Tag Archives: emotion


Have you seen the film Spotlight?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on and there’s a fair share of blame to go around. I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived, but all of you have done some very good reporting here. Reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this“. (Spotlight, 2015)

It’s one of those films that everyone should see.

It’s powerful, and poignant, and reminds us all that we are only human. And with that we are fallible. And with that we have a responsibility to other people who we live beside. Even if we are in a different layer/corner of society your paths do cross if you choose to notice – Siobhan Sheridan illustrates this here.

A year ago this week a 13 year old girl was found hanging in some bushes a few streets away from her family home. Close to houses on an estate. 10 miles away from where I live. I’m not one to get upset about the tragedy of other people in the news. I’m not fazed when we lose a celebrity and I can easily detach myself from a reality that isn’t mine. This time though, I sobbed. I knew we had let her down.

The media story told us she had been missing for 3 days after running away from home, following an argument with her parents (Mum and Step-Dad). For those 3 days they were in the news daily – pleading and begging for her safe return. He was particularly moved and emotional on camera, and the community they’d recently moved to live within came out in force to search the streets (just not thoroughly enough).

As soon as her face appeared in the local news as ‘missing school girl’ her last name caught my attention. For me, immediately there was more to this story than suicide. I felt nauseous. This wasn’t flippant arm-chair-psych accusation. Her step-dad is my step-cousin.

My childhood was wonderful, and I used to love spending time my 3 step-cousins. We always had adventures. That makes it sound like Enid Blyton. It wasn’t. We lived in a village, they lived in a town – it was much more fun! By adventures read: played out all day and returned later than we should.

I had always known something wasn’t quite as right or as good for them. Either my Mum shared concerns with us and gave us warnings about keeping safe, or I overheard too much adult conversation.

We’re the same age, and we ended up in the same secondary school. We became close, although he was someone it was increasingly hard to be close to. He had a troubled time at school and I was often called out of my lesson to help calm him. He was ‘popular’ but maybe for the wrong reasons, he was often fighting. He trusted me.

And now whilst writing I’m searching my memory for anything he disclosed that I could have told someone else. I wonder if I would have done anyway, and if he’d have wanted me to. Maybe this is my adult, safeguarding-trained, experienced YP practitioner mind at work. (I’ve deleted the red flags that my fingers were itching to record next to each of the paragraphs above like a risk assessment check-list). When do we stop asking questions that can’t be answered? We let him down.

Later on after various incidents, the kind where you tire of your friend taking advantage of your kindness or generosity for example, time and life meant we drifted apart. Only to be reunited if we were out in town at the same time and literally bumped into each other.

Later on I read that he was in court, for enduring cruelty to animals. Later on still I read that he was in prison for fraud. And then out. We were friends on Facebook. Last year I read his Step-Daughter had suicided after going missing for 3 days.

It went quiet. Then this week I read that the ‘Serious Case Review’ is almost ready to be published. A Serious Case Review “takes place after a child dies or is seriously injured and abuse or neglect is thought to be involved” (NSPCC)

It takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one” (Spotlight, 2015)

Empathy II

I’m not afraid of public speaking

In fact, if you say ‘Go’!

Right now

There are 2 things I would talk about – in no priority order

1. Is alcohol…everything about it

2. Is empathy…everything about it

Whilst it used to be my naive ambition to “reduce crime and stop child abuse”, now my passions lie firmly in the two items above. I got wise and gave up on the original ambition. Or …?

What is empathy?

You can define it

You can learn it

You can express it

But you’ll only truly understand it’s power when you feel it. That moment when another person expresses it in an attempt to test a hypothesis about how you’re feeling right now. Or about how that is or was for you. When someone listens and truly sees you. Makes the effort to truly see the part of you that is real and not yet seen. That blow to the gut. That good vulnerability. You’re accepted. You’re understood. You’re valued.

Thank you for that.

You didn’t feel what I felt – how could you. Nor did you attempt to. Your imagination was guided by your ability to notice everything I was communicating. In the safety and mutuality created when the power has moved out of the powerful and into the space between us where empathy passes. You permitted my permission to be me. And so I grew. I changed.

There will be two books: 1. Alcohol. 2. Empathy. Both will be forever here. Making the world go round.

Empathy I

You say it’s innate. We either have it or we don’t. Like a personality trait you can own and admire in others.

Others say it’s learnt. The capacity is innate, in all of us, and in fact just believing it’s learnable will impact how effectively you demonstrate it when the stretch is a little further. A little harder.

You can walk in another’s shoes. See from another’s perspective. Use your imagination to understand how the world looks, feels, lands for that person, over there. What wonder. What richness.

Your sympathy and “sorry for” feelings; your identifying with similarities; self-indulgently hold no strength when it comes your ability to express empathy.

