Alessandra Pigni cached version 18/01/2019 09:51:49 en Work: it’s time for a new year’s revolution <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We don’t need a better work-life balance—we need a new way of working that’s fully integrated into our lives so that work doesn’t destroy our souls.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: Alessandra Pigni. All rights reserved.</p> <p>So here we are, a brand new year like a blank canvas, a fresh start full of resolutions. No doubt many people will resolve to invest in their ‘work-life balance.’ But more than New Year’s resolutions which hardly ever work beyond the first week of January, I think we need something much more radical akin to a new year’s <em>revolution </em>in our workplaces—and in the ways we organise for social change.</p> <p>We don’t need a better work-life balance—we need a new way of working that’s fully integrated into our lives so that work doesn’t destroy our souls.</p> <p>I’ve grown weary of big mission statements in non-profits about making a difference or empowerment, sustainability and equality. They end up by becoming platitudes, providing an unintentional cover-up of some sort: anything goes in the office because we are ‘doing good’ out there. I’m fed up of big ideals and crabby people who are too busy fixing the world to be kind to their colleagues; too busy making a difference ‘out there’ to look within; too occupied changing others to change themselves. When this happens organisations become unfriendly places that breed burnout—preaching justice and equality but practising very little of either in reality.</p> <p>Take humanitarian organisations: they are full of resilient people on the verge of burnout. All the signs are there: exhaustion, loss of purpose, cynicism and disillusionment. This quote from a Syrian aid worker working with people fleeing from war puts it in a nutshell: “Do I have to fight to deliver services or do I have to fight my managers? We’re fighting the discrimination on the ground but not in the office.”</p> <p>But burnout isn’t just a personal issue, it’s a structural one. We can’t deal with it unless we are prepared to rethink the way we work, and acknowledge that the quality of relationships that we craft in the office really matters. It matters to our mental health <em>and</em> to the kind of work we want to do.</p> <p>Many idealists find themselves wondering if the work they are actually doing matches what they imagined when they started out, full of passion to make the world a better place. Humanitarians, activists, teachers, health professionals and non-profit workers may have different personal and professional paths, but they share a common thread: starting out with wide horizons and big ideals, and often ending up jaded and burned-out. Wanting to make the world a place where healthcare, justice and education are not just the privilege of a few but fundamental rights, yet discovering that the road to doing good and meaningful stuff is paved with terrible managers, short-sighted organizational visions, and power relations that can bend your soul.</p> <p>How we can break out of this mess? <em><a href="">The Idealist’s Survival Kit</a> </em>was born out of my own attempts to find ways to keep sane while serving others, to avoid becoming cold-hearted while being exposed to overwhelming human and humanitarian crises, and to avoid drowning in cynicism while maintaining awareness of my own drives and needs as well as keeping a critical eye on the whole, flawed humanitarian enterprise.</p><p>My first humanitarian assignment was as a psychologist in Nablus, Palestine, serving with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders. The experience was an eye-opener and the beginning of a love story—not so much with institutionalized humanitarian work but with the Middle East and with people who do work that matters, often at the margins of big institutions and sometimes in spite of them.</p> <p>As I prepared myself psychologically for the field, my fears were about political violence and possible traumatic incidents, like being caught in the shooting or shelling and becoming disabled. But none of that reflected the realities I met on the ground, which were intense, enriching, inspiring and challenging, though not always in the ways I had expected. </p> <p>What became clear was that many aid workers’ biggest trials, stressors and traumas came not from so-called ‘frontline work’—in my case listening to the tragic and harrowing stories of people who had lost their homes and loved ones—but from the petty stresses of organizational life, from controlling managers trying to micromanage, or from the burden of bureaucracy and office politics, or losing sight of a larger purpose or the real meaning of the work.</p> <p>After some years I realized that I needed strength and self-care tools when I stepped <em>into </em>the office, not when I stepped out of it. In fact, the people I was meant to ‘help’ became examples of everyday resilience and courage—and my sources of inspiration. Did I need their help more than they needed mine? I often think that was the case. They certainly enabled me to find my way and my place in the world, and to face my own challenges with more confidence.