Halifax is not California

I have never been to the state of California but I suspect that it
– is a place in which it is more common for folk to talk openly about spiritual well-being than it is in Halifax, West Yorkshire…..
– would be a more obvious part of the world, than say Halifax, West Yorkshire, to focus on when researching spiritual well-being…..
Well firstly let me state that I would very much like to go to California and if this blog generates invitations then thank you very much indeed and see you soon….  If not then I need to press on with my quest to find acceptable ways of exploring everyday spiritual well-being amongst my Yorkshire kindred – specifically our Orangebox users.   In short I need to find ways of describing my research that are engaging and “avoid smacking of (with apologies to any Californian readers) California la-la land” (and yes this is an actual warning issued by a local friend)
At Orangebox we are aiming to create an environment in which young people can realise their ideas and realise themselves.  So what might realising yersen (1) look like when it’s at home (please note I have allowed myself only one use of stereotypical Yorkshire dialect in this blog)? Well this is where my main man Viktor Frankl comes in handy. As you know from my last blog I am using Frankl’s logotherapy as a framework for defining spiritual well-being.  Essentially Frankl considers human-beings to be spiritual entities motivated by the search for meaning, by self-transcendence – the ability to act for values and others beyond the self.  Logotherapy states that we bring our values to life by achieving tasks, by experiencing nature, beauty, art, and by loving another.  But even people who find themselves in the greatest distress  (such as Frankl experienced as a prisoner of second world war concentration camps) – in which neither activity or creativity can bring values to life – they can still give their life meaning by the way they face their fate or distress.  We all have the ability to choose our attitude, to determine our attitudinal values.    In order to act for the sake of your values you need to be alert to the voice of your conscience.  Conscience comes from what Frankl refers to as the noetic realm (or the spirit); the authentic self rather than the automatic self (the psyche).  Frankl argues that there is more to us than drivers, emotions and instincts – through the noetic realm, regardless of circumstances or conditions, we can determine our actions, our experiences or at the very least our attitudes.  Fundamentally we need to learn to go beyond the automatic self and tune into the authentic self.

So translating this into the Orangebox context we will need to offer a broad range of opportunities to support young people’s development and exploration of their sense of self –enabling them to try things out, to rehearse (whether it’s a play, a business idea, or a new sense of personal identity).  We need to offer space, flexibility, and be responsive to requests alongside programming activities and services that we know enable self- expression, personal agency, and responsibility.  If we’re offering programmes that claim to develop things like  ‘employability’ we need to think hard about how to take a holistic rather than a tokenistic approach; we must not stop at developing functional skills or writing a CV but also find ways of exploring with the young people how employment might meet existential needs and if it doesn’t then how can broader life practice be developed to meet these needs?  I am delighted that both sets of Orangebox tenants (a statutory and a voluntary youth agency) share these interests and are keen to collaborate on developing and evaluating young people’s sense of purpose.

In many ways the world is seemingly smaller today but growing up in the 21st century is complicated and uncertain. Meaning making and subsequent self-transcendence is clearly more of a challenge during a period in which ‘values are in transition.(2)’ – the material world presents multiple opportunities to succumb to the will to power or the will to pleasure.  As such we need to find and promote practices that ‘work towards an honest engagement in the world, focussing on the vital material that binds us to the world and gives our life meaning (3)’. Young people (particularly those growing up in a post-industrial northern town) are dependent on their own initiative, positive relations, and support networks to live healthy, confident, and happy lives. Orangebox will respond to the evolving needs of local young people.  Just like a teenager, Orangebox needs to embrace liminality so we can continually create points of connection for local young people to regional, national, and international networks and opportunities.
With all of this in mind I wonder why the UK has overlooked logotherapy when it has been embraced all over the world?  Perhaps it is because concepts such as spiritual well-being are still too scientifically unpalatable (although please note though that Frankl was not a California new-age hippie but a Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Vienna Medical School and served for twenty-five years as head of the Vienna Neurological Policlinic)?  Even putting politics aside, the current attempts by the UK government to measure happiness completely miss the point in my view– happiness is a by-product of having achieved something meaningful not the primary goal.
So despite my opening with seemingly cynical references to the potential vast difference between California and Yorkshire I actually think the latter might prove a natural place from which a logotherapy movement could grow not least because we have amazing countryside to support experiential values and (excuse the generalization) a pretty humorous attitude to life(4), helping us triumph over adversity.  For Frankl humour is a way of self-distancing, seeing the funny side of your behavior but also something that comes from the noetic realm.
“You may be astonished to hear that one could find a sense of humour in a concentration camp; of course only a faint trace of one, and then only for a few seconds or minutes.  Humour was another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.  It is well known that humour. more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.” (5)
As such one of the first programmes we’ll be running over the summer at Orangebox is a stand-up comedy course with The Comedy Trust.  So watch this space or even better get in touch if you want to support us in ensuring that Orangebox is a spiritually healthy place for young people!
Thanks for reading, I’ll leave you with a view from the Orangebox rooftop…..
 1.   Yourself in Yorkshire dialect
2.  Fabry Joseph, Guideposts To Meaning, Institue of Logothearpy Press, California, 1988, page 3
3.  Porubcansky Anna, Song of the Goat Theatre: Artistic Practice as Life Practice, NTQ 26:3, August 2010, page 271
4.   e.g.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm6VC5gdaFA
5.  Frankl Viktor E, Man’s Search For Meaning, Rider, London 2004, page 54
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Setting The Scene


I hope to develop an environment in which young people can realise their ideas and realise themselves….

