Tuesday 25 June 2024

Itches, Words, Bots, Negativity and Dangerous Spaces for "The Good At Heart"

 



I don't know when the itch this idea developed, I do however know why. I'm a member of a small number of groups on Facebook, ones where contemporary and historical photographs are shared and within the area of rich industrial heritage, there are, as you might expect, plenty of opportunities to create posts that allow us to view the past, present and the future possibilities. All good, all innocent and well intentioned.  An unfortunate trend has however emerged: one that seems to have been nurtured in a petri dish of anger, false despair and bitterness. It goes a bit like this:


"Back in the good old days when you could walk around without being stabbed"
"It doesn't look like the Birmingham I knew, and we all know why"
" Merry Hill destroyed our town"
"The Trams are useless-what's the point of connecting empty towns?"
"Councillors are too busy looking after themselves..."
"Immigrants get everything, we get nothing"

You get my drift..

It Depends Where You Point the Lens

I have no pretentions of being a photographer, that skill set resides elsewhere in my family. I do know though, that a visual narrative is pretty much shaped by where you point the lens: in short, you'll see what you are looking for. I feel a similar premise applies to how images are portrayed, purposed, interpreted and assisted by a handful of cleverly clich├ęd, smart statements that are an "in the know" nudge and a wink in the direction of those who seek to disparage and sneer, sowing and nurturing uncertainty and mistrust in so doing.

A Product of History, Politics and Decisions?

There's an interesting view that the demise of Birmingham began shortly after the end of WW11. With the exception of London, Birmingham was the UK's most bombed city: it's vibrant engineering and manufacturing industries made it a natural target. It made was planes (notably the Spitfire, vehicles, armaments and munitions From the first raid (Erdington 1941), 4,600 homes were blown up, more than 13,000 were badly damaged, some 2,200 people were killed and around 13,000 seriously injured (Carl Chinn, "Brum Undaunted"). Nonetheless, Birmingham's immediate and emergent post-war prosperity was the nation's highest outside of London. Businesses were attracted to the West Midlands and this didn't sit well with Whitehall, the general feeling being that the draw of bigger cities drew investment away form other areas.

The Distribution of Industry Act 1945 provided money for factories in deprived areas, while demanding that all large industrial developments be approved by the Board of Trade. The effect was to prevent industrial growth in Birmingham and prevent new industries from going there. There was an emergent ideological issue too: that growth should occur in new towns and in order to live there, jobs were needed. To support this, new manufacturing sites required an Industrial Development Certificate, ((IDC), and the IDC prevented any company expanding or building without one. new manufacturing sites required an Industrial Development Certificate, ((IDC): IDCs were refused in the old industrial areas, but granted in the new. By 1974 it was estimated that the West Midlands had ‘exported’ 82,000 jobs.

How do we make a bad time worse?

As part of an intentional strategy to prevent the City's expansion, "The Control of Office and Industrial Development Act 1965," was extended to Birmingham by Harold Wilson’s Labour government, the result of this was that the City was effectively unavailable to service the area's wealth generating manufacturing industries via a vibrant and aspirational financial sector: there were severe restrictions on the development of offices within the City, thus further restricting job diversity and aspirational growth at the same time increasing dependence on the existing automotive industry and its associated trades: when it came undone, it came undone quickly. The region suffered on a well trodden path. With its wealth and prosperity (the very attraction to large migrant communities) diminishing, so did its tolerance of "incomers" and their first and second generation families. Existing internal divisions were, I suggest, re-awakened by increased social and economic pressures.



"Theyism" 

The "nudge wink, we know," group and its toxic impacts? There's a focus on race, cultural identity, social change and some groups receiving more favourable treatment than others. I would, with reservations, suggest that it has been forever thus: events leading up to The Murphy Riots in Birmingham (18670), exploited and built on growing anti-Catholic/Irish feelings that fed into the diatribe of a skilled and gifted mob orator. If we substitute ethnicity, nationality and culture with contemporary groups, it seems fair to suggest that a powder keg of equally destructive potential awaits its spark, one that is generated in the dialogue of "Theyism," examples of which are:

"They are a law unto themselves!"                
"They think they own the place!"
"They hate us!"
"They have taken our jobs, our houses and have lowered our wages!"
"They are criminals!"
"They don't belong here"

