Empowering Minds Globally
By Tracey Tanenbaum
Last year Council for Relationships kicked off what will hopefully be a lasting annual tradition. We inaugurated an award in honor of CFR’s founder. Dr. Emily Hartshorne Mudd was a feminist and change agent, committed to bettering the lives of couples and families. In her spirit, the award is given to an individual working to improve the quality of life in our region. Our 2016 recipient was Dr. Dan Gottlieb. You may be familiar with “Dr. Dan” because of his long-running public radio program, “Voices in the Family.” I had the pleasure of working with Dan as his producer many years ago.
This year we branched out a bit and gave the Dr. Emily Hartshorne Mudd award to an individual and organization with a global reach. Bhavna Shyamalan co-founded of the M. Night Shyamalan Foundation (MNSF) with her filmmaker-husband in 2001. The organization’s mission is to support the grassroots efforts of emerging leaders as they work to alleviate poverty and injustice worldwide. MNSF has supported numerous local efforts including initiatives to fight human trafficking in Ghana, build secondary schools in war-ravaged South Sudan, and promote sustainable agriculture in Nicaragua.
As I spoke with Bhavna during our award ceremony in mid-June, I was struck by the parallels between her organizations’ approach to change, and ours as therapists.
Bhavna spoke eloquently about a popular tendency to group the globe in “us versus them” terms. For example, she noted that it is easy for Westerners to wave a disdainful finger at a Ghanaian parent who might sell her child into slavery, to judge that mother or her culture as heartless and unloving. However, if one takes the time to study the broader context in which she makes that decision (she was told her child would be well-cared for, and returned to her, the transaction would enable her to feed her other children), one is less likely to draw swift conclusions. Change takes time, and MNSF appreciates the importance of understanding the world in which an injustice occurs. In partnering with local leaders throughout the globe, the organization also subscribes to the notion that it comes from within. Therapists champion that belief. It’s nearly impossible to impose emotional or psychological change on an individual. For instance, anyone who is depressed or grieving a loss, and is advised to “get over it” understands the futility of that kind of advice. For this reason, therapists generally focus on meeting clients where they are. We try to understand the world people inhabit in order to ameliorate disease. And like the M. Night Shyamalan Foundation, Council for Relationships understands that the systems in which we operate—familial, cultural, social and economic—influence our everyday choices.
After my conversation with Bhavna, I felt inspired, both as a therapist and a citizen of the world.
Tracey Tanenbaum, M.Ed, MFT
215-382-6680 ext. 7083