Learning from my own resilience

September 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Building on my previous post on resilience, I want to look at community resilience from the viewpoint of what I know about my own personal resilience.

My working definition of community resilience as the ability of a group of people sharing a geographical or other identity to manage, respond to and emerge from community-wide shocks or suffering.

If I reflect on my own resilience, my thoughts are:

My capacity for resilience fluctuates – in other words, it’s not something like, say, a hammer which once bought is pretty much always there, unchanging and available as needed.

I need others sometimes to help me find my resilience. One way of doing this is for me to watch when they are in my eyes acting resiliently, and to seek inspiration in their behaviour.

I can act in a resilient way even if I don’t feel very resilient. Is this just a deeper layer of resilience, which I need at times to dig deep for? In any event, at times I am like a bumblebee: science may say I can’t fly, but I sometimes I can fly only because I think I can.

For me, my resilience is fundamentally a mental rather than a physical quality. Physical well-being and exercise play their part in nurturing resilience. But it feels more that my resilience is about my will and belief to keep going regardless of my physical condition. And as part of my resilience relates to my Crohn’s Disease (an inflammatory bowel disease), the ability to find courage, strength and persistence in times of less-ability is crucial.

Again for me, my resilience to keep going is linked to my values and my beliefs. Resilience gives me courage to work for things in the future because they seem worthwhile to strive for, not necessarily because they have a good chance of succeeding.


If I take this into communities, perhaps the following might be helpful comparators:

If my own resilience fluctuates, my guess is that that’s true for others and on a bigger scale when applied to members of a community. This probably makes it all the harder to predict how a community may react, or to be confident in the durability of any one-off assessment of the community’s resilience.

Community members can act as inspirations for each other, enabling them to take steps they wouldn’t normally take (this can lead to negative as well as positive behaviours, of course).

And one way for community members to build resilience is by getting to know each other, building relationships and getting through tougher times together.

I finished the previous blog by wondering if resilience was about ordinary people, doing extraordinary things in extraordinary times. I might now add that they are relying on relationships created in ordinary times but which stand firm in extraordinary times.

Resilience: ordinary people in extraordinary times, doing extraordinary things

September 9, 2013 § 2 Comments

I have been invited to a round-table on the theme of Resilience, taking place later this month. Though our focus will include building resilient Quaker communities up and down the country, the invitation has prompted me to think about resilience generally.

What is resilience in a community context? How can one diagnose the strength of a community’s resilience? And, how can resilience be encouraged?

This post is a record of my early thinking, and there is much out there on the subject already, so I’m not claiming any new learning. I would be very interested in any responses, or any useful resources you know about, and I’ll share here what people suggest to me.

Resilience seems relevant to a great range of events which have their impact locally. To name a few:

  • climate change
  • the ending of local industries or other significant employers
  • the local impact of national financial austerity or economic downturn
  • freak weather events
  • pandemics
  • corporate invasion, such as mining or fracking companies – see The Pipe for a great documentary example (www.thepipethefilm.com)
  • the threat of violence, or actual violence – whether from within or from external sources
  • high population churn, or the arrival of new residents into a previously settled community.

What is resilience?

The dictionary of course is a great place to start. Its entries on resilience gave me two ways in which resilience can be looked at. The perhaps more familiar understanding is resilience as the ability to withstand shock, suffering or disappointment. From a physical point of view, however, resilience is the ability of a substance to recover its form and position elastically. I like the image of that elastic rebounding, back into shape after managing a challenge.

So I take community resilience as the ability of a group of people sharing a geographical or other identity to manage, respond to and emerge from community-wide shocks or suffering. The sense is of a community ‘bouncing back’ – though unlike a piece of elastic, a community is likely to bounce into a different shape than it was before, with changes to relationships and probably some people in a place of greater or lesser resilience than before.

There must also be a link to the comparative fragility or strength of a community – if it was weak before, my assumption is that it will find it harder to respond to shocks. There will be communities that are resilient in anticipation of shocks; and there will be communities that develop resilience only once a shock or traumatic incident arises.

And before I get too far along this journey, I need to affirm that communities are made up of people; and so resilience – or its absence – will be expressed in what people think and believe, what they feel, and what they do. A community responding to a shock, will be demonstrating a network of human stories – with examples of altruism and generosity alongside moments of selfishness and aggression.

Can we then measure how resilient a community may be?

