Tag Archives: flourishing

Risk taking and safe spaces

All too often ‘safe’ is treated like some kind of pathetic, counterproductive retreat for the innately useless. Talent show TV programs bully and ridicule the ‘talent’ as entertainment, while people who ask for safe spaces can expect to be mocked.

What happens when you give a person a safe space? Based on experience of holding safe spaces for people, and the experience of being in places where I feel safe, the results are not what might be expected. Safety has never, in my experience, resulted in people being comfortably crap. What happens instead is that people who feel safe are empowered to take risks.

A safe space means a space where you will be treated with kindness and respect. It doesn’t mean being rewarded for messing up, but it does mean having messing up as a recognised part of being human, and striving. It’s very difficult to do anything new or groundbreaking without making mistakes. Knowing that if you try to reach high and fail, no one will kick you if you miss and fall, makes it easier to reach. People who keep reaching, achieve all kinds of things. People who are afraid to make mistakes will play it safe and will have far less scope to develop.

Recent years took a toll on my confidence. I’d largely stopped performing, I’d not MCed in ages. Getting out in public to perform and participate was not easy. If I’d been met with hostility, ridicule, or anything of that ilk, I would have stopped very quickly. Instead, I found warmth, friendship, permission and opportunity. I felt braver as a consequence. Last week I ventured to sing one of my own songs, and I’ve pushed repeatedly to do things that were outside the comfort zone. It’s been possible to face down my anxiety because I’ve been in the company of people I know are on my side.

Alongside that, I’ve watched others take risks and flourish, finding skills they hadn’t known they possessed. Safe space makes that possible.

As a culture, we’re addicted to competition, and to the humiliation of others. We’re collectively quick to pull down and stomp on those who, in reaching for something better, stumble a bit. It’s not a good way to get things done. A few laughs at each other’s expense, and that’s all the benefit to be had. When we support each other, the possible outcomes are far more exciting.

A place in the tribe

Wanting to belong seems to be a pretty fundamental human thing. Most of us want to feel accepted somewhere. I look around at the people who need to assert someone else isn’t a proper Druid, or isn’t a proper some other thing, and I wonder about the motives. Perhaps it is when we don’t feel secure in our own place that we get those urges to marginalise other people, as though by pushing them out, we can secure out own position.

We measure people by material success, by income, resources, job status, size of car and house. The more focused we are on superficial signs of success, the more anxious we may feel about our place in the tribe (chicken and egg, I suspect). Those worldly things can be stripped away. Ill health, misfortune, an accident, a mistake, and the whole lot can vanish like mist.

We measure people by skill and utility. It can be easy to feel that your place depends on your usefulness and on what you can bring to the table. So long as you are able to bring, that may be ok, but we all have bad days, bad years even. Some people have not been well taught or innately gifted, or have yet to find what they might bring. How do they approach the table?

Of course, while I’m talking about a place in the tribe, I’m also very aware that we don’t have those. Most communities have a transient element. People come and go, by choice, by mistake, unwillingly… people who are in crisis and don’t have time to engage with their community of old can often find their community doesn’t bother to engage with them anymore, either. Membership is so often conditional on showing up.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling that any place I could have is dependent on my contributing, and contributing well, continually and to a significant degree. Most of my early experience left me pinning self-worth to achievement, and personal value to utility. It’s not that unusual, I’ve come to realise. I’ve had a bit over a year now of not being subjected to vast amounts of external pressure, and some months of living in a less stressful space than the boat. I’m starting to settle into the experience of just being liked by the people who live with me. Not for what I do, not for use or ornament, just for being me. It’s a bit of an emotional and intellectual revolution, slowly dismantling almost everything I had believed about myself.

Last night I went to a knit and natter. The only conditions were a willingness to turn up, a small donation, a fondness for wool and I assume not actually spontaneously combusting or anything. A mix of all ages, a gentle space, lots of wool. I’m less rubbish at crotchet than knitting, so took that instead. The standard of some knitting there was stunning, but it didn’t matter that I’m not very good. The conversations were wide ranging and engaging, and it didn’t seem to matter that I was tired and not sparkling. A place just to be. A place to be good enough.

I remain a believer in the importance of striving and a desire for excellence, but we all have bad days. I am starting to experience, and appreciate being able to just show up and sit in a corner, or being able to just huddle in bed, and it be ok. It’s a life changing thing, that I might be able to feel I am good enough as I am. Sure, I can do better in all manner of things, and hopefully will, but ‘good enough’ is such a firm and affirming place to stand. It makes it easier to strive and to flourish, not harder. I don’t have to be good enough for everybody. I don’t have to please all commers. I can shrug and not worry about the people for whom I am never good enough (well, it’s a theory). So long as there is a place where its ok to be me, the rest can, perhaps, take care of itself.