s goals - not the court's goals. That’s a big change – trust me.
It makes sense that a mother addicted to drugs needs treatment. But is that her goal? It makes sense that a traumatized teenager needs to stay in school and make good grades. But is that his goal?
When we are willing to start with questions such as, “What do you want for your life?” and “What do you need in order to get there?” we can help people “create future memories” as Dr. Hellman says and share with them the available resources necessary to accomplish their goals.
We need to help struggling children and families embrace not what they must do, but what they can do when they discover the power of creating goals, identifying pathways, and developing willpower.
We need to train them in the science and power of hope!