Unlabelled Living

George Lyward. 1958

You all know what happened in 1066, but do you ever give a thought to Stephen and Matilda?  Those of you who were alive during the First World War may remember the rumours of war profiteering.  Do you know that the civil war between Stephen and Matilda went on for many years because the nobles kept it going; they were war profiteers.  When I use the words “war profiteers” about them I am helping you to travel, to take your mind back from the present to the past which then becomes modern, and I am, sadly perhaps, reminding you that the war profiteer is of all time.  Instead of the kind of linear teaching which I find myself inveighing against more and more as a stumbling block to many of our children in school and a possibly potent aid to the producing of a schizoid generation, I have tried to move gently into the realm of subjective values, spanning time and space.

Some time ago I was one of three people speaking at a Conference of Probation Officers.  We were probing the differences between the disturbed adolescent and the less disturbed adolescent.  We were doing very well, we thought, when suddenly a woman in the audience leapt up and exclaimed, “We have been talking about this creature, the adolescent – what is the difference between the boys and the girls?”, a remark which I need not tell you caused a great deal of laughter.  I was then called upon to say something and I gave it as my opinion that scrounging, for example, was scrounging all the world over whether the scrounger was male or female; I added that I feared the medical psychiatrist sitting beside me would not quite concur.  To my delight he said, “I agree with Mr Lyward completely.”  On that particular occasion, therefore, we were waiving a well-known distinction and yet, when people come to me and say “Will you take girls at Finchden Manor?” I say quite firmly and quite quickly “No”.  Having done so, however, my “no” compels me to go further.  It compels me to describe and to define.  And the moment I start to do that I know I run risks.  I run a risk of finding that as I proceed in detail I become alienated from my listener; or I may find that he will quickly change the subject of our discussion leaving me alone with the problems which have been raised, never knowing what he really felt or thought.  Those are the kind of risks attendant upon any attempt to loosen.  For the sake of emphasis we are often only too willing to avoid this loosening.  We avoid letting the mind go on a journey because we are afraid that it may move into lands which are uncharted.   But then we miss being genuinely serious and, I would say, therefore miss being gay – a languor comes over us, we cease to see.  With a curt label, or rule, we blunt the situation, we blunt the discussion.

I think that when I was asked to give a title to this talk I must have been suffering from people who say “May I please come and see your school?”  or “I have just been talking to one of your masters”, although I have stated over and over again that I have never called Finchden Manor a school and that I never think of my colleagues as masters.  How unhearing we are when somebody makes that kind of personal assertion which means so much to him, but which is challenging to us if we are occupied (as we all must be sometimes) with filing and docketing, or perhaps seeking a “placement”.

I have just talked about the First World War – note the label attached to that.  During the Second World War I was “evacuated” to the pleasant little town of Ludlow, and my wife and I lived in a flat.  One day there was a noise above us and a woman’s voice said, “Now what have you done? Now what have you done?”  That word “Now” which normally indicates the present was used to force the child back into the past; on a journey that was neither happy nor fruitful.  When people quarrelling exclaim, “You always say (or do) things like that”, the word “always” has the same effect as the word “now” must have had on the little girl.  If you say, “He is the boy who does so-and-so and so-and-so”, again you are perpetrating a crime against the child by limiting his ability to make certain journeys in your company.  And if you say, “he is a boy who will do so and so”, then with the shortest word in the English language you have classified him.  One person classifying another.

A Russian mystic wrote this:  “The basic lie and evil do not come from the individual’s self-awareness and self-esteem.  They come from his disinclination to extend to others the recognition of an absolute worth, rightly perceived by him in himself, but wrongly refused to others when, seeing himself exclusively as a central fact in life, he relegates all others to the periphery of his own existence and ascribes to them only a fortuitous value dependent on himself”.  Doubtless we would all subscribe to that – but what do we do in practice?

