Published on Charity Village
Date: 31st August 2022
This article is an excerpt from Conscious Service: Ten Ways to Reclaim your Calling, Move beyond Burnout, and Make a Difference without Sacrificing Yourself (Hazelden Publishing, Publication Date: April 2022) and is reprinted with permission.
What happens to our health when our happiness is seen as optional in our organizations, or when we’re stressed by competing demands? What happens to our presence in and commitment to our work in these times?
The view from joy is vastly different from the view from despair. When I feel good, I have greater understanding and compassion. When I’m feeling bad, I become more cynical. Feeling bad makes it more likely that I will see myself as bad. Remnants of shame often become more evident when we are distanced from the energy of love. This can create an opening for self-abandonment to creep in. Maladaptive and addictive behaviours are directly related to the state of our health and happiness. When we exist in a state of balance and harmony, there is little desire to seek outside of self to feel better. It’s not even a question.
When we are in the business of service to humanity, these concerns must affect our organizational commitments. We are entitled to receive the benefits that we offer the people who depend on our care. Our health, happiness, and well-being must be part of the equation. Our organizations’ mandates call them to respond to our needs just as we respond together to those we serve. We cannot have one without the other.
When we service providers become overwhelmed and feel overlooked—when we begin to slide into spaces of self-abandonment and despair—it is crucial that we can experience our work communities as safe havens. Just like individual service relationships can be secure containers for crisis and incubators for healing, our organizations can hold these things when we need them ourselves. We need built-in support to explore what ails us, and we need active partners in the restoration of our physical, emotional, and behavioural health.
So, how do we do this?
A community’s responsibility to people on the brink of self-abandonment begins long before that crucial moment of crisis. We have to build relationships of trust—relationships with the strength to contain the types of transformation we explored in the last chapter. The more we invest in relationships of mutual respect, patience, and intuitive intimacy, the earlier we’ll be able to recognize when those around us might be challenged by things they aren’t talking about.
Transformative relationships are most easily cultivated when everyone is feeling good, open, receptive and healthy. In times of conflict or collective stress, it can be easy to shy away from friends and colleagues when we’re struggling personally. Taking the time to cultivate transformative relationships in the easier seasons builds a bridge that you can cross when someone has slipped into self-isolation.
With this groundwork laid, you will have the courage required to open up sensitive conversations and ask difficult questions. To do this is to demonstrate loving-kindness. This gesture may be the key to another’s restoration.
Many service providers pride themselves on their ability to show up for other people in ways that many would see as being superhuman in nature. In the process, we can get used to bypassing our own needs and, before we know it, we slip into a hole of self-abandonment so deep that our only chance of survival is to reach out for someone’s hand.
As a service provider, there will be times when you are that hand for others and times when you will need another’s hand to cling to. Be willing to flow in that reciprocal space. Reach out when you need to, and extend when you can.
Suspend judgment and see beyond it. We don’t need to concern ourselves with how someone has found themselves in their circumstances or why they didn’t seek support sooner or how easy it appears, from where we sit, to make the necessary changes or fix the situation. When we extend our hand to someone who is struggling, our only concern is to be real and present with the intention of being kind.
Culture is what we do. The integrity of our cultures of care depends on how what we do relates to who we say we are together. The culture we create demonstrates how we support our community as well as how we define it. Any organizational policy or set of guiding values that articulate or suggests an approach of openness, acceptance, kindness, and compassion for those served by the agency must extend the same to those who serve within the agency.
Elizabeth Bishop is the author of Conscious Service: Ten Ways to Reclaim your Calling, Move beyond Burnout, and Make a Difference without Sacrificing Yourself (Hazelden Publishing, Publication Date: April 2022). Elizabeth is also a Professor at Confederation College.