General thoughts if you didn’t vote for the people who are now in charge of the professional political power structures that govern you, when it is also pretty clear they don’t care about how many people get harmed or killed in their pursuit of the economic- or power-grabbing interests of the privileged few:
1. You may feel overwhelmed. You may feel like you can’t do anything, like it’s all gone to hell. If this is the case, you are losing sight of yourself, and of your place in the world. Sometimes people influence us to do that. Sometimes we do that ourselves. Either way, bring it all back home. You are sufficient, more than sufficient. Everything you need to be strong and courageous has always been available to you. Remember where you are. Who you’re with. What you love. Who you love. Where you love. The anthem of resilience is the beating of the human heart.
2. Trust the way things run against your grain. Resistance is first and foremost a physiological reaction. Anger is often a helpful response to extreme conditions.
3. Anger as a response to conditions doesn’t last. If you are staying angry, you’re generating that yourself, and that’s not healthy.
4. The worst administrations thrive on hype. Totalizing hype. If you allow yourself to believe that they have totally saturated your life with hate and bile and doubletalk, then they have convinced you of the power that they aspire to but can never have. Step away from their hype, step away from the hype that gets generated in opposition to their hype.
5. Be wary of the way your language may have changed as you get drawn into the whirlpool. The way this crap works is that, as the intensity and toxicity rises, all will feel drawn to battle at the altar of pro and con, for and anti. This tends to escalate language to stereotype, at best, and gross misrepresentation based on dehumanisation, racism, and hate, at worst. Don’t become what you despise through despising.
6. They is us. They are all human beings. If I deny them humanity, whether through caricature, mockery, unspoken assumption or explicit declaration, then they have won more than a political victory. At this point, they have made me complicit in the co-optation of my soul and the displacement of vital aspects of my own humanity. If I radically separate myself from them I grossly misrepresent our shared humanity. I also make it impossible for myself to:
- imagine how the quality of your relationship with them might ever be helpfully changed by them or by me;
accept that some of the worst I identify in them could sometimes just as easily be identified in me in some form. Assuming that I am on the Side of the Angels doesn’t give me a free pass.
7. Damage limitation is important. Make transparent your resistance. Speak out. Organise. But never make that most of what you do. Do not allow resistance to dominate your life, because that is when what you oppose becomes the most important thing in your life. And you didn’t want that, did you? They did, though.
8. Self-care comes first. That includes health, family, friends, community, work. Wherever you happen to be, nourishing the best that humanity has to offer in nurturing, loving, enhancing, is the most vital, effective, helpful resistance you can ever sustain for the long term. Enhance your life so that the lives of others may also be enhanced. Make joyful, loving humanity most of what you aspire to.
9. Proximity. Fear, anger, dismay and despair draw us out of our lives. Imagining worst case scenarios or smiley utopias will do the same. Keep it real. Respond to what’s in front of you, beside you, behind you, above you, below you. Stay where you are. It’s the only place you’re always going to be. It is your place of being-in-the-world and being-of-the-world. Make it your home.
10. The gentle aspects of humanity can helpfully change the world, but they take much longer and aren’t as visible or as flashy as the short-term, noisy bluster of pomp and circumstance. The faster change happens, the less likely it is to be helpful in the long term. Patience. Healing takes time. Rush it and it becomes less than healing. Be strategic when required, but don’t let that become you. Trust in ordinary. Trust in smiles, in laughter, in the pleasures of good company. Trust that humanity doesn’t have to beat inhumanity to be humanity. Humanity isn’t going anywhere. Just give it room, and start where you are.
I think of it like living with chronic illness (this isn’t a random thought – my wife lives with chronic illness and I’m her carer). It’s not a nightmare, it’s life. Often energy-sucking, bloody difficult, painful life. But it only makes it more difficult if we think of it as a constant battle. it’s not a constant battle. It’s an occasional battle, maybe even a frequent battle. But it’s everyday, ordinary, mundane, even in the battle.
We do violence to ourselves in the face of pain, suffering, and challenge if we succumb to language and metaphors that make us powerless to respond – nightmares happen to us, we become victims. We’re not victims. We’re strong, somewhere in there, always. And we can speak from that place of ordinary strength, because it never leaves us. And it’s there in the people we love. Always. And we have the daily opportunity to support them (and ourselves) in their strength and their pain. Sometimes at the same time.
We cannot allow ourselves to become swamped with thoughts and fears about the worst that humanity has to offer. Joe Hill. Joe Hill. We cannot drape ourselves in pain and despair. It doesn’t suit us to wear such ill-fitting clothing if we also say we live in hope. Not waiting for hope. IN hope. Now. Here. Today. If despair is hanging around, if hopelessness is hanging around, then I’ve been feeding it hot chocolate and cookies. I do that sometimes, but I’d generally rather not.
