Tag Archives: community

Look at me

I saw a few posts on social media this week about people who ignore their children in order to check their phones and messages…..you know the sort of thing, a picture of a fed up child and a parent staring at a screen. In my study (I am on the fourth floor and commonly known as the Mad Woman In The Attic, not without some justification) I watch parents taking their children to school and some parents even have earphones in – blocking out not only the wonderful sounds of the morning, birdsong and breezes, but also their children, who stump along next to them glumly, often trotting to keep up as the uncomprehending parent  marches ahead in order to get that task out of the way and get on to other important things such as staring at a screen and drinking coffee. It makes me feel sad…..

It also makes me angry that we are still at this point in our evolution. For the past thirty-plus years I have been attempting to inject humanity into health and social services on different levels, since the horror of student nursing (about a hundred and fifty years ago….)  when, on my first mental health ward for elders (the clue was in the shorthand title: PsychoGerries) I trotted along for my first day to discover a shabby-coated and smoking staff nurse standing – slouching – in the centre of a semi circle of commodes on each of which there was a naked elder. Both men and women were lined up together for ritual and casual humiliation. After a brief pause to get my breath as I stared at him I sent him home (well, there were a few well chosen and short words as well) and along with some chums set about restoring a little dignity. At every stage, for years, I have seen that same ritual and casual disrespect and humiliation handed out to all and any people using services by people who, if you met them elsewhere would probably seem like decent human beings. From elders having crap food shovelled into their mouths by smoking and grubby “carers” to people with learning disabilities ignored and belittled for being who they are, not even allowed to choose their own bedtime, their own food, the people with whom they will spend their days – their lives.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some brilliant support people, some fabulous organisations who strive to be good, to deliver humanity in their services and campaign for change. I know, and have worked with, many fab people who actually care and understand what that means (ie that it isn’t just about smiling a lot and nodding, but it is about taking risks, liking and respecting the people around you and understanding that each of us is individual – and encouraging that). But in the grand scheme of things these people are too few, and the others are tolerated because of where we are in our evolution. Which takes me back to where I started.

Being with people – supporting people, caring, whatever word you use, and the words matter because you will behave in a way that the words expect – IS the point. The things we do, taking children to school, supporting someone to eat, going to a gig with someone, supporting someone to put their clothes on, shopping with someone, they are all component parts, each as important as the other, as important in how we do them as well as that we do them at all. Those grubby “carers” shovelling food into someones mouth are indeed performing the task in their job description but their main task – of being with someone and having that relationship with someones humanity, their person-ness – has been lost. How much more time and effort would it cost to look at the person in front of them and see their person-ness and be kind? But that kindness is by and large not factored into how we commission, deliver, train for, reward and recruit to support services. Our task oriented focus takes us from task to task, KPI to KPI, box to box and target to target. When was the last time you saw the word “kind” in a job description……?

I remember – and I wish I could forget – watching a “carer” stand up, walk over to an elderly woman with dementia, and without a word roughly haul her up and out of her chair because it was “toileting time”. I sent a nurse home one night years ago because as we were nursing a comatose dying woman in her bed the other nurse leant over her – right over her – and said quite audibly to me “I don’t know why we are doing this she will be dead by the morning.” Casual cruelty, thoughtless indignity, the view of people as lumps of meat to whom we have to do things in order to earn a pay packet. Hauling ourselves and the people we support from task to task as quickly as possible…..for what? That task is a means to an end, a conduit through which we can nourish and nurture the relationship – it is the means, not the end.

It is that corporate and individual refusal to see people as human, as individuals, that allows learning disabled people to die in hospitals they should never have been in far away from the people who love them and allows the people who allow it to happen to bear no meaningful consequences.  It allows elders to be warehoused in buildings from which they will never leave until they die, who will never again feel the breeze on their faces, hear the birdsong or the sea, have someone look them in the face and hear what they are saying, be useful, be heard. Be a person. Have fun. If we are not having a little fun along the way what is the point?

Please take some time to look at the links here. Stay Up Late is a brilliant grassroots charity promoting the right for people with learning disabilities to have a choice about how they live their lives. That it is needed at all is telling.

