But why do they need labels?

Dear reader,

after I’ve successfully completed my first course and was so impressed by it, my mentor C. (the therapist from the previous post) asked me before long if I’m using the opportunity of putting learned principles into practice. My study visit was not over yet, so I was not at home where I could work one-on-one with my students, however I had an ongoing project that I wanted to finish.

It was a movie about social labels. At my faculty, I operate as a voluntary disability coordinator as my university does not have a developed system yet that would apply that function and hence meet the needs of the growing diverse student population. Under this position I’m a leader of the tutorship system for students with disabilities and have several tutors working for that purpose. This year’s team was especially creative and dedicated and I thought I should give them the opportunity to express their creativity in some project.

Already in November 2013 we discussed the idea of making a movie for the biggest student event at our faculty (our faculty being quite large, with more than 7,000 students). The event’s traditional every year opening begins with so-called traditional “relay run” between students and faculty employees. The competitors run up and down the faculty stairs and after the winner is known, this serves as an official opening of the project that lasts for a couple of days with many accompanying events and presentations.

My students  and I thought that this year we will prepare an additional run – diversity run in order to show that the stairs react the same to everyone, no matter the skin colour, ability, sexual orientation … so therefore we decided upon making a short movie. As it is always the case, engaging a big team is not an easy task and at the beginning everyone seemed to be talking about ways it could go wrong. To illustrate: »well we’ll never manage to make it on time, we won’t be able to find enough people, people will be embarrassed wearing labels, how are we ever going to present this to the dean, because it is such a tabu theme«, etc., etc. In fact it is very common in my country that people like to complain a lot and list lots of reasons of why one cannot do it, because it is somehow comforting and gives excuses some firm ground.

Having new knowledge about solution talk what I tried to do is talk to the team about what it would look like if a) we could find people to work with; b) would have enough time to prepare (which brought us to thinking about what has to be done and how long this might take and it turned out it is not as complicated; c) since we knew we were doing a good thing, presenting it to the dean has nothing to do with asking for something unimaginable, in fact we should look for desired outcomes this movie could bring and talk to the dean about that, etc. And to get concrete ideas, lots of “what else’s”.

So we found people. So we made a schedule. So we monitored progress (I emailed every now and then or when meeting in person about »what’s better since the last time/what’s been done since the last time« and then I gave compliments about the progress made. After the shooting, we had evaluation of the whole project and it turned out that it had way deeper meaning than anyone thought in the first place. I also got some compliments back, such as that they felt engaged, they liked not being controlled, and they had the opportunity to propose suggestions that were heard and that they met people who could do action instead of talking problems. It made me realise that SFT had something to do with it.

So I’m sharing the movie with you. It is in Slovenian, at the beginning everyone says a few words about themselves such as I’m XX, am XX years old, I like dancing, I’m an activist, I’ll change the world, I like spending time with my friends … then they get the labels (society labels me as …). Then they run, not to compete but to collaborate and at the end the text shows various labels (cripple, fag, negro, bisexual, gipsy, satanist) and other social oppressing labels start to emerge (peasant, jerk, retard, etc.).

I was really proud of the whole team and showed the movie to anyone who expressed interest in it. One day, as the movie was still in its early stages, I was just going through some last details and suddenly I heard a doorbell. Then realised I was so absorbed in my work that I forgot P. was coming for his violin lessons (I give violin lessons to P., a really bright 8-year old boy, yes, I used to play violin for 9 years). He asked me what I was doing and I told him about the project and showed him the movie. He liked it, but then he asked: “Why do they wear these labels?” I replied that it is the society that gives it to them and that they wear it because they want to show how unjust these labels are and reject it at the end of the movie. He was not satisfied with my answer: “Yes, but there’s nothing wrong with them!” I was curious: “Can you tell me more about that?” “Well, they are people, so why should they be labelled? You put a label on something you don’t know what it is. For example my mum puts labels on boxes, so she doesn’t forget what’s in it. But these are people, and if you want to know what and who they are, you could just simply ask.” I replied that some people are afraid to ask and therefore feel more comfortable giving up-front labels, even if they misjudge a person completely. He snorted: “Sounds silly to me.”  He’s really bright.

So to sum up, here’s the movie:

and it was solution focused thinking that contributed to its delivery. Enjoy!

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