Someone has suggested that I am advocating ‘moving on from anger’ and that this might be a way of normalizing what we need to not normalize. I don’t mean it in that way. I simply mean that anger has a natural arc of intensity when we encounter a situation that we experience anger in. Anger, like any intense emotional response, naturally de-escalates over time. To maintain the intensity of anger (or any intense emotion) beyond it’s own arc of intensity we need to feed it with thoughts and/or language that are not immediately responsive to the particular situation, and are often pre-packaged from our own or another’s past experience.
The flipside of that is that maintaining the intensity of anger or despair with the aid of inner resources tends to diminish our responsiveness to immediate conditions as they unfold. We become less (not more) power-active. Less response-able. And less able to gauge what may or may not be helpful.
Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with others. Trust that it is a powerful, powerful form of politics.
It’s a really important time in Northern Ireland.
It is now that we can refocus on the possibilities of politics as a hard-edged commitment to nurturing, inclusiveness, and openness.
At a shallow level, Northern Irish politics has recently been driven into cul-de-sacs by certain members of an increasingly well-remunerated political class, who often seem to find themselves having too much fun engaging in ritualised battle to concern themselves with the work of transforming Northern Ireland that they have actually been tasked with, and for which they are being paid.
All of the patient work of the peace process was in order to achieve structural change in governance following a long period of conflict, killings, sectarian exclusion, discrimination, corruption, and state-sanctioned murder. Some (not me) would argue that at least one side of the paramilitary activity was a normal response to all of that under abnormal conditions, and others (not me) would likely argue something similar about the paramilitary responses from the other side in retaliation.
Either way, almost all of the structural gains can be wiped out overnight if certain things happen over the next few days as they seem to be shaping up. If the Conservatives form a government with the DUP, a terrible beauty is born. The centre may not hold.
That’s 30, 40, 50 years of solid peacemaking, peacebuilding, and hard won advances at grassroots level to achieve subtle and carefully planned structural change in governance here, down South, and across the water in London.
Imagine where that leaves us in terms of the morale of the real (rather than industrial and professional) peace workers in the region. Imagine where that leaves us in terms of the concessions that paramilitaries made to achieve parity of esteem for their political representatives in the NI Assembly.
I’m trying not to dwell too much on this, but it’s serious stuff. And more serious when the socially-conscious and historically linchpinning middle ground of politics in Northern Ireland was pretty much wiped out of party politics last night. Think how important John Hume was in the peace process. Now imagine if he or other members of the SDLP hadn’t been in that conversation. We live in interesting times.
The already intense political life of Northern Ireland has been escalated by divisive rhetorical, fundamentalist identity politics, and oppositional competitiveness at every level. The further intensification of the political climate in Northern Ireland has effectively left us with a two-party conversation in which the two parties are explicitly committed to talking and implicitly committed to non-cooperation.
I remember being deeply inspired by John Hume when I was younger, and by David Ervine before he passed away, and I was deeply affected by both their pragmatism and their commitment to a politics that was first and foremost about people and their living conditions, not about ideologies.
David Ervine may have been a violent paramilitary at one point, but he epitomised in his later life what for me is the best kind of political attitude – a powerful, pragmatic, responsive gentleness.
For both of them, John Hume and David Ervine, working to improve people’s lives took priority in their politics over point scoring or tribal victories. There were lives at stake, and future lives could be saved by approaching politics with integrity, humility, intelligence, and an open heart.
There are a number of people in professional politics in Northern Ireland who do actually work for the common good, and not just the common good of ‘their own people’. Unfortunately, the election results have made it pretty clear that politicians who put the conditions of people’s lives before profit, before status, or before single-identity flag-waving have come to be considered inappropriate to the political games in Northern Ireland in the eyes of the majority of voters here.
This means that we are now in a very crucial period.
In Northern Ireland we need a focus on socio-economic change, healthy and nurturing community development, systemic changes in healthcare and education, and seismic shifts in the climate of our political life. We also need an Assembly, now more than ever. A properly functioning one.
The politicians most likely to work on all of that, in the cause of all of the people of Northern Ireland, are now those who have been left out in the cold, and, more importantly, out of the room where it happens, as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton might say.
Once you become inappropriate in the face of a majority your existence can be very quickly rendered irrelevant, and your voice, ideas, and aspirations can be ruthlessly rendered implausible, and even, eventually, erased from history.
