The Circle of Courage-On the Right Track

The Circle of Courage-On the Right Track

One of the keynote presentations at the recent “Shaping the Future” conference was by Dr. John MacGavock. He talked about “Resilience as a path to wellness” and related it to the challenges children and youth face in First Nation communities. He introduced the “Circle of Courage” and it got me thinking about the possibilities.

The Circle of Courage model portrays four growth needs of all children: Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity. This philosophy emerged from collaboration of Martin Brokenleg, a professor of Native American Studies and Larry Brendtro, a professor in children’s behavior disorders. They studied how traditional indigenous cultures were able to rear respectful, responsible children without resorting to coercive discipline. The Circle of Courage is illustrated as a medicine wheel with four directions.

The model was adopted to youth services in South Africa during the administration of Nelson Mandela under leadership of Minister Geraldine Moloketi and Lesley du Toit. This led in 2005 to the Response Ability Pathways (RAP) curriculum which provides training on applying the Circle of Courage to all who work with youth.

The Circle of Courage provides the philosophical foundation for the work of Reclaiming Youth International, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping adult’s better serve children and youth who are in emotional pain from conflict in the family, school, community, or with self.

In the book “Reclaiming Youth at Risk”, Brendtro, Brokenleg and Van Bockern summarized the four universal growth needs of all children as:

Belonging

In Native American and First Nations cultures, significance was nurtured in communities of belonging. Lakota anthropologist Ella Deloria described the core value of belonging in these simple words: “Be related, somehow, to everyone you know.” Treating others as kin forges powerful social bonds that draw all into relationships of respect. Theologian Marty observed that throughout history the tribe, not the nuclear family, always ensured the survival of the culture. Even if parents died or were not responsible, the tribe was always there to nourish the next generation.

Mastery

Competence in traditional cultures is ensured by guaranteed opportunity for mastery. Children were taught to carefully observe and listen to those with more experience. A person with greater ability was seen as a model for learning, not as a rival. Each person strives for mastery for personal growth, but not to be superior to someone else. Humans have an innate drive to become competent and solve problems. With success in surmounting challenges, the desire to achieve is strengthened.

Independence

Power in Western culture was based on dominance, but in tribal traditions it meant respecting the right for independence. In contrast to obedience models of discipline, Native teaching was designed to build respect and teach inner discipline. From earliest childhood, children were encouraged to make decisions, solve problems, and show personal responsibility. Adults modelled, nurtured, taught values, and gave feedback, but children were given abundant opportunities to make choices without coercion.

Generosity

Finally, virtue was reflected in the pre-eminent value of generosity. The central goal in Native American child-rearing is to teach the importance of being generous and unselfish. In the words of a Lakota Elder, “You should be able to give away your most cherished possession without your heart beating faster.” In helping others, youth create their own proof of worthiness: they make a positive contribution to another human life.

It seems to me that this is a pretty good model for all of us.

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