The more difficult read is the piece about assessment and treatment centres. Read it and weep. And then sign up to the 7 days of action. Please

And please read about Connor Sparrowhawk and his phenomenal circle of support. Even after his avoidable death the people responsible have had little or no consequences, even after compounding the pain by denying wrongdoing, doing a bang up job of saving their own skins, and reducing the humanity of everyone involved. Shameful. Painful. And his Mother has responded with dignity and energy – I listened to her on the radio a few months ago while I was driving and I had to pull over and stop because I was weeping too much to continue driving.

Home

https://theatuscandal.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/natural-causes/

https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/shinealight/clare-sambrook/on-connor-sparrowhawk-s-avoidable-death

The “care” industry is regulated more now than it has ever been – there are audits, documents, inspections, investigations, inspectors, investigators, commissions, boxes to tick, all manner of things supposed to keep us safe. And yet the abuse is still there, as open and filthy as ever. Safety is not guaranteed – and anyway, is safety the most important thing in life? Isn’t fun –  and autonomy, and independence, and risk, and loving and laughing, making mistakes, and pain and heartbreak  – as important? Aren’t those things the things that make us human? Those safeguards will never take the place of kindness and humanity, of seeing the person in front of us and respecting them just for being themselves. Let’s try that – and owning it when we get it wrong – for a while and see what happens………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I write therefore I am…….

 

I sit in front of a nude page, stark and scary with no place to hide. I realise I have nothing to say but I type anyway, words falling like snowflakes

Down

To

The

 

Bottom

 

 

Of the

Page

 

Where They

 

 

Form

SludgeAndSedimentAndCongealDirtily

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramblings about Christmas (I know, sorry…) and about Charity, charities and Love

It’s that time of year again. Chillier mornings, frost taking a run up, and Christmas bits appearing in the shops. I have heard some Christmas music being played in some places as well, mostly pappy lift Christmas muzak but it still sets out the stall for the coming deluge.

I was educated mostly by nuns and brought up on a diet of kissing the feet of icons, taking communion, or the body and blood of Christ as it was more attractively known, emptying myself of sin every Saturday in preparation for Sundays consecration and a general acknowledgement that I was not good enough and Must Do Better as the sins filled me up again over the next calendar week. Christmas was a big deal, a time to celebrate the Baby Jesus and be kind to people we didn’t like and to patronise the needy. A time to remember our difference from Anglicans in that we were clearly the chosen ones and should never, ever, utter Anglican prayers or hymns for fear of damnation. That one got me a detention in my Grammar School as I extravagantly nudged a Catholic chum in assembly (where we had to file in separately in case there was someone who hadn’t noticed we were different, to allow them the opportunity to clock us) who was joining in the “wrong” Our Father. I was saving her soul at the expense of a detention with the Chemistry teacher who hated me, not without reason. When exam time rolled around we all had to visit the teachers individually. I rocked up to the Chemistry Teachers den and breathed in the sulphur. She looked at me. I blinked at her. She said “I don’t think we have anything to say to each other, do you?” I left. It was a relief.

Anyway.

Christmas remained a big deal, especially when I married and had children. My husband was and is an atheist so it became less noticeably Catholic and more secular – more fun, really. Me going to Midnight Mass was tolerated with affection. We cooked, cleaned and preened for Gods sake for at least three months before the Big Day, bought gifts, decorated, made card lists, planned menus. The house was warm, golden and tinselly and we loved it. I wept when carols were played on the radio and filled up at the scent of candles. And that is where I am going with this. As my faith ebbed and flowed so the experience of Christmas changed. I am a recovering Catholic immersed in a Buddhist ethic and I am happy with that. I have gained so much from the path I have followed: the wisdom to know I am not as wise as I think, the contentment of being comfortable in my own skin, and the deep understanding of my transience. I have also lost things: the comfort of certainty, the cuddle of my God, the simplicity of Faith. Christmas, however, remains a big deal. We cook, clean and preen as much as ever although as the children grew and left and our Granddaughter arrived it took a different shape, a shape that was just as warm and lovely but was opened out and closed down all at the same time. And over the years that my Faith also changed so the ability of Christmas carols to move me decreased – that nipple-tingling, teary, warm, gut-filling emotion that Christmas Carols used to create was not there, and I miss it dreadfully. I remember each of my childrens Nativity plays at which, every time, I had quietly wept because it was so lovely, and the awful realisation on that final day in the final year of Primary School for my youngest child that Nativity plays would never be the same for me again, and I sobbed quietly at the back because it was beautiful and sad all at the same time. Of course my comedy nose gave it away when I had to blow it and people wondered how the Queen Mary had managed to pull up alongside……….