What is vital is that we do not allow the apparent political implausibility of truly responsive, inclusive, humanised political activism in Northern Ireland to lead us to the assumption that it is impossible here as a political option. A politics built on the most helpful art of being human is entirely possible. But it might be time to stop only planting trees where they are going to be cut down. It might also be time to search for safer fields.
We need a broader and more radical social democratic conversation in the Wee North. More than this we need what England seems to have had – a revitalisation of grassroots politics as a lively conversation about supporting the most vulnerable people and any of us at our most vulnerable times, nurturing the lives of our children, breaking down the barriers of identity while respecting difference, and nourishing communities, spaces, and places in ways that enhance us all.
Every moment of contention is an opportunity for enhanced personal and political awareness.
We have a real opportunity in Northern Ireland right now. It was always there as an opportunity, but now it’s slapping us in the face and telling us to wise the fuck up. Maybe the lesson of all of this may be that the professional power games that the DUP and Sinn Féin play may not be our circus nor our monkeys.
There are powerful differences to be made elsewhere, every day, beyond the grandstanding of political display – in the power of the small and the ordinary; in the magic of people taking time for each other in good company; in the legacies of hospitality and humour; in the pleasures of a well-timed listening ear; in the understanding that turning up in person to acknowledge a death in your community is a recognition of the support we can find in sharing common humanity, beyond our labels, beyond our disputes.
Despite our reputation for being good at many more violent ways of being human, we have tended to do decency, kindness, and hospitality well in Northern Ireland.
Politics doesn’t have to negate that legacy. It can arise from it.
The time of possibility was always now.
Here’s a link to a PDF of the presentation I gave at the Compassionate Care conference at Teeside University in April. The presentation develops on some of the points I made in earlier talks I gave in Toronto and Tasmania with regards to our attempts to practice kindness, compassion, and healing care in culturally unsustainable and toxic environments. The programme of the Compassionate Care conference is below.
All the material related to the Culture(s) in Sustainable Futures conference (Helsinki, 6-8 May 2015) is now available at the conference website:
Streamed plenary sessions with the keynote speeches: http://www.
Students’ reflections from the conference: http://www.
List of abstracts: http://congress.cc.jyu.fi/
List of participants: http://www.
The final publication of the COST Action IS 1007 “Culture in, as and for Sustainable Development” and the Executive Summary: http://www.
Hard copies can also be delivered if requested.
Feel free to share the information about the publication and the conference in your networks. You may use the media release which is attached and also available at: http://www.
On behalf of all the conference organisers,
Katriina and Sari
Culture(s) in Sustainable Futures | 6-8 May 2015 | Helsinki
“Now that the highest person in FIFA has stepped down, we are left wondering how wide and deep the corruption goes and whether there is any hope of recovery for FIFA.
“In his speech before the FIFA Congress last week, held under a dark cloud of bribery and corruption charges against several executive members, Sepp Blatter refused to take full responsibility and defied calls for him to stand down. As head of the organisation, Blatter admitted that ultimate responsibility lay with him, but he was quick to add that there was a need to share the responsibility with executive committee members. In his and the organisation’s defence, Blatter claimed that it was impossible to be responsible for everyone in the organisation, and implored the FIFA “family” to work together to rectify things.
“In his resignation as FIFA boss a few days later, Blatter admitted that the organisation required a profound overhaul and deep-rooted structural change. These changes included a smaller FIFA executive body, democratic and transparent election of FIFA executives, shorter terms of office and integrity checks. Not unsurprisingly, Blatter recommended himself as the person to drive FIFA’s transformation and restore public trust.
“Was Blatter’s desperate clinging to power his choice, or did he or the FIFA power base believe he was truly the person to usher in a new era of organisational integrity and public trust? How the election occurred, and how Blatter and the current executive committee remain in their leadership roles, raises a number of integrity issues in itself. That is, can an ingrained and long-established network of people, with a complex fabric of connections, and relationships with vested interests, be expected and trusted to clean up its own act?
“Structural change alone might only address part of the problem. Just as international regulators may put in rules and sanctions for various forms of cheating among sportsmen and women, it does not mean they will eliminate the problem. Like all institutions that have undergone reputational damage from corruption or other legal transgressions, there are likely to be scapegoats, as well as people with international reach attempting to get around rules or use them to their advantage. Perhaps, like the drug lords, the “real perpetrators of the crime” will be untouchable, having carefully covered their steps.”
More on this story: http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2015/06/05/taking-naval-approach-culture-change/
“Achieving culture change is more about getting managers to change the way they behave rather than frontline social workers.
This is never an easy task, but lessons can be learnt from the Australian Navy. In 2011 it was ordered to improve leadership at every level following reports detailing inefficient and out-dated practices as well as an alcohol fuelled culture across the service.
