A Reflective Think-Piece On Resilience, Connectedness, Failure, Courage, And An Industry Of Fundraising (Annex B: After Action Review for the 9 City Bridge Run)
The 9 City Bridge Run was a global endurance challenge where Matt Jones ran nine sub-marathon distances across nine cities in five countries in the space of one month between 4 September and 5 October 2009. The cities were: San Francisco, New York, London, Oxford, Dublin, Tokyo, Alice Springs, Canberra and Sydney. A blog record of the event is at http://www.9citybridgerun.com.
The purpose of the event was to raise awareness of resilience and wellbeing as a counter-point in addressing the combined prevalence and stigma of depression, anxiety and suicide.
A free public forum was held at the Barnett Long Room in Circular Quay, Sydney on 26 October 2009 to culminate the awareness raising effort from the 9 City Bridge Run. The event was captured on video and is available for people to see online.
The symbolism of a bridge was used as a metaphor connecting people, communities, cities and ideas.
This After Action Review is written in the form of a personal reflective think-piece on resilience, connectedness, failure, courage and an industry of fund-raising. These are issues of social leadership affecting how we care for our people and our cities (be that defined with a local or a global perspective is entirely at the discretion of the reader) which should prompt discussions about the efficacy of fundraising and Corporate Social Responsibility programs aimed at affecting social change.
This review is written in the first-person as it is mostly of a personal nature. These comments reflect my experiences and observations, and are intended to be objective and constructive. I welcome an active process of sound ethical deliberation to explore differences of opinion, and encourage people with similar or alternate views to pursue discussion in this spirit by contacting me directly or sparking conversation via social media.
The comments in this report are personal, and shared in the interests of stimulating discussion and awareness of the importance of resilience and wellbeing. Due to their personal nature, while the report is ‘open source’ a Creative Commons Licence applies allowing redistribution with no derivatives and attribution for non-commercial use.
I wish to thank in particular the City of Sydney for making the venue available for the awareness raising talk, particularly at short notice. This showed a real commitment to the community they as a city serve, and also through their openness to more fully enable the exploring of the issue.
I especially extend thanks the three speakers for the evening, who gave freely of their time for the benefit of those who participated in the discussion:
- Dr Tim Sharp: Chief Happiness Officer, The Happiness Institute (www.drhappy.com.au)
- Lyn Worsley, Clinical Psychologist and Registered Nurse, Child, Adolescent and FamilyTherapist (www.lynworsley.com.au; http://www.theresiliencedoughnut.com.au)
- Professor Ian Hickie AM, Executive Director, Brian Mind Research Institute located at the University of Sydney (www.bmri.org.au)
Approximately 60 people attended the event with a similar number of RSVP responses showing interest however unable to attend.
A broad range of not-for-profit organisations involved in the area of community care were unable to attend but were engaged in discussion regarding the issue. These were invited to attend via a formal process as requested by the City of Sydney.
I speak for all who attended the presentations, and especially from a personal standpoint, in thanking the speakers for their responsiveness at short notice and the generousity by which they contributed to the event and discussion.
I was motivated to undertake this activity by the (unexpected) suicide of several close friends, along with the personal knowledge of chronic depression of other friends.
The genesis of this event was a conversation with two other classmates from my secondary school (Melbourne High School). Less than five years ago and over the period of three years, two other friends from our cohort at school had suicided. As it had turned out, I coincidentally had arranged to meet for dinner with the two classmates (who did not suicide) around the time of each incident. We discussed the events, and thought about what we might do in response to these deaths. It would be fair to report that we experienced a degree of frustration in exploring this issue. We knew we wanted to take action, but knowing exactly what we could do was elusive.
Noting the death of friends, I determined I was not going to be yet another voice saying that ‘I must do something’ at the wake, only to take no action except slowly forget about the experience over time.
In hindsight my efforts were well-intentioned but from a professional perspective could be described as inefficient. I pose the question: ‘Does a sub-optimal performance constitute failure when it is for the public good?’