Anyway, again.

I still love Christmas and value more each year the opportunity to share it with a widening circle of family and friends as well as the opportunity for solo reflection and consolidation which has become more important than ever.   I will play carols again this year and hope for the thrill but without too much expectation. I will also play Stabat Mater by Pergolesi and know I will get the thrill that always brings. Perhaps I should simply be happy I can still be thrilled at all………

A lot of of this pondering about Christmas, and thrills, and change, was prompted by the obvious early marketing of Christmas which is in itself disappointing. It led me to reflect seriously about authenticity and ethical behaviour, two qualities I prize highly. Even though my own Christmas is not based in Catholicism any more, it is still based in faith and in love, it is authentic. It does not need the gaudy support on sale in the shops or the approval of someone ordained to approve. I do not need the prompt of religion to do the right thing ( or recognise the wrong thing) or love my fellows, or to enjoy festivities that are designed to bring people together – they stand on their own merits. The Stabat Mater moves me not because it is about Jesus but because it is about Love, Mothers love, turmoil and grief, cruelty and suffering and the sweet and bitter pain and joy of love and loss. It is as valid for our current world as for that world 2000 years ago.

Working with so many terrific people over the years I recognise authenticity in someone very quickly. Authenticity, passion and experience are things that underpin a great deal of work in the Third Sector and indeed are qualities that have created the genesis of many charities and organisations, and if married with talent and skill can produce formidable results. In their absence the tinsel quickly fades and good intentions are crushed under the weight of misconceived marketing and misunderstood motives, but if all those things are in place there is a lightness and a brightness about the business which lifts it above others and supports the drive which created the organisation in the first place. Hope and warmth are the driving force underpinned by all those more concrete talents of organisation.

So……..I look forward to Christmas in the same way I look forward to any event that excites me, but with that added thrill of knowing why I love it so much and the anticipation of some cracking meals and evenings to come, with people I like and love. There is no substitute for genuine commitment, authenticity and real affection, at Christmas, at Home, or at Work. My wish for this year is that you find all those things, in all those places, and enjoy them as much as I do.

Re Blog courtesy of Heavy Load – check out the website too

HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD

How to change the world

Some big news – Jerry Rothwell and Al Morrow, the director and producer of ‘Heavy Load’ the movie have got a new documentary coming out; ‘How to change the world’ opens on 9th Sep.

Jerry’s a master at telling human stories and if you’ve never seen one of his movies then I suggest you check them out. Through his films he manages to create amazing insights in to different human stories. After all he managed to follow Heavy Load around for 2 ½ years and somehow crafted a coherent story from our crazy and often incoherent way of carrying on.

4) Movie poster

His latest film ‘How to change the world’ tells the story of the founders of Greenpeace and on the opening night he’s also got Vivienne Westwood on the panel for the Q&A – looking forward to that.

Jerry came in to our lives by chance, he’d been commissioned by the Cambridge User Parliament to make a film about disability rights and advocacy (‘Real Power’) and it was felt that whilst this was an obviously worthwhile subject it could also be seen as a little dry and needed an extra element to lighten the mood – cue Heavy Load! Through that experience we formed a friendship with Jerry and he decided to make a feature documentary about our world – something that is still find hard to believe actually happened.

“FILM OF THE WEEK” – MARK KERMODE, BBC 5 LIVE

Meeting Jerry totally changed the worlds of everyone in Heavy Load and we went from playing social care garden parties and day centres to Glastonbury and Wychwood Festivals, New York City, various European cities and wrote the theme tune for Channel 4’s Cast Offs drama series.

3) Burnstock

On top of that our movie was premiered at SXSW, Texas and appeared at various international film festivals and was broadcast on the BBC. It also got screened on Finnish TV and I have no idea whether it had any role to play in the Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät story, but they formed that same year (2009) and have gone on to do unbelievably brilliant things. Nearer to home we do know we inspired bands like Zombie Crash (who toured with Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät in 2013) and with thanks to organisations like Carousel and Constant Flux there’s an learning disabled amazing music scene in our home city, Brighton and Hove.

PROJECT FART

During the filming Jerry phoned me one day and said it could be worth considering creating some sort of organisation taking inspiration from the release of the movie ‘Children of Agape, we are together’ which created a foundation to further the work of the orphanage featured in it. We realised the Heavy Load movie would offer us a great platform for something but we’d not worked out quite what that might be – for some months the idea lived in our heads under the code name ‘Project Fart’.

