I have been working for several months now with a great group of colleagues on the organisation of a one day conference – Compassion, Organisational Change and the Future of Care that took place on Friday 2nd September at the University of Essex. Predominantly it was attended by employees of North Essex Partnership University NHS Trust and South Essex Partnership University NHS Trust, who had kindly funded the event, but we welcomed attendees from across the UK including an interesting range of practitioners, educators and researchers. For the full programme see here.
What really struck me on the day was the level of energy and commitment in the room. The number of questions and quality of discussion that arose throughout the day suggested that the event had created the space for conversations that were really needed, that hadn’t previously had sufficient space to emerge. In the group discussion that I facilitated it was evident that the presentations earlier in the day had provided new perspectives as well as giving voice to underlying issues, such as resource scarcity and the political nature of health care, which in turn gave attendees the confidence to explore them. It was very difficult to take account of everyone’s views in the time allowed, but it was soon evident that each person was processing the day in their own unique way; coming to their own understanding of what the day meant to them and how this would emerge in terms of their own compassionate care.
The day of the conference has made me see the value of having conversations, of listening and being open about our experience. I can see how trying to move too quickly towards ‘solutions’ on how to deliver compassionate care will inevitably silence certain voices, whilst constraining the capacity of individuals to engage in ways that are meaningful for them. To think and talk about compassion inevitably requires us to touch upon the more vulnerable aspects of our humanity – our wish for others to be compassionate towards us, how it feels when they are not and the difficult recognition that there are times that we too are uncompassionate. These are not abstract concepts that necessitate abstract intellectual exploration (although new theoretical perspectives can be valuable) they are unavoidable elements of the human experience that can be understood more fully through dialogue with each other. It may have only been me but I felt a sense of relief to engage in honest and open conversations about sensitive issues that often get overlooked in the busyness of professional life. By embodying what we are trying to create, these conversations could be of more value in the creation of a compassionate culture that any external initiative.
I am reminded of a recent blog by Omid Safi called ‘The disease of being busy’. He notes that being busy all the time ‘keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave’. He goes on:
‘Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.’
But this requires space – spatially, temporary, mentally. We created this during the day, especially in the Schwartz Round but in many other ways too – over sandwiches and coffee on the grass, whilst meditating together in the lecture hall, in the quiet moments of reflection. Again I am reminded not to underestimate the value of space in learning, the need for authentic dialogue and discussion, particularly perhaps with something as ineffable yet fundamental as compassion.