Monday, 26 September 2011

Who carries responsibility for action within a group?

Recently I was at a meeting where at least two-thirds of the items on the agenda were things that I needed to talk to and were about things I had either done or papers I had written.  There was an issue where I had not done something and had not done it for about a year.  One person kept on about this.  This person had not done anything as far as I could remember between meetings.  I was very apologetic.  But this did not cut much ice.  I said that it was on the list and it was clear from what I had already done that my list was long (and getting longer!).

As I drove away I was reflecting on times in my life when people have been a bit more supportive.  When friends have just done things - they've invited themselves to stay and re-tiled my bathroom, spent some holiday helping me decorate the hall and stairs, made me sit down whilst they washed up/cooked/did the garden.  They are people whose response is to do - to recognise that something needs doing and not necessarily in their lives - and to do it.  'Why,'I thought, 'did no-one at this meeting say, "Louise you have enough to do, you have done too much already, I will do this"?'

It is so much easier to see a job as belonging to 'you' rather than to' us'.  I will get onto doing this job but it would be interesting to wait to see how long it would take before someone actually steps in and volunteers to get it done.

In our own communities do we see each job as belonging to someone rather than to us as a community?  Do we think that we are there to support each other rather than to criticise.  Sure there are times when individuals fall short but there are also times when we as communities fall short.  We do not make sure the job gets done but we do make sure that the blame gets attributed.  This can isolate people, make them feel unappreciated, make them feel resentful and ultimately may not get the job done.  Let us take more co-operative approaches and focus on how to get the work done.  Let us make our response to problems much more about action than about words.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Active listening and more

I was at our District meeting last night and we were talking about developing community - being active and engaged.  I was talking about listening to people to understand what it is that they want and need.  I was reminded of when I moved from working with one local authority to another in social services.  

In the first local authority for anything to change there was a whole process which meant writing committee papers and getting agreement from several layers of management before planning what to do and blah blah blah ... as the confused and complex process meandered on.  It essentially meant that not very much changed, certainly not much change was instigated from below.  The frustration levels were very high and the services were very outdated and did not serve the local population well.

I moved to the other authority and it couldn't have been more different.  There was encouragement to find solutions locally and to change services quickly in response to need.  When 18 months later I was promoted to manager of a new day services team we had numerous occasions when we heard that people couldn't get to a group or they needed specific help.  As a team we had the authority to start new groups and try new approaches, within boundaries.  This made for a more responsive and more effective service.  You are then not waiting for formal feedback but taking note of conversations and picking up information from a variety of places.  We could set up a new group in a matter of weeks.

This is what we need to do.  If someone has problems or feels that things are not quite working for them then is there a way round that?  There are some very simple things that we can do for example large print hymns, giving people a lift to and from the building or finding out people's food preferences and making sure they are included.  We have a vegan and someone who has an allergy to wheat - you may need a magnifying glass when you got shopping for biscuits but we've found a great variety of oat biscuits that suit both. It is so often the little things and most importantly the attitudes which impact on people.  Does everyone really value me enough so that what I want counts? 

Which begs the question - who needs to do the listening?  In my social services role it was clear that it was me and my staff but we also asked other people who used the service not only about what they thought but also what their observations of how other people were getting along.  We all have a responsibility to listen to each other and to think about solutions to problems.  It can be difficult to ensure that everyone is on board with change - and with significant change this must happen.  But some things - like starting a mid-week service should only matter to those who will have to do something, not those who do not want to get involved.

So active listening and then some - which means finding ways to make the experience of our communities even better as soon as we can after finding out that someone has a problem.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Why belong to a faith community?

I was speaking with my younger brother yesterday - we chat quite a bit over the phone.  We live fifty miles apart and both work from home.  We are both interested in technology and dogs.  He does some casual social care work.  Having been a social worker and manager some years ago I can offer a bit of support and advice.  So we have much in common and are both chatters.

He was talking about his views on life and about ethical living.  I said that that what he was saying sounded very Unitarian (should the adjective have a capital letter?).  He then asked a few questions about whether we prayed at our chapel and whether we got down on our knees.  He then asked, but why do you need to join a group to do this?  Which is a very good question and I guess one that some of us ask ourselves quite frequently.  It's not as if I'm short of friends - I don't get to see my non-Unitarian friends enough.  It's not that I can't have interesting debates with friends, real and virtual.  It's not as if I can't find spiritual stimulation from books and from the Internet.  But these are relationships which have a simplicity.  

Once more than three or four people decide to become something other than just a group of friends then that something takes on an identity which is bigger than the sum of the parts.  It is this thing which we (locally) call community.  We create something which helps us to create our spiritual and ethical selves.  It is the power of the group which we believe in.  However I have been to some congregations which do not have so much of a community feel.  There is sometimes a sub-set of people who feel deeply connected, who feel part of a community, and others who only come to be a member of a congregation.

Can we develop our congregations to become communities?  Do people want that?  It does demand quite an investment, not just in time but also in emotional energy and courage.  We are opening ourselves up.  To date our congregational assessment process has not recognised this as a key element for some local communities.  And if it isn't recognised then perhaps it isn't promoted or even appreciated that this is one choice.

I return to my brother's question - why do I belong to a faith community?  Because this way of being reflects my take on life - that to get the best out of life demands that we put the best into it.  Spirituality is not an add-on, it is integral to the holistic view of human existence and as such the whole human has to be present for our own spirituality to develop.  We can challenge ourselves from the comfort of our own homes or even free-falling in the sky.  But the challenge that is deepening human relationships with people, some of whom we perhaps would not choose to be friends with, has a different feel. 

It is here that the word faith becomes so important.  This is our faith in the goodness of humanity and the faith that others can provide us with much more than we alone can.  I searched long and hard for a spiritual community, feeling incomplete exploring spirituality outside of a faith community.  Every day I am grateful that I have found a community of similar minds who are committed to and enthusiastic in developing something which is bigger than us all.  It isn't always easy but it is always satisfying.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


Our service on Sunday was led by Phil Silk.  He is a member of our community and a qualified minister (in the US) although he has not had a permanent pulpit (is this how you say it?) since moving to this country many years ago.  The theme was peace and he read a piece that he had written when he was 17 and still at school - not quite sure where he would have been in the US educational system.  It was a marvellous piece written with great passion and depth of knowledge.

I have started writing an on-line diary - my younger brother had alerted me to one application - as usual I surfed the Internet and found another one called Penzu and signed up for that - and I started to write.  I was reminded of the diaries that I kept when I was in my late teens. I have got them from my chest of treasures and have reread bits of them.  I could have written them yesterday - the style and the observations.

Of course I know more now, as does Phil - but knowing more can also be accompanied by having our prejudices hardened and our cynicism more finely tuned.  Observing oneself from a distance of many years it is interesting to note our abilities and thoughts at age 17 and 18.  It highlights the value that young people bring to the table and the reason why we should attempt to engage more with them and just listen.  We may then be able to go back in time and remember ourselves at 17 - full of enthusiasm and hope, perhaps with a view that anything is possible.