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What I Learned from Pete’s Ball of Wool

What I Learned from Pete’s Ball of Wool

It was a balmy night in Sydney last Thursday. A good setting to catch up with a friend for dinner and then enjoy a leisurely stroll back to my hotel.

Before you become too concerned and turn off, bare with me as no, this is not my audition for Mills and Boon, nor a story of love and treasured moments….

Or is it….?

This story is about connecting with people living a life without the need for much of the ‘things’ that many of us consider as a sign of success in life. This is also a story of sharing an experience and conversation with a people who, while living a very basic existence in respect of materials, find their wealth in connection and community.

While we can become easily sucked into the commercial offerings that our very capitalist society offers and constantly dangles in front of us, when we can resist this seduction, and strip away our need to conform with societies temptations for wealth and materialism, we can learn so much about what is at the heart of what is important to all humans; meaning and purpose.

Last Thursday night while walking home after dinner, James and I came across the Exodus Foundation Night Van, which;

Each night, this specially-equipped van takes hot food prepared at Loaves and Fishes to Yurong Parkway, Woolloomooloo, near St Mary’s Cathedral.

This service provides a hot dinner to the poor and homeless serving between 150 and 200 people each day, between 7:30 and 8:30pm.

We’d never before had the privilege of spending time meeting with people at ‘the coalface’ like we did last Thursday night. This is a place where life is very different to what I experience daily.

James and I shared in some special conversations as people came and went, enjoying a hearty meal along the way. We were joined in conversation with two particularly special people, Neil and Pete.

Neil is a passionate Case Manager who, while having a story of his own to share about living on the streets, plays a great role of connecting people with all of the services that help them move from being homeless to ‘homed’. Neil was great in conversation and you could tell that his vocation of supporting others suits him just fine. Much better it would seem, than the very miserable life he described when he was a very senior corporate manager with a large corporation.

It was Pete though who really intrigued me.

Pete described that he is currently ‘couch surfing’ and hoped to soon be accepted into public housing, something that he was very proud of. We were chatting for about 5 minutes when Pete did something that caught me by surprise, he pulled out a ball of yellow wool and started knitting what he told me was a child’s blanket. Pete was going ‘hammer and tong’ with this knitting, a skill he told me that his Grandmother shared with him about 10 years ago. He was very good.

I asked who the blanket was for and he told me that he knits for the kids in the Children’s Hospital who’s life was not as good as his. What a humble man.

He told me that he gets the wool from one of two places; either from the Hospital who give him balls in exchange for the blankets or; he buys them from a shop with the money he earns from his part-time job at a fast food chain. He was very proud of his blankets and told me that he does at least five a week and that it was important to him to not get behind on this schedule as people needed the blankets, especially at this time of year as winter nears.

Now for my honesty and learning moment…..

I confess that during my discussion with Pete that I felt for my wallet a few times. I knew that I had some cash in it and I thought on more than one occasion of giving Pete some money and suggesting that he go and purchase some more wool.

What was I thinking? How selfish of me? What would giving money to Pete have meant to him? Pete seems to have things sorted when it comes to getting his wool and I suspect that paradoxically, some stranger, a person who he’d met for around 10 minutes, offering money may not add to Pete’s purpose and meaning. Instead I suspect it could actually detract from it by making him feel like a person in need. I think the only thing that Pete was seeking was connection and conversation, not me feeling pity on him by providing money. Maybe any spare money is better given to support the amazing work of the Exodus Foundation!

Sad isn’t it, how I easily fall into the trap of thinking money (or material items) are what people seek, when connection and conversation are so much more valuable. This is something that I know that I am easily seduced by.

You too might be easily fooled into thinking that people who are without a home don’t enjoy their life and don’t have good times, or purpose and meaning in life. In fact, I wonder if some people in this situation may have more purpose and meaning than anyone with wealth and possessions?

I understand that life is not rosie for many who live on the street, and my intention is not to galmourise such a life, nor pretend that a one hour experience anywhere near accurately reflects the way that most people live. I mean what about the thousands of people who weren’t there to receive a meal?

But it did help me to understand, in a very small way, how a life without many possessions, without all of the riches that many of us are accustomed to, may still allow people to have purpose and meaning. Perhaps people like Pete, much more than many people who find great wealth and happiness with materials, are living the type of ‘rich’ life that so many desire.

Admittedly, people who are homeless are not a group of people that I am used to sharing time with but I do hope that might change in some way. Perhaps this is a way that I can continue to find more meaning and purpose in my life?

Not everyone is going to be fortunate enough to experience what James and I did last Thursday, but if you are looking for a way to support and contribute to those people without a home, you can donate at;

I’m so grateful for what I learned from Pete’s ball of wool.

