A key aspect of the human ability to process information and experience lies in allegory and metaphor. This is why stories; in books, films, TV series, videos and games, are so compelling and influential.
But there is something important to say about the allegory and the metaphor that exist also in our real-life experiences – the stories we live.
“Right now, there’s a bunch of Johannesburg inner-city youth, growing up in all the toughness of Hillbrow and its surrounds; and as you might expect, they have trauma and violence woven into the fabric of their young lives”, says Luke Lamprecht from Fight with Insight, one of the speakers at the SACAP Festival of Learning.
“But they have something else too. These kids happen to have coping skills that many stressed executives would admire. And, they have a sense of purpose that many talented but distracted people would love to have. And, they have the unrelenting focus on their physical fitness and health that many of us would like to find. These kids also have a unique confidence they can they can play the rough cards that have been dealt to them in a different way.”
Why? Well, funny enough, they are developing all these fine qualities by participating in a combat sport, boxing, and here lies the real beauties of allegories and metaphors.
For a decade, Fight With Insight, a non-profit initiative registered with the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA), has been running a compelling programme to help at-risk youth develop differently, mostly attracting boys, but it is open and accommodating of girls too.
You might think that at-risk youth’s participation in boxing is like fighting fire with fire, but Luke Lamprecht, who is a child development expert, would disagree.
“It is the very nature of the sport that provides the greatest benefit to the children who are traumatised,” he says.
“It is well known that trauma affects us physically and emotionally. On a physiological level, trauma activates the amygdala and prevents experiences moving into the hippocampus. The result is hyper-vigilant children who struggle to learn, to focus and be calm. When you are traumatised it is hard to think as the fight-or-flight survival mechanism is activated. Combat sports mimic their real environment, where fight-or-flight is turned on and you are under threat. But in the context of our boxing programme, the environment is strictly controlled and actually safe; and that allows one to bring oneself into your body and be present, so that you are not overwhelmed by feelings in a situation where a behavioural reaction will occur. You learn to be in that state, recognise it; and still think, plan and choose the best course of action. Boxing actually helps when the threat of violence and the stress that causes, needs to be generalised in your everyday life. Boxing is also a highly aerobic activity which releases stress through a cascade of good hormones that reduce cortisol and cytokine levels.”
It’s not just a boxing programme. It’s a metaphor for life, and it offers these children opportunities to develop a different way of being that their poverty-stricken, inner-city circumstances do not offer.
Luke asserts: “It is not something you do with children that makes a difference, it’s everything.” He explains that when we want to make a difference, it’s not about sweeping strokes; it’s in the miniature of life – the moments. And, this is all underpinned by relationship. “Nothing changes if there’s no relationship,” says Luke.
That’s why Fight With Insight is actually much more than an Olympic style boxing programme.
Yes, you are there to learn a sporting skill with all the benefits that that sport offers in terms of metaphor and allegory, but by participating you have also entered into community with others. And, this is where the real change happens.
Professional, therapeutic relationships grounded in the best youth care and development research make programmes like Fight With Insight a change-maker transforming lives for the better.
Luke Lamprecht will be speaking at the annual Psychology Festival of Learning, which will be hosted by SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology) at their Johannesburg campus on 19 and 20 May and at their Cape Town campus on 26 and 27 September.
Tickets for the Psychology Festival of Learning as well as the programme with speakers details and topics are available on the website: www.psychologyfestival.co.za