Michael straightI’ve told the story before about that lightbulb moment when we decided to launch the Stay Up Late campaign, that moment when Michael (our drummer) was told to drink up by his support worker because it was time to go home. He disagreed, he still had half a pint in his glass and was in the middle of a conversation. We launched Stay Up Late later that year with several hundred leaflets and a banner at one of Carousel’s Blue Camel Club nights. We had no particular plan other than to raise awareness of the issue of people in receipt of so called ‘person centered support’ not being a able to make chaoices about simple things like what time they went to bed and how they spent their evenings.

Jerry’s movie gave us the unique position of being able to get our message out to many thousands of people all sharing our frustrations and we’ve always adopted the approach of being free and easy with our logo, figuring that it makes sense for as many people to be doing things in the name of Stay Up Late as possible. That approach has enabled us to punch way above our weight, giving the impression that we’re a much bigger organisation than we are, and in fact it was only in 2013 that we employed our first ever paid worker. The approach of being free and easy with our logo hasn’t always worked with a small number of situations backfiring on us where other organisations have claimed our work for their own, and not really worked with us in the way we’d hoped, but it’s been risk worth taking and has largely paid off I think. (I’ll probably blog about this issue in a bit more detail in the future).

Our friends from C-Change in Glasgow

Our first employee was of course Madeline who’s now joined by Kate and Holly who make up the team running our Gig Buddies project across Sussex. To think we’d have an office with 3 staff supporting over 60 people with learning disabilities to get out to gigs regularly with their volunteer buddies is something we hadn’t even dreamed of. And what a dream team they really are backed up by our lovely board of trustees.

Gig Buddies Harry and Jeff at Southseafest

Now we’re just about to announce details of how we’re going to make use of £202,000 funding from the National Lottery to develop this work even further and support other organisations to set up their own Gig Buddies, just like ACL Disability Services in Sydney have done, and also Thera Scotland in Midlothian.

So in our small way Jerry’s movie ‘Heavy Load’ has helped us change the world we work in, even if at times it feels like the challenges are getting harder and harder for people with learning disabilities living in the UK right now. We’ve always known exactly what needs changing – the challenge is just exactly that ‘how to change it’.

Gig Buddies has also enabled us to widen our work to involve the local community, not just our wonderful band of volunteers and local arts organisations and support providers, but also venues and promoters (such as One Inch Badge, Music’s Not Dead,Sticky Mike’s Frog Bar and The Brighton Centre) all of who support our work in showing what a community should look like, with people at the margins welcome in the middle (or even in the mosh pit).

We also work within the wider community working with other organisations such as Attitude is Everything, Paradigm, Heart n Soul, Learning Disability Wales, Mencap and many others all striving to improve lives for people with learning disabilities. (And we were recognised as one of Nesta’s 50 New Radicalorganisations making a real difference in their community).

The thing that I’m not sure of, and what we really need to do, is how to connect with that potential army of support workers out there and get them thinking about how they can be part of the change we need to see, the change that people with learning disabilities are calling out for, to be able to live their lives how they want. We’ve connected with loads of people who agree with what we’re doing – but we know there’s many more who are working in systems and settings that create institutionalised practices and these are the people we really need to create debate with.

HOW CAN WE CREATE DISSENT AMONGST SUPPORT WORKERS?

They surely can’t be happy with how they have to work so we need to hold on to that hope and find ways to create dissent and provoke a response that drives positive change, delivering truly person centred support.

So we’ll be pondering this one – any suggestions gratefully received.

In the meantime I’ve got my ticket for How To Change The World, 9th Sep, Picture House Central, London and we’re also holding a screening of Heavy Load the movie at The Cowley Club, Brighton on Tuesday 18th Aug. There may be members of Heavy Load present to do the Q&A, who knows? (I’ll be there) – as ever with Heavy Load I never knew what was going to happen next, and that’s been the story so far with the running of Stay Up Late the charity.

Decisions Decisions…….

