If a trauma response is an experience of inhumanity, then trauma informed approaches should be rooted in humanity, not in ideology.  And it is with an understanding of our basic human needs (Maslow, 1943) and a liberal dose of kindness that we must lead any approaches for children that we aim to implement in schools. 

Bessel van der Kolk (2014) has emphasised the need for us to look at each other using an ecological paradigm in order to view human beings in a richer and more meaningful way, so understanding adversity in the context of a bigger, braver story.  

Likewise, I believe we must step back from some of the limitations of trauma informed practice and look at humanity from a wider, more ecological perspective that acknowledges we are united by our experiences of adversity.

The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” 

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) ‘The Merchant of Venice’

On what compulsion should we be trauma informed? Is its use conditional only to those who have received an endorsed training course with a particular trademark? And if so, who are the few ‘more equal than’ the many, deciding what knowledge, skills and resources should be trademarked? 

The groundswell of trauma awareness is a social movement of the people – and of survivors – not exclusively of one person, organisation or institute, and it goes beyond the level of public policy or implementation. 

Many prominent researchers and academics in the field of trauma clearly acknowledge this and understand the social responsibility to make trauma knowledge as accessible as possible to all, as do many organisations. But some do not. 

There is an unethical muddying of the waters where the tide of commercial interests meets the swell of academic or survivor knowledge that has helped to metabolise those same commercial industries.  Some training providers with the ‘poker face’ of social change, have shown their commercial hand in the lucrative business of trauma and must now decide what values they actually wish to stand for. 

Moreover, the monopolisation of academic concepts by commercial industries, is not, nor can ever be seen to be, trauma informed in the eyes of the most vulnerable. If we silence or stifle each other, or ourselves, in the name of commercial interests, we are silencing the ‘whale-song’ of our trauma (Tucci, 2018). As a childhood trauma survivor myself, I strongly believe that this is an act of re-traumatisation that ultimately harms children, as well as those who are trying to help them. 

An awareness of the human being should come before any ideology, dogma, or commercial interests. 

Recovering Our Indigenous Relational Roots

A cause held strongly needs to be acted upon to realise it. There are no other guardians of relationships that heal, help and nurture, and no other rescuers of a civil, regenerative society. We’re all it. Relational activism may be quiet work. But there is no doubt it is social justice work too.”

(Dove and Fisher, 2019c) 

As worldwide events in 2020 have shown, even though our experiences of adversity may be very unequal, we are all united through adverse events. When we lead with kindness, we honour our shared human experience of adversity and this kindles warm, relational approaches towards each other.

However, these approaches are implemented from an expanded, ethical and ecological worldview that instinctively emphasises human safety, harmonic connection and unity, rather than centrifugal ideologies that dictate and separate ‘us against them’. 

Whilst some may argue that it is not their place to heal, help and nurture a child, there is no ‘other’.  

We are all it. 

If we act in a way that is kind, compassionate and empathic, we can all be part of trauma integration, which can bring about acceptance and the beginning of a process of healing and recovery.

My view is that trauma informed approaches are not something exogenous, external and limited that we must buy into in a theoretical, intellectual or material sense. 

Rather, these approaches are an indigenous ‘ken’ that we should all be able to source from within – from an infinite supply of intuitive, instinctive or spiritual qualities – qualities that ‘droppeth from heaven’ and bleed into our actions on this earth. 

“…thinking, feeling and acting relationally is not passive, limited or individual. It can be understood as active, influential and collective. Corntassel describes, “these micro-processes of resurgence… can build to large-scale movements and community action… the family and other intimate sites are places where we practice relational accountability, assert rebellious dignity and move away from public performativities”.”

(Dove and Fisher, 2019c) 

Maya Angelou (1969) laments in her book, ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ that “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Thoreau, also, is quoted as saying, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

We owe each other so much more than this.

As the social activist Vandana Shiva has said in a recent podcast with Russell Brand on ‘Under the Skin’, it is time to remember what it means to be human and reclaim our common humanity.  We must recover and allow space for a resurgence of the indigenous relational wisdom deep in our roots, and with this, our capacity for radical compassion (the word radical itself is from the Latin word for ‘root’).  If we listen with empathy, act with kindness, and validate each other’s stories and histories, the wrenching pain caused by the hidden wound of trauma may be soothed by the growing chorus of our shared human ‘whale-song’ – a sacred song of hope, strength, truth, beauty and vulnerability – sung in solidarity. 

Written by Juliette Ttofa, April 2021

(Edited extracts from the final chapters of my free e-book: The Conditions for Growth)