</p> <p>I realized that the humanitarian lifestyle might seem charming from a distance but that close-up, it had flaws that were hard for me to digest. The idealism that propelled me and many of my colleagues dimmed the longer we spent in the field. Many lost compassion and became cynical. It was clear that to serve others we needed a certain degree of mental and emotional fitness, as well as enough self-awareness to avoid helping others becoming a form of escapism in which we end up doing more harm than good.</p> <p>Burnout, not post-traumatic stress disorder, and bad human resource practices, not war, are the things that wear so many people out who work for nonprofits. These are issues over which we have some control, unlike wars or natural disasters. So we need to rethink our organizations and our relationships to work if we don’t want to end up exhausted, jaded and ineffective.</p> <p>The aim of my <a href="">book</a> is to help everyone understand, address and if possible prevent burnout, especially when working as an activist or in other demanding situations of social change. I don’t have a simple recipe for healing, and anyone who advertises a ‘life-changing’ method almost certainly doesn’t have one. As the writer <a href="">Rebecca Solnit</a> puts it, “We are constantly given one-size-fits-all recipes, but those recipes fail, often and hard. Nevertheless, we are given them again. And again and again. They become prisons and punishments.” </p> <p>Nevertheless, there are plenty of concrete ways to resist a culture that turns busyness and exhaustion into a barometer to assess our value as human beings, and lots of steps we can take to take care of ourselves while serving others. We can resist by searching for meaning amidst a chaotic yet fulfilling personal and professional exploration. We can begin to take care of ourselves by recognizing that small things matter and by deliberately stepping out of the blender of compulsive busyness. Mental health isn’t something that experts give to you. </p> <p>For example, something as simple as having lunch together with your colleagues can become an informal yet structured vehicle for emotional debriefing. Over and over again, the people I interviewed told me about the importance of creating forums that breed a culture of respect, care and learning. A meal together doesn't fix the problem or make the pain go away, but it can open up a space to acknowledge that we are not alone in facing what life throws at us. </p> <p>We can “learn and practice the art of saying no” as a Syrian emergency adviser put it, or “practice yoga (or your favourite body-mind activity) every day, even if you work in a place like Gaza, in fact especially if you work in a place like Gaza.” Other non-profit staff added their own ideas: “keep a journal, write about your experiences, about how you feel;” “connect with a group or an activity that has nothing to do with your work.” “Practice mindfulness and go on a silent meditation retreat; “go on digital detox” or just “go for a walk.” As the late activist Tooker Gomber puts it in his <a href="">Letter to an Activist</a>: “Be sure to hike and dance and sing. Keeping your spirit alive and healthy is fundamental if you are to keep going.” Do your your work, but don’t overdo it. “If you burn out, you’ll become no good to anyone.”</p> <p>While these strategies may not save you from burnout if you are immersed in a toxic workplace, they may help you to stay sane and realize that it may be worth knocking on new doors in search of a more humane organisation—or at least a place where lunch-time happens around a table and not behind a computer screen. Instead of pledging committment to some banal new year’s resolution and running after that ideal but impossible work-life balance, we can all embrace a more radical approach that transforms work by starting within ourselves and our own workplaces.</p> <p class="image-caption">Alessandra Pigni’s book is <em><a href="">The Idealist’s Survival Kit. 75 Simple Ways to Avoid Burnout</a></em>.</p><p class="image-caption"> Read the foreword to The Idealist's Survival Kit <a href="">here</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/alessandra-pigni/practising-mindfulness-at-checkpoint">Practising mindfulness at the checkpoint</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/alessandra-pigni/no-you-can%E2%80%99t-%E2%80%98be-change%E2%80%99-alone">No, you can’t ‘be the change’ alone</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chloe-king/dangers-of-radical-selflove">The dangers of radical self-love</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation Alessandra Pigni Love and Spirituality Care Activism Mon, 09 Jan 2017 01:00:00 +0000 Alessandra Pigni 107969 at No, you can’t ‘be the change’ alone <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Positive thinking may be useless or even damaging, but negative thinking is unlikely to change the world for the better.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="// Pigni.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href=";rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=images&amp;cd=&amp;ved=0CAYQjB1qFQoTCNGY25iv28YCFcEkHgodbS8PyA&amp;;ei=p2SlVZGpBsHJeO3evMAM&amp;bvm=bv.97653015,d.dmo&amp;psig=AFQjCNHnjks_rXY501D_q673c4ZCKTcE-A&amp;ust=1436988942658627"></a>. All rights reserved.