Sunday, 27 March 2011

Disappointingly indisposed

A very short posting today as I am somewhat indisposed. There are a number of reasons for my feeling as I do, but one of these is having a week that has severely tested my unconditional positive regard for others. Carl Rogers notion of unconditional positive regard doesn’t mean we don’t have to take responsibility for our behaviours or what we do with strong emotions such as anger and disappointment.

Of course disappointment is a subjective response related to how we anticipate a particular outcome. The psychological and emotional consequences of disappointment will vary greatly in all of us. While some of us will recover quickly, others will get stuck in a mire of frustration, blame, or become depressed. None of these are a good place to be. Psychoanalytically depression, can be a direct consequence of both disappointment and frustration.

And I have been very disappointed this week – and at all kinds of levels and for all kinds of reasons. A cancelled lunch, the choices some of my colleagues made about the actions they decided to take, finding myself in a meeting where those who should also have been there were absent, and disappointed over my own sense of self and how this has been affected by what others expected from me this week. Rogers believed that we all need to be regarded positively by others; we all need to feel valued, respected, treated with affection and loved. It has been my inability to show others the value, respect, affection and love they deserve that has led to a sense of my disappointment in my self. However, as I write this, a new week is dawning, and with it new opportunities to try and do things differently.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Happiness, Harvard and Hotels: Staying in a good place needn't be a stressful experience!

It has been a stress filled week, but paradoxically, a week that ultimately for me, has been filled with a great deal of happiness. David Cameron reminded the nation last week about his Happiness Index, due to be introduced in April this year. I don’t know what metrics he will employ in measuring our happiness. It has been up to the National Statistician Jil Matheson, of the Office of National Statistics  to work on which questions to add to the existing household survey this spring. The new data gathered will be placed alongside existing measures to create a bundle of indications about our quality of life.

This approach may take us further along the road of understanding of the multidimensional nature of well-being and how this needs to encompass the economic as well as social and environmental issues. Possibly this has to be a better place than the Harvard psychologist’s Daniel Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth got to with their study of happiness. The outcomes of their study, published in the prestigious journal Science, revealed that happiness is found by 'living in the now'. People were most happy when having sex, exercising or in conversation, and least happy when working, resting or using a home computer.

In this study they rated happiness on a scale from 0 to 100, which captured whether they were focused, or daydreaming about something positive, negative or neutral. However, since Christmas time last year, I have periodically rating myself against my own happiness index which is a great deal simpler – (1 = utter despair, 10 – manic exhilaration). Those who truly know me might say I have a propensity to stray towards the lower end of this index, but this week saw me in a different place.

Monday started with some good news about a colleague whose progress in overcoming a sudden and life threatening condition was positive and rapid. I hope she continues on her journey to make a fast and full recovery. Later on in the morning I received a phone call from the auditor group that had been looking at our research processes in the College. It was a generally good conversation and whilst I still have to wait for the formal report I think as a College, and particularly as a School we are OK. Up until hearing this however, my stress levels were considerably raised. As the College Associate Dean for Research, the buck stops with me.
Later on that evening I was in the company of the Greater Manchester Deans of Health (Nursing and Midwifery) for a meal at the Mint Hotel in Manchester city centre. Now some of you will know that I am not that keen on eating out at such venues – but this was a wonderful meal. The conversation was a mixture of professional work issues (the changes to commissioning for nurse education are becoming more and more challenging as the detail of what the future might look like begins to emerge), and a catch up with personal and family experiences.

Tuesday was a different day, but I stayed in that good place, possibly scoring 6 out of 10 for happiness, but going to sleep that night I could feel the stress grow. So I was not surprised to be wide awake very early on the morning the NMC came to validate our new pre-registration programme. It was a hectic day, more so for colleagues than perhaps me. By 16.00 hours however, we had the good news that the programme had been approved. This was wonderful for our School and for all of those who had worked so hard over the previous 18 months to get us to this place. Many thanks for helping to secure the future of the School for the next five years. We can now work at how to best deliver what is truly an innovative programme. For me my happiness rating went up a notch.

Thursday included an opportunity to do some writing. Not reports, or other official documents but that which involves only thinking about what I really wanted (need) to say. This is always something that keeps my happiness level towards the upper end of my index. For me, this kind of writing is the ultimate act of autonomy. And as the economic philosopher John Mill noted, happiness and autonomy are indivisible. Mill’s said: ‘The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way’. To be autonomous is to be able to reflect on and evaluate one’s desires, beliefs and values: we don’t just act; we choose how to act; we choose which goals to adopt, and we reflect on the reasons for our beliefs. By this, we can shape ourselves and our own lives; and if we shape ourselves according to our own values, we express our individuality.

Friday, eventually, was an opportunity for me to be able to assert my individuality. Friday turned out to be an excursion into transactional analysis territory, and by going home time I was exhausted with the rapidity of movement of some of my colleagues as they oscillated between adult, parent and child mode. I was way down towards the lower end of my happiness index. Thankfully, the supportive emails from colleagues about the good news of our NNS results going past 50% propelled me back up to the mid range of my happiness index.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Celebrating how the other half live, 100 Salford Women, and the need to think of Japan

The 8th March is when  International Women’s Day is celebrated. The origins of the International Women's Day date back to 1911. The day came about as a result of industrial revolution in Eastern Europe, and gained worldwide recognition in 1977 when the UN General Assembly made an official declaration. To mark the 100 year anniversary of this day, the Salford Staff Women’s Action Network (SSWAN) mounted an exhibition which profiles 100 women staff from all levels and departments across the University. The event aimed to highlight, acknowledge and celebrate the achievements and contributions of the  University of Salford's female workforce.