Hello and welcome to my first blog.  I am on a quest to stay reflective as both a professional and a researcher.  I am currently undertaking a part-time professional doctorate in the Drama Department at The University of Manchester.  Half way into my six years of study and my professional and research interests have suddenly significantly fused as I find myself the Director of Orangebox; a brand new multi-purpose, arts-inspired young people’s centre in Halifax, West Yorkshire due to open later this year. Orangebox has been created through funding from the Big Lottery’s myplace programme dedicated to creating new world-class facilities for 13-19 year olds.  To date, the project has been managed by Square Chapel Centre for the Arts in collaboration with a range of local partners including Calderdale Council and Voluntary Action Calderdale.  My post and that of the centre manager are funded for three years by The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, after which we need to be financially sustainable and may well have become an independent organisation in our own right.  Orangebox will house a range of support services as well as providing space and facilities for creative, recreational activity and informal learning, including a public café, a rooftop garden, a performance space, four music rehearsal rooms, a recording studio, a visual arts space, and a skate-park. In my next blog I will share more about the mission, vision and values for Orangebox and the broader Calderdale context. 

As an adult appointed to a leadership role within a young people’s centre it is vital that I maintain a degree of detachment and objectivity in order to create structures and systems that authentically enable young people’s ownership of the organisation as opposed to exclusively projecting and furthering my own interests  and vision In short I need to keep my ego in check!    Incidentally I think that research is an excellent leadership discipline in any field because it forces you to look at what is already known or has been said before announcing your own intentions; to think about ethics; to plan ahead; to focus on using the most appropriate and effective methods; and to consider how your own subjectivity might be informing or clouding your judgment. 

Through my research I am trying to develop processes for articulating and supporting spiritual wellbeing in an everyday, (rather than a sacred) sense.  As such I am interested in how we can better embed concepts such as responsibility, meaning-making, and self-transcendence (or seeing yourself in the context of a ‘bigger picture’) in our everyday lives.  Specifically I am researching ways of fusing theoretical and practical understanding from the fields of logotherapy, performance and theatre studies to develop a form of spiritual wellbeing practice for use in health, education and personal development contexts.  ‘Spiritual’ isn’t the easiest or most comfortable word to use and that’s where logotherapy comes in! Logotherapy is a form of psychotherapy devised by the twentieth century neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl who claimed that finding meaning is the primary motivation for living and that our search for meaning is guided by values and conscience; an intuitive capacity to find out, to ‘sniff out’ the unique meaning inherent in a situation.  Frankl’s seminal book Man’s Search For Meaning was written in the first year of his release from World War II concentration camps to which he lost is parents, brother, and wife.  Frankl’s friends persuaded him against publishing Man’s Search For Meaning anonymously.  It has now sold millions of copies all over the world.  It describes his experiences and observations in three concentration camps through the lens of logothearpy’s philosophy. My research argues that theatre and performance studies offer theoretical and practical knowledge that complements and extends logotherapy through its understanding of kinaesthetic, embodied, and collective forms of meaning-making and the meaning derived through experiencing transformation, empathy and ‘otherness’.  Hence my ambition to fuse the two.

In September I have to submit a thesis proposal for the final three years of my research. As my place of work, Orangebox will be the focus of and site for this research.  I am of course convinced that the context is relevant but I cannot devise or privilege activities exclusively on the basis of them meeting my research needs. So I have decided to blog throughout this planning year in order to publicly share how relevant practice and moments emerge at Orangebox that could be further explored through my research. I will also focus on the designing of methodologies that allow me to ethically research Orangebox as a ‘field’ and that are likely to involve young people as co-researchers.  I will also reflect on how all of this may be informing and enhancing my leadership skills.   For the rest of this year I will share insights, problems and curiosities surrounding my endeavor and commitment to developing as a researchful leader.  Please continue to follow my blog if you are interested in reading about and debating:-

– how my research interests can most effectively and ethically inform the leadership of Orangebox;

–  the sorts of knowledge and research we should be drawing on as leaders in the 21st century;

– a critique of relevant literature and concepts from fields of philosophy, business and organisational development, health and wellbeing, theatre and performance studies.

Wish me well then and I look forward to involving you in my quest; advice, top tips, warnings, and encouragement all welcomed!

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