The subject of this Conference is “Residential Care of Disturbed Children”.  Residence implies a building – a building where the child shall stay put.  Following what I have just said I want to suggest that comforting residence is such as encourages a boy or girl to stay put and therefore “make journeys”.  I don’t mean journeys on his feet, still less the physical and emotional truancies to which he has been addicted.  I do suggest, however, that the very fact of being in residence should result in his making journeys so that he does not get stuck in the mud.  Whatever, for instance, the way of life called Finchden Manor is, it will need a house, a body, a building called Finchden Manor.  That house is not ideally adapted for what goes on there – not ideally.  (I will come back to ideals and ideas later.)  It is not so much adapted as adopted – will you ponder over that distinction as you think about, or discuss, unlabelled living.  Not adapted, but lovingly adopted.

Come with me, then to this house and imagine that it is a day when other visitors have arrived.  One of these is heard to say: “I saw boys drawing and painting before I came in.  I suppose that would be the studio” or “I suppose boys have access to you at any time?”  Well they do and they do not.  My answer to that, as to many things, is “Yes and No”.  Or he or she may say “I notice that to get to you the boys have to pass through the staff room.  I suppose in that way you save yourself from too frequent invasion”.  Well, it so happened that when we moved back after the Second World War it was convenient to put the staff room where it is.  There is no more significance to it than that.  Or a visitor may gaze out of the window and remark:  “you said just now that the boys look after the garden”, and then tell me that “presumably the boys do it, say for three months at a time” and so on, whereas I could tell the visitor that not long ago a boy did gardening for two years and transferred himself from a nagging mother to mother earth with great advantage; whereas the boy after him did it for about three weeks.

A labelling visitor may also stumble across evidence of the tutorial work which at times takes place in this building, or of the oblique way in which we engender emotional security through intellectual exercise.  But I frequently don’t disclose these because the visitor will at once conclude that we are an educational establishment in his sense, and place our approaches to “school subjects” on a level with tips for teachers. Two medical psychiatrists who were with me a fortnight ago were more interested in this aspect of our work than in anything else and asked me whether perhaps I did not think it was a neglected side of clinical work. They were certainly not thinking of it as scheduled “education” added to (say) analysis.  Education as nourishment is, however, something so dear to my heart that I cannot do it justice now.  I will, just in passing, say yet again that I hold strong views about the dead wood in education, about pressure, about early specialisation, about the way in which subject teaching of a certain kind can rob a school community of depth of group life; and how then subject teaching also suffers.

Living with disturbed adolescents reveals, I think, a great deal of the feeble philosophy which underlies much of our ordinary education.  I would urge those who are educational psychologists to watch that they do not, without realising it, cling to certain conventional ideas about what we call education and lose the opportunity of discovering, through their peculiarly illuminating contacts, how “education” can feed or, alas, harm the child.  I am afraid they may be hurt as they ponder over the demand for technologists.

Children are sent to residential places.  May I pause to remind you that the very word “sent” has now acquired a specialised meaning for the adolescent. I believe that if you listen to certain music with an open – in genuine deference to them may I say “an open heart”, you are liable to be “sent”.  I do not apologise for interjecting that remark because I see the adolescent of today hungrily searching for new symbols and alighting only too often on labels.  But to come back to the word “sent”.  Sometimes, soon after the boys arrives, he will be sent for by me, and he will arrive quite obviously certain that something has gone wrong, and that I will behave in a certain kind of way – that he will be in hot water.  The words “sent for” mean just that to him.  He cannot conceive that those who are older than him are people living first and foremost alongside him, and are not primarily authorities – that they are not almost exclusively concerned with law and order.  This has two opposite effects: first, it makes it more difficult to persuade him that you are on the same side of the fence as himself, and, secondly, it makes your approach to him less effective when perhaps you decide to deal with him sternly for a specific reason at a specific time in a specific way.  It robs him doubly – it robs him of your love and it robs him of your sternness.  Some people here will already know that I contrast strict rules with stern love.  Stern love is not possible or effective where labels flourish like weeks.

Are you beginning to feel with me what labels can do?  Labels put you in your place, but the place they put you in is on the periphery.  The prodding question is a kind of label, a kind of fixative.  Not long ago a visiting doctor said to one of our older boys, “How long have you been here?” The boy replied, looking him straight in the face: “How long have you been qualified?”  That says enough on that.