Decision making is a hot topic, in Government, in Business, in our personal relationships. Politicians like to be seen as “decisive”, strong leaders, capable. Their decision making can speak clearly about who they are and who they represent. We make decisions every day from the moment our eyes open, mostly not challenging decisions (which cereal to have…..) but the process will be similar to any decision making: reduce and select the options, weigh them up, obtain corroboration as required, risk assess, choose.  Some decisions then have to be verified – not the cereal decision, but pubic-impact decisions! They have to be demonstrated as good and in the public interest. Doctors, for example, can be held to account in a very public and structured way for their decisions, and quite right too.

In this modern, vibrant savvy age of entrepreneurship, business, public relations and increasingly rapid development of products and policies it has been fascinating to attend local council meetings and watch the archaic and frankly absurd methods used to reach and share decisions. I can recommend it as a means to explore power and how it moves around people and traps them.

Well-intentioned people of all sorts run for government, local and otherwise – and some less well intentioned people too. To be elected all we need is a bit of cash and some voter apathy – produce the right words on the leaflets, smile and kiss babies (or promise toilets in the town centre), get your name known so it is familiar on the ballot sheet and Bob’s your uncle. With voter turn out at its lowest in decades you only need a handful of people to recognise you, a sockful of cash and favours to distribute as required, and not have too much visible mud sticking to you and you can lever your way in. Once in, there are a multitude of ancient processes designed specifically to protect you from scrutiny and consequence. Public council meetings, for example, are run by a Town Clerk who positions him/herself, like the Presidents Bodyguards, ready to take a bullet for the people authorising her/his salary and apparently relevant education, rottweiling away any pertinent and grown up conversation behind the smoke and mirrors of process and protocol. Understatement of the day at my last meeting was “this is not a conversation, not interactive” barked at a member of the public daring to supplement her already submitted, then scrutinised and whitewashed questions with a mild query after the tepid and qualified response from the council.  Not interactive indeed, not there, not anywhere.

One wonderful example of the antithesis of voter engagement was at the last meeting I attended after which a councillor (famous for audibly addressing a colleague with whom she disagreed as a prat, in front of a variety of members of the public including children after the Remembrance Day Ceremony) cantered over to the group  of the public attendees specifically to make a point of her own, and then when someone asked her a question backed off so quickly she almost fell over herself arriving saying “I don’t answer questions”. If not then, when? A gold plated gift wrapped opportunity to engage with voters about a hot local topic. I know – let’s ignore it. Maybe they were all prats? Sadly that is not  an isolated councillor behaving inexplicably but a realtime indicator of some local government attitude.

If I were in that elite group of elected officials who have the privilege to serve their community at the communities expense (and that has Precious Little chance of happening I hardly need to add) I think I might start to question those processes. Yes, they have been there for centuries (as have Scarlet Fever and Plague, both thankfully almost eradicated with universal approval) and yes, they are traditional, but until recently so was sending kids up chimneys and wife-beating. We have civilised ourselves past that. Those protocols, processes, trip-wires, smoke and mirrors, call them what we will, are man-made – like nylon, like poverty – and we can un-make them and create a better, more accountable, more engaged, more people friendly way of making decisions that will, ultimately, impact the entire community. It is probably about time we did so, and in the process expose some of the decisions made on our behalf and their consequences. Good people get elected all the time – as do the less good and the downright dreadful. It is probably time we freed the good ones up to do what they want to do – a bit of good for the community and a bit of proper public engagement. Some of those good ones who sit around, and at the head of, that local council table are becoming stained with their colleagues fallout and grime – how lovely it would be to liberate them.

The Power of One

I am outing myself as an Only Child. Not only an Only, but also dual nationality and on the easy end of the autistic spectrum with synaesthesia thrown in for good measure. Good grief, I am even professionally interested in myself.

 

There are tensions and delights to be had from all the above. I am Irish/English, and until I started school at a convent where I lived in London I had thought I lived in Wexford with trips to Dublin. I only ever met Irish people and they only ever talked about Irish things. My streets were Irish streets filled with Irish people and Irish papers. We visited Ireland many times and it was where Family was and where Family happened. Good stuff was there. So………slowly realising we lived in London and I was a little bit English was a bit of a moment. And the accent! Well, that was finally knocked out of me once I hit Grammar School in the Shires. As a bright pupil I was lucky enough to have earned a proper education for which I am grateful, but no room for diversity back then! Conform or suffer, the stuff of Grammar and Boarding Schools throughout the  Counties back in the day, and I am not sure it has changed much.  I chose not to suffer. Well, not too much……….

