It is potentially more damaging to not listen to someone’s voice than to not speak to someone at all. Listening to understand rather than listening to interject, listening to speak. A pause does not mean it is your turn to come in. A pause does not mean that the person you are listening to wants you to reply. Somebody who truly understands what it means to hear a voice would never try to empower someone. It would be unnecessary and irresponsible. But certain voices can’t be tolerated, certain words can’t be heard. Often there can’t be an appreciation of awfulness. It has to be stopped and as a result the entire story isn’t heard, “you must be prepared to hear everything. It’s important that hate is voiced too, not covered up”. There is no need to jump in. A voice doesn’t need your hope, it can’t accept it anyway. It becomes sieved as it crosses the threshold from one person to another. When you give hope in effect what you are doing is giving your own hope, your own identity, values, goals, dreams, aspirations etc. People have their own unique code of hope, just as they have their own unique fingerprint. People don’t want your fingerprint, they have their own. That has to be understood and accepted. When a voice says “you gave me hope” what it’s saying is I recognise your limitations and that recognition is the connection. It is not about the success. It’s about the failure before the success. Recognition that I’ve lost more than what I’ve won is the key. It is the connection that is needed and it doesn’t diminish capacity. Limitation doesn’t have capacity. It has no lid if you’re prepared not to put the lid on. With the saying, “I fell down nine times, I got up on the tenth” people concentrate on the tenth. The nine is where the answer lies. It’s important to recognize the nine, because the tenth only happened because of the previous nine. As in life, it is important to pay tribute to what had gone on before. I recognize you; I recognize me and therefore recognize my own hope. I recognize where you stop and I recognize where I begin. If we are each other’s answer it isn’t in hope but in the unique recognition that comes before it.
How does someone recognize that their voice is being heard? In one example, “the professional gave eye-contact, gave information, checked people had carried out what had been agreed.” But more than that,” He saw us, he knew who we were, he called her by her name”. Furthermore, “he talked with her, rather than about her”. And here’s the revelation, because why do these things matter? They matter because voices are seasoned. It becomes less about help and more about ‘playing-the-game’. When a seasoned voice knows that it is being dismissed it will take people on a merry dance, especially professionals. Even when people are ejected or discharged from a service they still re-enter at some point, albeit another service and at another cost. Sometimes the game is easily seen, often it’s very subtle. Voices become seasoned pros. You forget or it becomes insignificant about why you wanted to be heard in the first place. Words are contorted, twisted, re-arranged, and even plucked out of the ether. It becomes a battle of wits. Wasted time, wasted paperwork, wasted referrals, unnecessary service involvement, unnecessary medication, arrests, and confinements and removals. All stemming from a lack of interest, understanding and recognition. Continuing with the example above,” she tried to please people, smile in the right places, and tell people how clever they were. Outside she would say how thick they were, how grubby the psychologist was with her make-up on top. With this new professional things quite quickly changed however. She knew she didn’t have to play these games. He apologized to her, she was honest in return. He was interested in her, learning from her in fact. Questions were aimed at what she thought or felt about herself. He asked her for ideas and to actually write out an agreement herself”. An agreement that became important and cherished. Together they came up with solutions. “If things were going badly it was agreed for her to take a note to the staff door, which she duly did, and was just as easily dismissed”. That second of dismissal unraveled all the work that had been done. Relationships often hang by a thread and it had been insignificantly cut. “He tried to hold people accountable but it was clear he wasn’t liked by the professionals around him”. She found out his fellow professionals found him to be arrogant and preachy. Professionals it would seem don’t like each other either.
How is a voice taken seriously and not so easily dismissed? In one example a mental health assessment went as follows. After being referred from a doctor for immediate assessment on a patient having intrusive thoughts and voices telling him to carry out violent acts, the mental health nurse began with the opening gambit,” well I see that you’ve never accessed mental health services before”. It wasn’t a question. It was a statement of fact. A fact that was incorrect. The patient had accessed mental health services before and for some time and had indeed been hospitalized twice, and nearly a third time. But this had occurred in a different county. An honest error? It didn’t matter. It was received as an instant dismissal of what he had to say, the value of his voice. No apology given. Devalued, dehumanized even. Because he had never accessed the service in Cumbria, he inferred it was a waste of time, although it was the doctor who had made the decision to refer and not the patient himself. The mental health nurses face was a picture when he was informed that he was wrong. What ensued were a lot of twitching and movement of papers. You could applaud the professional for doing his background research and the fact that it was an early evening assessment but the patient hadn’t even been given the chance to speak. Roles were assumed, positions taken, a dynamic had to be upheld. A system geared to dismiss or discharge due to cost implications. At what cost to the individual?
How do you apply costing to a voice not understood? Look around. Every meeting, every review, has a white elephant in the room. Every time a voice tells their story there’s a silent conversation that something should have been done and it hasn’t. It is a millisecond of recognition from one human being to another and then it’s gone. The mask of illusion is placed back on again. It’s known but not voiced. It’s not about voices anymore; it’s about statistics and targets, protection of the service. The cost only comes to light in serious case reviews and then it trails off again, absorbed back into the macrocosm. But when someone understands the cost of a voice, is interested, listens and recognizes that voice the honest openness that is returned can be dramatic, “I didn’t trust people would be that open to help so quickly. I was limping along behind trying to catch up”.
We all get it wrong,” we have to learn from our own mistakes. To be more cautious with what we can and can’t do. To be aware of what we bring to the table in every interaction we have, no matter who we think we are and what we feel we are about”. To value a voice you have to have values yourself. With values you’re always practicing, they are never perfected. “I was in the kitchen and he came in holding a piece of clay. He held it up to me and said, “what do I do with this?” I looked right at him; I thought he was being sarcastic. Then I saw something. What he was really saying was ‘I don’t know how to play with my son, can you help me?”