Regular letters from home can bb umbilical.  During the Second World War some mothers took to sending their little boys aged 16, 17, or 18, saccharine.  I do not have to stress the symbolism there, do I?  I can well remember emptying a bottle of saccharine out of the window.  A stern gesture perhaps, but one I felt was necessary on that particular occasion during those difficult years when we were all of us only too liable to clutch at anything sweet, at whatever cost.

To return to the little girl I talked about earlier whose mother said, “Now what have you done?”  A total situation was weakened, made less creative by the labelling, that “now”.  And so it can be with those who are sent to residential places, for all of them, children and adolescents, are in a marked degree puppets. Puppetry does need exposing, but how can you hope to expose it effectively at the right time in the right way if you are doing it naggingly all the time?  You cannot be ruthlessly, lovingly, surgical at the right moment if you are bound by labels.

I have a boy with me now who was in the Army and until recently he would come to the office (what I must regretfully call the office – oh I knew the risks I was running choosing this subject!) he would come to the office and put worn-out boots, etc. outside, expecting them automatically to be replaced as if from an Army store.  Visitors will sometimes say, when they see boys painting, “I suppose you keep a store of paint brushes and paints?”  This we would never think of doing.  People need opportunities for “setting store by”.  And – to go still deeper – although we are glad if boys appreciate a gift, life becomes richer when they are aware that behind the gift there is a giver.  I know there must be limits to this unlabelling, I know that many people need to use labels.  I know there are children and adolescents who are so used to them that they must keep them for a while.   But my purpose tonight is to hint at the opportunities which lie open where the labelling is reduced to a minimum, where you move about as people with people, not merely masters and pupils, or doctors and patients, and so on.

I referred to those who would say “Oh that is the studio” although I know that last year it was something else and next year may be something else again.  Other people will say, “I see you do a lot of occupational therapy”, and perhaps kill with a word.  Nor have we escaped the word psycho-drama, you may be sure.  Or someone may say to me who knows that we have no hierarchy on the staff, “I have just been talking to a junior member of your staff.  I always think your masters are so kind to the poor boys”.  Junior staff.  Masters.  Poor boys.  Or he may say, “You have a brilliant scientist on your staff – he will be the science master”.  Why cannot he be first a person, which indeed this particular one is?  It is then that some of my colleagues are tempted to throw up their hands and say, “Why, why must they spoil it?”  Hence the title of my talk tonight.

If you do not have labels or if you keep them down, you can have what I will call fads.    There are two corners near the kitchen in which the boys cook and if I see them become untidy I sometimes let fly.  They are “my” corners.  But it is all loose and open for humour and for face-saving, even – it’s rarely that boys do not join me in the “fun and games” – and work – connected with those corners.  There is a cedar tree on the front lawn which for the most part people are not encouraged, and sometimes not even allowed to climb, but I have sat in my room and watched some of them do it and said nothing.  If you read a paper at meal time you are liable (not certain) to have it torn up – that is part of the tradition.  If you were there and I walked in, you might see a paper quickly sat on, but again the atmosphere is not made tense with “rules and sanctions”.  If you are found smoking in bed, you are liable to have a bucket of water thrown over you, because you are on fire.  The play is not lost, even then.  Sternness need not be moralising.

“Can my boy come next term?” we will often be asked within three minutes of my having said “We never close and we have no terms”.  Why do people do that? Or a boy may be sent with the statement that he has an oedipal resistance.  Well, I could have guessed that.  Forgive me for adding that one, won’t you – I have assumed that a little friendly provocativeness will not be amiss.