CarnegieUK Trust and the Fiery Spirits Community of Practice in 2009 published Exploring Community Resilience in Times of Rapid Change. It has a simple model which leaps off the page for me. It identifies four dimensions of community resilience building, in which “work in one area is likely to benefit and amplify that in another”. It also works as a diagnostic tool: how far do we assess our community as having:

  • Healthy people: supporting individuals’ physical and psychological well-being;
  • An inclusive, creative culture: generating a positive, welcoming sense of place;
  • A localised economy – within ecological limits: securing entrepreneurial community stewardship of local assets and institutions.
  • Cross-community links: fostering supportive connections between inter-dependent communities.

If this model is taken at face value – and there must be many similar versions, highlighting different aspects of communities and of resilience – then we also have a model of starting points for the ‘how’ of community resilience building. I’m sure there is much more for me to learn about the how; and what of the many efforts in resilience-building around the world can be replicated or adapted.

I wonder how many examples of resilient communities are in essence the coincidental combination of ordinary people, in extraordinary times, doing extraordinary things.

NB This is the first of four posts on the Resilience theme: click the Resilience tag in the right hand margin to see the other posts.

Tackling tough issues and working with hope

June 21, 2013 § Leave a comment

There’s no doubt of the value of people across diverse or divided communities, being able to reach out to each other, challenge myths and prejudices, and find ways of building local resilience.

Are you involved in, or interested in supporting this “good relations” work?

My friends/colleagues at http://www.talkforachange.org.uk, together with International Alert, and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, are running a series of regional meetings for practitioners and managers.

Starting next week, the events will explore setting up a national coalition of good relations organisations which could improve the voice, practice and visibility of good relations work in England. The events will include the chance to discuss local divisive narratives and how you are currently tackling them, and impact measurement.

My connection to this is that Talk for a Change and I are in conversation about how to establish rigorous and realistic impact assessment models for community dialogue and facilitation. And in my consultancy work with the Newcastle Conflict Resolution Network, and in shaping co-design processes for patients and clinical staff, I’m interested in how those who wouldn’t normally talk to each other, can find ways of hearing each other’s voices and build a culture of greater understanding and empathy.

Details of the Talk for a Change regional meetings are here. Organised so far:

24th June in Stockwell, London

27th June in Manchester

2nd July in Warrington

15th July in Newcastle

11th September in Leeds

With other regions to be planned.

Training dates announced

June 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

After a break of several years, my Supervision Skills course for supervisors of mediators is now running again as an open programme.

The dates are:

11 July, Manchester

19 July, London

This one-day programme – the training course I most enjoy delivering! – is accredited by the College of Mediators (6 CPD points).

The programme is for those new to supervision or who are anticipating a move into a supervisory role – staff or  Board members, and volunteer mediators who are taking on an additional role within their service.

The programme is aimed at practitioners across the mediation sector, including family, neighbour, inter-generational, restorative justice, schools and workplace mediation.

Course fee: £110. Discounts available for multiple bookings from the same service.

For more information and details of how to reserve your place, see the following brochures:

Manchester 11 July

Wandsworth 19 July

Your goals: for performance or learning? Concrete, or more abstract?

May 29, 2013 § 2 Comments

Do you prefer your goals to be about learning or about performance? And phrased in concrete terms, or more abstract?

Setting goals is inherent in our culture and in our practice – whether  they’re an organisation’s mission aims and objectives, or how we manage ourselves through the to-do list each day.

From my own experience, I know that both short- and long-term goals can inspire me into effective action; but they don’t always work.

So I enjoyed very much a recent lecture for the Quakers and Business network, David Megginson, Emeritus Professor of Human Resource Development, Sheffield Hallam University. He shared some interesting emerging evidence, that goals in themselves may be unhelpful in certain situations; and that different kinds of goals may suit different temperaments [1].

For example, goals may be unnecessarily limiting if they are too specific, carry too heavy a penalty for failure (in organisational terms, or for my own self-esteem), or if I don’t have a say in defining them, such as a goal given to me by my manager, or if it is an organisation-wide goal inappropriately translated for my own work priorities) [2]. I meet goals like this sometimes in my coaching practice, if someone has been ‘told’ to come to coaching to remedy apparent defects in performance.

So to the questions in the title of this piece. If you think about a goal or a hope you set yourself recently, how does it fit these categories:

  • Was it a goal which could be reached in time or achievement (proximal) or further ahead in the future (distant)?
  • Was it a concrete, specific goal; or was it phrased in more abstract terms?
  • Do you see yourself as approaching your goal (“The ideal livelihood I want is…”); or is the goal phrased as avoidance (“I want to overcome feeling underconfident when I’m meeting the Board”)
  • Are your goals about performance (How do I…); or are they about learning[3]

You may find that goals of a specific type work for you more times than not – for example, goals that are distant, concrete, which approach an desired outcome and which are about performance.

