Finally- choices…

I have hinted a few times here that we are facing a major life change. At last, I have come to the point of having to actually make some choices. They amount to one of the following;

  1. An application for a new social work management job, managing all adult care (currently I manage Mental Health services.)
  2. A demotion to a team leaders job.
  3. Redundancy.

I also have, for the first time after 2 years a date – the 27th of July – by which everything will be concluded (although I have learnt to distrust any deadline made in this process!) I need to make my choice by the end of next week.

In many ways however it was a choice I made some time ago because I am just about at the end of my coping skills with my current job.

This is in part because of the natural process of working on the very edges of society for nearly 22 years, attempting to balance what often seem like mutually incompatible priorities- the (still mostly primary) hope that social workers have of really helping people/making a difference, and the agency responsibility to manage budgets and police the welfare state.

It is also because of the total lack of respect that wider society has for the things that social workers do- despite the fact that we have yet to find any other profession or any other mechanism that will do the things that we do. And some of the things that I have done and people I have met along the way you would not believe…

Then there is the increasing grinding pressure of regulation, scrutiny and performance management. The things that are quantifiable and therefore to the interest of the system are often the things that I have very little interest in. It is almost impossible to measure things like improvement in wellbeing, lives subtly changed because of the chemistry of kindness and respect. Social workers now spend 80% of their working lives in front of computer screens. Tell me where and how this makes sense?

Then there are the senior managers. Some appear to be suffering from some kind of psychopathy- I can never work out whether the job did this to them, or they rose so high because of (a.) their inability to see any colours other than black and white, and (b.) their utter lack of interest in anyone who did not directly enhance or threaten their careers. (The former are courted, the latter ruthlessly destroyed.) The end result is toxicity in the heart of a profession that is supposed to be all about caring.

Finally there are the suits. It probably says something about my career that I have always refused to work in a suit. I often feel slightly self conscious about this as I am frequently the only man in a room that is not wearing one. But the suit has come to represent something to me of what I am NOT. That is not to say that every person dressed in smart business wear in councils is somehow suspect, sold out- I have met many lovely suit wearers. It is just that suits are power statements, and I am much more interested in making real connections with people. It has become something of an overvalued issue for me, so much so that I am considering renting a tuxedo for my last day in work- catharsis by cummerbund.

The choice to leave will mean large amounts of uncertainty for both me and my family. But right now it feels like the only choice possible, and this is both tantalising and terrifying in equal measure.

Two screens…

Today I worked from home. There is sickness in the house- M and I seem to have picked up some bug or other, and as a result, sleep was largely absent last night.

So I toiled most of the day on some reports- including ‘equality impact assessments’ relating to proposed service redesigns. If that sounds boring- well perhaps, but it actually relates to the need to save money from already overstretched budgets so actually, it is an ominous kind of boredom. It relates to an activity that will potentially have impact on lives and livelihoods. So forgive me- this post is a wee bit of therapy for my soul.

Open all along the bottom of my screen however, mixed in with various documents I am trying to make sense of, are other kinds of writing.

I found myself flicking between two screens-

One contained a file into which I am typing dead, anodyne yet scary words into an predetermined format.

The other contained a poem I am working on.

The contrast is palpable, and painful at the same time. Like being caught between the body and the soul. This dual life that modernity has condemned us to.

Not that we have any kind of right to an easy life, full of creative choices and mystical mountaintops to be conjured at our own choosing. This kind of self-activating-self-fulfillment-self-absorption is equally repellant.

But how we all long for a life of simple integrity, where what we have is enough, and all the more so shared.

And how (today at least) I hate bureaucratic solutions to human problems- no matter how necessary.

Time for a poem I think. An old one, from ‘Listing’

Blessed are those who are poor in spirit…

Blessed are they in failure
Blessed are they in repeated defeat

And blessed are they in
Every empty success

Blessed are they when plans, laid out-
Are stolen

And dreams are drained by

Middle age

Blessed are the wage slaves
And the mortgage makers
Blessed are those who keep on treading

This treadmill

Blessed are they who have no hope
And for whom life is
Grey and formless

Blessed are the B-list
And the has-been’s

Blessed are they at the end
Of all their coping

For here I am

And here I am building

My Kingdom

Power dressing and incarnational spirituality


Stuffed suits. Pin striped suits. Business suits. Power suits. Penguin suits.

Corporate uniforms.

Boys together in gentleman’s clubs.

Power. Control.

Management by the application of… image.

Or do I make too much of this?

Tomorrow I am going to a meeting in Lochgilphead for Social Work and Health managers, which is to discuss some governance issues thrown up by a redesign of Mental Health services (get the language there- ‘governance’ and ‘redesign’.) I will not wear a suit. I reckon I will be in a minority of perhaps, one.

Informality of dress seems to be trendy in some quarters. It is strange to me that within my social work department, things have gone entirely the other way for managers at least. The women, perhaps surprisingly, seem to escape this pressure for the most part.

Another redesign process recently replaced whole swathes of managers. The new folk often do not live in Argyll- they have not chosen to live and contribute to the communities they serve. That is not criticism- but it is just different.

For people like me, who try to find a way to carry that salt and light thing into the places I inhabit, the suits just seem to get in the way…

They seem like a barrier- a way to create distance between people.

I find myself at odds with the world about me… and the visible sign of this comes in the form of a table surrounded by men in dark suits.

I can see the point of this at times- the management thing- distance is sometimes required. But for me, this non-suit wearing has become my little point of rebellion, owing much to a lack of comfort with the work culture of my organisation- which at times seems highly toxic.

It is also how I choose to express something of my individuality- and my spirituality. I may yet be instructed to suit up-

But for now, the only suit I will wear regularly…

Is my birthday suit.

The management regret….

Stress on Flickr – Photo Sharing!

I have had a bellyfull of managers this week. I have to be careful, because I often become a breeding ground for a depressing cynicism about my work.

I am a Social Work Manager to earn my mortgage, but at times I look around and wonder if I have been cast on a foreign shore amongst some kind of fish people who breathe a different substance and speak in bubbles.

There is a certain kind of management culture that values one dimensional toughness, and measures progress by the attainment of irrelevant goals. Failure to fit in to a certain stereotype is punished subtly and unsubtly- and I am never really going to fit in- both as a choice and as a consequence of the way I am made.

On good days I feel that I have a whole set of skills that mean that I can do my job in my own particular way, and do it well.

But then I spend time with management colleagues who rail against the failures of their staff and have no good words to say about anyone but themselves, and how they are going to sort out the slackers that work for them. And I fear for those people- who will no doubt become slackers, even if they are not already.

And I a brought up sharp by a higher management who do not treat members of staff fairly and with respect- even though their rhetoric (which they even seem to believe) suggests otherwise.

And I am angry with myself for my complicity, and my inability to challenge or walk away.

But I am a person who believes that God uses us as Trojan horses to gain entrance into the very fabric of our humanity, and there to tend the fragile but tenacious seeds of the Kingdom.

So as I wheel my horse into the office for another day of solutionless problems, what should be my calling?

To find precious integrity, and to hold on to it- not as a position of superiority, but of survival.

To see people not as a reluctant resource that requires the insertion of a rocket where the sun don’t shine, but instead as creatures of unique gifting and abilities. To search for strengths, not failings, and encourage them out.

To build bridges not battlements between groups of staff.

To understand the need for boundaries, but not to hide behind them.

To be first, an Agent of the Kingdom

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