Being good in a crisis requires kindness and compassion - RSA

Being good in a crisis requires kindness and compassion

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  • Picture of Dee Gray FRSA
    Dee Gray FRSA
  • Communities
  • Health & wellbeing

From early years as a nurse on the frontline to coaching medics at the point of burnout; kindness and self-compassion are the subjects discussed in this blog, which takes the reader through a few of my life and career experiences of ‘what I like to be remembered for’ and ‘how I would like to be remembered’. As a new Fellow I invite others to connect with me in order develop ideas and work between us.

I was once asked ‘what would you like to be remembered for’ and ‘how would you like to be remembered’? To the first I answered ‘good in a crisis’ and to the second ‘with kindness’. I still stand by these responses, and if I could have a conversation with my 20 something self, I would say ‘learn to feel the calm during the storm, because your life will be full of them’.

My career started as a nurse, I worked on the frontline and from that frontline perspective, I knew I wanted to and could do more. So I studied law, continuing to nurse while I studied. By chance, I took a job in Radio City in Liverpool as the charity co-ordinator, and then again by chance became the crisis co-ordinator for the Hillsborough disaster. I say chance but it was right place right time, the disaster brought out the best in me and I experienced an abundance of compassion. I went on to teach negligence law in University, and during that time got involved in research.

My research has always been about listening to the voice that has been silenced, I started as a research assistant looking at quality of life issues for the elderly, and then completed an MPhil on career progression for women in the NHS. My PhD brought me full circle from my early legal career in medical negligence working on behalf of the plaintiff, and focused an exploration on how we can support NHS staff to learn from errors. This was tough, not just studying for a PhD, which can frazzle all your brain cells, but the subject was difficult, as I had experienced my own medical error at the birth of my daughter. I found again an abundance of compassion in the relationships I formed during this time, and deeply appreciated that NHS staff are secondary victims of errors, suffering alongside those who have experienced errors first hand. 

Experiencing kindness and compassion is incredibly healing, for all concerned, and creating spaces for this to happen is what flowed from my PhD, this is what I do now through my business and what I will be working on as a Fellow of the RSA. I have found that these spaces are within easy reach, yet are often obscured by old patterns of behaviour and thinking. We can create a safe space for us to share and learn, but within that space we need to trust ourselves to feel kindness, acknowledge it and allow it to melt us a little.

After my University career, I worked with Welsh Government, during which time I trained as a coach with the wonderful Professor Jonathon Passmore, subsequently working with senior officials and executives in frontline services. 

I continue to coach and use coaching in the design of all of my resilience and wellbeing programmes. In recent years, I developed these programmes for young carers, adult carers in employment, and full time carers in the community. Unsurprisingly the common ground between all of the people I have worked with involves surfacing the good in the other and offering understanding to open up hearts and minds to becoming what I call their ‘best self’. Being with people when they make changes to becoming their ‘best self’ is wonderful. In my experience, the catalyst to this change is having self- compassion, yet for many of the people I work with, switching on this light can be a bit of a struggle. Not because they lack compassion, the opposite is true, people who work on the frontline (and I include all carers in this) have bucket loads of compassion, it is just that in order to give to others they often self-sacrifice. Which is not a good space to be in as this is where we will find fatigue and burnout…..oh and a nice big dollop of guilt for not being superhuman.

Helping others to feel compassion does not always require verbal language either, a few years ago I was invited to run masterclasses in Qulturrum in Sweden (Qulturrum is a wonderful place, where the heart leads innovation). In one of the classes I offered to coach in open forum anyone who wanted to explore resilience, someone who had an unresolved challenge…In stepped Yves, a courageous French man who had very little English. So we began and continued with the visual aspects of the model I designed, and using sign language and drawing together we uncovered what troubled him. When it was out in the open, we sat looking at each other and I saw the fear and courage in his face…. and all I had to do was to hold his gaze, and nod in acknowledgement…and with all the kindness I could summon gently smile at him….and there it was…..the change the shift…the release. Later he came to me with a colleague who spoke good English and she translated how it had felt for him. “ Exposed because of all the others looking, then he forgot them, then he felt vulnerable because he knew he was getting close to the problem, and then when he knew that I knew his problem and held him safe he could let it go…and now he feels different but can’t describe it”.

I am only just starting out with the RSA but I sincerely hope that we will forge many collaborations and share ideas with you. I see many synergies already, our genuine desire to leave the planet a better place for us being here will I am sure see us connecting and after we have met I hope that we will remember each other with kindness.

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  • Hi Dee

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. Much of your journey resonates with me, as does the need for kindness and compassion in our interactions with others - in our personal and professional / public lives.

    My early career was as a nurse – so kindness and compassion was part of my DNA. When working in social care, like you, I was involved with supporting people following the Hillsborough disaster; again caring and kindness, I regarded as integral to my personal and professional persona.

    My teaching career began in adult literacy. Supporting people with acquired brain injury and stroke, helping them to re-learn reading and writing skills was a delight and a privilege. It has subsequently informed much of my teaching practice in higher education.

    My career journey took me to support people in economically deprived areas – helping local people to set up social and community businesses. During this time I undertook a Masters in Social Enterprise and a PhD in women’s entrepreneurship – driven by a growing unease with an underlying social narrative about business that I felt to be aggressive and uncaring. This narrative still underpins many of the business support services provided.

    Currently I work part time as an associate lecturer in the Open University Business School. Many of the business undergraduates that I support have complex learning needs, and I see kindness and compassion as integral to my role.

    I am also a volunteer business mentor with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women which supports women entrepreneurs in emerging and developing countries.

    At the moment I am in the process of setting up a business coaching enterprise to help women fulfill their dreams of setting up in business and become economically independent. It is in an embryonic stage, so sharing my story has helped in forging a direction.

    Having just rejoined RSA after taking a break to care for my mum, who recently died, having had dementia for several years, I am keen to re-connect with RSA Fellows, to collaborate and share ideas.

  • This describes a fascinating career, and it is much clearer to me now, how your experiences have informed your resilience and wellbeing programmes. 

    • Thank you Alan, I think we all tend to gravitate towards things that help us to make sense of the world. It is a bonus if by making sense we can help others too.

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