Do you remember the lines from Dryden’s “Absalom and Achitophel”? –

“In the first rank of these did Zimri stand;
A man so various that he seem’d to be
Not one, but all mankind’s epitome.
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong;
Was everything by starts, and nothing long ……”

These children, of whatever age, whom we deem maladjusted and send into residential care – are they not all of them people who, except under inner or outer compulsion, can do things only “by starts and nothing long”?  We must watch lest we hold them in detention with labels and schedules, and sacrifice them on the altar of unexamined conventions.  Whenever we cut across their rhythms what they do cannot be, as it were, a natural flowering; the drama will be lost and turned into a dumb show, and the staff become, not so much servants of nature, but slaves of method.  If that happens, are we not moving away from what Keats found in Shakespeare – the capacity for knowing there were mysteries and doubts and uncertainties and yet being able to remain not irritable?  If you live with disturbed children you will soon know that the whole atmosphere is full of uncertainties and doubts, but it will not be wise regularly to seek ease with a label.

I have talked about rhythms and this perhaps is the point at which to speak about analysis and synthesis.  (I am not using analysis as a psychological term).  Analysis – how does it work?  First there is the breaking up, then there is abstraction, then classifying and then generalisation.  Do you remember the boy who a few minutes ago was classified with the letter a  – “he is a boy who ….”?  Prior to analysis the elements are sustained in a vital rhythmic connection, and it is the vitality which we need to maintain in community life.  It has been said that clinical psychology was incorrigibly technical.  Perhaps it is not now, but it can still be limited to certain postulates of cause and effect.  A French poet, talking about art, made the point that we must not think of an author as the cause of the work any more than we should think, as the law does, that the criminal is the cause of the crime.  They are both effects.

So, I say, mark doors “Private” if you must, but do not let your life depend upon it.  Life!  Tonight we have been talking, have we not, about logic and life.  The label belongs to logic.  Logic is by no means a complete projection of the whole mental life of a man.  Labels say:  “This is, or is not”, thereby endangering that third, within which stirs the real new life.

The institution child is not completely a thing of the past.  There are many institution children in our ordinary schools, and in our homes for that matter, and we have to be careful that they do not come to our “residential places” and find everything laid on – the wash-basins all in a row, the lavatories all in a row, the desks all in a row and us saying to them, “Here you are.  This is what we give you.  All you have to do is to fit in”.  They come, these institution children, with ideas and ideals, within which they try to exist – as if a man should put God in his pocket.  I have quoted many times that ideals should rather be as stars to mariners, giving a sense of direction.  It is, surely, a serious dis-ease of many adolescents that they hold an ideal to be something that must be attained, lived up to daily, hourly.  They have no play.

I do not think that the term permissive is an alternative one for the discipline I am calling “unlabelled”.  It does not take account of the fact that the disturbed child is always claiming a right of way – like the boys to whom I said the other day, “What are the cups of tea doing on the piano?” and who replied, out of their experience of a few months, “But we have always put the tea cups on the piano!”  That is the way they tried to label me out of countenance, but I must here tell you a little story against myself.  We had some visitors, forty or so, some time ago.  They included Deputy Governors of Prisons and suchlike people of age and experience.  With them came a charming young lady; some of our older boys sidled up to me with, “Please may we take her up to your room and play tenderly to her?”  I said Yes, but went to my room fairly soon afterwards, only to find that “Tenderly” was the name, the label, on the gramophone record.

Well, I see my time is running out and I will make only one point more.  We are administered largely by jargon, abbreviations, terms, forms and the like.  Have you ever broken the word “administer” into its two parts – ad and minister – to minister to?  Do you think that all these forms and relations really do minister to the sick?  I know that many of them cannot be avoided but that is no reason why we should mint too much private coinage of a similar kind and lose the real communion and communication with these other people – these other people who come to live with us.  Sub-liminal advertising and artificial insemination are only two instances of how things can come to us – masked: so that, as far as is humanly possible, we contract out of our relationships without knowing and without being known.  There is a problem in cognition and recognition for you.  Labels are masks.

The training of workers for residential work with disturbed children is, I take it, meant to fit them to be more suitable Persons – fit persons, eh? – able to encourage living together at that depth which constitutes release, which can, within safety, bring or allow one confusion to deal with another.  Only the involved and vulnerable are likely to decrease the schizophrenia of modern man, for whom the orb of consciousness is so often broken and who is veritably at his wit’s end.

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