That flaccid grip on national identity has an upside. As an Only I am not a natural joiner, I stand back and evaluate, I overthink, buying into something is not an easy gig for an Only and that apartness, the sense of being outside, brings strength as well as missed opportunities: strength to say no, to weigh up friendships ruthlessly, to maintain integrity and authenticity even at the expense of relationships or career choices – to maintain rightness. Juggling the Irish English that is deep inside is made easier by the lack of joinership – without that need to be within, to join, there is less of a sense of loss of identity as the roots are not firm but swim and sway back and forth under the connecting Sea. The downside is the crushing disappointment that can be had if what one has bought into is revealed to be corrupt or decayed. Childish disappointment in an adult can be corrosive. And that smug integrity can mean an intolerance for others who disappoint, personally and professionally. But, topically, this background makes it easier to understand current cultural issues: amidst the multitude of “communities” that take root around the UK many individuals claim to be ignorant of some of the dreadful things some people within those communities plan and commit. Nonsense. An entire community that can maintain its identity so precisely within another host community does so only by knowing what is happening within and either supporting it or allowing it and by controlling its members. I do not believe those protestations of innocence that are paraded on the tellybox when an atrocity happens. They are not credible. I was on the verge of radicalisation myself – although of course we didn’t know what that meant then –  as a young girl with family members in Sinn Fein when the IRA was casually sold to us as a romantic and necessary part of our culture. My apartness saved me then, and I am grateful for it.

I was “home” recently in Enniscorthy. Travelling alone allowed me to reflect as much as I needed to: I went to see family and friends, spent time simply watching and hearing the Slaney and listening to the birds and the horses, soaked up the familiarity of the places and enjoyed the simaltaneous detachment that is in the DNA of an Only. I watched and listened – something Onlys do a lot. My synaesthesia means that listening is an often joyful and often inadvertent experience, as well as sometimes complex and distracting. The sound of the horses hooves on the turf became a very visual experience for me, the birdsong I enjoy every morning provides a colourful backdrop to activity. I can be surprised by a visual experience from an unexpected sound or some music that I had not expected to hear – delightful, if a little unnerving at times! And Ireland has the best beach on the planet in Curracloe, and I spent time there too. My children all had their first experience of sand there as babies, deliberately.  Saving Private Ryan was filmed there. The fine pale sandy beach is in surroundsound and stretches away right and left fringed by the magnificent dunes and rushes, and the ocean, with its mauves and greens and blues rolls away to the horizon where everything surely falls off and magically glides back home………It fills the vision and the senses and recalibrates everything within a few short breaths.

I also spent some time at my parents grave. No comfort there, I thought, just pain and grief. I was on the verge of an internal meltdown as I sat on the edge of the grave and ran my fingers through the pebbles and stones covering what remains of my parents. And then, a tiny dog appeared from nowhere. Genuinely, I was sitting in the centre of the graveyard and the dog had not been visible, and then he was, and he made a fuss of me and insisted on sitting on my lap and I had no option but to fuss him and talk to him. And slowly the world righted itself again and things came back into focus. Job done, he ambled off, only to return magically just as I was about to leave, insisting on a final fuss and chat. Small wonders make ones day. And as a wise friend said, The universe can be a calm and comforting place , the gentleness of its messengers can heal and support in the most unexpected ways.

So, in a circular way, we are back at Integrity and Rightness. A part of grief grows directly out of regrets: regrets for things done and not done, for mistakes that can never, now, be put right, conversations that can never, now, be had, and love that can no longer be shared or spoken.  However we treasure our integrity – my integrity – it will always fail somehow. And that is because we are all flawed and broken to some extent and we will forget to do things, or will choose activity that we later regret. And sitting there next to the place my parents now share as they shared so many years together before that, I started to understand it better. In the end we are all alone with our grief and our regrets as well as with our triumphs and achievements.

I feel grateful that things conspired to make me aware very early on of the Power of One. It made me a better leader and a worse follower, oddly both non-judgemental but also intolerant of hypocrisy, created in me an over-thinker but thoughtfully balanced that with a resilience and drive that has led me along a fabulously interesting and rewarding pathway. Not an easy companion but I hope a rewarding one for those who choose to be close to me, and I cherish those who choose to be so. Celebrating your own Power of One and connecting with that solitude that nourishes, you will discover the strength within. Trust me, I am an Only!

