Time, almost always on our side…

Or at least it was today.

We have had a busy weekend- yesterday we took William to play in the finals of a Gaelic school football competition in Fort William. This involved a 2-3 hour drive through Argyll and into the big mountains. It was a wet day yesterday, and the clouds boiling around the high rock walls of Glen Coe were stunning. Will’s side did OK, but football is not his sport really.

Today we spent the morning in the garden, the afternoon playing cricket and the evening walking the beach. Mmmmm.

But back to the time thing- Michaela and I were talking about all the busyness that we are in the middle of- creating a new income, keeping all the family things going and planning new things with Aoradh. Practically speaking, there is far too much to do.

We hear it everywhere- busy busy busy. This is partly because in our society everything does go so fast- we are conditioned to run hard on the hamster wheel. However I think it is also because we are caught in the trap of believing that the only valuable time involves stress. This is revealed in the fact that it is almost a thing of shame to admit we are NOT busy. All this frenetic activity in the service of- what?

There is no life without stress. But there is much stress without purpose.

I have this theory about time- less about physics, more to do with the human condition. I am convinced that time can be stretched into the shape of what you really love. There are of course limits to the elasticity – eventually the break may come – but on the whole we always have time to chose to do those things that we love.

And there is no shame in learning how to be a human be-ing.

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.

Social work and stress…

Social work is a job for young people. Mostly.

A few survive into their 40’s- possibly by specialising, or (oh dear- like me) becoming a manager, but on the whole, the nature of the job, and the political/economic/social environment we work in simply burns people out.

It is a slow process- and is poorly recognised even within the profession- as it is usually manifested in a loss of effectiveness and responsiveness- and in these days where performance targets dominate every area of practice, this kind of thing wins you no friends in busy teams.

It is a process that must be difficult to understand when you have never been involved in this kind of work. Some of my friends have a go at me as being in an easy lazy public sector job, often in comparison to their ‘real’ jobs. I smile, but inside I want to have a bit of a go back- and ask them to try doing what I do for a while…

I want to ask them who they think will do the jobs we do if we do not?

Who will visit a family living in squalor because of an alcoholic parent?

Who will look after an old cantankerous man who has become to infirm and confused to get out of the house, and has been unable to manage to get himself to the toilet for the last few weeks?

Who will try to build relationships of trust with the people on the margins of society who have lost all social connections?

…etc etc.

Because in devaluing the people that do these things, we potentially devalue the people who need the help.

I read this today-

“Modern social work is in a state of crisis. It has always been a profession towards which society has displayed ambivalence and it is now grossly underfunded and understaffed. Tragedies and subsequent vilification of social workers and their managers are reported with increasing frequency. The profession attempts to function in an environment of obstructive administrative ‘systems’, … severe financial restrictions and conflicting demands …” –Davies, p. 9, Stress in Social Work (1998, Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

“Because they deal in actual and emotional injustice, and actual and psychic injury, the reality for social workers much of the time is that while they may bring about some relief or improvement, the most that they may hope for is some damage limitation, particularly in areas such as child abuse and criminality.” —Davies, p. 19, Stress in Social Work (1998, Jessica Kingsley Publishers).

This is a familiar picture to me. Add to this the fact that the cut backs in public spending are making things worse. I am about to lose my job for the second time in 2 years through ‘reorganisation’. Quite what I will be doing in 2 years I have no clue.

My colleague recently had a health check and was told her blood pressure was very high. A retest suggested that this might just have been temporary as a result of a particularly bad day.

‘I think I am going to take the blood pressure test with a pinch of salt’ she suggested, and then realised what she had said.

We laughed.

Thank the Lord for companionship and good colleagues. As long as we can hold on…

Rob Bell, ‘Breathe’

We have used quite a lot of Rob Bell’s ‘Nooma‘ DVDs in our group. There are about 20 of them at present- each one a little package of creative film making, Bell’s unique presentation style, and subtle reframings of things we thought we knew…

Bell’s high profile (his church is huge and his books and films are known the world over) has meant that he has also come in for a lot of criticism. For many, he is a heretic. For me, he is a man with something to say, who says it well.

I found a copy of one of the films on-line. They cost about £10 to buy, so this might be a way to enjoy one of them (in low quality, with the annoying subtitles) and find out what the fuss is about. Then you can save up and buy some for you and yours!

May it bring to you something new about the wonders of God.