Given that all expense was met by myself in organising and the conduct of this event and that the only loss that was suffered was really by myself in a financial sense and in terms of physical and emotional exhaustion, the concept of ‘Return on Investment’ and efficiency of conduct is possibility no one’s business other than my own. I have shared it here because I think it presents important lessons for other like minded nudgers in the community from which to benefit. The sharing of these lessons and observations is in fact a continuation of my intention and the purpose of the activity.
On a positive note, speaking with staff at the Melbourne High School last year I was advised of a program for all Year 10 students recently introduced which encourages their investigation of resilience, care for others and issues of mental health. The program at the school has been successfully developed and has demonstrated a good impact in informing students. Such programs that influence change in how the issue is perceived at a young age are important.
General Overview from The Run
I found the event exhausting, both physically and emotionally. This was compounded by the great burden of time, expense and opportunity cost. During the run I felt very isolated, exacerbating the physical and emotional burden generated by the task.
There was much to improve upon in my efforts for the run. There was a considerable gap between what I had hoped to achieve and the actual outcome. Reasons as to why this was the case related to issues of time, support from a credible team, realistic planning and an underestimation of my own capacity.
Defining success became a challenging concept, and I felt tension between an expectation for fund raising with the realisation that awareness raising was of greater importance to the issue.
The Talk- 26 October 2009
The talk was organised with short notice at the insistence of a number of close friends who were also parents of teenage children and concerned at the lack of resources they could identify to support their needs when managing difficult situations involving their children’s wellbeing.
There was healthy differences in opinion in some views which were explored in conversation. I have summarised some of the key points presented without attributing comments to particular presenters. Please note that a discussion of resilience and wellbeing contains different views, and that this is a summary of conversation but not necessary does it imply these comments are either reflective or endorsed by the speakers professionally.
Key points raised included:
- The importance of rethinking individual wellbeing, from a position of treating illness to moving ‘above the line’ where consideration of wellness is as important as moving away from illness (where ‘0’ sits ‘on the line’ and a negative figure ‘below the line’ would mark ‘illness’ and a positive figure ‘above the line’ would mark the capacity for increased richness in our lives. An experience might extend from -10 to +10, and in which case it challenges the traditional notion of psychology which treats ‘illness’ to the point of good health, but then hands off responsibility for the patient.)
- There is a wide range of options otherwise not considered as relevant or important for treating illness/ improving resilience and wellbeing. An example of this might be found in the realm of ‘Positive Psychology’.
- The use of different sources and new technology in making information accessible is important in exploring coping mechanisms available.
- The metaphor of the bridge is useful in considering how communities might connect to find greater resilience.
- There is importance in addressing and exploring the feelings of being overwhelmed and needing to find a way out. Finding someone or some organisation to do this with. The use of public spaces and design is increasingly important to enable how this might occur.
- Being connected through ‘work’ and the importance of participation in our societies. This presented notions of a ‘retirement age’ as not something that should be regarded as necessarily how things should be, and possibly a concept that could be restrictive and unhealthy. This is not so much because of the fiscal burden of retirees on the State but more to ensure a framework of social and productive activities remain. The utility of work as contributing to our social processes and having an influence in the dynamic of relating to people.
- The concept of a ‘resilience factor’ at an individual level, and the shared aspect of this on a social level. How this affects decisions we might make about redefining our lives.
- Productivity Commission, as opposed to the health paradigm, and this presents the advantage of Positive Psychology.
- The degree of connectedness matters. Healthy relationships not the numbers of connections matter.
- Mutuality- the idea of people looking after each other. This also contributes to having and increasing options for developing resilience and coping mechanisms.
Seven Observations from the 9 City Bridge Run: activity, discussions and forum
- Change does happen. The work of organisations like Beyond Blue and the example of the high school program show that it is possible to address the stigma surrounding this issue.
- Small things people do matter. The most meaningful and rewarding discussions I had during this journey were in unexpected and somewhat intimate conversations with people I met. There was no fanfare or publicity of these conversations, but I suspect there was a high likelihood of follow-on ‘ripple effect’.
- Overcoming stigma is very important. For as long as the stigma remains, even well conducted fund-raising efforts will not create the social change required to affect the prevalence of this issue.
