“Take a good rest, small bird,” he said. “Then go in and take your chance like any man or bird or fish.” Ernest Hemmingway.
I presume that Hemmingway was writing about an average bird. He doesn’t mention it not having legs when it perches; the bird flies so therefore its wings are intact, not battered nor bruised, mental state unknown though it is tired and off balance, possible substance misuse problems but one shouldn’t leap. Perhaps it’s simply knackered from life, flying alone, possibly for quite some time, trying to find a decent home to cherish in a decent neighbourhood where it would be safe and could belong.
Life gives no promises except one-if you’ve come in, you’re going out; a ruthless way to begin life and a ruthless way to exit. It need not be left to chance to make that life worthwhile, irrespective of circumstance. There’s no accountability to life anyhow, only to oneself and occasionally to or from another, though rarely felt in service interactions. This is extrapolated through experience for most of us and can be a tough lesson to take and to keep taking. The state that one comes in, the state that one ‘lives’ and the state that one leaves are open to a multitude of variables but is it natures law to be left to chance?
Many of these variables are life’s lighthouses and they are beacons of potential, like teachers for example; highly tuned scanners that would make the engineers at NASA jealous. They pick up on the slightest thing, aware before services ever are. Therefore, when Life says, ‘I will mark your time in the interest of fairness with chance but measured on not only the effort of yourself but on the reliance of others’, there is no requirement to accept the absurdity of that proposition. That is the position that Barrow now finds itself, a remarkable opportunity to load the dice in spite of life and its absurd circumstance, to change the definition from degree of probability to something that will happen.
Things like stop referring to people as marginalised, living on the borderlands of society, feet sunk into slag heaps scavenging for coal. They are neighbours embedded between us, more prone to be scavenging for food at present although fuel poverty now has a different face. How would you know that your neighbour was cold? Perhaps when you noticed the shed starting to struggle. Things where neighbourhoods hold their own associative power with services positioned to collaborate and offer expertise if required, not to lead needlessly or artificially. Things where neighbourhoods have their own accountability and can hold their own vote instead of giving it away to be digested in the language of systems and behaviour. You can create your own badges, sifting through what has become ludicrous. The community will know what works and what doesn’t.
It’s a two -year project and there is a lot of evidence to gather. Most people when they look at a watch, they simply want to know the correct time, not what makes it tick. But many of us do want to know and maybe we should do too; do not presume presently that we won’t. For those of us who work in the world of cogs and gears the wealth of evidence to facilitate change is already huge. It cannot work as a paper exercise, but my desk is already littered with an array of perception.
Perspective is a capricious commodity akin to memory. For instance, when members of a family get together and talk about an event, possibly from childhood, many of the memories do not match. Reading the information already gathered and listening to some viewpoints from those involved in the project I have found myself already hindered by perception. Perception is the whim of its master and troublesome already. If I don’t understand how my own mind and body work, how can I be of assistance to someone wanting help to understand theirs?
Are the objectives clearly understood and shared? Think about it. If you feel compelled to participate then you’re an instrument of manipulation and that will surface in destructive behaviour. Without shared clarity of purpose relationships suffer, therefore what is the commonality between the organisations involved that will bind them together? At present there are seven of them with contrasting visions, missions and principles. They operate on different scales, in different spheres that have a tendency to overlap, sometimes leading to disagreement or dismissal.
At this point a tactic to rouse you back from the mire of looking at other organisations’ defects could be to hit you with the statistics of what is going on in Barrow. But they’re already known and if desensitizing hasn’t already set in humans have a natural capability to adapt to shock. Tragic accounts are known across the services so would yet another case study upset the rhythm of a heart? Perhaps not.
When my daughter was four years of age I entered the local 10km run. Ten weeks prior training of hill work, speed work, long distance running, trying to eat correctly, getting enough sleep and everything else that goes on in life. It was a tough course and I felt I’d given maximum effort. When I crossed the line I was spent. I went to my daughter in the crowd and in between stuffing her mouth with maltesers she inquisitively asked,” why didn’t you win dad?” and thus went back to eating her chocolate. It’s a valid question; what’s more it was a vital question. A four year old had the authority and power to influence an inventory and account of myself.
She didn’t say it accusingly; it was a genuine question because she believed I could have won but more importantly that I would be able to hear what she had to say. We have that kind of relationship. From her perspective I was capable of winning, I had the assets to win and what’s more I had her faith that it was possible. She didn’t ask if the course was too hilly, whether it was overcrowded so that I had to zig and zag, she didn’t ask if I was tired from the nightshift or whether that other issue had interfered with my training. I came 111 out of about 4000 which I didn’t think was too bad. However, on reflection and because I was moved by a four year olds question, I worked out that if I’d gone a second faster per kilometre I would have finished in the top 100. I still would have been asked the question but the account would have shifted because the experience had shifted also.
