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“Action is the sole medium of expression for ethics,” said Jane Addams, considered by many to be the mother of social work.
Action as a word has both immediacy and movement, but what if social change takes years or decades? What does long term action look like on a day-to-day scale? Ten years into our project, I suppose I should have a good answer to this question.
But let me start with some real action. A few weeks ago, Painted Brain took over a quaint little outdoor cafe, the Bicycle Spoke, for an afternoon of art, live music, and sunshine. The day could not have been more beautiful, the atmosphere relaxed, while sixty to eighty people had a really good time even though mental illness was essentially what brought them together. For me, it was the perfect event: the culmination of ten years’ worry and stress about throwing awesome parties. Aside from carrying stuff and approving fliers, I did almost nothing to prepare for this particular party, while our team created a social media campaign, designed and sent out invitations, did outreach, held band practice, everything. By doing nothing I finally achieved the action I’d always envisioned.
I attended a supervision training with a wise social worker named Marshall Jung recently and learned that intrapersonal growth, personal and social development, occurs when we enhance perception, insight, sensitivity, and curiosity. Without these qualities, we can’t grow as human beings. It struck me that this is exactly what we’re doing at Painted Brain. We see mental health resulting from opportunities for insight, curiosity, sensitivity, and perception. This is precisely what made our recent party a mental health experience. It would be cool to redo the DSM based on scales of these things: too much sensitivity, too little insight, impaired curiosity. Instead of thinking about mental health in terms of symptoms, try to envision mental illness as the need to rebalance these four qualities. The brain is our most vital organ, and requires nourishment. It needs to be nurtured, but more often, it is injured by the traumas and deprivations inflicted on it by our world.
At Painted Brain’s ten-year mark, which passed only last month, the action is taking hold. All of our actions stem from a sense of ethics that says people with mental illness need a better world, and that we can and must build it ourselves. Waiting for the world to get better is not an acceptable ethical position. Members of our project are throwing events, talking partnerships with county officials, building website companies and our own website, hobnobbing with celebrities, strategically developing our social media platform, running a kick-ass online newspaper, staffing our lovely, curiosity-provoking community center, and training a new generation of coders, photographers, writers, and leaders.
We’ve built ourselves a village, and it continues to grow.
So I’m holding my bicycle while riding the Blue Line, standing still, flying above the tree line, scanning the sky and the vastness of Los Angeles, feeling totally relaxed, comfortable, wondering what Marshall will talk about today. It’s 7:15 on a Saturday morning, and I am about to spend the day in a crowded room at a hotel convention center, yet I am content, I’m at peace, because I’m living my ethics, and even as I stand here, just taking it all in, I am in action.
Dave Leon LCSW is the founder/director of Painted Brain, and a frequent contributor to Painted Brain News