Here’s a quote from Simon Sinek:
‘Our goals should serve as markers, measurements of the progress we make in pursuit of something greater than ourselves.’
‘Something greater than ourselves…’ I really like that because it means that we shouldn’t forget why we do what we do. It can be easy to forget how you felt when you first started to work in the NHS. I can remember as a young law graduate feeling so privileged to be rubbing shoulders with people who were doing such (to me) unbelievably good things. I mean ‘good’ in the way that a spiritual person might mean it, or the way someone who has shown character under fire might be seen, or a charity worker who feels compelled to work in a disaster area. I suppose I mean virtue.
There is so much that people who work in the NHS do that is virtuous. I know it’s a job, and that we all have to earn a crust. I also know that for some people work can become a prison, or it can feel oppressive or difficult. But I still can’t remove myself from the thought that people who I work with on the whole tend to be kind, thoughtful, caring, and respectful. I admire them – plain and simple.
It’s our job to care – even me. I care about how we treat our patients, whether we are helping people get what they need from us to help them keep well. I care about our organisation and the people in it. It’s my job.
What about those people though who aren’t paid and for whom being virtuous is reward enough in itself? People who aren’t employees, who we don’t have a right to expect anything from, but who nevertheless quietly and without a fuss just get up in the morning and want to do something good. I’m talking about the people who volunteer to help us and help the people we serve.
I was at an event in Barry last year and met a community first responder – someone who lived locally and who had decided he wanted to participate in a rota of people who would be called if someone might have had a cardiac arrest. I sat talking with this young man for a while and I learnt that he was unemployed currently, but lived in a street he’d been brought up in. One morning, he noticed one of his elderly neighbours struggling to open her gate. He went across and helped her and as he watched her walking away he thought about how long he’d known her, and remembered when she’d once looked after him when he’d fallen playing in the street as a boy. He saw how old she’d become and how frail she’d was and he started to worry that at some point something might happen to her. He felt like he would want to know what to do – and it was this thought that had led him to investigate becoming a first-responder. As we chatted he mentioned in passing that he went swimming each week on a Thursday and that was something else he really enjoyed. Slightly intrigued I asked him why, and he told me that that was when he took a group of people with learning disabilities swimming, acting as a volunteer. He said he loved the way they enjoyed it and he said he felt good afterwards. There’s that word again – ‘good’.
We’ve been celebrating the work of our volunteers over the past week. You can read what the Western Mail had to say about here. Our volunteers include some staff members who have retired but still feel the urge to do something good. I’d like to salute them, one and all. There’s a really interesting book I once read by a man called Jonathan Haidt called The Happiness Hypothesis. He examines the evidence for the causes of happiness. One of the things the evidence tells us we should do is: improve our connection to something beyond ourselves. He goes on to say: ‘Happiness is not the shallow state of feeling pleased and chipper all the time. Happiness is the state of a human being that has achieved cross-level coherence within herself, and between herself and the people, challenges, and institutions around her. Happiness comes from between’.
I’m guessing this is something our volunteers have worked out for themselves. If we want to increase our happiness potential he has a word of advice:
‘Join an organization that has a noble purpose and a long and noble past. Any volunteer work can take you out of yourself. But one that has history, traditions, and rituals is an easier place to find “vital engagement”’
Aren’t we lucky?