Going Up Stream – When arm bands are enough…

The story wasn’t complete – I’m developing the understanding that it never really is.  In my last piece I shared my experience of “stepping into systems change”.  The tug of war between addressing what we are faced with now and stepping away, far enough to challenge it at the source.  Drawing on the metaphor Dan Heath uses in his book “Up Stream” to describe the need for such approaches;

Imagine sitting by the river with your friends, you see kids struggling as they float downstream, crying out for help. Both strong swimmers you and your friend jump in to fish them out. More kids come down the river, all struggling and need help.  You both keep pulling kids out of the river.  You’re both committed but tired.  But then your friend jumps out of the river – you’re abandoned – “where are you going?!”.  I’m going upstream to stop the kids falling in the river”.

This was part of my personal reflection on the first weeks of initiating an inquiry into;

What systems perpetuate multiple disadvantage for children and young people in York? 

And this Sunday evening, the last in January, and the eve before twelve incredible individuals come together, for the first time to collectively explore that question, I am reflecting on what I have observed and learned since November 2020.

Having collated truly inspiring applications in the form of letters, films, love actually moments and even a song, I have been moved by the desire and energy to improve systems for children and young people in York; even while we’re all stretched beyond recognition, adjusting daily to what the pandemic and life brings us.

Twelve individuals who bring passion and energy, skills, experience and ideas.  They each draw from different professional disciplines – too many to name and yet not nearly enough. Together we begin to represent the many perspectives of children and young people.  Most of the group bring trusted relationships with children and young people in York and a broad network to draw on and feed out the learning from the inquiry.

With all that, it’s hard to imagine where do we begin. Throughout January we have navigated home schooling and Zoom fatigue while completing Lumina Sparks Profiles (psychometric analysis), exploring who we are as individuals, our preferences, core “sweet spot” and how we behave under pressure.   Expertly facilitated by the Lumina Coach, we’ve learned more about our individual super powers and how to step into that knowing. 

In February, the Lumina Coach will bring the knowledge of our individuality together and help us to go up stream;

  • Where might we struggle as a team?
  • Who might make good pairings?
  • What is our collective strength?
  • Where will we make most impact? 

Intentionally starting with who we are, helps us to understand other people.  It will support us to continuously seek diversity perspectives.

 It does not however, mean that we get to skip the struggles and rollercoaster of group formation and collaboration, and nor would I want to.  Life is rich, and feelings are feelings…with an ‘s’.  In Untamed, Glennon Doyle says about feelings, “we’re meant to feel them…ALL”. If we’re not feeling, then we are numbing, or at best pretending.

We will take this commitment forward into our systems change work.  We must not go so far up stream that we miss the rumble and miss the point.  The point at which children were falling into the river.  Because we were so busy trying to save them we looked too far ahead.  My Lumina profile brought a challenge to me – highly “big picture/conceptual thinker” I might, (and have previously) unintentionally, tipped into change for change sake.

If we find the point, or lever for change, we have to understand what’s really going on.  Before calling in for help to build a fence to stop people getting too close to the river; before building a bridge to help people over it, let’s make the space to find out that; the children weren’t falling in after all – they were jumping in and having fun with their friends.  But, they weren’t strong swimmers so needed a bit of help. Arm Bands are enough.

Now, in a world where armbands are not yet invented, as may be the case in this inquiry, this might take a minute to figure out, but no need to do it alone.  I’m pretty sure if we’d taken the time downstream to ask the right question, and listen, the kids would have told us exactly what they needed without much more investigation required.

Once arm bands are available for all, before we continue our plight to make the river perfect, can’t we just jump in for a while? Feel the cool of the water wrapping around us, the thrill of the rapids and the joy of sharing experiences with other.

The story doesn’t just end here…

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