</p> <p>Having travelled between ‘world-out-there’ humanitarianism and ‘world-in-here’ western psychology and meditation for a decade, I often see a clash between personal and structural transformation, or the lack thereof. </p> <p><span>I hang out with&nbsp;the action people,&nbsp;those who get stuff done to change the system and snark at personal transformation—and I sense that ‘doing’ is not enough. I sit with the reflective people, those who believe that we can change the world by changing ourselves—and I definitely know that something is missing: ‘being’ is not enough. The communication between the two seems limited, superficial, and when it happens it’s just a bit “hippiesh” in style.</span></p> <p><span>An interesting quandary:&nbsp;</span><a href="" target="_blank">I can’t ‘be the change’ alone, no matter how many times I quote Mahatma Gandhi</a><span>. Neither do apolitical humanitarianism or&nbsp;</span><a href="" target="_blank">political activism</a><span> without personal change stand any chance of transforming the world. So…….</span></p> <p><strong>To be or to do?</strong></p> <p>I guess this has been one of the questions for me: how much agency do I have in making the world a better place by being a decent human being, while navigating the challenges of being ethically aware, and keeping my sanity.</p> <p><span>And how much do I need to rest my case because the world is a mess solely due to structural failures, and mine are just pathetic attempts to feel good about myself? In other words, is it worth doing something or should I just sit and ‘be?’</span></p> <p><span>For me the way to address this dilemma is not an either/or answer.&nbsp;What I think and how I feel about myself matter, but without appropriate action in the world (I’m sorry to disappoint), it’s just a feel-good attitude which at best can achieve personal wellbeing. That alone won’t change the world. Yet as humanitarians who want to affect the world out there, it’s time we take into account that action without space for reflection runs the risk of becoming a form of pathological altruism—a mode of doing that ends up shaping institutions that are insensitive to caring for their own people with the excuse of rushing to change the world.</span></p> <p><span>Can I be an abusive boss and still deliver much needed medical care in emergencies and save lives? Sure I can, I just don’t wish it on anyone to work with me.</span></p> <p><span>This is a very personal reflection, it’s where I sit now, unsure of how I can contribute to the world out there, and perplexed about the idea of inner transformation as a vehicle for global change. </span><a href="">This piece</a><span> explaining&nbsp;</span><a title="Why Self-Care is not Enough" href="" target="_blank">“why self-care is not enough”</a><span>&nbsp;pretty much sums up my views, and opens the door to addressing structural responsibilities in order to understand human suffering (which is not a mental health disorder)—the suffering of aid workers, and the suffering of those we are meant to serve.</span></p> <p><span>Self-care and staff care turned out to be entry points to discuss questions that are much more pressing for me—questions that have brought me back to my philosophy studies; ethical questions which in the case of humanitarian work revolve around the promise for a better future, and radical values such as humanity, respect, empowerment and participation. The rather disappointing everyday reality of humanitarian organisations—where these very values are paraded on office walls and websites—is that they are still too often disregarded when it comes to </span><a title="4 ways toxic workplaces are harming the social good sector" href="" target="_blank">showing humanity towards one another</a><span> in ordinary, everyday relations. As an aid worker recently told me: “We value people, just not our own.”</span></p> <p><strong>Mind the gap: ideal and real</strong></p> <p><span>The gap between ideal and real remains wide: people get into aid work for noble reasons, or at least with some aspirations, only to discover that </span><a href="" target="_blank">there’s no room for activism in aid work</a><span>&nbsp;(though we need to have a discussion about what activism looks like in 2015, because to me it’s no longer only about signing petitions and going to rallies).</span></p> <p><span>On the road from ideal to real, some aid workers become jaded and cynical before giving in and adapting to a dysfunctional setup. Others&nbsp;burn out.&nbsp;</span><a title="A quick guide to getting out of aid work" href="" target="_blank">Others simply leave</a><span>, and of course many stay and do a good job without going insane. I repeatedly discuss&nbsp;</span><a title="How to overcome “humanitarian” burnout" href="" target="_blank">burnout as the manifestation of a broken way of living and working</a><span>, and no amount of positive thinking, mindfulness, yoga, or whatever is the latest hip fad will put that right. Again, it is a structural problem. But just know that you and me are part of that broken system </span><a href="" target="_blank">when we fail at moral courage</a><span>, when we just shut up and keep our head down, when we keep repeating that to work in aid one has to toughen up and stop being so sensitive.