It was in alive and kicking then and continues now, the difference being that there is a different and further reaching applications of the "they" word: an application that has thrived in the previously mentioned petri-dish and, that they are accelerated and amplified by social media's purposeful and vampiric bias toward contributions that increase anxiety, anger, division and Theyism

Doing Things Differently: "If you always do what you always did...etc"

It seems that there's a long-standing disconnect between Birmingham and the Black Country and I'm not too sure how helpful this is when attempts are made to elevate the region, particularly in the contexts of its economic interdependence, cultural similarities and an ongoing, challenging, continuing evolution. Perhaps a better definition of the challenge might help and without this being a prescription, here's a suggestion:

We can not stay here, socially, culturally and economically, it makes no sense not only to stagnate but to regress. There is no point in externalising the problem, and no value in over internalising it. We need to develop, deliver and talk about a Skills Strategy, A Jobs Strategy, A Learning Strategy, A Housing Programme and A Health and Well Being Strategy. We need to invest in new futures, exploring new economic activities that support our communities, our homes and our precious environment. We need to be a "we", not a potentially divided map of "they". We should strive be "The Good at Heart"

Itch scratched: for now!

Saturday 25 June 2022

Immigration and Conversation

What Would You Do About Immigration?


I still do some teaching: a couple of days a week Tutorial Support. It's relaxed and largely free of the questionable belief that the way to get everyone to move faster is to insist that we all drive in the outside (fast?) lane. It helps because I have a great colleague who believes more or less the same!

I started teaching in 1976 and my joy wasn’t so much about getting facts, dates and procedures across to the kids, it was about providing opportunities to challenge, think and reflect. I was lucky: you can do this pretty seamlessly in English & Drama (my subjects), nonetheless you have some way to create your own luck. That said, I was helped by great colleagues, a sense of fun, a flexible approach to curriculum design and delivery and some fantastic young people


I’m still in touch with a few of them on Facebook. They make me feel old and young at the same time and we sometimes embrace some challenging ideas. Hence the above question. It felt right to

  1. Answer it

and

  1. To do so with respect to the questioner and the subject matter


I’m trying hard to distance myself from snarky take downs-hence this post. And this feels important because there are a few rules to the game of dialogue that appear to have been (by and large) dismissed on Social Media and, yes I’ve been part of this too! So here are four to apply here:


  1. “Don't talk, listen!”

    1. Or in Social Media World-Read!

  2. Express empathy

    1. Mocking people because of their views isn’t going to help dialogue

    2. Having and displaying some respect for them may help us move to the next bit…

  3. Find common ground

    1. What stories, experiences and views do we have that might help establish the above?

  4. Get ready to “play a long game” and to agree to differ.


Origins


The title question came out of a conversation surrounding the issues around Rwanda, and the circumstances that led up to the government’s decision to proceed. It’s a volatile and emotive subject: one that in my view deals with effects rather than causes. The government is quite rightly, abhorred by the impacts of people trafficking and feels that its decision will “break the business model.” I don’t believe it will and here’s why.

The business of people trafficking is lucrative. It is organised by people with wealth, power and connectivity. It thrives on poverty, famine, economic distress,  war and social collapse. Those who are paid to traffic people are in my view, victims too. They have the promise and the opportunity to access wealth and power otherwise denied to them and they are prepared to sacrifice their humanity to acquire it, grow it and keep it. It’s a model that has been in place for centuries and we can’t expect it to change: or can we?


The promise/threat of being sent to Rwanda will not stop people trafficking, It might shift the means and focus but stop it? No. Action is needed at global level, we are dealing with an interconnected global problem, one that is conceived in the womb of famine, oppression, economic helplessness and war. We need to fix the cause at the same time as we deal with the effect.


What Could Happen and Shifts Required


The assumption that Britain is full and can’t afford an increase in population is flawed. The UK faces labour shortages and at the same time and for little more than increased approval ratings, healthy people who could contribute to the workforce are being considered to be re-exported to Rwanda. The problems and challenges we face within social and cultural groups are felt bi-laterally and there are solutions, ones that can be reached only by dialogue: some “managed reaching out” is needed. This is a contrast to recent strategies, including “Hostile Environment.” There is another flawed assumption, namely that the UK is unfairly burdened by immigration and the influx of refugees that make for good headlines. Yet when we compare ourselvesto how other European countries have responded, this position weakens.

