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.
The idea that money brings happiness remains a very popular one, even though the evidence that this is a gross oversimplification of a very complex relationship has been around for a long time. Financial security can, of course, be a key factor in terms of well-being, as poverty and the anxieties it brings can have a very detrimental effect. Money can also buy power in some ways, and power can be important for well-being (just as powerlessness can be a considerable impediment to quality of life). But the idea that money can’t buy happiness is well established in classic and popular literature, cinema and drama. In fact, there is a strong argument that a focus on material wealth (whether successful in achieving it or not) can be highly detrimental, in so far as it distracts us from the wider and deeper pleasures of life. Perhaps we will only start to promote well-being in earnest when we move away from a simplistic focus on materialism.
Research by the American Psychological Association has found that over half the people who did not feel valued at work were planning on leaving within the next year (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/apa-survey-finds-feeling-valued-at-work-linked-to-well-being-and-performance-2012-03-08). Considering the cost of replacing staff that leave, this shows just how unwise (and expensive) it is for organisations not to show appreciation of their staff. Valuing staff can therefore be seen as an important part of workplace well-being.
It is good to see that the campaign for dignity in care for older people is gathering momentum. The tendency for older people in general to be treated dismissively and disrespectfully is worrying enough in itself, but when we are focusing specifically on older people who are dependent on care services, this tendency is particularly alarming. A major part of the problem is that so much ageism is largely invisible, in the sense that ageist comments or actions often produce no reaction or objection, while racist or sexist equivalents would be regarded as entirely unacceptable.
Perhaps the first step towards dignity in care needs to be the recognition that everyone should be treated with dignity, regardless of age – or any other social difference for that matter.
A recent survey attempted to establish how happy Britain is. It was called the ‘National Well-being Programme’ and it showed regional differences in how contented people perceive themselves to be. For me this is no surprise. While the traditional approach to well-being is an individualistic one (atomistic, to use the technical term, as opposed to holistic), we need to look beyond such a narrow approach. The emphasis on happiness, rather than the broader concept of well-being, is indicative of such an individualistic approach. If, instead, we were to understand well-being in more holistic, sociological terms, it would be quite apparent why there would be significant regional differences, no doubt rooted in the sociological differences we have known to exist across regions for quite some time now. I am therefore left wondering how meaningful it is to explore individual happiness without giving giving much fuller consideration to the sociological factors involved.
The Fawcett Society has pointed out that the coalition Government’s cuts in the UK have disproportionately affected women. So, as well as this policy being a significant backward step in terms of developing public services, we can now see it as a backward step in terms of gender equality. Visit the Fawcett Society website to find out about their campaigns for gender equality: www.fawcettsociety.org.uk.