That was one individual, one question. Collectively in Central and Hindpool wards there is a population of over 10,000. It’s a large number but the question remains the same, why didn’t you win? Not because of them or this or that but why didn’t ‘you’ win? Seven organisations involved currently. Are you doing what you can or has treading water become the norm? Did you do what you could have done or could it have been done better? Can you look at yourselves and hear what others have to say about you? Maybe that’s too affective for some stomachs so this is a passage I read recently,” People’s income, family structure, housing, employment, and educational opportunities affect not only their risk of developing traumatic stress but also their access to effective help to address it. Poverty, unemployment, inferior schools, social isolation, and substandard housing, all are breeding grounds for trauma. Trauma breeds further trauma. It is a serious business.
When the small bird had rested it flew on, “… it is rougher where you are going until you make the shore”. That is a fact; the hawks will circle, but it is better to be measured by effort than chance. Hemingway’s shore however could have been a ruse. The bird’s time is nearly up. The shore is its final place. Before it gets there it will get rough, the hawks will hold the bird to account and pass judgement accordingly. Now how do you fancy your chances?”Continue Reading
There is an understanding now that if Will gets into trouble and arrested the local police will call Kate and she in turn will call Sarah to attend the police station as a representative no matter the time. This is being ‘in the mess’ of his life and mess is hardly straightforward. The other ‘messes’ in his life that he was being aided with included attempting to stop his drug dealing, his suicidal thoughts, money issues and regular contact with the law. To understand Will’s reality requires a level of co-habitation that you won’t get by dancing round the ring; those in the centre know. The detail of what is happening is different here, if you can bear it. This is being ‘in it’. It’s the stuff that other people don’t want to do. Dirty work is defined as having a relationship with what is really going on.
Reality requires a comfortable open-mind, one that isn’t shut off to the awfulness of it all including its own machinations. Are you able to remain open, to not blame and believe the person when they say how awful it is? It’s a balancing act to be ‘in it’ with someone and to remain objective at the same time. It is a measure of attunement, experience and training; none of which can be found from the often prescribed distance between professional and individual. Distance is useful in acquiring objectivity but theory isn’t practice and practice doesn’t always evolve into theory. If it did then treating the individual would be a thing of the past as there is no such thing as a separate individual. The protagonist of distancing is that if it is to be accepted as reality then it could apply to you and that is threatening. It needs to be unrecognisable as something that could happen to you but in fairness it does. Distance and toleration wave to each other as they go their oppositional ways. A lot of professionals leave the profession because they can’t do the work anymore; it becomes too stressful, alternative careers are undertaken and they are replaced by agency workers or people who are prepared to work in that structure. Professionals will cocoon in their own domain without serious consideration of inter-linking. Considering how close we live to one another we couldn’t be further apart.
For help to be comprehensive objectivity is required which means narrowing the relationship. Distance will then take care of itself because they are binary. However this does not mean losing sight of oneself. There is a difference between ‘doing dirty work’ and ‘doing someone else’s dirty work’. Doing too much is just as detrimental as doing too little, being too helpful or over-reacting to situations. It requires awareness. Some dirty work has to be done by itself, working out what is within the realm of someone’s management. Some people will let you do anything, others not so. If the relationship isn’t understood then people are robbed of the opportunity to do it themselves; lines are crossed. The point with doing dirty work is that the line is fluid. It will still hold when it is demanded but it is unnecessary for it to be so rigid.
In one case the professional was of the belief that everything they were being told was true. Their client was still taking drugs although saying not. The relationship had narrowed but the objectivity had been lost. It’s nice to believe what someone is saying to you and to fight their corner even if it isn’t reality. Both parties would have been, perhaps unknowingly, out for themselves. There wasn’t a true and trusting understanding of the relationship. They both strategically offered what the other required. Therefore the relationship had the appearance of reciprocity but in reality it was an illusion, except the fallout isn’t illusory; that is very real and extremely damaging.
Another example of doing someone else’s dirty work is when a professional or member of the public is doing another professionals work. John was a vulnerable 15 year old who had been kicked out by his father. He couldn’t go back and he didn’t have anywhere else to go. He was staying somewhere inappropriate. When a call was put in to the relevant hub they had no where for him to go either. It was asked that he be ‘kept hold of’ and to stay where he was although they knew of how extremely inappropriate this was. All parties in a professional capacity were known to one another. The severity of inappropriateness didn’t stop them from asking however and it wasn’t really considered as asking. If we hadn’t in all likelihood he was on the streets or in the hands of others. He came here because he knew we understood and other services wouldn’t or couldn’t. The building isn’t fancy but it has a feel to it; steeped in history. People slot in. They say it’s comfortable. We don’t have group rooms and counselling rooms sectioned off. This isn’t sterile working and more people come for the day to day stuff rather than the psychological. Often it’s due to housing issues or benefit issues; trying to get a doctor’s appointment this week rather than next. It won’t be long before door supervisors are being employed at the local doctor’s surgery. The frustration is palpable. What is also clear to see, for those who have the awareness, is that the main issues are interpersonal or intrapersonal. In the modern technological world where people can communicate as frequently as their heart beats they are lonely. Dirty work will tell you how lonely some people are and the lengths they will go to. Loneliness is a great marketing tool but it’s no match for evolution. Spirit is fighting back, whichever way it can.
