Creative Maladjustment

Posted by Brand Bonsall on March 23, 2022

D88F0CC7 4036 447F 81D7 EF64F92012DB 1 201 aIn 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave an address to The University of California, Los Angeles and said, “Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any….It is the word 'maladjusted'.…Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. But I say to you, my friends, there are certain things in our nation and in the world [about] which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted.”

As I watched this speech recently, I was reminded of a student I worked with named “Jonathan.” Jonathan arrived at Evoke with an extensive list of diagnoses including Anti-Social Personality Disorder (ASPD). Prior to Evoke he met several of the criteria for this diagnosis. The particular diagnostic criteria that stood out to me was, “failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behavior.”

As I began my work with Jonathan he was able to understand that he did in fact have “anti-social” views of society. He believed that many people have ill intentions, that humans are ruining the earth and the beauty within it, and that someone needed to stand up to these people. He also began to realize that these beliefs were so strong within him that he did not know how to handle them. This led to him turning to violence and substance abuse.

As we continued our work we did not shy away from his “anti-social” views but instead embraced them. We embraced them and worked on ways to express them in a healthier way for him and for others around him. This healthier expression led to Jonathan beginning to form strong relationships within the group, continuing to expand on his love and deep connection to nature, express his intelligence and creativity, and ultimately achieve Air Phase (the highest honor at Evoke).

We concluded our work together with a ceremony to burn his previous psychological testing. Years later I heard from Jonathan and he expressed that his most powerful memory of Evoke was burning that testing.

So many of the boys we work with are considered maladjusted. They think differently, learn differently, act differently, and do not conform to the rules of society and the rules of their families. This lack of conformity often leads them to harm themselves and those around them.

How do we work to cultivate and accept this creative maladjustment in our children? I believe that it is our duty to embrace this maladjustment, to understand it, and to help these boys learn healthier ways of expression. While the wilderness environment provides the time, space, and safety for the embracement, acceptance, and understanding of our creative maladjustment, it can be a difficult balance to embrace this understanding in the “front country.” I encourage you all to look at your children with an open mind, to see past their behaviors and work to understand what it is they are trying to say. Work to see how the environment they are in may be stifling their creativity.

As Dr. King concludes in his address, “I’m convinced that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment.”


I LOVE this! Thank. you!!!!!!

Posted by Melanie Prager

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