- Awareness raising is more important than fund raising. Ultimately, money alone will not solve this issue. Neither will ‘awareness weeks’ and publicity campaigns on their own. It requires the concern and engagement from a collective effort within the communities we are members of, which requires a change in how we see the issue.
- Engaging in an issue like this can be extremely exhausting. Intervention is both an ethical and pragmatic issue. It is not simply a matter of wearing a wristband or checking a box as a sign of support.
- Responsibility for this issue is a matter for everyone in the community, not to be ‘outsourced’ to only large organisations which can demonstrate ‘capacity’. It is both wrong and ineffective for people to assume the problem has been dealt with because a large organisation achieves successful cut-through in commercial media and messaging. This responsibility includes active engagement in public debate about the distribution of resources and design of spaces.
- Paradox. Our society today is so incredibly connected that there should be no reason anyone should suffer in silence in our communities. The reality however is unfortunately different.
General Comments: Observations and Reflections
The question of resilience is an important trait to be understood, appreciated and developed in our communities. I discovered that my personal reserves and default response for resilience is relatively strong due to my Army background and experience. This was described by a friend as being not entirely a positive trait at times of stress if combined with a reluctance to reach out for help and declare a sense of need. In such an instance, rather than resilience this is in fact a form of weakness.
The point of this comment is to demonstrate the complexity in the nature of resilience. The Western paradigm, particularly among males, of just ‘sucking it up and toughing it out’ is something that we should regard as weakness rather than attributing to resilience. Unless the conversation in different cultures and communities globally can explore these taboos and stigma objectively I fear that the conversation about resilience will continue to overlook the denial of strong but flawed people (often men) contrasted with the feel-good ‘outsourcing’ of real care and engagement through well- intentioned but ineffective fundraising efforts.
There are many commendable examples of community engagement in our communities. I highly regard the speakers from the Talk as sound leaders for their professional and personal commitment to making a difference. Organisations like Beyond Blue have been instrumental in leading a vanguard of tackling the problem of stigma and taboo of depression in Australian communities.
Increasingly, the conversation needs to be about ‘us’ and not ‘those out there with the problem’. The concept of community is that it is something which we are all very much part of, not an opt-in organisation where we can remain unaffected by issues that we think belong in the ‘too hard’ basket.
Sitting writing this report in Seoul (South Korea) during May 2010, I read in the Korea Times that suicide levels in Japan for 2009 exceeded 33,000 people which is an awful fact to consider. South Korea reportedly has the highest rate of suicide in the OECD.
Visiting New York in April this year I read in the New York Times that suicide and attempted suicide figures among returning military veterans in USA are endemic and are sadly symptomatic of the stigma and representative of the prevalence. This is but one professional grouping among many which has high incidence of suicide compared with societal norms. As an Australian Army veteran myself, I am aware as how much culture plays into this situation, and how ineffective publicity campaigns and awareness weeks are in making a difference to certain employment groups which statistically show a prevalence to depressive illness or suicide (such as has been recorded among lawyers and dentists).
The response in this particular report by the New York Times saw the military commander issue a directive that such behaviour (suicide) must stop as it is bad for morale. As comical as that might sound, are some publicity campaigns any better or more effective?
Recently in Newark (New Jersey) during April 2010, I was informed of the statistic that the leading cause of death among a demographic of young African American males is homicide. If in Australia for the same demographic the leading cause of death is suicide, then this presents a tragic commentary on the society both we in Australia and America live within, and should challenge us to re-examine the concept of resilience of community and ‘mateship’ which we are all so proud to celebrate.
Especially so during a time when so much fundraising effort goes toward addressing ‘global poverty’ using the promotion of data such as the 21,000 children under the age of five dying every day from preventable illness caused from exposure to extreme poverty. Sadly, the unseen reflection this holds for our communities is the immense ‘poverty of spirit’ which is so insidious in large cities. More so, this poverty of spirit is ironically often to be found within wealthy enclaves in our communities. People have sometimes joked with me about the irony that New York can be the loneliest city in the world in which to live…
Aside from the personal grievance that suicide creates for the families and friends of those Australians affected, in considering a response to the problem of ‘global poverty’ an economists perspective might identify the inefficient loss of a scarce resource, namely bright-minded, able-bodied youth who could otherwise be so much better engaged to influence those in real need across the globe.
