Saturday, May 10, 2014

What does good look like?

There's a word on my mind. An old-fashioned, Biblical word that I don't seem to hear much these days. It occupies a huge space in my mind because it denotes a quality I always aspired to and frequently failed to demonstrate. I admired the people who were thought to have it. It seemed a mark of maturity. A grown-up, careful, serious word which also carried with it a touch of mystery. 

The word is discernment.

As I've been thinking about the word and this post I've engaged in the time-honoured practice of googling for definitions. At least 90% of the definitions I've found relate discernment to faith and the religious life. I'm particularly struck by this definition,

'Discernment is the trait or process of exhibiting keen insight and good is the ability to see, find and recognize the truth and then know what to do with it. A lack of it has resulted in continuous amounts of false teaching, foolish fads, experiential thrill seeking and distracting doctrine... '

I like the point that it makes about doing something with the truth when you see, find and recognise it; understanding translated to action.

So, why am I thinking so much about discernment?

I just got back from a trip to San Diego where I was invited to be a key note speaker at the annual conference of the Californian Supported Living Network. It was a big deal for me, not just because it's like, totes amazing, man, to have the opportunity to travel as part of my work but to travel the place that, early in my career was the pioneering place...a massive honour and opportunity for me. Like, super far out...
I stayed with the gorgeous Beth Gallagher and her family and completely appreciated their generous hospitality and kindness. Meeting her team at Lifeworks was encouraging. It was so great to see a team trying to put into practice all the things they talk about; celebrating what goes well and sucking all the learning out of the things that don't go according to plan.

I've never been to the USA before...Canada but not America. I was looking forward to the experience and it didn't let me down in anyway. San Diego is a beautiful city. It reminds me of Perth: all the advantages of a big city but still feeling liveable. Beautiful place...wonderful weather...different enough to be interesting but not so different that I was lost and overwhelmed. 

There's something about West Coast people I really like. Sweeping generalisation coming up, I know, but there's an attitude on the West Coast. It's laid back, relaxed, gentle, open. It's one of the things that drew me to Perth. I really liked the people I was meeting. The same thing was true in San Diego, perhaps even more so. For all the 'have a nice day!'s I was hearing, and expecting to find phoney, I just never caught that hollow ring. I met all sorts of people; encountered all kinds of family configurations; celebrated diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, religious and political affiliation. I was struck by a genuine openness and acceptance. I'm sure everyone has their prejudices but  the desire to be open and accepting was there. Everything was cool...everyone was awesome.

The presentations came and went at the conference. Everyone like totally hit it out of the park...they were awesome and we loved them. Everyone. All good. All awesome. Every comment and appreciation heartfelt. The love was real.

And now I'm thinking about discernment. Because, at the risk of sounding...whatever it is I wasn't all awesome. In fact, lots of it was completely average and some of it was garbage...there...I've said it...
And not just in San Diego...not just at the conference but here in Perth and around Australia...I hear it in the UK as well...
(I'm not going to post a list here but come and talk to me and I'll give you examples of what I mean)

I would love to just surrender to the power of awesome and not have to think so hard about some of the stuff that passes as life and work...(is there a difference?)

I want to absolutely appreciate people's efforts and commitment...their outputs are often astonishing...their outcomes lead me to suspect that people are working on the brick...

I keep finding myself in situations where people have no filter or framework for measuring one thing against another and deciding if it's good. They seem to have nothing external they can refer to to act as a guide - or maybe they do have it but don't feel like they have permission to use it.

In our work we have people who have all sorts of experiences - the people being supported and the supporters. Not all of them good, positive, healthy experiences. People are acting them out and people are working them out...except it's the same thing really, just one group get paid for it. When all of that woundedness and hurt and anger and frustration and lack of love and understanding and poor choices...when all of that swirls around then you can be sure that it can be hard to think straight, to know which way is up, to know the right thing to do. 
The more I write about this the more there is to write...and I might have a go at some of that in subsequent blogs when I've given it a bit more thought and maybe heard from some people about what they think of this...
I truly believe that there are times when we need something outside of ourselves to give us clues about what to do next. Something that has some heft, that's stood the test of time and practice. Not some abstract theory, full of big words but something infinitely practical...not simple but certainly clear. Something that's not a guarantee of doing the right thing but which, if we apply it, might make it more likely that a right and good thing happens and less likely that we simply repeat our old patterns of oppression and discrimination.

I believe that there are some ideas around that really fit the bill...Wolfensberger's ideas...not necessarily his writing because, on occasion, what my Dad would have called a 'Philadelphia Lawyer' is required to understand what's going on...John O'Brien's 5 Service Accomplishments and the 5 Valued Experiences and anything else John O'Brien thinks about or writes - you may not see the application immediately but if you live with the words and ideas they will bear fruit...anything written by Michael Kendrick, John Armstrong and Kristjana Kristiansen...Simon Duffy writing about Citizenship...the Values of Inclusion are useful too ( I didn't write them so I feel OK about mentioning them here). There are lots of other people that I find helpful but without these folks I would have no content in what I do.

So...enough of this...I started talking about discernment - 'the ability to see, find and recognise truth...'. It's not the same as some sort of magical thinking. Awareness, knowledge and understanding lead to discernment. If we stop learning, if we fall asleep, we're in trouble...

I feel that it's time to go back to our books...not simply doing in order to justify our wages...but thinking...discerning as we go...adding value to our work.

And a final thought...

To think is excellent;
To pray is better;
To love is everything

Elisabeth Leseur