</span></p> <p><span>I’m glad to see that more words are being spent on </span><a href="">the illusion of positive thinking</a><span>—as if that alone could change the world, which is a misguided and misguiding idea. Yet thinking does play a role in informing action, even if it is critical thinking rather than the positive variety. The world doesn’t change because I sit and breathe, so yes let’s challenge all that new age nonsense, the secular spirituality without any ethics.</span></p> <p><span>Meditation was never about some ‘feel-good, love yourself, go girl’ attitude, nor about enhancing productivity as one might be led to believe by a quick web search on “mindfulness and productivity” (I’ll spare you the links). Sitting in silence may help me to pause, take stock, reflect, and rest so that I can bring </span><a href="" target="_blank">constructive&nbsp;disruption</a><span> and not exhaustion to my actions. What remains is that poverty, injustice, war and occupation are </span><a href="" target="_blank">structural problems</a><span> that require political solutions. But again, if I’m constantly stressed and all doom and gloom, not only does the system remain unfair, but </span><a title="Managing teams in dangerous places—the self-destructor" href="" target="_blank">I become part of the problem</a><span> too.</span></p> <p><strong>Changing the world? Changing my attitude?</strong></p> <p><span>Today I’m not as convinced as I was in my early days, that ‘changing the world starts from within.’ Instead&nbsp;I wonder if&nbsp;changing the world starts ‘in between’—between people, in relationships, and in the way we treat each other, as well as in the radical transformation of the way our institutions operate. So yes, I do have some agency, but no, the world does not dramatically change </span><em>just</em><span> because I’m more kind and compassionate.</span></p> <p><span>I don’t believe that I can transform the world because I think positive thoughts, or ruin it by radiating bad vibes on an off day. But my attitude and behaviour do matter for sure, and if you think otherwise </span><a title="4 ways toxic workplaces are harming the social good sector" href="" target="_blank">try a toxic work environment day in and day out</a><span>, or an abusive boss or partner. You’ll soon experience how people do have the power to make your life a heaven or a hell.</span></p> <p><span>So while I share the view that positive thinking is useless for most, helpful for few and possibly harmful for some (see this </span><a href="" target="_blank">great animated video</a><span> for more), I do hope we won’t now be invaded by a stream of cynical negative thinking, just to balance things out.&nbsp;If positive thinking won’t change the world, I doubt that </span><a href="" target="_blank">negative thinking and ranting over the state of the system will</a><span> either.</span></p> <p><span>I, for one, am interested, not just in exploring but in </span><em>living&nbsp;</em><span>in that space where critical thinking and reflective practice meet justice, and the capacity to love oneself and others. How? I don’t know. I just envisage this as the activism and humanitarianism of the 21st century, not just rallies or charity, but something new, where institutions don’t break people’s spirit, where personal wellbeing is not chased in isolation, and where ‘doing’ and ‘being’ are not mutually exclusive.</span></p> <p class="image-caption">This article was first published on <a href="">MindfulNext</a>, and was written in response to <a href="">a critique of positive thinking by Chloe Jones</a>.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chloe-king/dangers-of-radical-selflove">The dangers of radical self-love</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/alessandra-pigni/practising-mindfulness-at-checkpoint">Practising mindfulness at the checkpoint</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/alessandra-pigni/organizations-as-communities-lessons-from-deir-mar-musa-in-syria">Organizations as communities: lessons from Deir Mar Musa in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/william-davies/corruption-of-happiness">The corruption of happiness</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Transformation positive thinking mindfulness Alessandra Pigni Activism Love and Spirituality Fri, 31 Jul 2015 00:00:00 +0000 Alessandra Pigni 94820 at Organizations as communities: lessons from Deir Mar Musa in Syria <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="Body">Successful communities welcome disagreement and approach conflict constructively. Maybe the 21st century is the time to think about all organizations as communities, and to see where this radical change in direction might take us.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="Body"><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="Body"><a class="image-caption" href=";Oglio">Father Paolo Dall'Oglio</a>. <span class="image-caption">Credit: <a href=""></a>. All rights reserved.