Why Human Development?

by Dr. Sylvia Wilson

Families, neighborhoods, businesses, organizations, social systems, governments, and countries all have one major commonality—they’re made up of individual human beings. It has taken many years of learning, understanding, doing, inquiring, and evolving for humanity to get to where we are today. Together, we have created communities. Together, we have built infrastructure. Together, we have designed systems. Together, we have forged innovation. Therefore, if there is to be any change or transformation that happens within our current contexts; it must first begin with the change and transformation of individuals. Our society cannot and will not be optimized until each of us is on the pathway to actualizing our own greatest potential.

After 20+ years of working in the community, in many different capacities, we have observed that many times, people tend to neglect the human aspect of our challenges. The leadership, team, familial, communal, organizational, and systemic challenges that we face cannot be addressed with a broad brush. The individual humans that create these structures must be healthily engaged and invested in their own personal development, as well as that of the unit, in order to collectively move towards positive change.

Keys to transformation include imagination, creativity, and openness to learn new things. What many don’t understand is we are ALL born with the foundations of these characteristics. A child must possess these to learn how to walk, talk, and navigate their environments and social contexts. However, the contexts of our individual childhoods either supported the development of imagination, creativity, and openness—or suppressed it. For instance, a child who grows up in a healthy home and neighborhood environment is safe to roam, investigate, experiment, and explore. This further nurtures the development of their curiosity and learning. However, a child who was not fortunate enough to grow up in a healthy environment—maybe one plagued by violence—is more likely to not be allowed to explore as freely, for fear of their safety. Thus, they have less (if any) opportunity to develop a strong sense of freedom, exploration, and curiosity. They learn to “stay in their place” and that the world around them is a scary and unsafe place.

A child who grew up in a household with strict parents who didn’t allow them to voice their opinions and rarely affirmed their feelings, isn’t allowed to develop a strong sense of self-knowing or confidence. They may come to believe that their voice doesn’t matter or is unworthy of being heard—developing an anxiety around speaking up, being heard and/or expressing their needs. On the contrary, a young person whose parents often allowed them to openly share their thoughts and express their feelings will probably have a better sense of confidence, be more secure in their abilities to openly share, and more understanding of their worthiness to be heard.

When a student sits in a classroom, a co-worker comes to a team meeting, or a manager begins a training session, they bring ALL of themselves. The younger/childhood self that has helps to inform the present self—not to mention the present self’s anxiety or anticipation about the future self. Therefore, if we find ourselves dealing with issues of student motivation, team cohesion, and/or ineffective leadership it is NOT enough to simply address “skills.” The further development of skills is not only dependent upon one’s ability to “know” more—but rather their ability to “be” more. In other words, the further development of their cognitive-social-emotional selves will allow for a deeper and more authentic grasping and execution of the additional skills they acquire.

One can learn the skills necessary to be a trainer. However, it’s one’s love of self-development, an empathetic desire to see others develop, and a willingness to lend one’s own learning towards the development of another that creates an authentic and transformational trainer. A leader with this type of energy stirs motivation in others and creates an excitement for learning, growing, and working. They shift the from simply “doing” a thing that needs to get done, to “being” one who is capable and passionate about getting the thing done—because it’s not really about the “thing,” it’s about you.

Change on any level—even an individual one—can be difficult to navigate. However, if we truly desire to see changes in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and beyond—it must start where each of these systems begin. With individual human beings.

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