Avoid Individualising Well-being

I think that well-being comes under the RSE umbrella and certainly it should be a part of PSHE. Our relationship with ourselves is an incredibly important topic but I think it’s important that we get it right. The key for this is to understand how our relationship with ourselves should be construed through the broader lens of society, rights, privileges and power. 

These concentric circles represent ourselves at the centre, surrounded by our friends and family, then our communities (schools, areas, workplaces), then society. 

(this is taken from my BISH Activity Book, available for £20)

As you can see our relationship with ourselves is going to be affected by how society tells us to feel about ourselves, which can percolate throughout all the circles. You might want to try this activity for yourselves. 

We also have a lesson about this in DO… RSE for Schools lesson on our relationship with ourselves (which Alice and I wrote). This is available for free from dosreforschools.com 

So our ability to have a good relationship with ourselves is clearly impacted by the messages we receive about ourselves. Unfair policing, Covid-19 over-affecting BAME communities, and transphobia in the UK are some very powerful current examples of this. Black, asian, and minority ethnic young people’s experience of racism may mean that they feel less valuable than others. See also, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, disablism. These oppressions can interlock of course, with many experiencing more than one oppression at the same time. These affect people on an individual level but also they affect people materially. It’s hard to feel good about ourselves if we are poor, or denied access to government help, or are restricted from certain spaces, jobs, or support services.

Class underlies this too of course. Think of what in the circles makes you feel bad about yourself and the answer probably lies in this individualising form of capitalism we are living under (certainly in the UK). We’re all being affected by coronavirus (even if disproportionately) but in ‘normal times’ we might also: compare ourselves to others, feel undermined or bullied at work, or feel devalued in our profession, or compete with others for scarce resources. We are all struggling. So pretty much all of our well-being is outside of our control and it’s happening all the time.

This means that wellbeing needs to be a topic we address to and for all the circles and all of the time. Which means we need to talk about self-care, but also how we care for others. How we can create more consensual practices in all of our relationships with people. What schools can do to create truly inclusive and anti-oppressive communities where the ability to thrive and feel good about ourselves is evenly distributed. Fostering and promoting ideas of solidarity, community building, mutual aid and being there for everyone.

I think about these circles a lot in my work and I find it very helpful. It gets us away from just placing the emphasis on the individual to ‘overcome’ or ‘be strong in the face of…’ or ‘rise above it’ and pushes it outwards through the circles.  

  • ‘How can you make it easier for your friends to …’,
  • ‘why it’s important for you to challenge others around …’
  • ‘how do you help others to choose rather than choosing for them.’
  • What responsibility does school have here.
  • What is being taught.
  • Where are the support mechanisms.
  • How are people held accountable.
  • What is a school doing to listen to victims / survivors? 
  • How do we change policy.
  • What protest does to make change and how to do that.
  • How do we ask our elected representatives to hear us.
  • What changes do we demand of media. Etc

Working in the circles also just makes RSE a much more interesting, dense, and challenging topic, with clear opportunities for working across curriculums.

I’ve been writing about this kind of thing a lot over at my website for young people over the last few weeks. I wrote about we as individuals can deal with stress, stress and the world around us, and stress and the people around us. You might find this reading list helpful for learning about racism. I also wrote about solidarity which covers some of this too.

© Justin Hancock, 2020