In our office at CBBC, we have two visual reminders of what it is to flourish. The first is a strip along one wall, comprised of paper house shapes; the second is a wooden tree covered with coloured cards. Each holds different answers to a simple question.
Although these questions sound simple, they have a complexity and depth to them that will keep us, and anyone who wants to join this journey, exploring for years to come. The questions open us to both a personal and communal journey towards a world not governed by fear, self-interest or greed, but by compassion for the other, kindness and the beauty of recognising that, collectively, we have enough. If we are working towards this type of world the shape of our individual lives, and that of the communities and cities we call home, will be varied and contextual. At CBBC we believe there are some guiding principles or values that can help us build spaces and places where all can flourish. We call this the Flourishing Framework™.
The framework reflects those first two questions in their simplicity, and as you scratch the surface you can begin to see the depth of the framework as it reaches out to touch every facet of our lives. Put simply, the framework has six elements that together build a picture of what it means to live well, both individually and as a community.
The framework itself is based on the premise of the wellbeing of the individual in the context of the wellbeing of the community. Particularly in the West, through social work, psychology, education, and a plethora of other professions, we have looked to the wellbeing of the individual without much thought about the wellbeing of the broader community. Whilst the old social work story of someone on the beach throwing starfish into the ocean rings true for our ability to make a difference in an individual's life, if we heal a person only to send them back to a sick community won't they just get sick again? For CBBC this points to the need to focus on the whole community, working to empower a community to move towards flourishing with the resources it already has.
With all this in mind the framework consists of six points or values;
• Basic Needs
• Belonging to place and people
• Lament and Celebration
• Growing Spirituality
The elements that make up each category of the framework are not hard and fast, which adds to its ability to be contextual. For example, in Australia basic needs may include things like health care or public transport, while for much of the majority world food and shelter are primarily the focus. The elements are also fluid, the same perhaps fitting in more than one category, or across the whole framework.
This consists of things like food, clothing, shelter, safety, and security, but also emotional needs such as hope and love, which crosses into belonging. My family and I used to care for teenagers whom for whatever reason couldn't live at home. One girl came to live with us and it was obvious that she had shut down, she was withdrawn, and the spark was missing from her eyes. After a few months of providing an environment that met all her basic needs, cheekiness and appropriate affection returned. She relaxed and became more herself. For me, this demonstrates the power of meeting basic needs. It also speaks of 'enoughness'. Part of the issue in our communities is that some have way more than they need while others don't have even their basic needs. If we could learn the art of realising when we have enough, the statistics show that everyone would have what they need.
According to a 2017 Sydney Morning Herald article (Australians increasingly restless as half move home, 2017) in the five years leading up to the 2016 census, 43.4% of Australians had moved house. One in six had moved in the 12 months prior. That makes us an incredibly mobile country. The reasons for moving are varied, but the results of being dislocated can be strikingly similar, including poor mental and physical health, disconnection, and the increased vulnerability that comes from being a stranger in a new neighbourhood. Not to mention that in terms of stress, moving house is high on the list of stressful life events. With all this going on it’s no wonder that people's sense of connection to the place where they live is low. A lack of connection or belonging, in turn, leads to a lack of engagement in a local community. On the flip side, if we feel we belong to place, and to the people around us then we will care about what our community looks like, feels like, what it's like to live there and the natural environment or eco-system that it's a part of. We will also care about the wellbeing of those we are connected with, whether in a neighbourhood or another type of community. Belonging, of course, doesn't only happen in a geographical community. You can also have a strong sense of belonging to a workplace or sports team with all the associated sense of ownership and the benefits that come from positive connection with others.
Whilst often necessary for a time, our dependence on welfare as a national approach to caring for people who find themselves experiencing poverty has left generations disempowered; believing the subtle message that they have nothing to contribute and are of no value to society. Welfare includes national expressions like unemployment benefits, right through to assistance paying bills, and much of our approach to food relief. Again, there may be times in people's lives where welfare is necessary but when the same people come for the same help over 5, 10, 15 years, and when a parent expresses disappointment in their children for getting a job, then something is wrong. Contribution is being able to use your skills, abilities or perspectives to make a difference. This could be through paid employment, volunteering, or involvement in a community group of some sort. However, at times our individual and societal bias can cause us to forget that each and every person has experience, skills and abilities to contribute. This was true for Steve, a rough-looking petty criminal who came to a drop-in space I used to run. It could have been easy to only see what Steve lacked and not what he had to give. The team was able to help him find stable accommodation and a place of acceptance and love. Steve first started coming for a free lunch and over time he felt he belonged and wanted to contribute. After a short time working in our drop-in space and op shop, Steve started walking around the neighbourhood and offering to help people with their gardens, retaining walls and even built a bird box or two. It was obvious to see that Steve was happiest when he was doing things for other people.
