Sunday, 16 November 2014

Thoughts about the authenticity of trying to do good things

Possibly this week's blog had its origins in a queue I stood in waiting to draw money out of a cash machine at the University. It was a long queue, and the waiting was interminable. I stood there in quiet contemplation aware of what was going on around me – I was half listening to fragments of the conversation of others, but largely dwelling on the problems I was having to deal with that day. So when I was tapped on the shoulder I jumped a foot into the air. A rather charming young man enquired, ‘Professor, would you like to take my place at the front of the queue?’

There was a little bit of giggling from some nursing students in front of me who heard the question being asked. I felt embarrassed, and declining the young man’s offer, I thanked him and waited once more for my turn to come. It was a long ten minutes. I wondered what it was that had prompted the young man to offer to give up his place.

The next day I chaired the Quality and Safety Meeting at the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Trust. Although I have been member of this committee for over a year, this was the first time I had chaired the meeting. These meetings are critical events that draw upon a wide range of data, information and intelligence in order to offer assurance to the Trust Board and through them the wider health and social care community. The information that is reviewed at these meetings in NHS Trusts across England provides the UK Government with its assurance that the quality of health care being provided meets the national requirements. I have always been tremendously impressed with the huge level of detail in this information, often the result of high quality and informed analysis, by colleagues working within very difficult time frames.

I found being part of the meeting as a participant was considerably easier than chairing. In any event the discussions were good, challenging and gave rise to plans of action that will enable change. At the end of the meeting I was both surprised (and again embarrassed) to be thanked for chairing the meeting so well. Much of my day job involves meetings, many of which I chair. However, I can’t remember the last time someone thanked me for chairing. Like with the actions of the young man in the cash machine queue the day before, I again wondered what had prompted the thanks.

These two acts in themselves might seem rather insignificant to some people, but they resonated and stayed with me during the week. I wondered if they were acts of kindness, acts of respect, or simply examples of organisational rhetoric. But on more than one occasion amidst the busy-ness of my Head of School role I pondered the motivation that might lay behind the words and actions. As Head of School my approach to leadership is predicated on transcendental concepts. For me this is about working to an approach that is about finding ways for others to best make their contribution to the School in the most effective and efficient and enjoyable way possible. It was Friedrich Nietzsche in his book Beyond Good and Evil (1886) who said ‘one loves ultimately ones desires, not the thing desired’. Nietzsche wrote these words a year after his two year relationship with Louise Salomé had ended. His words resonate with me for lots of reasons.

Lou Salomé was an amazing individual, a highly skilled psychoanalyst, an intellectual, who had an unconsummated marriage but enjoyed erotic filled relationships throughout her adult life, and someone who challenged accepted thinking on everything from the existence of God to the need for conventional relationships. She eschewed motherhood, and her feminist beliefs were brought to bear in a constant challenge to the battle against masculine will. Freud consulted her for advice as both a philosopher and psychoanalyst. . Her story is well worth reading. Irivn Yalom, 'When Nietzche Wept' fictional account of the relationship tells the story well

There is much about her approach to life I admire, and as challenging as it may have been to others I think she was authentic and she did good things for many others. I don’t know if she was ever thanked or asked if she wanted to take an others place at the head of a queue, but I hope I can be half as authentic as she was in doing good things for others.