One of the basic elements of the relationship between oppressor and oppressed is prescription.
– Paolo Friere
Freire’s use of the word prescription here did a rare thing – silenced D’Umbongo.
Our common usage of the word prescribe has come to be limited to the medical sense – a doctor’s prescription for a course of “treatment” – permission granted for us to access to controlled substances or expertness. For example in Ontario a doctor’s Rx script- prescription- is a pre-scribed chit giving us access to controlled drugs or to access healthcare services that will be paid for by OHIP credit card.
So It Is Written. So Shall it be.
Yet prescription is not solely a medical term: it simply means for one person to pre-scribe: write-out or set-out in advance and in writing what another must do. Whilst we may lack the training and club membership that affords us licence to sign off a medical “RX”, “a Script” prescription that is not enough to hold us back from the urge to prescribe.
The written word has a powerful hold on our thinking and behaviour that is especially embedded within the word prescription.
Or, as Yul Bryner portraying Rameses II to Carlton Heston’s chestwig, says in the movie Ten Commandments:
“So let it be written. So let it be done”.
…and in a way you’ll know there’ll be trouble if it isn’t.
The Urge to Prescribe
When we take it upon ourselves to decide what another person needs, when we prescribe what they must do, we create two roles: the first for ourselves as oppressor and the second for the person we have now cast as oppressed.
It may feel good for a while – and it may even feel good for both parties for a while – but is not a recipe for a relationship of equals.
When we prescribe: when we tell someone what they need, or tell them what will work for them – even if we intend otherwise – we set our selves above them, reduce their freedom and set up expectations that they will accept their own powerlessness and subjugate themselves to our will. When we take it upon ourselves to decide what it is that another person needs we diminish their ability to learn how to choose for themselves and we take away belief that they can find their way.
Instead we confine them to a future in which they can be okay only if they follow what we say.
Try spending a day – even an hour – being told what to do: I expect you already know you wouldn’t much like it.
For me the idea expressed by Freire makes crystal clear how the moment we assume that we know what another person needs is the same moment in which we elevate ourselves above them and demote them from equal to less than we.
In this moment are have moved from being fellow humans, peers or equals and have cast ourselves, wittingly or unwittingly, in the role of oppressor, and cast them in the role of oppressed.
When we stop learning how to be equal, we can only pity and fear.
A Whole Chorus of Someones
Psychiatric patients always have someone – or a whole chorus of someones – telling them what to do.
No wonder they call us “patient”
To become a “psychiatric patient” is to become oppressed. The very denoting of the “psychiatric patient” category upon us can strip away identity, self and dignity and cast us asunder to a life of less-than.
It is – at at least it can often be- a deeply carved mark of oppression and is uncommonly unaccompanied by other similar deeply carved marks that a person has been cast down and deemed not worthy of this society’s best.
One of the everyday experiences of those who have become categorised as “psychiatric patient” is, as Elyn Saks describes, to “always have someone [or a whole chorus of someones] telling us what we’re supposed to do”.
It does require of us a great deal of patience to sit with the discomfort of being the only person in our life who is not allowed to have an opinion about what we need – it does, indeed, require a lot of patience to live surrounded by that kind of crap.
Peer support and prescription
What does it mean to be peer? To me “peer” means “equal”, that’s it.
It means in calling myself “peer” I don’t set myself above you or anyone, I’ve learned what I know the hard way and am glad for the power that gives me but even that much does not qualify my truth as any kind of universal truth.
Yes, I have found my path but that doesn’t mean it’s the same path you need to follow. My life, my experiences my story is but one: one of thousands, millions, billions, even: and all examples of how as individuals can and do find our way, find our path to live our lives, on our terms.
I’ve learned what I need. I don’t presume to know what you need.
Support, peer support if you lie, is a simple idea – it is in essence about the best of what humans do – and if you need it more simply then it’s about choosing not to join the chorus.
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