We need to accept that global population movement is likely to be with us for a long time as climate, sea-levels and land usage present challenge after challenge to regions where people are clinging onto life by their collective fingernails, where corruption is rife and life is cheap. In accepting this position, there is a requirement to ask what can be done about the challenges faced. What are the technological solutions to flooding? Can we shift water around from places of plenty to places of scarcity, can we better secure food supplies, create more secure housing and infrastructure? Can we, working with others, create a sense of hope and purpose that encourages people to want to be part of regenerative approaches to their country’s future? You see, I believe we can but as long as the capital to do this resides in the hands of the greedy, I fear the action needed is a long way off.

And In The Meanitime?


At the sharp end, can we and again working with others, create sharper processing procedures? Can we better support reception and gathering points, in short, can we offer hope and fairness? There’s another and less savoury element and it carries the risk of exposing wealthy criminals who (and this is my speculation), enjoy a life that brings them social, political and economic approval: my questions are, how do we go after them and what do we do with them when we’ve identified them? My best guess is that there will be some embarrassing revelations!


My hope for this piece is a simple one: "To increase dialogue." Will it change minds? I’m unsure; there does however have to be a point at which we feel more confident to ask ourselves some questions that have intrinsically uncomfortable answers and options.


Saturday 19 February 2022

The Pandemic & The Influence of "Nation!"

 First things first: this is heavily borrowed from a piece by Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times,

However, I sensed it captured some ideas that have been churning around with me for a while, so please bear with my self confessed plagarism. 


Briefly, what can we learn from the last two pandemic years that might throw some light

on our future paths and for each "big point" is there a regional, local and community message?

Do we go it alone or work with others?

The UK's go it alone stance appeared to have  leaned heavily into an assumed sense of National Identity: British Values etc. But was this really the case.

The effectiveness of the vaccine roll out has been seen to be a product of an isolated approach, however its there a different story beneath the headline and if so, what is it?





Racial Stereotypes Breed Poor Policy

A list that for me began with the Prime Minister stating on national TV something along the lines of,it was "An Englishman's right to go to the pub" Only to close them a week or so later. What assumptions were made about the lifestyles and behaviours, the cultural, social binding rituals that are ignored at our collective peril. There was a wider and more disturbing element toomone that sought to appropriate blame and marginalise.I wonder how keenly this was felt and what the longer term echoes will sound like?

   


Older People = "Out of Sight, Out of Mind"

Whether in care home, at home or admitted to hospital, older people had a rough, rough deal.This observation does not in any way reflect on the outstanding efforts of carers, familiesand communities. It is intended to draw attention to a national position that presented itselfas hand wringing on a grand scale and to no avail!


Gross Inequality is A Deadly (National) Virus

Death rates, infection rates, hospitalisation rates\; you choose.None if it looks good when we consider how we look after whole sections of societywhere the combined impacts of inequality do most damage and continue to do so

.

Fake News is Deadly

..and has fed dangerous assumptions and alignments regarding the virus and other non-related issuesthat have made their way into what has become dangerously normal and with dangerous outcomes.The unbelievable is now believed and dissenters are not to be trusted!



 

Monday 4 October 2021

No Interview Requied

 

Over the last couple of days, I’ve caught up on a couple of programmes that documented the first 24 hours of the D. Day landings:  24 critical hours that eventually lead to the opening of a second front and ultimately, success. It was to use a quotation from another war “A close run thing.”

Dwight D Eisenhower had prepared a note explaining that the invasion had been unsuccessful, and the allies were withdrawing from the Normandy Beaches. It wasn’t needed.



The invasion was a success, and the beach head was secured: a necessary and high-risk strategy had paid off, a triumph of human endeavour, bravery and logistics on a breath-taking scale but of course, not everything worked.

Some Commanding Officers were killed or seriously wounded, and it was suggested that the units under their command broadly did one of two things: they either held their ground or advanced and those that advanced did so under the leadership of someone from the lower ranks who assumed a leadership role. No elections, no debate: this was the very heat of battle. Their adaptability, bravery and determination to accomplish the task in hand came, I suggest, from a deep reservoir of personal qualities that were seen recognised and accepted by others. Their “on the day (s)” contribution led to the Allies ability to grow from beach-head to bridge head and ultimately to victory just under a year later.