</span></p><p class="Body">A couple of years ago I suffered a severe attack of nostalgia while <a href="">listening to the voice</a> of <a href=";Oglio">Father Paolo Dall'Oglio</a> on Italian radio, a frontline Catholic priest and peace activist in Syria. Being an expatriate Italian myself, and a lapsed Catholic with a deep connection to the Middle East, I loved the story of <a href="">Deir Mar Musa</a>, the mixed community he founded in 1984 on the ruins of a 6th century monastery.</p><p class="Body"><span>Nostalgia aside, what caught my attention - as a specialist in </span><a href="">burnout prevention</a><span> among organizations and individuals that work with conflict - was the priest&rsquo;s insistence that people with different views can live and work together successfully, instead of getting stuck in a quagmire of dysfunctional relationships and institutions.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>So as I think about the challenges I&rsquo;m facing in my work, it&rsquo;s telling that the best example that sticks in my mind is not an organization, but a community. Maybe the 21st century is the time to </span><a href="">think about all organizations as communities</a><span>, and to see where this radical change in direction might take us.</span></p><p class="Body"><a href="">Father Paolo</a><span> (or &ldquo;Abuna&rdquo; as he is known locally) has made Syria his home for the last thirty years. He&rsquo;s become a loved and respected leader, though not without his </span><a href="">share of opposition</a><span> from within and outside the Church</span><strong>. </strong><span>Paolo dall'Oglio took </span><a href="">an abandoned monastery</a><span> north of Damascus, and gave it new life by building a centre for interfaith dialogue.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>As I listened to his words on the radio I was drawn into his vision of a community that welcomes diversity, where Christians and Muslims, people of all faith and no faith can meet and build projects together. Over time, it&rsquo;s become </span><a href="">a place for deep healing and recognition of the other</a><span>: a space of dialogue - real dialogue - where there is room for agreement, disagreement, and conflict.</span></p><p><span>Father Paolo insists that people should not shy away from interpersonal conflict, but rather open up to it, because conflict can transform us, and show us another side of ourselves and others. Even amidst a civil war, "acts of sanity" as he calls them are possible when trust is built through seemingly-unimportant gestures of daily kindness.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>His words ring true: </span><a href="">it takes courage to disagree</a><span> without spiraling into hatred. Societies need peace, but </span><a href="">they don&rsquo;t need more conflict-avoidant or compliant people.</a></p><p class="Body"><span>How does a remote community like </span><a href="">Deir Mar Musa</a><span> become a catalyst for change? How do we build more communities where there is room for disagreement, and where conflict becomes a catalyst for transformation rather than destruction? And how do we stick to our ideals and vision </span><a href="">without becoming self-righteous</a><span>, as Father Paolo has done throughout his life and work?</span></p><p class="Body"><span>I have no answers to these questions. Maybe that&rsquo;s why the interview with Father Paolo attracted me so much. But it did encourage me to write a letter to him shortly afterwards. To my astonishment, I got a quick reply, in which he invited me to visit his community whenever I was able: "the situation in Syria is critical" he said "but up here things are very quiet, come when you want."</span></p><p class="Body"><span>It&rsquo;s then that I make a mistake that I still regret: instead of putting my work on hold and getting on the first flight to Damascus, I decided to postpone my visit to Deir Mar Musa until &lsquo;my work is done&rsquo;. Three years later, </span><a href="">the civil war in Syria has brought the country to its knees</a><span>. Father Paolo, a supporter of freedom, justice and peace, was expelled from the country in 2012 by the Assad regime, and when he returned to continue his work in 2013 he was kidnapped by members of the </span><a title="Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" href="">Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant</a><span>, a rebel group. Since his kidnapping on July 29, 2013, there has been no news of his health or location. Some say he has been executed, but there is </span><a href=";Oglio">no confirmation</a><span> one way or the other.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>Nevertheless, my virtual encounter with Father Paolo turned my priorities upside down, and it taught me some important lessons.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>The first is never to miss a transformational opportunity. While work comes and goes, there are encounters and possibilities that occur only once. The second lesson is that people crave meaningful relationships in every aspect of their lives, so it&rsquo;s high time we took the idea of </span><a href="">building organizations as communities</a><span> more seriously.