Why we Need to Accept Pain and Suffering

Recognising that depression can be dealt with in a ‘paradoxical way’ may be why we in risk and safety struggle to understand it.

A close friend has recently started as a mentor in a program that supports women who have been victims of severe domestic violence, to work their way back into society. Part of the training for this role is the Accidental Counselor program.

My friend shared some of the details of the training and the thing that stood out clearly was that the role of the ‘counselor’ is not to fix people. If we do try to fix people she told me, we often unintentionally create more pain and suffering. The role of the counselor is to accept the other person’s pain and suffering, not to try to eradicate it. Listening and being present are the key things, my friend told me.

Pain and suffering are a normal part of what it means to be human. It is inevitable, essential and crucial in our maturing, growing and being. Pain and suffering are part of what is means to live, albeit not pleasant when we are in the midst of experiencing it. We should not seek to run from pain and suffering, instead we should listen to it and learn from it. In going one step further, we cannot experience true happiness and well-being if we don’t accept pain and suffering. The Buddhists have been onto this for years.

Challengingly in our modern world though, and in particularly in risk and safety, it is tempting to want to fix people when things are not quite running right. We can struggle to accept that pain and suffering are part of a normal life when we constantly hear messages focused on ‘fixing’, ‘helping’ and ‘preventing’. So why it is that humans find it difficult to cope with, and accept, pain and suffering?

This question is not an easy one to answer; however Kushner (2007) explores it when she poses;

It may be that instead of giving us a friendly world that would never challenge us and therefore never make us strong, God gave us a world that would inevitably break our hearts, and compensated for that by planting in our souls the gift of resilience.

(Kushner 2007, p.55)

When one is in the midst of pain and suffering and experiencing all of the feelings and emotions that go with pain, it may be difficult to understand that experiencing the pain is necessary for learning, maturing and importantly as Kushner notes, developing resilience.

So if we do accept that pain and suffering are essential for ‘being’ as a human and developing resilience, how can we go about dealing with it?

To explore this, lets consider the pain and suffering of grief.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her helpful book On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss provides a framework for people to work through grief and grieving. While she has been able to simplify this process down to five key stages of “denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance” (Kubler-Ross 2014, p.7), each stage is not described as a step-by-step process. Instead, Kubler-Ross (2014, p.22) outlines that each stage may be difficult and it may not be sequential, rather it can jump in stages. Importantly she also recognises the paradoxical nature of pain;

“As tough as it is, depression can be dealt with in a paradoxical way. See it as a visitor, perhaps an unwelcome one, but one who is visiting whether you like it or not. Make a place for your guest. Invite your depression to pull up a chair with you in front of the fire, and sit with it, without looking for a way to escape. Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you explore your loss in its entirety. When you allow yourself to experience depression, it will leave as soon as it has served its purpose in your loss. As you grow stronger, it may return from time to time, but that is how grief works.”

(Kubler-Ross 2014, p.22)

Recognising that depression can be dealt with in a ‘paradoxical way’ may be why we in risk and safety struggle to understand it. This is grey and messy, and not an easy concept to get our heads around. This will be especially so if our focus is zero harm, the favoured religion of many in risk and safety. Zero Harm is the epitome of the lack of acceptance for pain and suffering.

Suggesting that people “experience depression”, and “allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you” is outlining a process that is not clear-cut and unequivocal. Instead, is it implying that at times, life through a period of grief may be disordered, confusing and challenging.

Can you imagine anyone working in the risk and safety industry suggesting that people should experience pain and suffering and allow sadness and emptiness to cleanse them? Not a chance, that’s when the ‘Crusaders’ quickly jump into save you. For Crusaders, pain and suffering is nothing but an evil menace that must be eradicated and eliminated. You can hear this all through the language of safety, especially those that espouse ‘zero’.

I wonder what lessons there are in this story for those of us who work in risk and safety? How do we go about practicing more ‘counselling’ and less ‘crusading’? What is it in our language and practices that suggests that we cannot handle pain and suffering? How can we better understand the paradoxical nature of risk and safety; that is how can ‘pain and suffering’ and ‘safety’ co-exist?

I wish my friend all the best in her new role as a mentor; in her listening, in her being and in her ‘meeting’ with the woman that she will support. She knows that the woman doesn’t need fixing; she will do that all by herself.

As usual, we’d love to hear your feedback, experiences, critique and ideas.

Author:         Robert Sams

Phone:            0424 037 112

Email:             robert@dolphyn.com.au

Web:               www.dolphyn.com.au

Facebook:      Follow Dolphyn on Facebook

Amping it up in Safety

The SARF model accepts the important role that our social arrangements have in our decision-making. This is why an understanding of social psychology is critical in our understanding of risk.