It builds bridges that don’t need crossing. The bridge itself is enough. The attempt to build the bridge is enough. The belief there can be a bridge is…

Empathy opens, connects, warms. Empathy is sharp, it wounds, it can hurt. Ready or not, here it comes.

I’m wondering how you are and knowing enough to see, and when it’s painful I feel it. Even though I don’t want to. I search for the switch. What’s learnt and can be un-learnt.

Personal Responsibility

For the past 14 months I’ve been blending academia and professional practice through a taught course at uni. Mostly I like the student discount, but I’ve also been like a pig-in-muck when it comes to the literature. Subsequently working on my curating and literature reviewing skills, and trying to live up to expectations of desirable masterliness.
Last Saturday was a full day of learning on site, in a classroom, with a group of 18 and a fantastic lecturer, who understands how not to lecture but to lead and enable learning. My brain aches at the end of a Saturday like this, but I love spending my time this way, in an adult learning environment, with good discussion, and brilliant people to learn with and from. It ignites and fills up my energies, like Covey’s ‘fire within’. What’s more, because I’m studying learning and people, it’s constantly a subjective and objective experience. I find myself critiquing not just the theories, models and content, but also the style in which the session is being delivered. The communication, the influencing, the language, the meanings, the lecturing, the responsiveness, the discussion, confidence, behaviours, dynamics, environment, the little things, the big things – what’s working what isn’t. As a result I discover theories to test.
Then something happened.
A guest lecturer arrived to talk about creativity in organisations, explaining that facilitating creativity requires boundaries and structure, and followed with some such activities. The group task was explained. In fact the task was over-explained and we were asked to repeat back what the instruction was which left me wondering why. Do you assume we can’t manage it? Teacher-pupil. Then off we went to do it, and returned to present to the others our demonstrable ‘creative problem solving’ skills and learning, fitting the brief and structure we’d be assigned.
But, one group got it wrong. They’d misunderstood the instruction resulting in a piece of work/learning ready to share, that was wrong. It was determined as wrong by: “so you didn’t do it. Would you like to tell the group about what happened here” …and I laughed whilst no one else did. The owner of that last statement had a facial expression that could go either way. Did I laugh because it was funny? Or because it was awkward? Or (on reflection) because surely that could only have been intended as light comedy? Suddenly I found myself in and watching the stuff I dislike about pedagogical attitudes that shroud pedagogical learning. Resultant humiliation. Born out of a lack of laughter, and awkwardness, and one person’s authoritative ability to make others look stupid when they fail to behave as desired or expected. In a collaborative learning session about creativity, the distance between them/us and lecturer grew, and the open space diminished. Or maybe that’s a complete mis-interpretation.
Whilst our reactions are just that: reactive, there are always different ways to react. No one can ‘make you feel’ stupid unless that’s what you already believe about yourself. Somewhere, in our personal iceberg of values, beliefs, attitudes, etc. As an automatic thought, in that situation, in that dynamic, in that environment, in that context, the scenario permitted you to default to ‘I’m stupid‘. My 3 course mates sat silently, looked down and across at each other, they didn’t laugh, they barely reacted and yet communicated so much. They didn’t stand up and say “we didn’t do that but we did this bit…” and share. They didn’t take a mutual position in communicating with the lecturer and own this interaction as 50% theirs (or 75%). The assumed position was that of less, smaller, and one of the 3 later privately explained she was “gutted that we got it wrong” and had a named person to blame. How did this happen? Emotion and learning definitely go together but like this, I’m not so sure.

Does this even matter? Maybe they’d learnt stuff and demonstrating this to everyone else didn’t matter. Have I spent this finger energy analysing something irrelevant?

It matters because it’s 2015 and we still have formal learning situations giving taught courses a bad reputation, contradicting the skills under development at masters level. This above scenario is neither mature or mutual. Criticality and reflexivity need nurturing and practicing to become fluent. Who’s responsibility it is to enable a learning relationship where these can thrive?

I’ve been in situations where the following have been exclaimed:
“teach me something then”
“I’ve been doing this for years I’m not sure what else I can learn”
“Oh you’re a hypnotist, hypnotise me then”
“Oh you’re a comedian, make me laugh then”
I’m not a hypnotist nor comedian but each demonstrate the point.
As Phil Wilcox writes here about the underlying meaning and connotation of language in questioning, I wonder what such statements communicate. Who’s responsibility is my experience? Who’s responsible for learning? When there’s talk of accountability, what is really being communicated?
Then there’s entrenched learnt behaviour within addiction “if you don’t do [demand] then I will have to [high risk behaviour]” and it’s thrown like a grenade which you auto-catch. The fear of personal responsibility and not knowing how to own it, because so many times it’s been taken away. Like the manager who hears your problem, takes it, and solves it. Like the advice-giver who knows “what you need to do”. Like the teacher who gives you the right answer because maybe you asked for it. You sat waiting for it, because it was quicker, it was easier. Job done.

There is room for something else.
Is there room for something else?