Do we in our leadership role recognise our team-members who would in our sudden and unplanned absence, instantly take on the courageous challenges of leadership, securing the permissions and support of other team members when so doing: no debate right now, we’ve got a job to do!

We do something trite and banal when we compare and contrast the bloodless challenges of our 21st Century lives with the war-time savagery experienced by those under live fire or about to be. But we equally fail ourselves if in our leadership roles, we fail to ask ourselves how and by whom we would be replaced at short notice. So, who are your natural choices and where do they currently sit within formal and informal hierarchies and, are they ready?

Wednesday 11 August 2021

A Strong Positive Client Message!

 





I promote my work as a Personal Development Coach on a popular referral site. Prospective clients can take a look at my profile and read some referrals, then decide if we might be a good fit for each other. Pam (not her real name) contacted me; she was concerned about her son, Philip who left university with an in-demand masters’ degree but was finding it difficult to focus on what to do next.


My usual approach is to connect prospective clients to an online strengths survey. Once completed I’m able to use this to discuss how we might use existing strengths to help us navigate our way through some of our challenges.
We also use this as a baseline to consider the strength areas we don’t reach out to, and how we might begin to incorporate them in our behaviours.


Over 5 sessions we have looked at how our strengths can be used to

·         Increase our awareness of our potential by “real time” discussion of where we have used them well.

·         Opened an awareness of what can happen if we overplay/underplay our strengths.

·         Used our strengths to inform how we might handle difficult/challenging situation namely “Stepping Out of Our Comfort Zones”

·         Examined how we perform in conflict/tense situations by referring to a well-established analytical model

·         Considered how we might need to adapt a flexible behavioural approach to dealing with challenge

·         Looked at the role of Emotional Intelligence in achieving great outcomes

·         Developed a powerful, positive personal narrative

Phil as been engaged and open in his appreciation of our work. He has stated that his confidence in a better place and that our programme should be made available to all students leaving Uni! Generous but there are capacity issues!

What do I think has happened? I feel it’s likely that as a coach, I’ve been able to create some thinking space for Phil to explore how he can use his strengths, new understandings and transferable experience to help him access the future he wants.

I’m keen to share my approaches with anyone who would like to increase their confidence, resilience and self-awareness. I can be reached by responding to this piece, DM or by emailing jpd@dy3solutions.mygbiz.com .
It would be great to hear from you!

Monday 21 June 2021

I Wonder What Happened To...

 I've wrtten before about some of my previous work as a Head Teacher in a Pupil Referral Unit. Here's a story from the mid 1990's: just a date, the narrative continues.



We had a mixed group of troubled young people at our centre and the labels didn't mean very much-labels have a tendency to damn the future rather than to explain the past.

When working with troubled kids, there were a few things we did know and "Thing One" was, don't leave them unsupervised (stuff kicks off very quickly!).
I didn't insist on very much from the staff, having a great team for me meant helping them to do their job and we had a few conventions in place to help. The big one was that everyone's "stock-box" (pens, pencils, rulers....that sort of stuff), was replensished daily and before we started teaching. That meant that if an uncomfortable situation was gathering pace, the class teacher might send one of the kids down to the office for a piece of stock-this was a signal that some help was needed and we would take it from there. 

Monday:

Teaching started at 08:45 and at 08:55 one of the learners from Bev's group came down for some staples. I went up and Bev handed me a note

"Chris is in an awful state today!!"

Chris:(a) witty, charming, funny, open, empathetic, cooperative and biddable.

Chris: (b) abusive, quarrelsome, selfish, destructive and rejecting.


........all of the above and more!


I asked Chris to come with me to the office: I asked him how his week-end had been-

Chris: "Bad, man...bad!"

Me: Have you had any breakfast, sleep...that sort of stuff, Chris?

Chris: Nah, it's been a bad week-end.

Me: Sit down there Chris, I'll sort something out

...and in a few minutes he'd had some tea and toast and a few minutes later he was asleep and stayed asleep until 13:00. When he awakened we had version (a) restored. More tea, more toast-he was on a reduced programme and went home at 13:30 ish.