The exhibition is made up of the profiles of 100 women working in the University who were nominated by colleagues. Each profile includes a description of the women’s work and a photo of her. Brought together in one gallery, the 100 photos and profiles made for a glorious celebration of the achievements and contribution of these women to the University and to Salford. The exhibition also aimed to raise awareness of the University’s many and various staff networks. These networks are growing in number and representativeness of the University’s staffing profile. However, as I write this blog, I am not sure there is yet a SSMAN. (Salford Staff Men's Action Network)

Which is a shame. Perhaps the equivalent male network is planned to be launched in time for the International Men’s Day (19th November). This day has a much shorter history than the International Women’s Day. International Men’s Day was inaugurated in 1999 and is fully supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).The objectives of celebrating an International Men's Day include focusing on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models. It should be an occasion to highlight discrimination against men and boys and to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular for their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care.

However, Dan Abrams book, published on the day SSWAN was launched last year, and interestingly entitled Man Down: Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else reveals the size of the outstanding task there is in finding ways to value both men and women. Despite the title, Abrams book is not about proving that girls are better than boys, any more than it is about proving boys are better than girls. Ultimately his book is about asking the important question of how we can all find ways of honouring and respecting both women and men.

Our professions (Nursing and Midwifery) are predominately made up of women. In terms of the School, 92% of the senior management, leadership and specialist roles are held by women. And I am glad they are. We have a con-joint validation event on the 16th of March at which our new pre-registration programmes are to be scrutinised and assessed prior to be being given approval (or not). This event will be the end point of over 18 months work on the part of many colleagues across the School - work that has been so effectively led by what I believe to be some of the best of Salford University’s women – and not all of them made the SSWAN 100.

And finally, research undertaken by the husband and wife anthropological team David and Barbara Shwalb, which looked at twentieth-century Japan and the United States revealed contrasting points of view about certain traits that are independent of gender and which reinforce the importance of socialisation, rather than biology, in shaping masculine and feminine behaviour. In Japan, cooperation and acceptance of a dependence on others (a trait that many in the US, associate with femininity) is valued in both males and females, and the Japanese socialise their children accordingly. This appears to be the case even though Japanese culture remains more committed to traditional gender differences than the prevailing US culture and which is still more male dominated. In contrast, in the US, individualism and autonomy have been highly valued and these traits have been fostered in both sexes, although more explicitly and extensively in boys. Things maybe changing however, who has not seen the Sky Broadband advert which takes as its marketing story, the Princess and the Pea, and wondered what is being sold...

This is a debate that’s likely to run and run, and we should all participate in making our views known. Likewise, given the recent tragic events in Japan, we should all think about how we can demonstrate our shared humanity, male and female, in providing support to those left devastated by the consequences of last Fridays earthquake and tsunami.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

An Existential Start to Spring

I don’t intend to start each blog with a comment about the weather, but I definitely think that Spring is arriving with the speed of a passing freight train. Yesterday as the morning grew light I watched a small group of Canada geese fly over head. Later on while walking Cello around High Rid Reservoir, there they all were, serenely bobbing on the water. It was a magnificent sight.

I would have taken a photo of them myself, but my new phone (with its wonderful built in camera) had a completely dead battery even after being turned off all night. What I didn’t realize (until after getting the phone) were the problems people are having with the battery life. 7-8 hours of use between charges appeared to be the norm. Product research is great, but possibly best done before a purchase is made.

In fact it’s not been a great week in terms of shopping at all. This week I wanted to re-read one of my favorite books. But having looked on every book shelf I have, and failing to find the book, I had to send off to Amazon for a new copy, which they delivered the very next day (what a great service). Frustratingly, later on that day, as I was sitting talking to someone in my office, I saw the original copy on the book shelf. I will find a good home for the spare copy.

The book, Love’s Executioner and other tales of psychotherapy, was written by Irvin Yalom. Yalom has been described as someone who writes like an angel about the devils that besiege us. The book tells the stories of Yaloms therapeutic encounters with 10 of his clients. These are stories of real people whose problems include a man with terminal cancer but obsessed with sex, a woman who grieves the death of her father, who over eats to escape her fear of death, a man who could not bring himself to open three letters, because of a fear as to what they might say, and a married women whose story (provides the book’s title), tells how for eight years she was trapped by re-living 27 days of an illicit love affair over and over again in her mind. Through therapy, Yalom becomes the executioner of this obsessive love.

Yalom is an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University, and practices existentialist psychotherapy. The existential psychotherapist is generally not concerned with a person’s past; instead, the emphasis is on the choices to be made in the present and future. Whilst the therapist and client may reflect upon how the client has answered life's questions in the past, attention ultimately moves to searching for a new and increased awareness in the present and enabling a new freedom and responsibility to act. The client can then accept they are not special, and that their existence is simply coincidental, without destiny or fate.

However, our existence isn’t without pain, and that such pain is the basic anxiety we all feel and use to cope with the four givens of existence. These ‘givens’ are: the inevitability of death for each of us and for those we love; the freedom to make our lives as we will; our ultimate aloneness; and, finally, the absence of any obvious meaning or sense to life.

Yalom believes that a therapist helps to deal with this pain ‘not by sifting through the past but by being lovingly present with that person; by being trustworthy, interested; and by believing that together their joint activity will ultimately be redemptive and healing’.

This thought seemed to me to be entirely appropriate to what it is we are trying to do in the School. With Spring around the corner and the next group of students on the point of joining us, finding ways of enabling these nurses of the future to remember that it is the being rather than the doing of nursing that is important is the challenge we must all address.