On the Mountain - Roles or Relationships
Reflections on the We Chose to Climb Conference in Glasgow: True security lies in the quality of our relationships.
Today the theme of second day of We Chose to Climb was clear and strong - not power - but relationships. The event itself was full of wonderful content - stimulating and moving - and again and again the presenters made the same point: what makes a positive difference is the reality of the relationship between two people.
And, after all - as Nick Andrews said: Who is helping who?
- If I am Nadia’s personal assistant, am I helping her to get about and to communicate, or is she helping me to learn more and to earn a living?
- If I am a social worker trying to establish a fair individual budget for Nadia, am I helping her or is she giving me an important paid job and the opportunity to develop?
- If I am a senior manager organising disability services, am I helping her or is she giving me the means to have status and influence?
The answer is obvious - both are true - we help each other.
But actually that is not the critical question. The critical question is: Do we each behave as if we know that both are true?
I am afraid I have used this quote before - it is one of those observations I find so powerful:He [Rebbe Shmelke] said: “The rich need the poor more than the poor need the rich. Unfortunately, neither is conscious of it.”
That is, interdependence is the only human reality. But if we don’t see our relationships as interdependent then we run the risk of creating a sense of worthless dependence on the one side and prideful disrespect on the other.
Of course good practitioners and professionals avoid this trap - everyday - they work with proper humility and respect - they understand the value of the other human being - in any circumstance.
What I think Self-Directed Support offers us is the opportunity to be more explicit about the true nature of that relationship. It does not aim to give the people who need assistance undue power over those who support them; instead it is as an effort to ensure that, when you need assistance, then you know that you are entitled to receive it and direct it. Receiving assistance should not feel like getting a charitable gift where the assistance is defined and controlled by someone else.
Rights are not at war with relationships - rights can restore us to proper relationship.
Self-directed support might be said to rebalance power relationships. Or perhaps better, self-directed support gives us the chance to build new forms of power together - in a relationship of equality.
But this is only the first step.
It is the human quality of that relationship that matters.
Sarah Taylor cited Martin Buber, one of the key thinkers of the twentieth century, who proposed that we can distinguish two radically different ways of relating ourselves to others:
The world is twofold for man in accordance with his twofold attitude.
The attitude of man is twofold in accordance with the two basic words he can speak.
The basic words are not single words but word pairs.
One basic world is the word pair I-Thou.
The other basic word is the word pair I-It; but this basic word is not changed when He or She takes the place of It. Thus the I of man is also twofold.
For the I of the basic word I-Thou is different from that in the basic word I-It.
What Buber argues, in his classic I and Thou, is that there is all the difference in the world between seeing another person as just an object (may be a clever, active or pleasant object) and seeing them as a true person. For Buber this is connected to a theology that sees an element of God in everyone. But, even the non-religious, might recognise that, when we really connect with another person, we must be open to the power - the light - that burns within them.
This may seem a long way from the day-to-day realities of self-directed support, social work or personal assistance. But, up on the mountain, is this not the critical factor:
- Can we rely on each other?
- Do we trust each other?
- Can we listen to each other?
- Will we look after each other?
As Jamie Andrew explained to us this morning - the mountain can be beautiful, but it can also be a very dangerous place. You can die on the mountain. So - we need each other. But our pre-defined roles and expectations, our processes and our regulations, may simply not hack it on the mountain.
The only true security lies in our relationship with each other.