This can be somewhat intangible and hard to grasp. It goes deeper than vocation, to the core of our being. A way to tap into it is to answer the question, why do you get out of bed in the morning? You may have to ask ‘why’ a number of times. For example, I get out of bed to work at CBBC. Why? Because I believe in our shared vision and mission. Why? Because it reflects my desire to make a difference in the world and can utilise the skills and interests I have to do it. Why? Because the opportunity to help other people and organisations find their place and live out their purpose, along with teaching, writing, and leading are all core to who I am. Another approach comes from Stephen Covey. He asks, what would you like people to say about you at your funeral? Covey's encouragement is to think about the answer to this question through the lens of different people in your life: family, friends, colleagues, and clients (Covey, 1989). This helps to identify values and what is core to you, giving you the ability to choose activities that reflect this. Another author, Parker Palmer, asks is the life you are living the one that wants to live you? This question asks are you being true to what is on the inside (Palmer, 2000)? Therefore, purpose is more about core values. Once we have identified these, we can spend our life doing activities that come out of them.
This part of the framework refers to a community’s ability to hold both grief and joy. For every individual, family, and community there are things that need to be celebrated and others that need deep recognition of pain; whether from a fresh wound or old scar. The closing of major industries can be a time where these different levels of grief come together. An individual loses a job, a family loses a source of income, a community loses these things along with a sense of identity. The question is how are each of these grief points acknowledged, recognised and held? With big society-wide issues, protest can be a form of lament. Perhaps not so much for the angry, serial protestor that comes out to march for every cause and just seems to like being angry. More for those who can take the cause deep inside them, embrace the pain and share that soberly with others. On the other hand, celebration is an equally powerful community activity. My family and I have worked with local communities, helping them put on community-wide festivals. A festival was a chance for them to come together, meet old and new friends in the atmosphere of a big family picnic involving games, entertainment, and food. Healthy individuals and communities can recognise both the need for lament and celebration and create 'rituals' for these to occur.
This is our connection to something other, something outside ourselves. Psychologists tell us that we are healthier when we give to others than when we try to grasp things for ourselves. Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl had a first-hand experience of this in the Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz. He observed that those who grabbed for the last blanket or the last bit of food were the ones who got sick and died. However, those who gave their blanket away or their last crust of bread were the ones that lived through the ordeal. He concluded that if someone has meaning they can overcome the greatest trials, but without it, even the slightest irritation is too much (Frankl, 1946). Meaning can be pursued in service of the other. This concept of service is closely related to the heart of many of the world's spiritualities. I want to distinguish between religion and spirituality. Religion is a formal system of spirituality with doctrine, rituals, and rites. I don't want to get into the debate of whether religion is a good or bad thing, however, it does provide a communal element to spirituality which can benefit our experience and growth. In this way, spirituality helps us to focus on something outside of ourselves, a connection to something, or someone, greater - bigger, broader, more encompassing. Through this focus, people are then able to use their skills and abilities to both serve others and maintain a healthy self-care rhythm.
The Flourishing Framework acts as a guide in the search for personal and communal wholeness and wellbeing. The aim is for a whole community to move from non-flourishing to flourishing in each of the categories. This allows service providers, local councils, faith communities, businesses, schools, and other community focused groups to come together around a shared goal for the community, recognising the part each plays in the overall picture. The framework allows policy makers to sit with practitioners, urban planners with community development workers, health professionals with business people, all speaking a similar language and heading in a common direction – the creation of a flourishing community.
Census 2016: Australians increasingly restless as half move home. (2017, October 23). The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/census-2016-australians-increasingly-restless-as-half-move-home-20171023-gz60qr.html
Covey, S. (1989). 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful lessons in personal change. New York, Free Press
Frankl, V. (1985). Man’s Search for Meaning. Washington, Washington Square Press.
Palmer, P. (2000). Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.