What NFP workers need to know about care in the time of COVID – Part two
14 June 2020 at 2:30 pm
Ensuring we are aligned with ourselves and with our sense of purpose is vital to those of us working in service of others, writes Rachel Clark, continuing a four-part series providing practical support to help those working in the NFP sector with their wellbeing and mental health.
Last week, I looked at compassion for self. This week, in the second of a four-part series highlighting my CARE Practice Framework for workers in the not-for-profit sector, I will focus on practices of alignment to self and purpose. Alignment is the A in my CARE Practice Framework, and it is my hope that as we emerge back into the world of work, and our life in these new times, we can bring attention to the importance of knowing why we are doing the work we are seeking to do as human-centred practitioners. In so doing, we are committing to ensuring that our work still aligns with our values and current needs.
Alignment to self and purpose
Over these last few months of social isolation, whether we have been working the same hours, reduced or possibly even more, we have been engaging in this work in very different circumstances – sometimes from home and online, or in newly configured office spaces of fewer people. All this activity has required different rhythms. And when our routines are disturbed, opportunities for review and reflection can present themselves.
Ensuring we are aligned with ourselves, and with our sense of purpose, is vital to those of us who work in service of others. Being in step with our “why” helps us keep showing up to the work, however hard it gets. I have developed an understanding of how we may know whether we are indeed “aligned” to ourselves and our sense of purpose which involves a commitment to three micro-practices: a connection to which values are guiding us at this time of our lives; a capacity to notice what is happening within us and between us and others; and a capacity to name the feelings that we feel, and the needs that they are signaling. Let’s begin our alignment exploration with values.
As human-centred practitioners, working to support the health, learning and wellbeing of others is often driven from a strong individual value base that leads us to contribute to society in the many ways that we do. These values may have been formed in childhood and carried with us till today or have been claimed later in life through conscious choice – or both. Regardless, I would wager that we are all highly values-driven people, and so reviewing whether the work we are able to do now is reflective of our values is important work in itself. Psychology supports such work too: ACT, an approach developed by clinical psychologist Stephen Hayes, has as part of its core principles that when we are living in accordance with our values, we are able to live our most meaningful life. Time spent clarifying which values are important for us to live in alignment with our sense of self and purpose, is vital work we can do on behalf of ourselves.
Task 1: Identify the top five values that you could not live without – including any new values that have developed in importance over recent months – and reflect on the work that you are currently doing, including the way in which you are able to do it now. Identify whether you are able to act in accordance with some (or all) of your top five values.
I was first aware of this idea as a language teacher. The theory goes that people learning new languages need to become aware, or “notice”, new grammatical structures as actually existing before they can begin to understand what goes into making them, and eventually perform them. Same goes for new states of being. How can we know the existence of a need, or an experience, until we have “seen” it in some way. We can be helped to “see” it through the guidance of experienced teachers, and we can individually become better at looking for the previously unseen. When what we are looking for has connections to emotions, rather than linguistic patterns, we need to be exercising our emotional intelligence to get us there: to that new point of awareness and understanding. Korean culture carries a beautiful concept called “nunchi” which roughly translates into an ability to read other people’s moods. We might understand this as emotional intelligence, or even empathy. Let’s revisit this skill of connection to emotional understanding and apply it to ourselves, as much as others. Noticing what is happening to us, in any given moment, can help maintain our sense of wholeness, integrity and purpose.
Task 2: Having refocused your attention on the values that guide you in your work, you may be able to “hear” more clearly when there is internal discord. Spend time listening to your gut when it tells you “this does not feel right to me”. Write reflections of your internal and external reactions, to certain people, situations, or ideas. These rumblings are telling you something important about yourself, and your job is to pay closer to attention to them.
3) Feelings and needs
Clinical psychologist Marshall B Rosenberg developed a method of relating to self and others called nonviolent communication (NVC) which guides us to recognise that our human needs in life are driven by feelings about our worlds, and as such, feelings and needs are intimately and causally connected. With a focus on peace building in interpersonal and community relationships, NVC can also be used as a guide to developing a gentle, kind familiarity with our interpersonal needs, starting with an identification of our current feelings in different situations, and how these can illuminate our pressing needs in many areas of our lives. We may think that we talk the language of feelings and needs quite easily as sentient people, but when pushed to identify how we are actually feeling, beyond angry, sad, or even happy, we can struggle. Listing our varying feelings and needs takes more attention than we would imagine. When we are able to articulate clearly a range of feelings that we experience across our lives, and how these signal met or unmet needs, we can move towards a more authentic and aligned life.
Task 3: Think of a situation which has caused some discomfort – it may be one from Task 2 – and list from it the feelings that it has evoked in you. Connect these feelings to unmet needs. When you have created your first list, review it to see if you can go deeper. Consider if the feeling you initially identified is the actual feeling, or a “placeholder” for a deeper, more truthful feeling. Do the same for the needs.
Taking time to reflect on and connect to our current values, feelings and needs, assisted by the skill of noticing, can guide us closer to our most aligned self. When we can show up to the world in our truest form, we can be of greater service to those who need us.
About the author: Rachel Clark is a teacher and community development practitioner with 25 years practice experience. She teaches and mentors future community service workers, organisers and activists to make an impact in their community from a strengths-based, self-care and diversity perspective. Rachel is also the founder of Lumin Leaders (@luminleaders), an organisation which guides human-centred practitioners through educational and psychological support services, and a host of an embryonic podcast called Working With Purpose. Her core values are connection, collaboration, compassion, and curiosity which she uses every-day in her human-centred practices of teaching and community building.