What have you *done*?
I’ve slightly fallen in love with the provocation by Tatiana Mac above. It’s so easy to remember and so simple to repeat. I included it in my weeknotes last week and I’m putting it here again. It gives me the prompt to action, and reminds me me to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many more, the systemic racism that exists and disadvantages some of our communities. I want to think and reflect, and push myself.
What have you learned this week?
Here’s my trello reading list: https://trello.com/b/BBJ726mr/progress-bookmarks
I feel like I’ve read less again this week, and less relating to diversity and equality, this might change as I read more over the weekend, but I feel like it reflects a slowing down of articles about the BLM movement. This also goes to show why being actively aware about what you read, seeking and not passively consuming, is so important.
This week I started watching I May Destroy You on the BBC (slowly, it’s a tough watch) and I read two interesting articles about it in Gal Dem and Critical Mass, which are linked in the trello board. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I suggest you just watch/read. I watched I Am Not Your Negro (again BBC), and thought more about what it is like to be co-opted into a system that uses you, profits from you, but doesn’t support you.
I’ve also realised how our ability to talk about systemic racism to our white friends, family, or colleagues and occasionally to reason with them about it’s very existence is dependent on our ability to imagine and hold multiple scenarios and possibilities in our heads at once. But we need to be able to do that, which means reading and retaining information about others experiences and drawing on our own in order to counteract any lived experience that has led another white person into a singular view.
I’m not sure if this comparison works but it’s the difference between trying and hypothesising many alphas in agile, compared to trying one thing and sticking stubbornly to it because of the one data point you have inadvertently found to be the most compelling.
The ability to hold multiple viewpoints, to create parallel universes. It’s a tough ask. I understand why some of us struggle with it, it’s going to take work. It’s going to take practice.
I’ve spoken before about how my anxiety means that I’m constantly imagining and planning for different scenarios. My brain can get busy, and unchecked that can become a problem. But when it’s under control, it’s also kind of a superpower. I haven’t got to the bottom of these thoughts, there is more thinking to do. And I am definitely not suggesting that you need to have anxiety or depression in order to be empathetic or anti-racist (god, no!) more just musing on different ways of thinking and moving through a world where the messy spaghetti of things are becoming more visible and more urgent to address.
I also learned, via a blog written by Simon Gunning from CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) that:
“Our services have seen record breaking demand [since March] and our incredible helpline staff have answered 19,249 calls and webchats, and directly prevented 80 suicides since lockdown was announced.”
All of this information is mixing together in my brain and I hope I can bring it together in a productive way that doesn’t just reinforce the spaghetti.
With that, what have you *done*?
This week I used Tatiana’s two questions to kick off the One Team Gov breakfast club. I asked attendees to quietly reflect on them for 5 minutes. It felt good to hold the space for some silence.
You can read it here:
I had never encountered one before that point. It feels entirely appropriate to hold a Land Acknowledgement if you live in Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand. But what about the UK? What’s our equivalent when we were the ones doing the colonising?
Anyway, some attendees added their thoughts (anonymously) to a collaborative Google Doc if they felt comfortable enough to share. Attendees were generous with their reflections and thoughts, and if you attend one of our breakfasts in the future you will have access to this document.
I’m determined to keep this practice going for breakfast attendees for as long as we have a majority white attendee list.
One Team Gov Suicide awareness/prevention event
So as you can probably tell I’ve been thinking a lot about mental health, because it’s something I know from my own personal experience. It’s also something I’m feeling is increasingly urgent in these COVID-19 times.
I’m worried for communities and individuals that I don’t know. Fearing for them and their anxiety and stress. Their isolation. The effects of grief.
I’m worried not just about the long term effects of those on the front line; those experiences are well documented, terrible, but still known and understood.
I’m worried about what’s hidden; the effects on leaders providing services to communities in need, on the administrators who have to upload death statistics into computer systems and return boxes of medical notes. Public Servants dealing with lists of vulnerable people who need food, or presiding over creaking IT infrastructure in the middle of the night.
I’m worried about furloughed people, isolated at home, and food bank volunteers who just want to do the best they can. I’m worried about people with OCD or anxiety who won’t be able to turn off the feeling of a pervasive, constant threat.
I’m worried about the effects on the people who have to make decisions, however small, and feel responsible even though they aren’t responsible.
I’m worried about my colleagues, and I’m wondering who is hurting. I want to care for them.
If I know one thing, its that mental illness has an uncanny knack of appearing to be incredibly logical. I know that mental illness lies, but that those lies feel so real, and the logic so indelible that no other perspective gets a look in.
I know that more people are encountering mental health crises, and that more families are becoming affected, both from personal experience and by the accounts of charity leaders like Simon Gunning (above quote).
I also believe that we are getting better at talking about Mental Health, but I don’t believe that we are getting better at talking about suicide, or at least in acknowledging the link between the two. They seem different somehow. Suicide feels extreme, unknowable, unstoppable.
But it’s not. It is, in fact, very stoppable.
I’ve been wanting to do something for a while and this week something clicked and I was spurred into action. So now, One Team Gov will run an event on suicide awareness and prevention. I’ve already got a bit of a dream team helping me, with Debbie, Imran, Gail, Jenny, James, Paul, Paul and a sprinkling of DavidBuck.
We have some plans, and through a shout out on twitter have made links with a lot of Mental Health First Aiders who we hope will give us their support.
It’s going to be a little bit different to our usual One Team Gov events, because it needs to be to do justice to the subject matter, and it needs to acknowledge the experiences of our black friends and colleagues who are under even more pressure right now. But I hope it will be a little bit of space to discuss, to think, and to care for one another.
If you’re interested in anything I’ve said above and want to input or get involved please drop me a line either here or on Twitter and I’d be happy to chat. Similarly, there is some very straightforward training you can do, online, here:
Honestly, maybe I’m thinking about all of this because I’m in a space between jobs. I’m pretty much wound down and handed over in my current role, and not heading back to my other job just yet. Perhaps my brain is looking for something to do. Or perhaps it’s exactly that space that means my brain is freed up to think about something that I believe in.
- Billy and I worked on budgets and thought about the future.
- I started writing a blog post about what it’s like to close a digital service, or more specifically what it was like to close ours.
- I read a blog post for a friend.
- I had a really fulfilling conversation with two of the NLC team about how to plan an event using agile.
I enjoyed that last one a lot, not least of all because I thought that all my bleating on about agile had been falling on deaf ears. I was starting to believe that the culture changes that are needed wouldn never embed, but now I’m leaving and people are planning to get going with something, and that feels good.
On Friday I saw Jenny for socially distanced chats, drinks and ice cream, it was really lovely and she delivered some lovely leaving gifts that the NLC team had bought me which was lovely. I feel very lucky.
Today my neighbour found a parcel that they’d taken in for me. It was this and I had a cry when I saw it.
And what next?
Well next week is my last couple of days with the NLC. Madness when I think back to December and think about what I had hoped to do compared with what I’ve actually managed to achieve over the past few months.
I finish on Tuesday. Then I have a couple of days off before heading back to the Local Digital Collaboration Unit. So I guess it’s unlikely that I’ll weeknote next week — which is probably good as I look back over this one and realise that it’s quite long.
Sorry about that. If you made it this far, thank you for reading. Much love x