I was lucky to have the opportunity recently to play host to two Latvian visitors, two university lecturers interested in developing workplace well-being in their country. They had received funding to help them research how workplace well-being is being developed in other countries, hence their time with me to talk about the UK scene. They enjoyed their trip and were pleased with what they learned, and so they were very grateful to me and my colleagues for our time and hospitality. However, it was not one sided. We very much enjoyed our time with them and learned a great deal from them too. It reminded me of a previous visit to India where my colleagues and I were helping Indian colleagues to develop a good track record in publications. We were happy to help, but once again it was a two-way process – we learned much from our hosts and very much enjoyed being with them. It is clear, therefore, that there is much to be gained from international exchanges; it is not simply a matter of the so-called developed world helping the developing world. Such exchanges can be on an egalitarian, reciprocal basis, rather than a one-way paternalistic basis. Teachers should be learners too.
For 96 people to die in what was intended to be an enjoyable and exciting sporting event is tragic enough, but the recently published inquiry report adds a new layer of tragedy by revealing how the victims were vilified and how efforts were made to conceal the truth. By coincidence, on the day the report was published I was running a training course on loss and grief. We had been discussing how major losses can seriously disrupt our framework of meaning and leave us feeling confused, insecure and vulnerable. We looked at how grief can be understood as a painful process of constructing new meanings, developing a new ‘narrative’. Often events or the actions of others can block the development of that narrative by standing in the way of our efforts to make sense of what has happened. No doubt for many of the Hillsborough families, if not all of them, waiting for the truth has been just such an obstacle. What the report reveals adds an extra layer of tragedy, but the fact that the injustices involved have now been made public, things can move forward, not only in terms of the pursuit of justice, but also in the process of mourning.
Our humansolutions bulletin e-zine has featured a few articles on spirituality recently. A couple of people have asked me whether I have ‘found religion’. The short answer is no, but I found spirituality quite some time ago. My long-standing interest in existentialism has incorporated an interest in how we find meaning in our lives, how we make sense of who we are and how we fit into the wider world. Religion is obviously a major form of spirituality embraced by billions of people across the world. However, it is not the only one. In whatever form of people work we operate, whether in the caring professions, in management or human resources, it is important that we remember that, while not everybody is religious, everybody has spiritual needs – and our well-being will be seriously compromised if those needs are not given attention.
My wife and daughter were recently at the Beamish Open Air Museum on the day that a 7-year-old boy was killed in a tragic accident. We all know that death comes to us all eventually, but for a child to die is very different, and for him to die in a place of leisure and education seems particularly misplaced somehow. Many people bemoan the fact that they are growing old. Perhaps we should rejoice about the fact that we have been given the opportunity to, as sadly not everybody is.
This week I have been honoured to be the guest of a Native American family and their tribe in Cherokee, North Carolina. We were taken to see a live theatre performance of a play entitled ‘Unto These Hills’. It told the story of how, in the 1830s, 16,000 Cherokee people were forced to move 800 miles because the white people and their armed forces had coerced them into giving up their homelands in the Appalachian Mountains. The routes they took for this enforced migration came to be known as ‘The Trail of Tears’. The play illustrated how families had to abandon their homes and face a long, harrowing journey that many did not survive. It was a story of disenfranchisement, dislocation, dispossession and oppression, a tragic and shameful episode of historic fact. However, the play ended on a positive note, with a strong message of resilience, emphasising that, despite this history of oppression, the Cherokee Nation has retained its culture and traditions, has rekindled the use of its language and reaffirmed a foundation of pride. Language, culture and identity can survive against the odds. In Wales, we express this idea in the title of a very important song: ‘Yma o Hyd’ (still here).
Last week I was lucky enough to be able to attend a conference at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in the United States. The subject matter was end-of-life care. Many people would shy away from such a topic. However, there were some really interesting, thought-provoking discussions that showed how important and enriching a topic it is. Pretending we are immortal is not such a wise thing to do.
What was particularly good about the conference was the excellent atmosphere there. It was the latest in a long-standing series of annual conferences and there was a very real sense of a community that has developed focused on the shared interests of the people who attend and the strong tradition of care, compassion and support that has evolved over the years. It was privilege to be there and be part of it.
My contribution was a presentation about stress in end-of-life care and the need for a strong commitment to self-care in situations where staff have to face raw emotion on a regular basis.
The theme of next year’s conference is children and grief. I will post more information about it when it is available.
In my work as a trainer, consultant, conference speaker and author I meet a wide variety of people. Perhaps it is the state of the workplace these days, but it concerns me that I come across so many people whose enthusiasm for their work has ebbed significantly. Some people I meet are semi-burnt out if not fully so, and so it was great recently when I received a thank you email from someone who had enjoyed reading the latest issue of our newsletter (www.well-being.org.uk) and had found both the articles in it very helpful and interesting. She told me that she had conveyed her enthusiasm to her colleagues and described her display as ‘doing an imitation of a two-year old’. That image captured my imagination, as it made me realise just how many of us are struggling to feel enthusiastic about what we do. So, if you still have enthusiasm, why not show it? Why not let it be known? Yes, we have major problems in the modern workplace, but it is not all bad news, so let’s celebrate the good bits. Low morale can lead so many people not to notice the good bits and cynically focus on what’s not so good, which then makes the problems even worse.
Interest in ‘saving the planet’ has grown significantly over the years, and there is now certainly a much higher level of awareness of ‘green’ issues. However, it is sadly the case that we are still a long way from getting it right. The reason I say this is that running training courses is a big part of my portfolio career these days and I regularly have to go round venues switching off unnecessary lights. For example, I recently ran a course in a centre that has three training rooms in a row along a corridor. When I arrived just before 9am the lights were on in all three rooms. I assumed therefore that all three rooms were being used for training that day. However, when I went to the toilet during the mid-morning break I noticed the other two rooms were not in use but all the lights were still on. I checked with the receptionist and she confirmed that the room I was using was the only one scheduled to be used that day. So, that left me wondering who put all three sets of lights on when only one room was due to be used and why did the various other people who would have walked past those fully illuminated but unused rooms not put the lights out? If we can’t get these simple basic things right what hope is there for making progress when it comes to safeguarding our environmental well-being?
I recently ran a residential workshop on grief in Snowdonia. The beautiful and peaceful setting no doubt contributed to the very positive atmosphere. It was very rewarding to see the group gel so well and to become so deeply engaged in talking about these difficult and painful issues. They were an excellent group to work with. I had seen the workshop as a one-off event, but the group were so keen to have further workshops that I have now started planning an event on spirituality and loss. Watch this space!
ADDENDUM: the workshop has now been arranged for October 31st to November 2nd. Information will be available from www.griefchallenges.com.