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>What do I mean? Like successful communities, </span><a href="">transformative organizations</a><span> foster connections between different people, and have a sense of shared humanity at their core. Workplaces, factories and offices aren&rsquo;t just places where people happen to spend most of their day in order to make a living; at least potentially, they are places that can 'grow goodness' inside the organization and outside, in the wider society they serve.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>Organizations as communities demonstrate a capacity for dialogue, trust, mutual respect and responsibility in the way they face up to differences and disagreements. They provide </span><a href="">burnout-proof workplaces</a><span>: environments where conflict is addressed constructively, individuals are given more control, and people are able to see their personal values reflected in their work.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>Skeptical? I hear you: how could any organization like this survive, and how could an isolated monastic community be a model in the future?</span></p><p class="Body"><span>In his book &ldquo;</span><a href="">The Necessary Revolution</a><span>,&rdquo; </span><a href="">Peter Senge</a><span>, one of the originators of the &lsquo;learning organization&rsquo; wrote this:</span></p><p class="Body"><span>&ldquo;People and organizations around the world are already planting the seeds for new ways of living and working together. Yes, they are a minority. No, they are not part of the mainstream, either within their industries or usually within their own organizations. But, unlike previous periods of profound change, it is unlikely these seeds will take centuries to mature and spread, because in today&rsquo;s interconnected world, the problems are global, and the changes will be as well&rdquo;.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>As more and more people come to value sustainable livelihoods and a sense of community, and seek a learning experience from their work instead of simply a career, a new kind of organizational culture is emerging. Once the bills are paid, most people I know want meaningful work. The old </span><a href="">Fordian-style mechanistic organization</a><span> - whether for-profit or not-for-profit - is becoming obsolete. In the post-industrial era, values and meaning are core features of the work that most people seek.</span></p><p class="Body">Organizations with these features don&rsquo;t emerge by chance; neither is there a fixed recipe for their success. Their secret lies not in how people connect with the external social landscape but in how they connect with each other. <a href="">Studies have found</a> that such groups pay attention to the inner experience of their staff through an ongoing process of learning and care that becomes embedded in the life of the organization. </p><p class="Body"><span>For example, I recently facilitated a process of team consolidation at a time of transition in a community-based organization in Palestine. Staff had decided to experiment with a new way of providing feedback to each other by discussing statements such as, &ldquo;Here&rsquo;s what I appreciate most about my working relationship with you,&rdquo; and &ldquo;Here&rsquo;s what I find most difficult.&rdquo; When regularly revisited, </span><a href="">learning practices</a><span> like this one show how time and space for personal and professional growth become </span><em>part</em><span> of how the world is changed. In this way organizations can become communities instead of bureaucratic institutions.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>The experience of </span><a href="">Deir Mar Musa</a><span> shows that </span><a href="">the world does not change one person at a time</a><span>; it changes through connections. Small and nimble grassroots organizations that act as communities can have a deep impact on society. And while there&rsquo;s no &lsquo;how to&rsquo; guide to build such organizations, it always helps to explore beyond the limits of conventional wisdom - to go against the grain and break the rules.</span></p><p class="Body"><span>That&rsquo;s what Father Paolo did when he took over an abandoned building in Syria and turned it into a community instead of yet another hierarchy. In doing so he showed that the ways in which people connect with the external social landscape mirror the ways in which they connect with each other.</span></p><p class="Body"><a href="">Deir Mar Musa</a><span> is now a community living under attack. In my heart it is a place that embraces transformation, a place where even those of us who don&rsquo;t know where to start or how to pray can learn how to do both. Let us pray that Abuna Paolo will return safely soon and help to lead his beloved Syria out of the nightmare of civil war.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/alessandra-pigni/practising-mindfulness-at-checkpoint">Practising mindfulness at the checkpoint</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/maia-duerr/can-religion-be-force-for-transformation">Can religion be a force for transformation?