 

 

 

 

The Light Of The World

You are light for the world… your light must shine in people’s sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus declares that he is the light of the world. Here, in Matthew, each of us is told that we, too, are light for the world.

Sometimes we miss the point of light: complacently we accept it as just light, the element that allows us to see. But we forget that it does not illuminate itself, it enables vision. We shine a light away from ourselves in order that sight is allowed. Humility can be difficult to practice, especially in a competitive and often adversarial environment, but practice it we must. As regular readers and colleagues who know me well already understand, I see business as a means to an end and not an end in itself, with integrity and respect at its heart. If business is not enhancing life, what is its point? Without that humility we will miss the point of what we do and we will have failed. Success so often means highlighting others aspirations, successes and ways forward – shine your light and let others dance in the spotlight.

Freedom fighters and terrorists

I was brought up in an Irish “community” which yo-yoed between London and Wexford – I didn’t even know I lived in London until I started school – I thought, if I thought about it at all, that we lived in Dublin. And the Convent did nothing to reduce that view populated as it was with weatherbeaten old Irish nuns and a few young and timid Irish nuns all of whom appeared to think Galway was the centre of the Universe, priests were Supermen, and who spent a lot of their time blushing. And using their ebony crucifix as a weapon of mass destruction in the classroom – I still have the migraines to prove it – but that is another blog entirely. Most of the Irish in that community had integrated well with the Brits, worked hard, played hard, were charming and funny, generous in the boozer, and made no trouble. Making no trouble was important: if you made trouble you were visible and if you were visible you were a target. I am old enough – just –  to remember the No Dogs No Blacks No Irish signs. I am young enough for that not to have hurt me as much as it must have hurt my Dad. Making no trouble also lost me most of my Irish identity at my Shires Grammar School where it was clear that British – or even better English – was the only way to be so that is how I sound. And then in the ’70s when some Irish people were committing appalling violence on the mainland sounding English was another good way of being invisible.  It is what it is.

We have heard a great deal in the past few months about “communities” responding to news of terrible crimes, the dreadful murder of a young man in Woolwich for example, a crime to which many of us, including myself, responded with anger, rage and a profound desire to show support and to evidence our own corporate abhorrence, a complete refusal to tolerate that kind of offence. For most of us the complexity of the West’s involvement with the Middle East was not relevant – one of our own had been violated and that was enough. It always will be. I was never asked, at any time, for my communities response. “Muslim communities”, “religious communities”, “local communities” were all asked for and gave their responses. Which was my “community”?

There is so much accepted wisdom about “communities” and the need to belong. Belonging to a community implies a committment, a shared identity, a shared purpose and some shared experiences. If those shared experiences, which are often deliberately re-told to include and sometimes encourage a shared sense of being wronged or misjudged by another “community” in order to consolidate the brethren nature of the group, are used by people with their own agenda, then we have “radicals”. Or, people with strong political beliefs. If these communities really do exist – and I remember with love my own splinter community in Kilburn where I felt safe and warm – then they will inevitably harbour dissent.

It is all in the words. Semantics rule. One mans radical is another mans believer; Freedom Fighter or Terrorist depends on where you stand when the landmine goes off.  If your community tacitly agrees that there is another community that oppresses yours, that there is a valid reason for dissent, then the people who resist perceived oppression will be Freedom Fighters, people to be if not feted then supported and protected. Our Own. The other community calls them terrorists. Whatever we call them they still kill and hurt people. The name does not mitigate the behaviour. There are many people today in the “communities” who are being asked for their views who make it clear that they do not know of anyone who is “radicalised” or a threat. Nonsense. I may not have known names or specifics as a youngster but I knew that there were people being hidden, supported, funded and fed by people who were good people, but who were supporting bad things because they were Ours. It is not possible to be even a small part of the group and not be aware of something. And that implicates the whole community. I remember my Dad and indeed our family being viewed with suspicion just for being Irish despite the fact that he was the least likely person ever to be a radical. Ever. The community was tainted.

Cards on the table: I support British troops to the max. My wonderful son in law is in the British Army and I don’t think I even have to add anything to that sentence. This piece isn’t about me, or him, or the British Army, or any communities. It isn’t even about politics. It is about perception. Perhaps because of my experiences I do not feel a need to belong to any particular group or community. That feels good. It means I am free to like anyone, or dislike anyone, based not on their community or group, their culture or their colour, their beliefs or their appearance, their criminal record, politics, height, weight, dis/ability, status or wealth but on their behaviour and their charm. That means I have a lovely eclectic collection of friends and acquaintances who give my life colour and depth. It also means that I would not shelter any one of them if I thought they had behaved oppressively or had hurt anyone. I don’t have to. I am free. I am free to love and support them whatever they do, but also free to disagree and not to feel obliged to shelter them if they do wrong.  That liberates both parties.

