Thoughts on Dan
I had held off writing anything about the recent Action For Children ad campaign, here in the U.K., because I didn’t think I would add much to the discussion.
Having just read through Anne’s original post over at Existence is Wonderful, and Shiva’s thought-provoking one at Biodiverse Resistance, one theme kept popping into mind: GIGO. My first reaction was that I wished I could hug Dan, and help him find a less destructive way to think about his own life and self.
Anne’s description of what it’s like to try to make sense of what is happening in your life, while you’re being fed a steady diet of faulty assumptions, looked all too familiar to me. She could have been describing my life, ages 7-27 or so. When the information you are offered is mostly bad, you are liable to put some similarly bad interpretations on your own behavior and thinking. It upsets me that AFC has chosen to add to the flood of bad information.
Though she has modified her approach in a followup, I still don’t agree on the subject of coercion, however. Even before you throw in the charity and the advertising agency, just being in an institutional environment is coercive enough in itself.
I know, because as part of the GIGO cycle, I was subjected to several jaunts in adolescent psych units. Everyone involved–my parents, the institutions, and me–were working off bad information at the time. The first discussion I had with the other kids had to do with “playing the game” in order to get out of there. I resisted the idea at first, but was pretty quickly willing to do or say absolutely anything to get out of there, much less to avoid going back. There was enough emotional danger there that I probably still would.
Unlike some kids in similar situations I encountered, I kept up the resistance for a good long while, having trouble believing that this treatment could possibly be for anybody’s “own good”. I did keep feeling like I was being punished for my innate badness, however. And, eventually, enough people had been questioning my thoughts and motives for long enough, that I did not trust them myself. I did start feeling crazy and as close to evil as made no difference, falling into at least partial Stockholm Syndrome, as Shiva mentions. Even if you don’t think the situation is fair, you are still going to start believing–at some level or another–that there is some reason that nothing about you suits other people, and try to change accordingly.
I, too, tried to change my outward behavior, based on faulty interpretations of it. That worked about as well, even in the short term, as one would expect. At the time, I probably would have said how much had been done to help me, and how much I had improved because of it. Even when I was suicidal (a.k.a. “selfish and bratty”), from having my mind threatening to rip apart.
Now I have the knowledge and vocabulary to describe what is really going on in my life, or at least to come up with a much more realistic approximation. It makes me angry and sad that so many other people still do not. They have little alternative to describing their own thoughts and behavior in the only terms they’ve been exposed to.
That, to me, is the worst thing about this ad campaign. It’s just another brick in the wall, but one that already contains enough bricks to crush the life and spirit out a person.