How incredibly sad it is that in our society of accessibility today there can be any problem worth killing yourself over at such a young age.
The prevalence of this issue is outrageous, and tragically remains muffled by the stigma with which the taboo is accompanied.
The conduct of this run was an idea I had been sitting on for over a two year period. A window of opportunity arose in terms of my physical ability to undertake the event and time to commit to the activity prompted by the suicide of a friend. The impact of illness and injury during my lead-up training made me less certain about making public statements about the task ahead as I has no evidence other than personal determination to suggest that I would be able to complete the run.
Observing decision making
The activity itself was something of a difficult nature and tested me fully, often leading me to appreciate small decisions about conduct as big ethical decisions relating to the integrity of the event. (For example, at the far point in a run around the Thames: would I just stop and catch a bus home? Did it really matter as no one was watching and no one was recording what I was doing? Was there a point at which the act of attempting the feat was enough? Did it matter whether I finished each city run or not? At different times I questioned the significance of my actions as there seemed to be no interest or monitoring from the Foundation for whom the money was being raised. This made me question for whom was I doing this, and did my efforts really matter?)
The event became intensely personal.
The run ironically turned out to be an unintended exercise of active experiential learning revealing a situation analogous with the nature of depression as was described by friends who confided to me the nature of their chronic illness before and during the activity. The correlation with an experience of depression is perhaps best summarised in three broad areas:
- The event, like depression, came at significant cost- physically, emotionally, financially, professionally.
- Little choice over the timing- I commenced the event on a particular date, however due to an unrelated elbow injury leading up to the run, I was not optimally prepared physically. I did gain my doctors clearance before commencing the event, although this came with some reservation and advice of caution. As such, particularly after the third leg of the challenge I found that despite being committed to the task my body was increasingly physically unprepared for the demands which I was asking of it. Friends speaking about their experiences with chronic depression have indicated that all the positive thinking in the world is not enough to combat the deadening malaise which the condition presents.
- The effects of what I was doing were unseen by those around me. For whatever reason (I have identified the reasons, however they are unimportant to this observation in a relative sense) I failed to generate the necessary level of institutional support, media interest and meaningful social media following to create a strong signature of my activities. By the end of the event I felt like I had been running ‘Forrest-Gump-like’ and questioned myself at length the worth of my effort. Friends have spoken about the extra difficulty created by depression aside from its stigma due to its unseen nature. Everything appears ‘normal’ from the outside.
Lessons learnt: Resilience and wellbeing framework
I developed a framework for improving resilience and wellbeing during the course of the event involving four key actions:
- Increasing options available
- Mitigating feelings of being overwhelmed
- Avoiding disconnection/ disconnectedness
- Developing a rational approach to responsibility for one’s own situation (feelings and thoughts)
That it took me close to six months to complete this relatively simple After Action Review is perhaps evidence that I myself did not manage my own personal resilience and wellbeing in this situation well. I observed that knowledge is useless unless it is applied, and support networks are redundant unless utilised. Similarly ‘brand’ of a large organisation involved in addressing issues of mental health is a meaningless commodity to someone in need.
I did see my doctor on arrival back in Australia due to exhaustion, and perhaps erroneously this was the only counseling I received as a form of debrief from this experience, contrary to his professional advice and recommendation. Again this is at odds with managing the framework which I had developed. The reluctance of people to confront this issue due to the stigma attached is totally underestimated in our communities. The assumption that someone who is need from depressive illnesses will look after themselves because they are known as capable, strong or responsible is entirely flawed. Be it the bravado of a male culture in Western societies or the ‘face’ culture of Asian societies, the stigma which exists holds great influence making this issue of great taboo. We need to be more caring in the way we respond to others in our communities, which applies to those we don’t know as much as those who we know as friends, family and work colleagues.
Resilience ought to be something we understand as:
- Characteristic of our communities
- An ethical response that goes beyond the consideration of ‘what ought I to do?’ to ‘what ought we to do?’
