quiet bravery

While I concocted some lunch food (fig and goats cheese, and gnocchi and roasted vegie salads; burghul with currents, lemon and pistachios) Maria and her friends sat on the deck and talked until the afternoon became the evening. This is an amazing bunch of women.

The stories they tell, one after another, would not even be construed by commercial TV current affairs producers. We laugh embarrassed laughs at the near comical scenarios, I wouldn’t believe them possible if I’d heard them second-hand. The people they work with are amongst the most broken in the community and they regularly fall (or jump) through the cracks in the system inadequately designed to support them.

We sit there on our ponsy deck eating bobo food. Polite society carries on while people improvise on the margins. This group of friends have their own incredible journeys … and yet they find the strength to give of themselves everyday with no recognition.

I’ve worked briefly with Simon McKeon. He is an extraordinary person who deserves being named Australian of the Year for 2011. But with no disrespect for Simon, women like these are equally deserving. They work with some of the most difficult people. The conditions they work under would not be tolerated by large numbers of us. They are creative, even eccentric in the way they turn up every day and seek to make life better for others. What they do demands skill, grace and perseverance … everyday. And it is mostly invisible.

They are a testament to the beauty of humanity.

It makes me think about the way the tertiary educated community serves others. We think our way to service. We have theories, frameworks and ideologies that fortify us. And I smile when I hear these women talk about how useless many formally trained social workers are.

Perhaps it is in part because we are uncomfortable, in formal work and educational environments, talking about the one thing that makes the biggest difference. The thing that we all acknowledge is the most important thing in life, yet the thing that we talk about least in our professions. Love.

Gravity, love and exotic anticipation

The glass half empty view would suggest that 18 odd hours in economy class is unredeemable … however with so little time to sit still in recent weeks I found myself relishing the prospect. I had a pile of bits and pieces of work to review and then a veritable feast of interesting things to feed my mind and soul on.

One of the articles was a fascinating piece Mohan passed on to me called “The Universe is a Green Dragon: reading meaning in the cosmic story” by Brian Swimme. The main reason I enjoyed it was his linking of gravitational attraction to love. You’re joking aren’t you, I hear you say …

I love physics, and I must confess gravity has always held a special place for me. This extraordinary attractive force between any objects with mass, that no one can explain. We can model it and predict how it will behave – yes, but why it happens remains a mystery. Swimme suggests that since the universe is all made of the same stuff, and it is expanding since its original creation, the forces that bring us together are fundamental to our long term sustainability. It has been said that love makes the world go around, after reading Swimme I’m more inclined to say that love holds the world together.

(As I write, I’ve just witnessed an amazing anecdote of cultural expression. I’m sitting here in an airport in the Middle East surrounded by unfamiliar décor, sounds and smells. An Anglo looking woman asked if she could sit on the other side of my table … despite being 12:30am the place is packed and buzzing and places to sit are very rare. All of a sudden she exclaimed (we hadn’t really talked except exchanged pleasantries) that she’d left her watch on the plane, a watch that her father had given her for her 50th birthday.

I offered to watch her bags for her while she scurried back to see if it was recovered in the cleaning process. She said, “You are an Aussie aren’t you? I’m an Irish Australian so I trust you explicitly. Thanks.” And off she went.

She just returned a few minutes ago, and said, “Only an Aussie would offer to do that.” I suggested that wasn’t necessarily the case, but she argued that in her experience it was certainly more likely. The point I involuntarily end up thinking is the trust that comes with familiarity. Both ways.

Would I have offered if it had been a white robed local? Would they have accepted?)

Back to my smorgasbord of in-flight reading. Having been enriched by two of Alain de Botton’s other books (Status Anxiety and The Architecture of Happiness) I keenly purchased his The Art of Travel alongside Jeffrey Sach’s new title, CommonWealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet. I haven’t touched Sachs yet, but de Botton hasn’t disappointed.

I loved his essay on anticipation. He discusses how our idyllic notions of a place, especially from a holiday perspective, are often unrealised when we are actually there. His striking conclusion, when reflecting an episode from his own travels is, “A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making its first appearance; that I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island.”

So here I am in an unquestionably exotic location. I look out my hotel window at the distinctly Arab architecture and air thick with humidity to the Gulf and the mountains in the distance. The opportunities for connection with extraordinary people and ideas over the next week at the Society for Organisational Learning Forum are significant. I hope the reality that I’ve bought myself, with my own insecurities, prejudices and biases doesn’t get in the way.