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/stephanie-van-hook/transforming-anger-into-nonviolent-power">Transforming anger into nonviolent power</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Creative Commons </div> </div> </div> Transformation North-Africa West-Asia Transformation Civil society Conflict Ideas Transforming Ourselves Transforming Society Alessandra Pigni Transformative nonviolence Mon, 24 Mar 2014 10:37:06 +0000 Alessandra Pigni 80597 at Practising mindfulness at the checkpoint <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Is caring for ourselves an act of self-indulgence or social change? Alessandra Pigni tests the boundaries of "mindfulness" on the border between Israel and Palestine.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Alessandra Pigni. All rights reserved.</p><blockquote><p class="FreeFormA">To put meaning in one&rsquo;s life may end in madness,</p><p class="FreeFormA">But life without meaning is the torture</p><p class="FreeFormA">Of restlessness and vague desire &ndash;</p><p class="FreeFormA">It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid. - E.L Masters, <a href="">Spoon River Anthology</a></p><p class="FreeFormA">&nbsp;</p></blockquote> <p class="FreeFormA">It&rsquo;s 2008 and I&rsquo;ve just arrived in Nablus, amid the human and emotional wreckage that followed the Second Intifada. As a psychologist with an international NGO, I&rsquo;m here to provide therapeutic support to Palestinians who carry the wounds of the ongoing conflict and military occupation. I work with young men who have been in prison, <a href="">mothers who have lost their children</a>, and fathers who struggle with humiliation. Looking back I have no doubt who was the main beneficiary of this experience - me. Without it I would have no understanding of the power dynamics of foreign aid, no insight into the organizational culture that permeates relief agencies, and no direct experience of the exhaustion and loss of meaning that affects so many who choose humanitarian work, and end up in a nonprofit &ldquo;rat-race&rdquo; almost as competitive as that of the corporate world. </p> <p class="FreeFormA">Fast forward to 2011 and I'm back in Palestine, no longer branded as an aid worker and this time using &ldquo;mindfulness&rdquo; to approach staff care in NGOs. <a href="">Mindfulness</a> is a very simple form of meditation that consists of focusing your full attention on your breath as it flows in and out of your body. Essentially it&rsquo;s about observation without criticism, and being compassionate with yourself and others &ndash; not exactly the characteristics that come to mind when thinking about Israel and Palestine. I&rsquo;ve only been here a few days and <a href="">Juliano Mer Khamis</a>, the inspiring director of the Freedom Theatre, is shot in Jenin. A few more days go by and an Italian volunteer, <a href="">Vittorio Arrigoni</a>, is kidnapped and murdered in Gaza. </p> <p class="FreeFormA">On the day the news breaks out, I&rsquo;ve scheduled a mindfulness session for NGO workers in Ramallah. Is it appropriate to go ahead? No cancellations come through so I decide to stick to the original plan. The session is marked by anger, sadness and loss. The silent meditation and the personal enquiry that are built into the session provide a space to voice our fears and confusion. Rather than self-indulgence, it turns out that mindfulness provides an oasis to hold the pain we face when working in emotionally-charged environments. </p> <p class="FreeFormA">On my way back to Jerusalem I spend over an hour at Qalandya checkpoint. As the cold evening unfolds, I&rsquo;m standing in line with a handful of other people. There is no logical reason why the soldiers keep us waiting, so I start to practice mindfulness at the checkpoint. I breathe to ground myself and it helps to contain my indignation over the bureaucracy of the occupation. A father and his five-year old child are standing in line ahead of me. He offers me an apricot and a smile, showing how kindness and beauty are present even in the midst of ugliness and violence.&nbsp; </p> <p class="FreeFormA">The building of settlements and the separation wall in Palestine are keeping Israel&rsquo;s construction industry in good health. Meanwhile the Palestinians have become disillusioned with outsiders and politely tired of yet more NGOs and volunteers. Martha is one of these volunteers, based in Ramallah. She tells me how she&rsquo;s been working herself to exhaustion over the past twelve months, seeing little impact in the local community. She came to make a meaningful contribution and instead finds herself on the road to burnout, the malaise of so many in the NGO community.&nbsp; </p> <p class="FreeFormA"><a href="">Burnout</a> signifies exhaustion, a state where &ldquo;one is cynical about the value and meaning of one&rsquo;s occupation and doubtful of one&rsquo;s capacity to perform.&rdquo; Feeling worn-out and angry, Martha eventually decides to walk away from the NGO that has drained her energies. She&rsquo;s bitter and jaded for a while, but through talking and exploring mindfulness she begins to experience the benefits of reflection and self-care as a pre-requisite for effective action in the world. I call this &lsquo;post-burnout growth,&rsquo; the early stage of using burnout to start another journey of transformation.