In some cases dirty work is having someone ordinary to come and talk and be listened to. It doesn’t need to be a consultant or psychologist. Doing something immediately rather than sending them away or making an appointment. It is desperately sad that people have to convince professionals that they really need their help and to be informed that they do not meet their criteria; past from pillar to post. People are trying to graft themselves to criteria’s; no matter how clearly they don’t fit. As a result everyone has their mop out. Some sectors more consistently than others.
Dirty work requires tolerance. Often requiring work from the heart. What can be tolerated of you is important to. Tolerance is experience and those who don’t possess it stumble over the gaps in understanding. “Why does she have a big telly if she hasn’t any money?” Would you want to be ‘her’? Without tolerance derisory judgements arise and that is why the distance has to be close enough for the dirty work to be effective. It needs to happen first, system change second. We’re already in the dirt so leave the butterflies till later.
“The Answer Lies in the Detail, not in the Headlines”
This is a sentence that I used with someone close to me some weeks ago. Avoiding pain by sticking with headlines seems a sensible way of protecting yourself from pain. I have found the idea popping into my mind on and off for a while now-it seems to say a number of things, about us as people, about the work that we do and the world we currently live in. If we really took the time to appreciate the detail I wonder if services would look different and what it might mean for the folk whom we find at our doors. Do we really know what it’s like to have no hope, to feel the drudgery of day to day life and experience the loneliness, despair and sense of shame that comes from poverty and lack of aspiration and opportunity? Do we want to? Can we bear it? If we could respond to detail and not to headlines would it mean that we could talk to people about what they need and help them even when their need does not fit our organisations box or reach the threshold?
For me the detail is often found in the connection, the moment to moment connection with people and particularly those whom I love. This reminds me of attachment-not the classifications, jargon or theory but the significance at the grassroots for us all. It’s attunement at its best. Tiny routine interactions that move between us. Relationships are contingent, what one of us does is perceived by and produces a reaction in the other.
So, if attachment is where it starts then that has to be where the answer lies. But how difficult is that? To be in tune with yourself and someone else with all your fears, anxieties, shame etc? Is it possible? Would it slow us down if it was? Could that be a good thing? One of the things I’ve learned over the years giving the Adult Attachment Interview is that it is just as important for the interviewer to see and allow the significance of moments when love was present, however fleetingly. The “headlines” of having abusive parents don’t allow for the detail of the moments that were shared and experienced as loving – even the most troubled parents can have a love for their child that transcends day to day living. On the other hand it can be the smallest details that hurt the most. To experience true joy one has to know pain. They are both sides of the same coin.
I wonder what it would mean for helping professions to focus on attunement, shifting from doing to noticing and really seeing a person. It feels to me like the value of this has faded into the background, having been overshadowed by targets and outcomes, a sense of focussing on the task alongside the catastrophic cutbacks in funding for public services. I recently spent a couple of weeks in hospital seriously ill and experienced just what a difference it makes to your well being when someone takes the time to notice, to ask, listen, care. The focus was and had to be providing medical care but the way that this was delivered mattered. It mattered because my emotional state could not be separated from my physical state. When someone sat and looked into my eyes kindly and explained what was happening, what the drugs were that I was being given, why I needed to wear an uncomfortable oxygen mask then my panic subsided, I was more able to comply with what they needed to do and my breathing and blood pressure was more stable. It reminded me of Dr Pat Crittenden’s work and why we use the attachment assessments at Love Barrow families. They provide a rare opportunity to really be with someone, to listen and to know that in order to understand we should not dismiss complexity and also that if we really understand then we can do the right thing the first time around and not waste time and resources providing help that is not needed and sometimes makes it worse. When the nurses avoided eye contact with me because they were busy and didn’t want to be interrupted which they did many times they were protecting themselves but they were also missing an opportunity to help me to get better.
“The answers are in the detail” seems like everything and nothing at the same time. It can’t be seen unless you look very closely. When I was in hospital it seemed so obvious and critical but looking back becomes hard to see. Everything can look normal until the detail matters and when you need help the detail can be everything.
A kitchen is usually the centre piece of any family home. It is where you find out information; how people are doing, what’s on your child’s mind, what problem a person may have or simply what is happening in someone’s life. It’s where emotions are aired and restored; laughter takes place, solutions found and an absolute mess made. Preparing drinks and meals is how people get to know one another. Before we received the funding from Cumbria Community Foundation and Cumbria Housing Partners, getting to know one another in this vital space was difficult. It was small and restricted for the service we wanted to provide. Now, thanks to these local providers the kitchen has become a focal point for many people ranging from community residents who meet in our building to the healthy lunches we provide for families. In the holidays recently local children came in to bake cakes and all went mostly according to plan. The kitchen is now fulfilling its purpose.
Before and After