The Conservatism Corollary to Social Role Valorization states: The more vulnerable a person is the greater the need for positive compensation—even “bending over backwards”—to balance the vulnerability or devaluation and prevent additional wounds. The potential for positive impact is also higher.
Each day of our lives is filled with many experiences; some of them have a powerful influence on us. Here is one such personal experience shared by Manisha, a clinical psychologist in Kolkata.
A young boy, Sudeep (name altered to protect identity), accompanied by his mother and grandparents visited Manisha one day for a consultation. Sudeep is a person with autism and does not use verbal communication. He does, however, communicate some of his needs through other communication systems. He’s 11 years old now, but Manisha had met him when he was about five years old and remembered him as a calm, attentive child and a very keen observer.
The family came to see Manisha because they were concerned that he was not calm anymore – he got agitated sometimes, crying, hitting himself or others, including his family members. His grandmom was puzzled by his behavior: “How on earth did we get into such a fix? We always try to fulfil his demands and don’t demand anything of him! He watches cartoons or pictures of mountains on his mobile phone all day…. When he wants to go out, we do that too when we can! What else can we do?”
Manisha was struck by the vast difference from most typical 11-year-olds. It is hard to imagine an 11-year-old boy watching television all day long with no interest or curiosity to know more about the world around him, without typical ways to express or communicate his needs and interests and nothing meaningful to do all day. Presuming his inability to understand or communicate, he was kept busy in activities such as matching, paper pasting or yoga. She was perplexed and pondered if his family refrained from increasing his awareness about other mountains in India besides those he visited in Shimla and Darjeeling on the presumption that it is pointless since he will not understand.
Manisha urged the family to talk to Sudeep, to communicate with him – about the world around him, about what is happening in his family, in his city, state and country; about their family values to help him build his own personal values; to focus on the valued roles he has now and explore some more valued roles he can hold. She emphasized how important it is to understand what makes his life meaningful and what a meaningful and interesting life looks like for him, instead of engaging him in activities just to keep him busy. She suggested that they interact with him as they would with any typical 11-year-old boy. The boy’s grandmom then asked, “All right, so we have to give him a lot of attention, right?” Manisha smiled and replied, “No, the time for receiving “just attention” has passed. It is now time to start respecting him as a person.”
The young boy who was the focus of all the discussion around him sat quietly in a corner. He had stopped pacing around the room and had stopped screaming, too. As he abruptly stood up, his family nervously wondered if he was going to hit Manisha. Before they could block his way, he walked over to her. The “aggressive,” “agitated” boy, who was thought to be a menace, came right before her and kissed her on the forehead and returned to his chair with a smile on his face.
There was nothing more to be said. There was no other validation needed. Just attention isn’t enough. Attention must give way to respect for the person, for each individual’s unique personhood.
For those who systematically experience devaluation, going the extra mile and bending over backwards is needed to positively compensate for their heightened vulnerability.