- Openness to a broader range of ethical questions affecting the engagement within communities of ‘how ought we to live better (more fulfilling) lives?’
An understanding of resilience and wellbeing should go beyond discrete sponsored programs and initiatives and have a greater impact when developing and shaping policy in any organisation, be that government, business or community group.
Planning and organisation- seeds of failure?
There were significant weaknesses in my planning, capacity and estimation of the project itself. While tactically these were perhaps areas of ‘failure’, I have questioned myself at great length as to whether did these define the event as unsuccessful. Certainly in a sense of the amount of money raised, if this was the sole measure of the success of the event then the experience may be regarded as a failure.
As all expenses were met by myself, I found there was no external accountability during the conduct of the run. All donations were paid directly to the supported Foundation by donors so I had no influence or visibility over that effort.
Shortly before commencing the run a number of events influenced my thinking to suggest that the awareness raised was of greater importance that the amount of funds raised. Conversations I had along with the encouragement from people I met during the run made the event meaningful and confirmed the importance of awareness raising. There is a relationship between the contribution of donations and awareness raising, and also the receipt of funds by an organisation and their ability to subsequently raise awareness. The reality is also that an enormous amount of money has been raised over the last decade for this issue. Fund raising should be seen as important but by no means the solution to the issue. I note that the ability to pursue meaningful scientific research can be directly impacted by access to funding.
In the case of the purpose of the activity the 9 City Bridge Run, greater clarity of a narrow and sharper focus was required. This is one point for consideration in awareness raising campaigns that ought to be noted.
If the only measure of success is the amount of funds raised this presents a disappointingly uninspired and limited view of non-financial benefits of such campaigns which can be efficaciously achieved in partnership through meaningful engagement with others, the simple act of conversation and the leveraging of (social and traditional) media campaigns.
I am not a professional fundraiser or sponsorship broker, nor do I particularly want to become such. I did feel during the preparation and conduct of the event unspoken pressure from others that maybe I was ‘doing it for the money’. Even when asking for assistance in organising venues I sensed some suspicion around my motivation. This skepticism is reasonable to expect given the professional focus which surrounds fund raising and Corporate Social Responsibility in supporting the ‘not-for- profit’ world. Has an industry been created which has turned cause-related fundraising into a profession, albeit one with no guiding ethical principles? The need for revenue is well documented as creating a tension in not-for-profit organisations falling victim to becoming too focused around the function of fundraising as an industry rather than a vehicle for making social change possible.
On a positive note, the message I sought to advance was through the metaphor of a bridge and the connection of people, communities, cities and ideas. Before I commenced this activity I realised that these would be empty words unless I first demonstrated my commitment to this message. Consequently, during the course of the run I contacted and spoke with my father who until then I had been out of contact with for several years. If this was the only productive outcome from my efforts, I would consider on the strength of this alone for all the cost and burden that the exercise was successful.
Some situations within families can be difficult, but I learnt to appreciate that personal grievances are useless. For a country that prides itself on values of ‘mateship’, I have discovered anecdotally that there is a surprising amount of disconnection within extended families among my wider circle of friends. I would suggest it is at best incongruent and possibly hypocritical for Australians to on one hand profess mateship, and on the other harbour distance and unresolved grudges within families. I recognise this is not true of all Australian families. The point I am wanting to make is that families themselves ought to be places where people can seek support on issues of a difficult nature. Similarly, circles of friendship should take on this burden of responsibility for support that often is not possible to achieve through engagement in families due to strained relationships and tensions.
The emerging culture of citizen-community networks is encouraging as it focuses on relationships between people who share a similar sense of ‘community’. For example, many of my friends find this through regular weekly coffee meet-ups. I contrast this with an anecdotal observation of the tendency for (large) organisations dealing with supporting mental health issues to sometimes get lost in a culture of statistics and ‘brand’ when the very immediate and personal needs which might not make such a great media story are arguably more important. During the run as I had more time to consider this phenomenon I became concerned whether fund raising efforts were supporting cause related campaigns for social change, or bizarrely this has become a relationship where cause related campaigns are supporting fund raising efforts and Corporate Social Responsibility programs. I suspect this might be the case in a culture that too readily responds to ‘philanthropy’ and ‘brand’ as the champions of addressing problems in our society. I argue we should re-examine these motivations away from recognition and celebrity to be more based on the concept of ‘servant leadership’ (after Greenleaf) and care for ‘the other’ in a true spirit of philanthropy, mateship and social responsibility.
