Let’s Not be Stuck in The Myth of Sisyphus: Gravity, Feedback Loops, & Social Work

Gravity is “invisible” but not removed from sensation; we can feel the effects of gravity daily, for example dropping something on your foot. In short gravity relates to mass, “People have mass too, and while our physical bodies might not exert gravity the way the Sun affects the Earth, our interests, experiences, appearance, ethics, morals, values, and life choices combine to create a peculiar gravitational pull” (Frono, 2019) on those around us. 

As social workers we go to great lengths to understand how our; values, ethics, morals, values, and life, affect our practice. Through this individual introspection we cultivate the type of practitioner we will be. 

For me, it seems relevant to analyze the physical environment as a variable which holds tremendous “gravitational pull” on each aspect of ourselves and client population we work with or advocate for.  So, to analyze my thoughts I turn to research.

Since most environmental systems are open and interconnected, the changes in any process-response system have effects on many, these effects are known as feedback loops. The term ‘feedback’ refers to the effect that occurs when the output of a system becomes an input to the same system (Smithson et al 2008 p. 12). 

Feedback loops may be positive or negative: positive feedback occurs when the effects of an original change are amplified or accelerated to produce a ‘snowballing’ effect, in other words a positive feedback loop… in contrast, a negative feedback loop in the environment occurs as a result of the interaction between predators and their prey (The Earth Systems and its Components). 

Let’s think of the metaphor of a tree. A Tree gives us shade: when were hot we might seek it out. However, whither were consciously aware of it or not, medical science tell us that there are feedback loop within our body to regulate body temperature. 

This tree is then cut down, we no longer have access to the consciously seeking out shade when we’re feeling hot. In terms of human environment interactions, I purpose that the removal of the tree disrupts a feedback loop that we established with this element of our natural environment. 

The lesson is that feedback loops may be interconnected. One action acting as a variable to more than one “loop.” 

If humans are understood as predators of the environment, that is preying on the natural earth through destructive actions then the result becomes a negative feedback loop. 

The who, where, where, when why, how, questions have large answers that are interconnected. Blaming the cause of the occurrence of Environmental Injustice on one system working within a feedback loop (say an oil company or builders who deforest for the means of a new shopping mall) doesn’t work. This is because the systems are interconnected. It seems the best way to advocate for the progression of environmental consciousness is to understand the variables and impacts of each system and begin to make links. 

Thus, the Person-In-Environment theory that the practice of social work uses becomes a valuable tool. As I have promoted before, the practice of social work must engage heavy with research to back links with statistical significance. Without empirical research, we are study is a version of, The Myth of Sisyphus, because no large-scale change will occur, in other word, policy change. 

It seems pertinent that social work professionals begin or continue to integrate themselves into all professional fields. This integration will allow for elevated pressure on the individual worker as other schooled professionals can provide their theory/research. 

From the context of analyzing my personal philosophy on social work I arrived at activism that serves to dismantle the negative feedback loop. I hope that as I continue to learn my “educational mass” increases; thus, exerting a larger gravitational pull. However, I believe that my effectiveness will come from working with other professionals who have a deep understanding of their profession. 

What I mean is that my explanation of gravity, feedback loops, environmental science, ecx, would be more valuable if I were working with individuals who dedicated their lives to these practices. With the current state of the environment, now more than ever, it seems so pressing to finally collaborate and leave the typical built environments which we typically preform our professions. 

The researcher in a lab has a lot to say but is anyone giving them a platform? Sure, published papers are a platform is only as effective as the amount of professionals it reaches who are going to apply the academia to real world interactions. 

To be Continued…… on the topic of – Professional “Romantic Gravity” 

Published by Gabrielle Francis Amlicke, MSW

Advocate for Environmental Social Work & CEO Founder Environmental Social Work LLC

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