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The Big Answer


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The Healing Web: Social Networks and Human Survival

a book by Marc Pilisuk and Susan Park

(our site's book review)

Pilisuk and Park wrote this book ten years before Richard Louv’s The Web of Life: Weaving the Values That Sustain Us (which helped popularize the word web for the sociologically attuned layperson to mean not just the Internet and spider weavings but vital community connectedness as well—mostly local, but a bit of it virtual via the Internet). The Healing Web didn’t seem to affect the use of the word web, as far as we can see. Nevertheless, their book deals with the necessary connectedness for unity and the necessary unity for survival—a profound issue.

A chart of community connectedness
A chart of community connectedness

In the midst of the need for new models of family and community life, we often revert naturally to the intrinsic human conservatism that avoids change for the survival value that stability brings, say the authors. Change is painful. But when we see that lifestyle change is needed to accommodate various social and civilizational (e.g., the Third Wave) transitions in our fast-changing world, we must either accommodate or become another manifestation of social dysfunction. We must either grow or vegetate. We must either be flowing in life’s river or trapped in a stagnant pool off to the side. We must find the courage to face the future shock, the instability inherent in transition, and the challenge of finding and utilizing the appropriate knowledge to guide us through this process.

We must either be flowing in life’s river or trapped in a stagnant pool off to the side
We must either be flowing in life’s river or trapped in a stagnant pool off to the side

The authors have detected many gaps in the protective web of supportive familial ties. In times of stress, today’s families simply don’t have the resources to cope—hence the people abuse, substance abuse, divorce and depression. The authors’ thesis is that people have maintained ties with their kin but they are fewer and weaker; and the need for enduring supportive ties has remained, and therefore voluntary supportive relationships outside the family have become important to many people, largely as an aid to problems caused by mobility, urbanization, life transition, and personal autonomous development.

In times of stress, today’s families simply don’t have the resources to cope—hence the people abuse, substance abuse, divorce and depression
In times of stress, today’s families simply don’t have the resources to cope—hence the people abuse, substance abuse, divorce and depression

(MCs, of course, go much further than that, being defined as not just an intrinsically problem-solving social configuration, but as a resource-rich lifestyle enhancement that optimizes the potential for not just its members—children and adults alike, but for the community, the nation and the world, eventually. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match


The authors strongly advocate the new, ecological-holistic paradigm replacing the old, reductionistic-mechanistic paradigm
The authors strongly advocate the new, ecological-holistic paradigm replacing the old, reductionistic-mechanistic paradigm

Human services have come to view social network (web) building as one of their important functions. This is due partly because of the systems emphasis in current science, the gradual paradigm shift to the ecological-holistic mindset, and the current trends in family therapy. But it is also true for three other reasons:

It's best to supplement services (administered by 'experts' like this one) focused on individuals with web-building support
It's best to supplement services (administered by 'experts' like this one) focused on individuals with web-building support

One, it works better to supplement services focused on individuals with web-building support. Two, it is not logical to work with individuals and then have all one’s work undone when the individual returns to his negative environment full of either negative social connections or no viable social connections at all. And three, the various counselors, social workers, shrinks, etc., have collectively experienced the failure of the reductionistic-individualistic approach to the helping professions, and have collaborated in one way or another to add an ecological-holistic, systems context to their efforts in order to make a more lasting and meaningful impact. In the authors’ words: “The new family will be understood to include the principle contexts that make it work.”

The authors assert that the difference between people who are brought up in a bad family environment and live messed up lives and pass their pain on to their children, and people who are brought up in a bad family environment and are able to leave the pain behind and succeed at life is that the latter have had people other than family that have provided support for these people. As Salzinger says: “. . . the individual and the social network continually create and recreate each other.” As the authors see it: “. . . our friendship networks are substantially more important to us than we may recognize. What is lacking in kin networks can be balanced with friendships.” Or mentors.

Aside from the authors’ inclination to put too much stock in social “programs” to be an important part of the needed web, they’ve written a book that is solid and appropriate. We understand their reliance on programs in the most dysfunctional sectors of society when proactive prevention of criminality is the underlying agenda, or for the poor who’d be desperate without help; but they need to see these things more as temporary amelioratives than as long-term solutions. If it’s possible to plan for success (MCs), why plan for failure?

In family network therapy, there is no intervention that uncovers the needs and individual pathologies and then uses agencies to address these situations. Instead, there are network therapists that try to educate a community to help itself, based upon it’s strengths, which is the opposite of the deficiency identification context. Such therapy is a great step in the right direction, but prevention beats cure, so why not evolve communities that are networked effectively in the first place (MCs) so that a “therapist” is not needed? Conservatives have a point that we all have a responsibility to make community work, and to avoid the need for addressing the symptoms of dysfunction and degeneration. We need social connectedness, not “therapy.”

Why not evolve communities that are networked effectively in the first place (MCs) so that a 'therapist' is not needed?
Why not evolve communities that are networked effectively in the first place (MCs) so that a 'therapist' is not needed?

Social isolation . . . is a common family problem.” In this book, we see how teams of network therapists de-isolate/reconnect such families. We even see a special type of consultation in which “natural helpers” in neighborhoods are assisted so that they are strengthened in their neighborly ability to be helpful. One obvious problem with all these approaches, of course, is context. Many people are not open to the very idea of “therapy” and consider it liberal welfare state interference in their lives. They resent the way these experts and professionals from bureaucracies seem to spend a lot of time creating the need for their services and framing every social problem in terms of the need for acquiring more assets and resources and personnel, which requires more money for the agencies.

It is (rightly) perceived that most bureaucracies think of their own survival and growth more than their contribution to society. The book outlines how the old ideology was that social engineering will fix everything if we will just give the engineers enough money. The new ideology is that the social engineering is part of the problem, not part of the solution, so the emphasis has changed so that the individual and the family are responsible for its own health and well-being. This is a very healthy trend, although it was too long in arriving. The authors question this as a way of “blaming the victim.” We, on the other hand, don’t feel that society is full of “victims.” We feel that the victim context promotes irresponsibility and it should be dropped.

A bureaucrat
A bureaucrat