Of particular concern is the ease with which the controlling of the expression of distress can be mistaken for the passing of distress. This danger is clearly documented in the study of children. The Robertsons’ studies of the effects of separation from the mother of small children, noted how children will pass from anxious, disturbed or distressed behaviour into a detached apathetic state. This is characterised by a compliance, an apparent willingness to relate to an alternative mother figure, which hides a shallowness in the relationships, an indifference. For the grieving adult, it is at this stage that he is likely to find helpers fading away, to find his/her grief misunderstood as self-indulgence, and to find him/herself shut away from other people in an unreal empty existence. Our question was how we could help the helpers hold the bereaved in contact with depth of feeling, with the possibility of life becoming purposeful and creative again.
This was written in 1981 and was given as an address to members and stakeholders of the Milton Keynes Bereavement Group.
It is now more than two years since we held what I suppose was our inaugural general meeting, when Derek Nuttall spoke about the work of CRUSE. The only disturbing element in an interesting evening was the apparent difficulty one young man had in distinguishing between ourselves and a meeting of the National Front next door! The meeting was called by the Council of Voluntary Organisations on the initiative of a group of social workers, and it led to the formation of a steering committee.
From the beginning, we identified two major concerns. First of all, there was a recognition that the bereaved person has to cope with a range of practical discussions and arrangements at a time of great vulnerability, in addition to the emotional distress and loneliness following the death of a loved one. Whilst there are a range of agencies that offer specialist services concerning finance, legal matters, welfare needs and health needs, the difficulty of making use of these services can be considerable and it is often hard for emotional problems to be dealt with.
Secondly, those who try to offer help to the bereaved characteristically experience feelings of helplessness and inadequacy when faced with the grief, distress and often panic of the grieving person. Friends, neighbours and even family are left feeling that they do not know how to help. Many bereaved people begin to feel that they are avoided, or prevented from talking about their loss, and find themselves anxious about upsetting their friends and family. Professionals can find themselves becoming detached and bureaucratic in manner, and can face angry feelings that are hard to understand. Rigid rules for dealing with the bereaved can develop, that prevent a flexible response to the different needs of different people. I suppose the most common of these is the notion that all bereaved people are helped by the professional who is able to stay detached and business-like in manner, when this may be necessary for some purposes, at some time with some people, but not at other times with others.
Management involves leadership and how to exercise leadership in a manner appropriate to one’s role is part of the learning as a new manager. There are those who struggle with this. They may run away from leadership out of anxiety and project responsibility for problems on to ‘higher management’ or on to ‘difficult staff’. They may hide behind a search for a rigid clarity that is never available in which authority can be exercised as a set of rules in which ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are the only options.
Leadership though does involve additional dimensions and there follows on this blog a series of case studies on leadership drawn from my own experience. I hope the accounts will ring bells for readers and enable people to think through their own experience in trying to exercise leadership or in working for leaders.
I am brought to these reflections by the current (this was written 20 years ago!) state of the Probation Service. Work as a probation officer must provoke thoughts about authority and parenting. Every case brings us up against the struggles, failure and potential of parenthood. Every time we see parents who have lost (or never had) confidence in their own value and hence in their authority, we see disaster, a failure of love. The children live in a kind of anxiety state that is hostile to reflection, that is either too activity centred or depressed. Superficial maturation comes too early and survives on a shallow root. The hollow inside has to be defended by bravado, blaming others, ambition, activity, denial, drugs or alcohol and so on. Importantly, this hollow inside cannot tolerate real learning because this means coming up against the not-knowing that is the child’s experience, vulnerable and dependant.
