Laurel Felt | Doctoral student at USC Annenberg

June 21, 2010, 10:09 am
Filed under: attachment, Dakar, emotional intelligence, Senegal, social intelligence

Over the past few days, I read two popular press books penned by scholars. The authors hailed from cities on opposing coasts of the United States (Los Angeles, CA, and Rochester, NY, to be exact); boasted dissimilar academic backgrounds (psychiatry –> neuroscientific research, mathematics –> psychological research); and assumed different foci (parenting/self-help vs. motivation/management). Nonetheless, their books wound up treading remarkably similar ground. According to both Parenting From the Inside Out’s Daniel Siegel (with Mary Hartzell) and Why We Do What We Do’s Edward Deci (with Richard Flaste), it’s all about integration.

Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development, claims that narrative – specifically the telling of our life story – integrates our brain’s right and left hemispheres. The ability to tell a coherent narrative implies cerebral coherence – synaptic bridging of left-brain logic and right-brain emotion, acceptance of the full richness of our history, mental health, unity, holism.

Deci expounds quite a bit on integration; in his view, integration is our aim as individuals:

“Human development is a process in which organisms continually elaborate and refine their inner sense of themselves and their world in the service of greater coherence… The development of integration in personality, of being who you truly are and becoming all you are capable of, is what allows authenticity” (Deci & Flaste, 1995, pp. 80 & 82).

As I continue to process the wisdom of these dissimilar/similar works, I’m struck by the relevance of their theme for this project. Implicit in Sunukaddu 2.0, we must welcome integration of:

  • individuals’ autonomy into our management style, amongst ourselves and with our students;
  • cross/trans-disciplinarity vis-à-vis research and application;
  • theory and practice, working and playing, freedom and limits, tradition and modernity, talking and walking, teacher and student;
  • international efforts – East-West, North-South, developed-developing, black-white, and everything in-between.

How fitting for this integration challenge to occur in Dakar, where artifacts of 21st and 18th century life coexist unironically, unremarkably side-by-side:

  • a horse-drawn cart barreling down the highway ahead of a luxury Nissan SUV;
  • One Tree Hill (Les Freres Scott en traduction) blaring in the bedroom while the family goats bray in the courtyard;
  • Orange successfully peddling land and mobile telephony + cable and Internet services to millions of Senegalese yet lacking adequate phone lines for its own helpdesk…

And so too do I, as an individual, attempt my own integration, of all that I’ve enumerated and more…

The Beatles asked us to come together. Science and, ultimately, the good of our children, demands it.


…and away we go!

It’s hard to believe that my summer in Africa is just around the corner: T minus 2 days and counting…

I understand this opportunity as an incredible learning adventure.

I expect to listen more than I speak, learn more than I teach, laugh, dance, eat, share, and hopefully — fervently, sincerely, hopefully — leave my new home a bit better than how I found it.

Not because I have all the answers. But because, as scholars in asset-based community development, positive deviance, social & emotional intelligence, and public health have empirically shown, communities are already resource-rich and possess their own answers. When it comes to addressing social problems, improving our quality of life — in short, making the world a better place, we don’t need some foreign panacea*; as so many PG-rated movies saccharinely expound, the magic is inside us. We need to enrich the intrapersonal and the interpersonal. That is the key. That is my “mission.”

…and away we go!

*except, of course, when we absolutely do