In a recent blog I asked why are we afraid, and explored fear and how it may impact on our feelings, and decisions about risk. I also shared a story of how after the 911 terror attacks in 2001, American’s turned en mass to driving instead of flying. One result of this was an increase in the number of road fatalities during the first twelve months after they occurred, greater than the number of people killed in the terror attacks.

One source of the fear that changed people’s commuting habits was the media with their overabundance of dramatic reports that filled our minds with images of death, destruction and horror in the months, and years after these events. It continues today. Could this have been part of the plan for the terrorists? Ironically, could it be that reporting by the media is now a greater risk, rather than the risk of actual event?

Read the full post first published HERE

Why are we Afraid?

“…..every human brain has not one, but two systems of thought. They called them Systems One and System Two. The ancient Greeks arrived at this conception of humanity a little earlier than scientists-personified the two systems in the form of gods Dionysus and Apollo. We know them better as Feeling and Reason”

Daniel Gardner – The Science of Fear (p.16)

We’ve all been afraid of something at one time or another. The classic situation that I remember as a kid was being afraid of the dark; it haunted me for years and stopped me doing a lot of things. In more recent times, I recall being afraid of two guys who ‘looked like terrorists’ when I was on an international flight soon after 9/11 (more on this later). I recognise that fear has impacted my life in many ways. It can be debilitating, restrictive and a source of much anxiety. Today, I remain fearful of many things; least of all the fear of rejection, loneliness and isolation.

It could be easy though when we are not in the midst of a fearful situation to think that fear has no real influence on how we feel or how we make decisions or judgments. But perhaps this is because we are just not aware of how fear works? If our approach to understanding fear is focused on rational and logical decision-making, perhaps we only understand a small part of the story. In this piece I explore fear and try to understand how it makes us feel, why it can have such an impact on our lives and understand how it impacts on our decisions about risk.

READ THE FULL POST FIRST PUBLISHED HERE

Learning is a Social Activity

As I reflect on the last three years and consider the year ahead, what I recognise as being the most valuable, in fact the single most critical facet of my learning, is that is has been done through communing with others

As many would know, I’ve been on a learning journey (or ‘adventure’ as I prefer to call it) over the past three years in a quest to learn more about people and how we make decisions and judgments about risk. This ‘adventure’ has taken me in many directions, there’s been more than 150 books, countless articles and research papers, formal university activities, essays and conference presentations, all of which I am grateful for and have found valuable.

However, as I reflect on the last three years and consider the year ahead, what I recognise as being the most valuable, in fact the single most critical facet of my learning, is that is has been done through communing with others.

I’ve come to realise that if we are to better understand what it means to learn and understand ‘why’, our attention needs to shift away from focusing on how we gather and process information and data (‘techniques’), to recognise that learning is a social activity. That is, one that is most effective when we share, discover and search for the truth together with others. Humans are communal creatures and learning is a communal (social) activity.

I’m interested in understanding how we can ‘search for the truth’ through communing in risk and safety. I wonder is these questions might be useful for us to consider?

  • What cues can we look and listen out for that might demonstrate the ‘myth of the individual’ as we observe and converse in our organisations? What can we do about this?
  • How do we create forums where we can commune and ‘search for the truth’ through reasonable argument, rather than demonstrate and fester the ‘one-upmanship’ that is so rife in existing forums such as LinkedIn?
  • What can we do to support others to realise the essential nature of communality in understanding learning as a social activity?

We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.

READ THE FULL POST FIRST PUBLISHED HERE

Please Don’t Try to Fix Me – I’m Not a Machine

It may be that instead of giving us a friendly world that would never challenge us and therefore never make us strong, God gave us a world that would inevitably break our hearts, and compensated for that by planting in our souls the gift of resilience.  (Kushner 2007, p.55)*

My good friend Brian is a ‘tinkerer’, a very good one. If there’s work to be done on a machine Brian is your ‘go to man’. He can analyse, adjust, maintain or fix most things mechanical. For example, I recently bought a second hand lawnmower that wasn’t quite running right. After a few hours with Brian that machine was humming like a new one. Brian sure is talented.

I appreciate having Brian around to help me fix machines when they break, but I would never want, or expect, Brian try to ‘fix’ me at times when I’m not quite running right. Why?

I’m human and need to experience pain and failure in order to learn. I also have feelings and emotions (unlike machines) that at times I don’t understand myself until I take time out to reflect.

If you were to ever feel that I’m not quite running right, I’d appreciate your time, compassion, empathy and conversation but, ‘Please Don’t Try to Fix Me – I’m Not a Machine’. People aren’t objects to be fixed and tinkered with like lawnmowers; we’re ‘beings’ to be understood and ‘meet’.

