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Friday, August 22, 2014

Authority without "positive capital" is problematic

      The news of this past week has been focused on the disturbances in Ferguson, Missouri.  Opinions on the causes of the events are as varied as the number of different commentators reporting on the situation.  I make no claim to know or understand the reality of what happened in this situation.  But I think I do know how these situations develop and escalate.  It reminds me of one the best foster care conference presentations that I heard a number of years ago.  This presentation has also resonated with me in many non foster care relationships and I thought I would pass along its message.
      Good relationships require the "banking" of "positive capital."  Simply put relationships are only as productive as the number of positive, honest and open interactions experienced in the relationship.  Without this positive capital persons in positions of authority can only maintain their authority through coercion and retribution.  For foster parents this meant that listening to the issues of the foster children in your care and understanding their needs before defining rules was imperative.  Establishing trust, as difficult at that was, was essential to having a successful placement.  Telling the foster child house rules on day one was the first step in insuring a problematic placement.  House rules were important but only after that trust had been created.  It was a delicate balance but doable.  For many foster youth who had experienced the trauma of abuse building this trust was an especially difficult process and always an ongoing process.
       In watching the confrontations in Ferguson it seems clear that the relationship between the residents and the authorities had very little positive capital. It is very difficult to build capital once the conflicts occur. The comments and actions from both sides have a "we" versus "them" tone.  Let's hope that what has occurred in Missouri brings on a national discussion in communities on how this situation can be avoided by creating pre-conflict dialogue and creating positive capital.

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