Or you may find that different types work for you in different situations – between personal or professional goals; or goals for daily achievements alongside a longer-term hoped-for change.

One other factor also to take a moment to think about.

If you have consciously used goals in the past, what has been your experience? Did they work; or not? (remember that goals that work may lead to effective action and valued outcomes, even if they were not the intended outcomes).

And in addition to whether goals have worked for you in the past, Professor Megginson has identified some other factors which influence our progress towards our own goals:

  • How strong is my motivation – how important to me is achieving this goal?
  • How good is my contextual awareness: how accurate is my picture of external factors that may help or hinder achievement?
  • Is this goal mine? Who shares it with me or has a stake in its outcome?
  • Do I believe that I can see, feel or touch the outcome?
  • Will I be able to measure or assess the outcome?
  • Is the goal aligned with my personal values: does it have inner “sense of rightness”?

I am finding it helpful to critique my own goals in the light of my own learning about what kinds of goals work best for me; and finding – as I believe it does for my coaching clients – greater commitment to the right kind of goals in both professional and personal contexts.

[1] See Susan David, David Clutterbuck & David Megginson, Beyond goals, 2013, Aldershot, Gower (forthcoming).

[2] Ordóñez, L.D., Schweitzer, M.E., Galinsky, A.E., Bazerman, M.H. (2009). Goals gone wild: The systemic side- effects of overprescribing goal setting, Academy of Management Perspectives, February,6-16

[3] Grant, A.M. (2007). When own goals are a winner. Coaching at Work, 2(2), 32-35.

Collation of guest blogs available

May 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

Woodbrooke has put together a compilation of my three Good Lives’ Blog guest posts, exploring British Quakers’ commitment to becoming a low carbon sustainable community. The .pdf is available here.

In an authorly sort of way I’m very pleased with them, but would of course welcome any feedback, or be in touch to continue the discussion about these complex global issues.

Good Lives guest blog 3: low carbon

April 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

This is my final guest blog posted on Woodbrooke’s  Good Lives project. The three postings are a series exploring British Quakers’ “Minute 36” commitment to become a low carbon sustainable community www.quaker.org.uk/creating- just-and-sustainable-world.

Previous postings addressed Community, and Sustainable; this third article takes a look at low carbon.

Carbon matters because of our addiction to finite fossil fuels, and because of the significant influence of greenhouse gases on climate change. Going low carbon tackles these two related issues: a low carbon economy and behaviours increase energy security and help to mitigate the effects of climate change.

There’s no measurable number in “Low”, so the emphasis at this early stage in the Minute 36 or Canterbury Commitment must first be lower carbon: let’s make a start on what we can do, without worrying too much about exactly how we need to reduce by.

Back in the heady days of December 2009, at the time of the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, there were still hopes of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. That now looks increasingly unlikely: see, for example, http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v3/n1/full/nclimate1783.html

I remember in 2010 waking up one morning and thinking, We’re not going to make that 2 ⁰C limit. That realisation wasn’t a place of inward despair, but rather it felt like an acceptance of an unwelcome but real truth: from now on I would view a rise above 2 ⁰C as part of the context within which we are now living – with all its desperately serious consequences. As the journal article referenced above coldly notes: “We find that current emission trends continue to track scenarios that lead to the highest temperature increases.”

It’s important to keep hold of hope. This Vaclav Havel quote keeps me going:

” I understand [hope] above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world … Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”

Or try Paul Hawken’s Commencement Address to the University of Portland Class of 2009:

“When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”

In the face of the probability of a 2⁰C rise, and given increasing globalisation and its climate consequences, it’s no wonder people wonder why they should bother taking action.

But there are many logical as well as spiritual justifications, and here are a few:

If we learn how to live lower carbon lifestyles at an individual level, then that makes action more likely and more possible within families, and within our local communities (such as neighbourhoods or our Quaker meetings), and then in the organisations we support or work in, in wider societies, in governments, and in countries. It’s like a ladder: if we don’t take the step of acting individually, the other steps are far less likely to happen.

Continuing the step image: to imagine a world without weapons, what would be the penultimate step we’d have to take before we achieved that world? And what would be the step before that?, and before that?, back to where we stand today. Similarly, if we imagine a truly self-sufficient world, we are not able now to leap straight to it, but we can imagine the step of individual action as being an important part of reaching it – and as that is achieved, like stepping stones, the next step becomes possible to reach.