Real development must involve encounter with what cannot be changed. I recall a vivid example of this. A probation officer worked with an unqualified assistant to help a very difficult young offender. He was homeless and without family support: he lacked any experience of caring for himself and had emerged hopelessly ill-equipped for the adult world from a special school for the ‘educationally sub-normal’, as they were then known. To put the kindest complexion upon it, the probation assistant was a difficult character. She would act without consultation, and in abrupt and sometimes unhelpful ways. She drove the probation officer to irritation and despair as they tried to help the young man. Their capacity to work together at all was stretched to the limit. Suddenly, the young man was taken ill and died. The probation officer and the assistant had in their different ways become attached to him and both were distressed by his death. They had to deal with the practicalities, cope with the family who suddenly emerged at this point and attend the funeral. Their relationship changed dramatically as they discovered new sides to each other.
Death can be a destructive event for the bereaved; to think otherwise is sentimental. However, it can also prompt profound personal development and maturation. The 60s denied death – it was for this that sympathy was offered. The probation service is I think suffering from the legacy of the 60s. We have been accustomed to seeing this unhelpful legacy as the therapeutic value base that has proved inadequate and potentially stigmatising to offenders. In fact, the unhelpful legacy is the failure to fight out the argument between the values that have sustained probation up to the 1960s and the passions of the new generation who are looking to create a new and more liberating world.
This collapse of authority, encouraged by radical chic media, deprived us of some important struggles with hard realities and led us into a shallow fantasy world of liberation and progress. This in part lies behind the ineffectiveness of the opposition to Thatcher with all her destructiveness. The liberal/socialist intelligentsia could not understand that such crass intellectual nonsense as Thatcherism could succeed, and could only fight with the pathetic adolescent weapons of the 60’s rebellion. So we had – “Thatcher – milk snatcher”; Spitting Image; the ‘Polytechnic left’, and the disastrous miner’s strike.
A friend sympathised with my plight as a ‘child’ of the 1960s. Those heady days of freedom and hope, of imagination and ideals do not seem on the face of it deserving of sympathy. We have become accustomed to viewing young people of more recent times with sympathy as they leave school for ‘Mickey Mouse’ training schemes, financial dependency and cold material ambition.
I can’t be quite sure what my friend meant, but I begin to glimpse another side to the 60’s. It was in many ways a glorious time. The complacency of the Tory 50’s had broken down and socialism seemed to offer the hope of something better for the poor and disadvantaged. As an undergraduate, the sense of freedom was palpable. Colleges moved from being enclosed communities in which women especially were protected like children to being open communities where people could come and go as they pleased. The oppressive dullness that came with the repressed sexual anxieties of middle England was replaced by the possibility of personal discovery and experiment.
What was wrong? My friend was certainly not decrying the permissive society, deploring sexual anarchy nor refuting socialist ideals. The difficulty was I think that authority caved in, not that the adolescents rebelled. After all, the rebellion was only adolescent.
These three themes can all be seen as a response to an anxiety about control or about failure to control destructiveness, and are apparent at all levels of the Service. At central government level, the environment is perceived as being actually or potentially out of control, as expressed in rising levels of crime and fears about delinquent frustration. The prime ministerial reaction to the televised pictures of football violence testifies to this anxiety, as does the rapidly rising expenditure on the means of crime control. Probation management has to operate without direct control over the work of probation officers, and yet with a responsibility to respond to governmental anxiety, on the one hand, and the confusing and demanding nature of the local environment on the other. Individual probation officers have to work with no techniques proved to be successful in controlling delinquency, facing frequent re-offending by clients or ex-clients, but with a feeling or responsibility for failures to control that offending behaviour.
It may seem unnecessary to point out that the management of crime involves confronting real destructiveness and behaviour that is out of control. Nonetheless, there is an irrational element to this as with any anxiety, and the means of managing the fear and anxiety generated by crime and by close relationships with offenders, can be generalised to apply to the total functioning of the agency. What I have said refers to what might be regarded as the unconscious life of the agency and its employers, or at least to the extent to which debates about policy or management derive their energy and significance from largely unacknowledged emotional forces. It is my belief that too much emphasis is generally given to the intellectual content of decisions about management, and too little to these powerful emotional forces. However, it has also been my experience in becoming a manager that remarkably little attention is paid to the intellectual work that has been done on organisations.