SALT: ‘Confession with everything turned upside down’.

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a week working with a group of young people. We spent the time in a world very different from their normal environment of a large city. And you could say that the week was about
appreciating the strengths of these young people.


At the end of one the sessions that I ran, one of my colleagues a retired priest started to talk to me. ‘You know’, he said, ‘what you do is very similar to Confession, but you turn everything upside down.’ And
thus began a very interesting conversation.


For those who don’t know, Confession is a practice of the Catholic Church. (It is also known as the Sacrament of Penance or the Sacrament of Reconciliation.) I will give my understanding of the sacrament. Others are more
than welcome to correct my limited understanding. During Confession, an individual reflects on his life since their last Confession and identifies the occasions on which they have failed to live their lives according to the laws of the Church. The individual then confesses these failures to a priest in confession. There is a discussion on how to do better in the future and the individual makes a commitment to do better.


According to our discussion, you can think of Confession of an ‘appreciation of weaknesses’ and what we have here is an ‘appreciation of strengths’. In one case, the individual reflects on the failures to meet a standard and resolves to improve. In the other, the individual reflects on the capacities that they have and become aware of how they can use those strengths to improve. For me, this was a fascinating insight that opens up lots of
avenues to explore.


One of the avenues that we explored during our conversation was the approach of other religious practices. The idea of analysing transgressions or sins is a widespread idea in religions.We did identify some what we call ‘non-conformist’ religious practices where there was less emphasis on ‘appreciating weaknesses’ and I have enjoyed myself beginning to explore those.


I am sure that for many, particularly those with a background in the Salvation Army, these ideas are almost self-evident. But for me, comparing and contrasting the different ways of thinking has been very interesting.

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Comment by Gaston on May 14, 2010 at 7:59am
Thank you Phil for this interesting link. We see the same with many other practices in life. For example yoga. Yoga is rooted in Hinduism though has many links with Buddhism and other philosophies. There are many traditions in yoga that focus on what's wrong in the postures you do. This is not correct, this leg should go like that, release your neck etc. The teachers start from this 'ideal yoga posture' and correct the gaps between this and your posture (a bit like the priest?). Sounds logical right? Except that this form of teaching creates a lot of low self-esteem with practitioners. They think they will never get it right, they keep on being unsatisfied with the situation they are at and it feeds comparison with others in the room.

Now there is also another tradition called Anusara, where teachers really learn to first appreciate the beauty in every pose. Practitioners are OK where they are that moment. Teachers express what's wonderful already. And from that space they share how the posture can even become more expressive, more shining and better aligned. From a physical point of view the two approaches possibly end up at the same point: a visually better posture. However, inside the practitioners of Anusara there will be a stronger acceptance of themselves, higher self-confidence and lesser ego or the tendency to compare.

This is my experience on appreciating strengths beyond my work.

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