A Bad Week End

Chris had a chaotic homelife, a co-depedent relationship with his mom whose drug and alcohol abuse were accompanied by a number of fee paying sexual partners, some of them stuck around for a while and most of them didn't. Chris seldom had clean clothes and frequently stank of weed.

Chris: (to me on another occasion) It's like this Sir, she has these blokes round and they start on the rum and she gets off her face on this and weed and I have to look after her, I can't stop it but if I'm awake and around maybe that wont hurt her....it's a fucking mess, Sir. They don't want me around and I've said I'll stab 'em if they don't fuck off....

Agencies had tried their best and we were the first educational setting he'd stayed at for anymore than a couple of weeks. Social services were reluctant to take him into care, given that he would almost certainly abscond and there were real concerns about the impact of the decision on his mom's safety.

We all knew what was needed but there was no capacity to deliver the complex support package required to even give us a chance of making some positive impact beyond "rescuing the present in the hope that the future might bring us better times." This did nothing to 

  • reduce his mom's alcohol dependency and drug use
  • decrease mom's vulnerability to sexual exploitation
  • increase her safety
  • increase her agency 
  • address Chris' care needs
  • address Chris' educational needs

....it goes on


Chris continued with us for a few weeks more until he and his mom joined the ranks of sofa-surfers, the invisible, the troubled and troubling. He was never heard of again by our service and I remember him not for the version (b) Chris, but for the version (a). When the light shone from him it was brilliant and so was he: this was a light that at that time was reduced by circumstances beyond his or his mother's control.

Chris will be in his late 30's now....I wonder.....




Thursday 15 April 2021

Do We Understand Our Relationships With Partners & Stakeholders from Their Perspectives?

 

 

I had been involved in a piece of Team Development that related to forming partnerships new stakeholders. It still feels relevant because 
whereas the context changes, the themes remain reasonably consistent:


“How do we influence new and existing stakeholders to help them to grow and develop into the changes we are advocating?”

 

J.K. Rowling seemed to have come across the perfect solution in her “Harry Potter” series: Hogwarts had at its disposal a sorting hat. It put the right people in the right “house:” put the hat on, it spoke, and you were allocated, then on to the next person and so on….








Unfortunately, no such thing exists in our world of getting things done and we are often left to ourselves to try to establish who the supporters of change both internal and external might be. 

It was this way for the team I’d been engaged to work with. I introduced them to  the following quadrant with a view to helping them to understand how we might engage with and develop people as we work with them. It’s a journey and, like all journeys, it works better if know where you’ve started from. Admittedly, knowing where you’re going helps too, but that’s for another time!





 

I’ve applied this in several contests since then and the feedback has been positive:

·         It has helped clarify role and purpose.

·         It has given a deeper and more productive meaning to networks.

·         It has helped to establish clarity.

·         It has informed our actions.

·         It has helped us to achieve “good outputs.”

Of course, the model is pretty sterile without conversations, ones that perhaps ask the following related to each quadrant:


Bottom Right

  • What is expected of them by:
    • Change agents?
    • Their existing team/organisation?
    • What are the boundaries and limitations of their inputs/decision making?

Bottom Left

  • What do we expect of them, what can we contribute?
    • Change agents?
    • Their existing team/organisation?
    • What are the boundaries and limitations of their inputs/decision making?
  • What actions can we take to develop them, increasing their contribution to:
    • Their team(s)/organisation.
    • The project/intervention.
    • Their professional development.
    • Their personal development.
    • Their capacity to inform other decision makers.

Top Left

Clarity rules here!

    • How can we support and develop them within and throughout the process?
    • What values, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs do they bring to the process?
    • What values, attitudes, behaviours and beliefs might we develop and grow to enable them within the process?
    • Where are the areas of potential growth through reciprocity?

Top Right

How might we develop their interest, engagement and commitment/support?:

    • What are the strong messages?
    • What benefits might grow for the organisation?
    • Reputational
    • Developmental
    • Cultural
    • Environmental
    • Financial


The shifting and flexible role of the Coach, Mentor, Facilitator has much to offer here in underpinning the meaning we attach to the specific development, the people involved and our engagement on processes that create high value outputs for those involved.