</p> <p class="FreeFormA">The problem is that all the organizations that all the &lsquo;Marthas&rsquo; work for look as if they have burnout built into their DNA: managers pushing for ridiculous working hours and &ldquo;total commitment,&rdquo; for multi-tasking when focus is proven to be more effective, for action without reflection. Time for learning and care is seen as &ldquo;time wasted.&rdquo;&nbsp; Of course there are exceptions, like the Palestinian grassroots group that is run by Hiba. She is adamant that organizational development and community empowerment can only happen when&nbsp;staff needs and priorities are properly attended to. </p> <p class="FreeFormA"><span>Building resilience and preventing burnout is a way to resist the neurotic frenzy of our times, but it&rsquo;s also a profound act of respect for those we aim to help. As the civil rights activist </span><a href="">Audre Lorde</a><span> once put it, &ldquo;caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.&rdquo; Women like Hiba may be isolated pioneers, but the path they are forging represents an exciting experiment where the personal and the political are truly inter-twined.</span></p> <p class="FreeFormA"><span>Mindfulness provides a breathing space to take stock and re-energize our actions from a place of care, awareness and creativity. For me it&rsquo;s a simple process: I sit quietly for five minutes, close my eyes, and breathe without distractions - no iphone, no laptop, no entertainment. That in itself is a move away from self-distraction. I can&rsquo;t make time for an hour of meditation every day, but I&rsquo;ve found plenty of ways to use brief moments of mindfulness to check-in with myself and engage with the world from a different and healthier place, just like at the checkpoint.</span></p> <p class="FreeFormA"><span>&lsquo;Sounds nice but that&rsquo;s impossible&rsquo; I hear you say, but that&rsquo;s my point. Discovering a practice like mindfulness amidst the mess and chaos is exactly what is needed. Going further, mindfulness works best when it is integrated into the organizational culture of an NGO. For example, Khaled uses it to ground himself before and after meeting families who have suffered traumatic events at the hands of the Israeli army or the settlers. Maram relies on it to stop surrendering to the many work demands that have contributed to her burnout. Anna finds it essential to deal with the sense of guilt she feels every time she says no to yet another project. John uses it informally in really difficult meetings, where there&rsquo;s no need to say &lsquo;and now, let&rsquo;s close our eyes and be mindful of the conflicts in the room.&rsquo; All these are ways to combat the </span><a href=";utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed:+OrganizationUnbound+(Organization+Unbound)">&lsquo;hyper-activism&rsquo;</a><span> that Thomas Merton described as such &ldquo;a pervasive form of contemporary violence."</span></p> <p class="FreeFormA"><span>As we become overworked and under-supported, hyper-connected but disengaged, mindful but unaware, it&rsquo;s no surprise that burnout is spreading. Its impact still has to be fully-appreciated by NGOs who see burnout only in terms of stress, something to be treated by the pap of professional stress-management and work-life balance training. Mindfulness is so much more, if we are prepared to go beyond the fashions of the moment and acknowledge that we are hungry for deeper meaning in our lives, our jobs and our relationships with each-other. So here&rsquo;s a challenge for NGOs to end with: why not craft a culture of learning and care that is integrated into the day-to-day life of the workplace and the community? I&rsquo;ve seen it happening and it works. Through learning and care we create meaning, and meaning is the antidote to burnout.</span></p><p class="FreeFormA">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/scot-nakagawa/for-racial-healing-we-need-to-get-real-about-racism">For racial healing, we need to get real about racism </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/sally-kohn/dont-feed-trolls-cultivating-civility-online">Don&#039;t feed the trolls? Cultivating civility online</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/gail-c-christopher/blue-heart">Blue Heart</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> Transformation openSecurity Transformation Civil society Conflict International politics Transforming Ourselves Transforming Politics Transforming Society Alessandra Pigni Activism Wed, 17 Jul 2013 10:10:42 +0000 Alessandra Pigni 73982 at Alessandra Pigni <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Alessandra Pigni </div> </div> </div> <p>Alessandra Pigni is a humanitarian psychologist and staff care specialist with many years of experience in the Middle East, and China. Her new book <a href="">The Idealist’s Survival Kit. 75 Simple Ways to Avoid Burnout</a> is out now with Parallax Press. You can follow her blog at <a href=""></a> and connect with her on Twitter <a href="http://https/">@mindfulnext</a>.&nbsp;</p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Alessandra Pigni is a writer and a humanitarian psychologist. You can follow her on twitter @mindfulnext. </div> </div> </div> Alessandra Pigni Fri, 12 Jul 2013 15:37:10 +0000 Alessandra Pigni 73984 at