Challengingly in our modern world, and in particularly in risk and safety, it can be tempting to want to fix people when things are not quite running right. We can struggle to deal with pain and suffering as part of a normal life as we constantly hear messages focused on ‘fixing’, ‘helping’ and ‘preventing’, all of which have their place. But so too do pain, suffering and grief.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE FIRST PUBLISHED HERE

 

* Kushner, H. S. (2007)  Overcoming Life’s Disappointments; Learning from Moses How to Cope with Frustration. Anchor Books. New York. United States

The Village Effect

Being with other people can enhance our well-being and support recovery from injury and illness.

There are many different approaches adopted by organisations to support people injured at work. These include consultant doctors, on-site Physiotherapy, free and confidential psychologists (EAP), ‘case-conferencing’ and specialized rehabilitation providers. All of which can be useful and helpful.

Understandably, the typical approach to treating injuries and illnesses is to send people to specialists in the field related to their injury, and of course this makes sense and most people will recover and return to life and work.

For some people though recovery is delayed or prolonged, and some may experience ‘secondary illnesses’ such as anxiety and depression. The challenges of recovering from injury can be overwhelming. So what can we do when these traditional approaches don’t seem to be working and signs of anxiety or depression start to show?

How might we in risk and safety, go about creating ‘The Village Effect’ in our organisations?

READ THE FULL POST FIRST PUBLISHED HERE

We Need Communities and They Need Us

 As Hugh McKay reminds us in his book, The Art of Belonging;

We rely on communities to support and sustain us, and if those communities are to survive and proposer, we must engage with them and nurture them. That’s the beautiful symmetry of human society; we need communities and they need us.

(McKay, 2014, p.1)

We know that as humans we are social creatures and being part of a community gives us meaning and purpose. Communities are about connecting and being with others and we strive to ‘belong’ as isolation can be the hardest emotion to deal with. When we are in community with others, we give as well as receive and it seems that we need communities and they need us.

I wonder though if at times we use the term ‘community’ too easily? Do we reflect enough to consider what we mean when we talk of ‘community’? I thought of these questions as I shared in community over the past few days.

READ THE REST OF THE STORY WHICH WAS FIRST PUBLISHED HERE

We’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and comments.

Author:         Robert Sams

Phone:            0424 037 112

Email:             robert@dolphyn.com.au

Web:               www.dolphyn.com.au

Facebook:      Follow Dolphyn on Facebook

Dolphyn Newsletter #6 – Reflecting on 2015

“Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis”

Etienne Wenger
Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge
2015 was an exciting time for everyone involved with Dolphyn. For our ‘Community of Practice’ we completed our post-graduate program in the Social Psychology of Risk. This has been a wonderful ‘learning adventure’ which provides some great insights and understanding of ‘why we do what we do’, along with the importance of understanding how social arrangements are critical in our decisions and judgments about risk.

We were also fortunate to work and share experiences with some wonderful people and organisations throughout the year with many highlights, some of which are outlined below. We thank everyone who has been part of our 2015, and look forward to continuing to connect and learn with you all in 2016.

  

I Just Don’t Know

I Just Don’t Know

I was talking with a friend recently who works in risk and safety. They shared a story about how a relatively serious incident had occurred at their company and despite a very thorough and detailed examination of the events that lead up to and followed the incident, the reason(s) that it occurred could not be found. It was a complete mystery as to why the things happened the way that they did. My friend said to me “I just don’t know how this come about, it’s got me buggered”.

I remember reading in Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow his theory about how if people don’t know the answer to a question asked of them, one option they can take is provide an answer to a different question on a topic that they do know about. Politicians, through spin, are obvious examples of this, but Kahneman’s point is that this is something that we are all prone to do at times, particularly when there are social pressures in place that make it awkward not to provide no answer.

In your work in risk and safety, have you ever felt the pressure to provide an answer in a tight timeframe? Have you ever provided an answer that was plausible and ‘could be’ right, but you weren’t quite sure, because you didn’t have the time to think things through, if it was?

Have you ever made stuff up just to complete a report on time? Stuff that might have been right, sounded like it was right, and to others could be right, but to be honest, you couldn’t be sure? These may be challenging questions, but we can learn so much by reflecting on them and it can be useful to further examine the social arrangements and context in which we may make such decisions.

It can be a challenge in risk and safety at times to say “I just don’t know”. There are often social, cultural and organizational factors and expectations that ‘answers will be found’. Systematic and linear approaches to incident reviews are often mute on such factors and expectations, the focus is usually “Just Get to the Bottom of it”. When this is the focus, when our incident reviews are solely systematic reviews, do we limit opportunities for learning from the incident? Could it be that the more mechanistic our response, the less we ‘think’ and reflect humanly about what has happened?

So why is this? Why do we find it terribly difficult at times to say “I just don’t know”.

Read the full article that I first published here.