Some situations in life are novel. I have never seen anything like them. But most, at least for me are not. Everything that happens is, in some way, by some measure, similar to something else that has happened. My life has patterns. There is a consistency of experience, challenges and opportunities, of situations and issues. Most of the time it is not my first time at the rodeo.
I haven’t always done the same thing. In similar situations, with similar resources and challenges, sometimes I have done better and sometimes I have done worse. There is a range of responses in what it means to be me. When I do what works better things go better. Sounds simple but in practice very hard to do. We often have a curious allegiance to failure. But I believe we all know more than what we give ourselves credit for. Our experience matters. Whether we access it or not we have knowledge that matters.
To a degree I have a common experience with other people. Other people face the same issues, experience similar circumstances and challenges to that I experience. All of us have some community of shared experiences. Like each of us, other people do better or worse. Facing similar problems, with similar resources some people have more success and offer a resource, a tool, an example of something we can do to improve the quality of our lives. We can learn from the success of others and do all the time rather we know it or not.
Success, solutions matter whether we find them in our own experience or the solutions of others. It doesn’t necessarily mean we understand any better about the why of a problem. We may not and “why” is probably overrated anyway. It doesn’t even mean the successful behavior has anything to do with the problem per se. Some successful behaviors seem to work with a multitude of issues and maybe have more to do with building an overall capability than anything else. Anything that makes you more capable makes you more successful in life.
What I have just described is my understanding of an approach called positive deviance which is described more fully in the link above. It has incredible ramifications and has had incredible ramifications in virtually every area of life (see link).
It talks about who has the knowledge that matters. That is perhaps the fundamental question in many things mental health. Who has the knowledge that matters. What positive deviance says is that through my experience of myself and through the shared experience of my community I have access to knowledge that matters. It may or may not be a knowledge of why. It is certainly a knowledge of how and what. Doing what makes things better. If I know what makes things better and I try to do them on purpose, if I own the solution, then perhaps things get better.
It does not mean that other knowledge or resources don’t matter. In most things they do. It means that what you know and the experiences you share with people with similar challenges and circumstances, with your community do matter and always matter.
Peer support, as a way people interact with each other, is, I think, an example of positive deviance in action. It has an intuitive appeal to it. In every area of life we learn from each other. What positive deviance (and peer support) say is we can do that on purpose. We can recognize the genius of our experience and the genius of the experience we share with others and use it to make a real difference in the way we and others in our community live.
Life is hard. Parts of it may always be hard. But we have at hand the ability to find and build solutions that make a difference.