One of the first things that will support Radicalised people – people passionate about a cause –  to stop doing bad things to other people is for them to see those other people as people and not part of a group or community. Oppressing people will never relieve the oppression of another group, it will just complete the circular journey of hatred. But those groups will resist – why would they give up the power they have? It is in individuals that the answer lies. That means you and it means me.

Food Glorious Food?

Sharing meals allows us to come together and spend quality time with each other. It increases communication and understanding.  How many of us had our first experience of another culture through food? And coming together to prepare and eat food is part of many rituals and traditions. Food plays a big part in faith and in worship. When one shares in the Eucharist, it is said to be a  sharing of Christ’s body and blood, and worshippers are reminded of their responsibility to share all our meals with others. As St John Chrysostom once said, “You have tasted the blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognise your brother…You dishonour this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food someone judged worthy to take part in this meal.” Most faiths and religions have food rituals, most cultures have food rituals and norms. Food is significant. Food rituals – cutlery or lack of, how the food is produced (is it Halal? Organic? Vegan? Kosher?), how it is presented, how it is eaten – matter deeply to us all. The only people for whom those things no longer matter are the hungry, and even then I have known seriously hungry people refuse non-kosher or non-vegan food. So it is quite simply that important.

So…..

How many times recently have we heard about nurses now being expected to “feed and wash” patients for a year before they train? How many times do support workers and health professionals refer to “feeding” their patients or clients? The act of eating is reduced, for some, to the passive “feeding” offered by “carers”. It is reduced, for the care-givers, to a task to be got out of the way before the serious business of training, the important job of “nursing”, can be carried out. This simple attitude reduces human and humane care giving to the status of animal welfare. Now, let us acknowledge that there are similarities between the two, and animal welfare is very important. But in offering to care for and support other human beings we need to respect and acknowledge their humanity, and one of the few things that identifies humans as distinct from other animals is the development of specific and identifiable social rituals, especially around food, and the food rituals often define what we are as people: they indicate and specify how we live, what we believe, what matters to us.

The attitude that accepts us saying we are going to “feed” people when what we should  mean is that we are going to help them to eat or support them to eat is the same attitude that allows nurses and care givers to say things like “I have done Mrs Brown” when they mean they have helped or supported Mrs Brown to wash, or dress, or change her colostomy bag, or any of the other deeply personal, uncomfortable and intimate things carers do for us.  Those words, casually used and casually accepted, reduce our collective humanity, remove our independence. They remove the respect for our humanity that we properly expect our nurses and carers to demonstrate. They allow the casual neglect – and even the active cruelty – that we have seen in Winterbourne and at Stafford, and the many other places that have not yet hit the headlines. How can we pretend to be surprised by those events when we use the words that support the attitude of neglect and cruelty?

The words we use define how we behave, demonstrate how we think.  Let us challenge the use of words that encourage patient-passivity such as “feeding”, let us encourage the words that support active care such as “supporting, or assisting, to eat”. The former gives us a picture of food being shovelled into a patients mouth as a “carers” task, the latter gives us a picture of  someone in control of their food, being helped to perform their own task.  Notice the difference between “bathing” someone and “helping someone to bathe”.

When we become vulnerable through age, illness, disability or other reasons we often lose the option of privacy or dignity only because of the attitudes of the people tasked with supporting and assisting us. There are many discussions about why care can be poor, and often the poor wages are cited. And that is a factor – pay peanuts and you get chimps, and low wages do not reflect the importance of the job – but there is never, at any price, wage or  reward any excuse for reducing another persons humanity, for dragging away another human beings respect and trampling on their dignity. Individuals are responsible for their own behaviour and we should expect people recruited to care and support to behave properly – but the modelling of those good behaviours will flow from the leadership. If the people leading the services and the organisations do not demonstrate the crucial behaviours that indicate respect, humanity and the support of autonomy and independence for all then the people following those leaders will have no incentive to do so.

If you offer someone care and support, please, feed your dog but support your patient to eat.

Remember this……….

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