It’s new chief launched a systematic approach to cultural change, a key element of the programme was peer review: that is asking and telling colleagues if their behaviour had changed.”
“The Nuffield Trust today warns that plans for an unprecedented £22 billion in savings and seven day working by 2020 will not be realised unless the health service reconnects with staff and develops their skills to better meet changing patient needs.
In a new briefing, published as MPs prepare to debate the health elements of the Queen’s Speech, the think tank highlights the growing trend of hospitals relying on agency staff, problems recruiting and retaining GPs and a rise in staff sick leave due to stress.
The Nuffield Trust argues that these factors, together with the continued effects of holding down staff pay, suggest that disengagement and burnout could hamper progress at a time of immense pressure on the NHS.
The warning comes shortly after official figures showed NHS spending on agency workers soaring by 31% in just one year, largely accounting for an £800m hole in hospital and community service finances.”
I am interested in the coaching possibilities opened up by Winslade and Monk’s mediation technique of “double listening”. Drawing on the work of Michael White, they make note of the “absent but implicit” story of hope that sits alongside the voicing of a story of conflict:
“Mediators can give this story of hope for something better a chance if they first of all hear this absent but implicit hope and then begin to inquire into the story that it is a part of. The story may often by subordinate to the story of the outrage and pain, but it perhaps speaks to the person’s better intentions in relation to the other party. If given the chance for expression, these better intentions can give rise to a different story of the future” (Winslade and Monk 2008:10-11).
The expression of pain and suffering through remembered events and feelings can become a seed for hopeful reflections, not as a utopian aspiration, but as an awareness of the desire for a more positive experience that the pain and conflict reveal. I think the lessons of this “double listening” are not just relevant to formal mediation, but are also helpful in invitations to transformation more generally. What Winslade and Monk’s work draws attention to is how stories of the past also shape our stories of the future. It may be that “double listening” can further open up what John Paul Lederach (2005) calls our “moral imagination”, allowing for even deeper understandings of the complexities, paradoxes, and possibilities of being human.
In very simple terms, double listening opens up the notion that ‘complaint is a window on aspiration’, that every complaint that I utter can also be turned on its head as an aspiration to a better situation, an improvement on what is. Staying with the complaint and hanging out there can lead to a lot of negative energy that can easily suck hope dry. Turning a complaint on its head to work out what it tells me about my aspirations, hopes, and values can provide me with an opportunity for reflection, a window to the otherwise, a doorway to new possibilities.
Complaint or conflict can become, then, a diagnostic opportunity for new perspectives, rather than the direct route to blame and denigration that they can often be.
John Paul Lederach. 2005. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford: OUP.
John Winslade and Gerald Monk. 2008. Practicing Narrative Mediation: Loosening the Grip of Conflict. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
The core of the work of Hummingbird is that cultural climate is the key driver of behaviour, expectations, analytic frameworks, and quality of relationship within organisations.
The most important dimension of an organisational culture might be characterised as its “cultural climate”, or, in shorthand, the personality of an organization. The cultures of organizations differ in the way that each person has a different personality, that is, a dynamic pattern of variation in attitude, behaviour, and social interaction that tends to be consistent over long periods. The better you understand the personality of your organization, the better you will be able to respond to the challenges it faces.
To speak of “a cultural climate”, then, is to speak of the dispositional quality of a particular organisational culture, considered in comparison to other organisational cultures or to other times or places within the same organisation. In colloquial terms, the cultural climate of an organisation here means, “what has tended to happen, what tends to happen, and what will tend to happen in a particular organisation (specified by location(s) over a designated time).
“Culture change” is the process of actively intervening to change the cultural climate of an organisation, and supporting that process by way of due diligence, due patience, and due care. To effect a dispositional shift in the cultural climate of an organisation takes time. It also takes sensitive leadership. Until the cultural climate, the personality, of the organisation changes, nothing substantially changes.
The notion of change can be thrown around meaninglessly so that change becomes a welcome, unconditional good, and eternally necessary. Sometimes the term is used as if change is something other than that which ordinarily happens – change becomes rare and difficult to achieve, making it the sacred preserve of the creative few. In the other extreme, change can be considered ever-present, constant flux inescapable; life becomes so saturated with change and impermanence that little we can do truly makes a difference. Change becomes more meaningful when it is thought of as ordinary, possible, and available in everything we do.
Culture change is one of the more radical approaches you can choose to change your organization. Culture change involves identifying, evaluating, and actively changing the personality or personality traits of your organisation so that they better suit the aims, aspirations, and potential of your company, and so they better support the potential and possibilities of everyone in the organisation. At its best, organisational culture change positively affects productivity, innovation, sustainability, and emotional health simultaneously.