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Living Well Together: A-Z of Values

Christmas is a time when the values of peace and goodwill take centre stage. But what about the rest of the year? What values guide our individual, family and collective life? How are these values formed, in what order do we rank them and how do they affect how we feel?  Iniva Creative Learning has just made available four new resources (available to download for free on our resources tab) which reflect on life values from all angles. Our resources feature the four core British Values which schools are now required to teach while also critiquing the concept of nation-specific values. A wider ranging exploration of more universal values is also included. The values to which we assign importance shapes how we think, influencing how we behave which, in turn, shapes how we feel – this makes the themes covered in the A- Z of Values particularly relevant for use in therapy sessions too. Lyn French (A Space Director) looks at how values relate to psychoanalytic preoccupations, specifically, to the meaning we give both to life and death.

In the West, December and January are particularly symbolic times of the year. Since pagan times, December has been associated with the winter solstice. Pre-Christian festivals included many of the features we associate with Christmas today – gift giving, feasting and decorative displays of light. On less conscious levels, December is also linked  with death  – we are  in the midst of winter which represents the temporary ‘death’ of nature. Poignantly, it is also the last month of the calendar year, a finality which signifies our inevitable march towards our own demise.  Furthermore, we know that the Christian narrative of the birth of Jesus celebrated on the 25th in ‘Christ’s Mass’ is inseparable from the story of his persecution and death. Faisal Abdu’Allah & Kofi Allen’s image Revelations (A Crown of Life) from
A-Z of Leadership puts a unique spin on this age-old iconic image, bringing race and culture into the mix. It can be seen to raise important questions including who authors historical and religious narratives – we might, for example, ask why Christ is always represented as a white man when this does not match the story of the place and the origins of his birth.

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Abdu’Allah ‘Revelations (A Crown of Life), 1996-2010. Copyright Faisal Abdu’Allah. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2015

In Freud’s thinking, religion offers us the illusion of an all powerful  father figure, God, whose  superhuman capabilities extend to being able to raise his son Jesus Christ from the dead. Choosing to accept the omnipotence of God ultimately offers believers protection from the fear of dying while the Biblical concept of heaven fulfills the common wish for eternal life. The realities of dying and death are subjects that we tend to try to defend against thinking about. The fantasy of a painful death followed by the uncertainty of what’s next and the fear of an empty void of nothingness can be extremely anxiety provoking.  Shiraz’s image commissioned for the A-Z of Emotions illustrating the letter O for Overwhelming captures these fears as well as the terror of being out of control. In his mixed media painting, we see an image of a ship being tossed violently about by frighteningly high waves. Death seems to be waiting for those on board.

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Shiraz Bayjoo Image illustrating Overwhelmed, 2014 Digitised collage, acrylic ink on paper with archival lithograph

When  reflecting on life values, it is  useful to keep in mind that time is finite for us all. Giving considered thought to what we do with the gift of life is necessary if we are to live in ways which are both fulfilling and responsible. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have a privileged lifestyle with freedom and possibilities may be tempted to cocoon ourselves from any knowledge of the way others might have to live.  Lucy Orta’s artwork from Who are you? Where are you going? is entitled Refuge Wear – Habitent. Her tent seems to cleverly capture both the plight of refugees who have to make their habitat or home out of a tent as well as picturing how we might wish to ‘close ourselves in’ and keep what we don’t what to see or know out.

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Lucy Orta ‘Refuge Wear – Habitent’, 1992-3 Aluminium Coated Polyamide, 2 Telescopic poles, Whistle, Compass. Copyright 2014 by Lucy & Jorge Orta

However, this year, probably more than most, many of us will find our thoughts turning to the huge numbers of refugees ‘temporarily’ camping near Calais in the cold and the wet, desperate to be offered the chance to build an ordinary life for themselves. Bigger questions which we all need to be asking include how we conceptualise the human population. As sociologists and psychoanalysts know, we all have a tendency to experience the world in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’. This sets up as opposites of ‘self’ and ‘other’ which is problematic, and captures how minority and majority identities are constructed. If we are to rank values in alphabetical order, assigning ‘accepting differences’ to the letter A and ‘sense of belonging’ to the letter B, we need to figure out how these principles are lived, not just comfortably agreed to and left there.

Shiran Neshat’s photograph featured in How do we live well with others? could be interpreted as showing us how adults both hold and protect children physically and emotionally  while also shaping their future beliefs.

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Shirin Neshat ‘Bonding’, 1995 RC Print & Ink. Photo by Kyong Park. Copyright Shirin Neshat

Psychotherapists talk about emotional holding as building the capacity for containment. On a basic level, this means being able to contain intense feelings without letting them get out of control or overwhelm us.  We can all have unexpectedly powerful reactions to others – in everyday language, we call this having ‘our buttons pushed’. Taking responsibility for learning about our ’emotional hot-spots’ and managing our feelings is often the first step towards being able to live well with others.  In order to make life values more than self-congratulatory talk, we need to give thought to how we define values and what they look like in action.

Our new A-Z of Values resource packs can be used for self-reflection as well as for facilitating individual or group exploration with any age group in any setting.  If we all commit to carrying the values of Christmas into the year ahead, we will be that much closer to living as Aristole recommended when he said, ‘The ultimate value of life depends upon awareness and the power of contemplation rather than upon mere survival.’
Download all four packs for free now via the resources tab.

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Written by Jenny Starr