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Looking ahead with fresh perspective

After another challenging year for the charity sector, CFG's CEO, Caron Bradshaw OBE, shares some personal reflections on looking ahead with renewed hope and fresh perspectives.

A few weeks ago, a variety of things collided, resulting in me needing to take a bit of time out to support my mental health.

On my return to the CFG team, I shared a few positive reflections on the light emerging from a bit of gloom. I was encouraged to pick up some themes and write a wider piece on what is going on in the world at present.

The wish is that those reading this will be able to also, in their darker moments, remain positive and find hope.

Being comfortable with discomfort

I’ve written before about the sense that things are coming to a head. Across society systems are broken or breaking. From immigration to healthcare, criminal justice to local services... There isn’t an area which doesn’t require redesign, fresh thinking and courage.

As a sector we can read reports like the Home Truths 2: ‘Warm words, cold comfort' and feel intense discomfort that the right intentions are not leading to change at sufficient pace or in enough depth. We can feel sad, hopeless or even joyless.

But it is so incredibly important that we become comfortable with the discomfort. I don’t mean wallowing in self-pity or becoming immune. The unease we feel is a gift; it is our sense that all is not right. It should spur us on to action and enable us to grow.

All great moments of change, from a baby being born to a butterfly breaking free from its chrysalis, require discomfort. Change and growth is not easy (rewarding things seldom are!).

But it can feel overwhelmingly bleak when some of the laws and proposed laws coming out of parliament right now feel less like solutions and more like the targeting of the most vulnerable in society. Throw in the recent loss of compassionate souls like Benjamin Zephaniah and it can feel like the flame of hope is being smothered.

Sadly, what I currently hear from those in authority and positions of power is free of radical thought. A sense prevails that speaking out of step with the system will be ridiculed, undermined and silenced.

I get that and I sympathise. It’s incredibly difficult to change a system from the outside. To do so requires power and it’s fair to say that, to date, to get power one must play the system, be it broken or not.

Even charities that pride themselves on speaking truth to power can be seen modifying their voice, so that they retain credibility with those they seek to influence. There's no point standing on the sidelines being virtuously angry. You have to be pragmatic, don’t you?

I have always taken this view. Be pragmatic. Work from where you are and not where you wished you were. But there is a fine balance to be struck.

Too frequently, I fear we are watering down our messages to pander to a system that needs to be fundamentally redrawn. Are we too often tinkering at the edges and working within parameters that will never, or rarely, deliver equity, fairness and justice?

In repeatedly doing the same thing we cannot expect a different outcome. A different outcome is what we need.

Clear visions of a brighter future

In all this gloom, I am increasingly noticing reasons to be joyful. Kathy Evans’ wonderful post about how we should reimagine the economy and redesign broken systems, so they work for those hitherto excluded, is inspiring and full of love and hope.

The Future Economy Alliance is pushing for all political parties to embrace a different way of thinking – moving away from extractive practices and embracing a more social form of capitalism.

The work of the Civil Society Group on dismantling racism and the commitment to sit with those uncomfortable truths in order to learn, change and grow, drives us to be better. And there are many more examples besides, all showing that there is appetite for change.

So how do we remain positive and how do we find hope?

For individuals, organisations and, indeed, the country, we need to recognise that feeling oppressed, exploited and depressed robs people of perspective. And when robbed of perspective, seemingly small things can feel huge.

This is being used to divide and conquer. We must speak up, act and fill the void with positive solutions, fresh thinking and radical ideas.

There is more in our control than we give ourselves credit for when we’re not feeling at our best. Pausing and taking responsibility for acting on those things we can change helps immensely (both in terms of feeling better but also in terms of moving the conversation/situation forward).

I love and apply the four agreements of Don Ruiz Miguel. By stripping back the principles he sets out in his book, and applying them day to day, I'm able to focus on the important things, leave behind unhealthy ways of being and let me remain positive:

  1. Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love...
  2. Don't make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
  3. Don't take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering...
  4. Always do your best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret...

In our organisations we are rightly encouraged to stand back and reflect on where we are trying to go and what we need to get there.

We work to see the current situations, not as an anchor to be held back by, but as a starting point from which we can see our visions of a better future. And at the same time, we focus our minds on delivering positive impact, every single day.

It's time to apply these principles to wider political discourse and systems. Of course, it may be difficult to do it all at once but, like the proverbial elephant, you have to start with one bite, not be put off by the size of the task ahead.

I remind myself that all things come to an end and that wonderful legacies, like Benjamin's, can be left behind to inspire new generations who carry the flame and spirit into the future.

Other legacies simply remind us how far we have yet to go and bolster our resolve to do better!

There will come a time when system redesign and radical change for the better can no longer be resisted. So look into 2024 with positivity and hope – and do not allow yourself to be consumed by the alternatives.

Have a wonderful, joyful Christmas and a thrilling new year!


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