Have you heard of The Human Library (HLO)? This nonprofit organization was created by a Dane named Ronni Abergel in Copenhagen in 2000 to address issues of prejudice and stereotyping through honest personal dialogues in safe spaces. He saw the potential of people with atypical experiences to act as “books” who could be “borrowed” for thirty-minute sessions by others in order to ask hard questions about taboo subjects without casting judgment. Imagine being able to “check out” issues like alcoholism, autism, bipolarity, brain damage, religious conversion, HIV+, homelessness, sexual abuse and molestation, nudism, polyamory, refugee life, post-traumatic stress disorder, and unemployment by having frank conversations with real people normally outside of your own comfort zone? The Human Library has the ambitious goal of using communication to build trust and respect and breakdown human barriers. It has hosted events in over eighty countries.
While HLO is quite unique, it strikes a familiar chord with me because it reflects values similar to those of Validation. A Validating caregiver of an older adult living with age-related dementia is trying to bond nonjudgmentally with someone whose life is very different and may no longer be an “open book.” Simple communication has often been lost and requires skills to unlock. The founder of the Validation method, Naomi Feil, saw the value of restoring dignity to adults in their final stage of life. She developed a method of communicating honestly and respectfully which has proven success all over the world. Naomi Feil has led thousands of Validation workshops over the course of fifty years and has laid the foundation for quality standards of learning which are carried out currently at 24 Authorized Validation Organizations in 14 countries in 11 languages.
There is often a wealth of wisdom to be gained by exploring the history of an older adult and their personal reality. Naomi Feil found a way to connect and communicate. She gave us a method for opening those books. The old woman who calls out, “Healven” is looking for help from heaven. Mrs. Kessler explains her retreat to the past, “I’m looking for yesterday to untangle the noodles in the mirrors of my mind.” Mr. Tross calls out, “Last year I died a thousand deaths.” Naomi Feil: When very old people lose cognition, they freely associate and become poetic. Entering their inner world can give you joy.
As I write this fortieth and final blog, I want to thank my readers for letting me “borrow” them to share my thoughts about aspects of life during the pandemic. I hope that my writings have engaged you, given you a little lift when you were down, or perhaps helped you find resources to cope with a difficult present and see hope in the future. Some of you may have been introduced to Validation through my blogs, while others have had extensive training and years of experience. Whatever skill level you are on, the Validation Training Institute (VTI) has something to offer you and an extensive array of online learning opportunities which you can access anywhere in the world in eight different languages.
I am extremely proud of my continuing association with our founder, Naomi Feil, and the organization known as VTI which provides educational opportunities to many people living with dementia. We began with traditional caregivers in memory care communities and have developed educational resources for family caregivers, emergency responders, activities staff, and interested members of the general public. Please visit our website to learn more: www.vfvalidation.com
The Validation Training Institute (VTI) is a non-profit organization that advances knowledge, values, education and research rooted in the Validation method. The objective is to nurture respect, dignity and well-being in the lives of older adults experiencing age-related cognitive decline and their caregivers. Our vision for the future is that every older adult experiencing age-related cognitive decline, and their caregiver, can feel the joy and love of meaningful communication.
By: Fran Bulloff, VTI Board President