Mixed blessings

This month was doing its best to convince me it didn’t
exist. Unprecedented in recent times, things seemed to be falling
into and staying in place. Then I pick up the phone and have one of
those frozen moments – a colleague who I’d call a dear friend
has died suddenly and unexpectedly.

Years ago when I was very new and very eager he took me under
his wing and let me in on his rules for survival.

A bit of a maverick, he seemed to know everyone who you needed
to know and a fair number you’d rather not, always able to
pick a path through the people, the politics and the ups and

His enduring philosophy and message was never forget that
“people are important” and that they are the reason you are in this
work. I have felt stuck many times in the years since, but this
message has always been a fixed point on the compass with which to
relocate and then keep going – keep people at the centre of

In true community development style he embraced the values of
patience. If you want “real” enduring change, it takes time and
“you have to keep starting things up to keep them going”. This was
not a cheap excuse for inactivity but certainly many others
underestimate quite how much patience and time is sometimes

“Try to listen more than you talk” was the other mantra. This
was part of his survival kit that I have wrestled with most and
still need to do some further work on. Even in emergencies I still
try to talk rather than listen my way out of trouble.

The final section of his survival induction covered the concepts
of laughing and strong tea. I excelled on the strong tea, to such
an extent that I am still trying to wean myself off the caffeine.
Laughing had several sub-sections but the main one was being able
and prepared to laugh at yourself and the chaos that sometimes
engulfs you, this prevails as an essential component of everyday
work life for me.

Recently I said to him that I would not have fancied being his
manager. Not because he didn’t tick all the boxes, because he
did. It was his determination to overwrite what was in the boxes
before he did the ticking that was difficult.

I hope I’m wrong but it feels like this sort of informal
induction is on the decline. My early lessons have helped me
survive and the messages about people, time and laughing are as
important to me today as when I first heard them.

I will miss my friend. I’m not sure how he would have told
me to manage something like this but I suspect he would have said
on some days you’ve just got to remember to laugh and “keep
on keeping on”. Cheers.

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