Listening from Lockdown

Emerging from lockdown

There is this moment, when we’re still in touch with lockdown, still feeling its presence and impact on our lives but also when we have our faces turned towards the future, feeling it almost within touching distance now. As some of us emerge from our four walls and others from the relentless work on the coalface we want to dive in to how this is all feeling and what sense we can make of it. We realise that it may take years to absorb the shock of what we have recently lived through but we also know that people have found ways of making meaning out of this experience, suggesting we will emerge with new purpose and perspective. We’re so curious about this we want to offer a space to listen and share, with a view to learning, growing and connecting together.

We have all recently shared the experience of a crisis, it has impacted us differently but we have felt the collective threat to our everyday existence, with everything we take for granted in the balance. It has challenged our bodies, our beliefs, our values. There have been losses, for which we are still grieving, trauma, which we are still feeling, but also new found strength and meaning as we emerge with a different view of ourselves and place in our worlds.

Growth, development and transformation

I have long felt that one of the keys to transformation is closing the gap between personal and professional. Bringing our whole selves to work, as far as possible and safe, removes barriers and helps us feel our work, in my view a vastly underrated driver for system change: how we feel and what this means.

Not quite on the same scale as a global pandemic but shedding skins is not new as we traverse life. In my lockdown family life I have learned through hard yards recently that telling my teenage son what to do doesn’t work. It used to work when he was little (back when I was a well respected parent) but now emerging as his own person in the world he questions my authority, indignant at my thoughts that maths is best learned in the morning in between zoom calls; he’s very huffy at the serving of vegetables and overtly bored at my efforts at talking to a young person. There are losses for me as I face my impotence but of course huge gains as I (secretly) delight at his non-compliance and learn, again from him, more than he is learning from me. I write this all very glibly but in truth this has felt frightening, confusing and lonely for me but absolutely a point of growth, development and transformation. I am having to evolve or become redundant.

New freedom as we shed our old identities

So as I bring my parent self  to work, in larger scale systems I am curious as to whether the insecurity and fear dealt by this crisis, whilst shattering, has also offered new freedoms as our old identities become obsolete and expectations are changed. We’ve certainly felt permission to be different so what does this tell us about how we were being before? We asked these questions of ourselves at Platfform and realised that some of these discoveries are not comfortable. For example, many support workers have expressed their surprise at what the people we support have been capable of achieving on their own, without ‘traditional’ support visits in place. This exposes a core belief that had driven our practice about how people are best supported: by us the supporters. It also exposes the low aspirations we sometimes hold for people. Of course there are systemic reasons why we held these beliefs, after all we have grown up in a system created and designed to ration and fix. A system that prioritises what a supporter needs to measure to sustain their contracts and validate their professional identity and worth. So no blame here.

But my belief is that we need to face this head on, name it, explore and sit with it. Then we hear, coming back from ourselves, the dissonance between old rhetoric and new reality. At Platfform we’re energised by the change, now that we have felt what different feels like, taken it in to our hearts and used it to question ourselves and purpose.  Before coronavirus it felt impossible to change the wheel while the car was still driving but that’s what we have had to do. Whilst simultaneously grappling with our own anxieties and losses, from home life and work life, support workers with new perspectives have challenged themselves to offer something different. Their willingness to work with their own vulnerabilities on their sleeves and connect in ways that matter the most to the people when they need it is inspiring.

Listening and learning from lockdown

So these listening conversations are a chance to do that and resist the urge to formalise, process and plan a ‘recovery’ i.e. to fix. I have learned many times over that telling people what’s wrong or what to do is not that effective. Especially if we want change. It frustrates me that we can’t grasp that people are just not bowled over, or moved by facts or information or ‘how to guides’ or ‘toolkits’ or frameworks etc. It was a wiser man than me that said:

people are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have to come to the minds of others

And so given that we have big ambitions at Platfform and in Wales for system change we wanted to pause and listen before we burn the house down. We are doing this alongside the ACEs Hub and partners in the UK, the Mayday Trust and Homeless Network Scotland, working together to galvanise a movement.

And of course this is also an opportunity to celebrate. Locally and personally I know we have become more united, collaborative and more aware of the need for kindness. It seems many people are working out that what matters is making a contribution to the world; and that we keep learning, loving, communicating and searching for understanding and fairness. What matters is to learn how we can rise after suffering and take something good from our dark nights. Our hunch is that when we see this happening not just in ourselves but in others around us, we can recover feelings of connectedness and purpose.

Come and join in, see how you feel.