There’s a parallel from the earliest Friends’ internal debates about slave-holding and slave-trading. Two key arguments were the Golden Rule (do to others as you would like to be done to yourself), and that the slave trade depended on violence and was thus contrary to Friends’ peace testimony.

The same arguments could be applied today: we would not wish ourselves to experience the consequences of significant global warming, yet many around the world are already doing so (300,000 deaths a year, and 3 million people affected each year attributed to climate change, according to research by Kofi Annan’s Global Humanitarian Forum – and that was a study in 2009). And there’s no doubting the violence endemic in our profit-driven globalised economy.

The change we seek within Minute 36 will take time, and many more people of course than just the Quakers. It’s less than two years since the Commitment was made and we need not to default into a “let’s beat ourselves up” mindset – though action is still urgently needed. After all, it took Quakers in America a hundred and one years from when in 1657 George Fox first wrote about slavery in the colonies, to Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in 1758 making slave-trading an enforceable breach of Quaker discipline.

Statistics and scientific predictions can reduce us to guilt-ridden despair. It seems essential to me that we ground any action not in fear, obligation, or from a place of separation from people and planet; but to act out of love, joy, and connection to people and planet. It’s why books such as Keith Farnish’s Time’s Up encourages us to start by nurturing that deep connection. Acting as though people and planet matter is effectively a spiritual practice.

As a part of that spiritual practice, we can “practise giving up”, as Pam Lunn puts it in Costing Not Less Than Everything. We can usefully get used to doing with less, and so build our own and others’ resilience, in anticipation of disruption to infrastructure and services. When roads are closed because of the weather; when we can’t fly because of volcanic ash; when in the face of all protests a post office is closed and fewer services are available locally – “treat this as practice” for the future. When the British winter went on and on – and on! – earlier this year, and newspapers carried reports of the country about to run out of heating gas, there was an opportunity to practice self-rationing gas usage (if you missed it, other opportunities to practice will no doubt arise). The island of Eigg community, which has its own electricity grid and at times needs everyone on the island to self-regulate their usage, shows what is possible when people really get the link between the availability of resources and their use.

So I’m full of hope – for the future, and for Minute 36. I do not doubt the importance of action, and the centrality of Minute 36 to modern Quaker practice and values. Perhaps one day Quakers will be as well-known for their sustaining of and relationship with the planet we live on, as they are currently celebrated for their abolitionist past.

All the water in the world

May 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

globe with all surface water collected into a small dropletThis stunning image brought home for me the preciousness of water.

We believe we are the blue planet, seven-tenths covered in water; and yet all the water collected together from the air, rivers and oceans – the water we depend on – forms this tiny droplet.

You can see the full image here.

For some this image may simply be a representation of known information in a new and surprising way; for others it might be a ‘wake up’ moment’ – in the same way that the Earthrise photograph (taken by the Apollo 11 space crew) has been dubbed the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.

Or do you remember your first reaction to this statistic: if every human being wants to live like western Europeans, we’ll need three planets to provide all the necessary resources and to cope with the waste. And make that five planets if we all want the lifestyle of North Americans.

It is known that information, on its own, is rarely enough to change behaviour. Images and statistics can sometimes help, though, in bringing a message home.

Drink of water, anyone?

Awakening Social Practice

March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

This new programme is now open for bookings.

Together with co-facilitator and Oasis associate Chris Taylor, we will be addressing the key challenges that commercial and not-for-profit organisations are facing today: how to ensure future sustainability, growth and reputation, at the same time as becoming more globally responsible.

Key questions that participants can bring to this three-day programme:

  • To what extent is it necessary to think about my organisation in terms of more than just simple (economic) survival?
  • What are relevant ways in which my organisation can engage with and be effective on environmental, social and ethical issues?
  • Which models and frameworks would enable my organisation to:
    • Address the triple bottom line (economic sustainability, social good and the environment)
    • Measure impact
    • Establish effective processes for cultural and behavioural change by individuals and the organisation as a whole?
  • How do I stimulate change in my organisation to engender a purpose relevant to the 21st century?

Course prospectus: Awakening social purpose; for more information contact me, or contact Oasis  01937 541700 to reserve your place.

Hope as a state of mind

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Reading Vaclav Havel’s autobiography of his presidency of Czechoslovakia and then the Czech Republic, has reminded me of one of my favourite quotes – a quote that both advances my thinking and inspires me to action.

Havel wrote:

“The kind of hope I often think about (especially in situations that are particularly hopeless, such as prison) I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. We have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul; it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.

Hope is not a prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.”

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing entries tagged with Inspiring action at John Gray.