What is important? Examining the relationship with the supported Foundation
I encountered task avoidance on a personal level which challenged how I regarded what was important in conducting the activity. The relationship with the supported Foundation was based around an objective of raise funding. Early into the process I became aware that awareness raising was of a greater importance to what I was seeking to achieve (and also to meet the objectives of the Foundation for who the funds were being raised). In this regard the relationship was more focused on process for donation of money, rather than richness of conversation, which was an irony given the intended focus on building bridges and the espoused values of the supported Foundation. If I had the capacity during the running activity for greater adaptive reflection on three issues of connectedness, mutuality and redefinition then this might have generated more of a positive outcome influencing what was regarded as important.
Similarly, the question of ‘what is important?’ leads to task avoidance in our communities through the act of fund raising for the organisations that ‘do the work’. Passage of money is often seen as the means of contribution, or the means of public gathering to signify the importance of the issue itself. After the gathering, the festival, the rock concert is over, people return to the routine of their lives slowly over time, even though in most instances the situation the cause sought to address continues unabated. Just as this is the situation which has ben experienced with global poverty over the last few decades, is this the trend that we should expect with mental health and suicide in our communities? What are we prepared to change in order to make this different?
Bridge building between people is of greater importance than clever marketing campaigns.
This is a serious issue too important to be left to big brand campaign strategies for issue-related cause marketing to generate increased fundraising revenues. Good intentions from within government and corporate responsibility fall short. The bottom line is that as communities, comprising of citizens, civil society, businesses, academia and governments, together we need to talk more.
Obtaining approval to act as a fund raiser from the supported Foundation took months longer than I had anticipated. Rather than speak with people for sponsorship and promote the event in the intervening period, I decided to wait for approval which may been the wrong thing to do on my account.
At the conclusion of the running activity I had learnt more about the leave policies of the Foundation that was being supported than of the actual work they provide. I sensed that their interest in what I was doing only extended as far as being part of a fund raising machine. The level of support or interest in my welfare while running was negligible, if present at all. Since returning to Australia from the running activity over seven months ago, the Foundation has not contacted me by any way of debrief. I believe the anticipated target of money was not achieved (the full amount is unknown because I have not been contacted by the Foundation).
Fund raising and philanthropy
I did not see my actions as simply ‘raising cash’ for no clear objective. Certainly I wanted my efforts to be more about than the dollar figure raised. Early on into the event it was unclear to me how the benefit of funds raised would be used to a productive purpose other than creating websites and pamphlets for the supported organisation. I failed to see the direct benefit of these activities in promoting the intention and purpose of the run. While surveys into ‘brand recognition’ so often promoted by large organisations and Corporate Social Responsibility programs might be interesting data for fund raisers, they do not mirror the reality of anecdotal evidence gained by myself in talking with concerned parents of ‘at-risk’ teenage children.
My outlook in this regard was influenced by my experience through my previous extensive service as an Australian Army Officer. This included encounters with ‘unseen’ neglected and dilapidated Indigenous communities in Central Australia during the late 1980‘s, and deployment on Active Service in East Timor seeing the often wasted efforts of a number of inefficient charity projects aside good examples of well run government and charity interventions. Additionally later responsibilities as Desk Officer standing up and managing Australian Army response to the 2004 Aceh Tsunami relief effort showed the incredible power of media and the ‘fund raising industry’ to reap focused attention and financial contributions globally. The level of accountability following such efforts is often overlooked, along with less glamorous, unaddressed, longer-term, systemic issues which fail to have the capacity to ‘sell’ themselves. In these circumstances I witnessed the incredible power of mobilising brand, but often with disturbingly very little real impact on the ground to boast about other than a handful of photographs and well conducted fund raising efforts.
