Saturday, 09 March 2013 11:00

The Experiment

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“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

I have been thinking lately about how funding dictates how we work with people, whoever those people may be, and how it does not take into account the needs of the individual. And I recognise, of course, that funding cannot do that to any great extent because funding is limited to what the taxpayer can provide. And there seem to be a bunch of researchers who inform the policy makers who inform the government of the day what is required and how the money is best spent. But there seems also to be a problem with Chinese Whispers and with the fact that those who are way at the back of the queue, the consumers of whatever is in question, are mystified by the decisions made and even, and you may find this surprising, do not feel that well served by the decisions that are made on their behalf.

I hear and even witness that consumers are consulted. I’m not sure what happens to their contributions or to the contributions of those who work at ground level. I think I cannot have any impact on that situation. I’m sure the people I work with feel like that. I know that many of my colleagues take the sanguine approach, shrug their shoulders and do the best they can with what they’ve got. Mostly I try to do that. Sometimes I just feel ‘mad’ about it.

I work in the health industry, specifically in mental health, and so these concerns are dear to my heart. They affect my everyday and the days of those I work with. Such decisions affect the way services are delivered and, rather astonishingly to me, often make those services far less accessible than I thought we were setting out to try and make them. I guess I’m also thinking of bureaucracies and I hear a collective groan go up. I find them maddening so I think they must be inexplicably bizarre for the poor souls who rely on them.

But more than this I wonder at my observation that, in my industry, there is very little understanding of how able the consumers are to access services in the way they are offered. In short, service providers often do not seem to wonder about the minds of the mentally ill. The central issue for people who are described as mentally ill is that they are currently unable to think and behave in ways that are accepted as ‘the norm’. This is a very difficult topic to write of in a realistic way because in this world, the world I work in, what is real is often in question.

So I’m sending out a plea today for a ground level change. You know how we are exhorted to change the world by changing what we can in our own little corner of it. Well, let’s do the same thing for our friends and colleagues. Let’s wonder about how they think, how they receive what we say and the events of their lives. Let’s not assume that because that differs from our own responses, it is wrong. Let’s consider difference and let it be, in fact let others be the creators of their worlds, as indeed science is beginning to tell us they and we are. Let’s not make assumptions about what is going on for the other. Let’s ask.

If we all do this and if the planet survives the best efforts of its human inhabitants to destroy it, our descendants may find themselves in a society that takes nothing for granted, that asks: How is this working for you? What are you thinking about this? And when the representative of society that I am writing of discovers difference in the mind and thoughts of the other, this mythical and wondrous person tries to understand!

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