Hope in the World of Dominant Ideas: Using Letter Writing Practices
By Pallavi Raikar & Trishala Kanakia, Narrative Therapist , Ummeed Mental Health Team
What are dominant ideas?
We live and are born in a world full of ideas. These ideas may influence us, our ways of being, our mental health and physical health, our relationships and our day to day lives. Some of these ideas are helpful and some not very supportive of our experiences and identities. For instance, there are many strong and dominant ideas around the theme of perfection that surround us, like ‘perfection requires symmetry’, or ‘perfection does not leave room for mistakes.’ These ideas are influenced by different contexts and structures such as families, peers, school, finances, government policies, ability, culture, caste, religion, gender, sexuality etc. In our work as therapists, trainers and learners we have noticed that some of these ideas limit possibilities and impacts hopes for the children, young people and families that we work with. This article hopes to explore how we can challenge some of these dominant ideas that affects our lives with the support of letter – writing practices. This article might be useful for mental health professionals, community health workers, teachers, and people using narrative practices in their work.
Why do we use the practice of letter- writing in the therapeutic context?
The practice of letter writing in the therapeutic context can become an influential and creative medium to acknowledge the effects of these dominant ideas on our lives, as well as to question and challenge some of these ideas, paving way for our preferred ways of being and living. As a part of our mental health training program, we had the privilege to write and document letters to dominant ideas that have an effect on our identities and lives. For the purpose of this article, we would be documenting some of the letters written to the dominant idea around ‘perfection.’ However, there are many dominant ideas around different themes and populations, like children, parents, siblings, disabilities, rest amongst others that surround us.
In these letters to perfection, we are trying to challenge and question the singular, rigid ideas and expectations that perfection holds of us, for instance ‘perfection does not allow us to be comfortable with ourselves,’ and ‘perfection does not let us enjoy the process of learning and being okay with flaws.’ We are using questions to challenge some of these ideas, for example ‘Perfection, why are you so against people and want to segregate us?’ In reflection and resistance of some of these dominant ideas, we are re-thinking and re-creating our newer meanings and more preferred understanding of perfection, like ‘we will enjoy all the little things, that resonates with us’, and ‘we will celebrate the ordinary.’ The letters to perfection are documented below for our reading and reference.
While writing these letters to dominant ideas, some of the things we try to keep in mind is to invite humour and creative ways of challenging the dominant ideas. We usually endeavour to give the dominant idea a characterisation, name (for example the perfect teacher), and persona, with the hope to separate the effects of these dominant ideas from the person, thus looking at these dominant ideas in systems and contexts that surround us rather than in our identities and bodies. This supports us to create a more non -blaming way to challenge dominant ideas and keeps us accountable to the hopes and dreams that we have for ourselves.
Reflections & Takeaways : What are some of the things we are holding onto and thinking of as we read this article?
When we started to pen this article we hoped to create room to challenge some of the dominant ideas that surround us, creating room for hope and diverse possibilities. It further got us thinking about ‘Who creates these dominant ideas?’, ‘Where do these dominant ideas originate from?’ ‘Whose voices do these dominant ideas privilege and honour?’
Do you experiences the effects of dominant ideas in you life? What are some of these dominant ideas that surround you? Have you ever felt like challenging some of these ideas around you? What would you say to them? Would you like to write a letter to one or some of these dominant ideas? Who would you write a letter to ? What would challenging these dominant ideas through letters make possible for you?