In the past I have personally encountered a parochial characteristic of the philanthropic community in Australia which I can only describe as ‘uncharitable’. In 2008 I set out to conduct a similar endurance event running around Sydney Harbour. On making a courtesy call to the organiser of a charity which shared a similar concept, was told bizarrely that I couldn’t just ‘call a sandwich a hamburger and make it into McDonald’s’, and that as a result of their intensive investment in brand I was not welcome to interfere with the brand recognition they had created. In 2008 I made no effort to undertake an endurance challenge as I was advised that if I pursued my activities that I would be sued, despite intending to act solely in the interests of another charity. This type of philanthropic spirit is sadly not unique.
The Weak Signal- whose responsibility?
A bureaucracy has only a finite capacity of resources and using the bigger brands to address cause- related issues is perhaps a sound measure of ‘quality control and trust’. If only the big brands get attention, the ‘weak signal’ gets missed. Metaphorically, this is relevant given the focus on prevalence and stigma of depression, anxiety and suicide. As these things are such insidious aspects of human behaviour they will usually be broadcast by ‘weak signals’ or dysfunctional behaviour (such as anger in males).
Managing engagement and debriefing- Organisational response to community requests
Rather than a yes/no response from government/Corporate Social Responsibility departments to requests/ideas submitted from weak signals in the community perhaps a better response would be lean towards ‘no’ but with an opportunity to debrief the issue in minor detail. This might provide greater opportunity to focus clarity on emergent ideas which serves to nurture and benefit a culture of innovation.
One aspect of this conversation about depression, anxiety and suicide which goes wanting is the process by which we manage the process of ‘debriefing’. This should often be an extension of our own duty of care, but more often than not should be a responsibility to our immediate community as caring citizens. Having a conversation about suicide is so difficult alone due to the range of obstacles and stigma- what resources exist and how do we care for each other within our communities for people who do attempt suicide unsuccessfully to pick up the pieces and make a meaningful and productive contribution with their life? If the answer is simply to leave it to professional counseling I believe that is flawed and ineffective. Aside from lacking sufficient resources for professional counseling to address this need, as it is such a stigma, how should we as a community respond? Again this raises the question of how can we better monitor the broadcast ‘weak signal’?
Courage, Complexity and Innovation
One question I have considered at length following this activity has remained: ‘Was I foolish to undertake this endeavour given the cost involved, the level of organisation and estimation of the task?’
This question maybe relates to a virtue of courage. The courage to say ‘no’ to expectation, especially the expectations which we impose on ourselves.
I believe this is a relevant question, and while of a personal nature (and somewhat embarrasing to share in this document), is appropriate because it examines the desire of other individuals who are wanting to engage in such activity. The lessons I learnt in terms of preparedness, clarity, and resources should be made accessible to others to help them in preparing for an event and count the cost before they begin.
That is to say to those with an idea or ambition for some undertaking: ‘So you have an idea? Great- have you the right team and clarity of your objectives? Is there a credible strategy you can identify toward making social change? Are you prepared to delay your plans further until you are confident the time is ready for you to move on?’ A community that is prepared to take the time to honestly appraise these questions will develop a more fruitful and robust basis for innovation.
My experience of running and attempting to make a difference in this regard shows how complex this situation is, and how difficult it can be for individuals to make a difference.
Joining together in some collective actions- again the values of connectedness and mutuality- would seem to have great benefit in this regard. I would add the value of courage- more accurately described as ‘institutional courage’- to take the risk of fostering this conversation on a meaningful level.
This is far easier said than achieved, considering the many other completing demands of corporate responsibility, personal levels of productivity and pressing problems across the world, be that relating to the environment, poverty or recognition of minority groups.
Looking back at the event for all of its flaws, I undertook it in response to the experience of a friend. The talk I took on at the insistence of friends whose children gave them cause for concern. I believe the execution had much room for improvement, but was always conducted with good intention.
My aim now is for this not to be a wasted effort, to ensure I learn from the experience, and that others also are able to learn and improve on their ability to make a difference.