Listening to our hearts…

21 April, 2021

Our MyST teams each sit together in their shared office space, and this way, we are inclined to tune in to how things are feeling for one another. One of the benefits of an analogue world you might say. In the office recently, I had been noticing strong emotions being expressed in relation to a particular boy and his grandparents. Due to his own struggles, the boy had been putting his grandparents through some tough times lately.  With a hunch that there may well be gold in team members’ feelings, I invited the group to use a reflective practice session to pay attention to them together.

We began our exploration with the workers most closely involved with the family. They described their senses of the boy; he tended to avoid vulnerability and be stubborn, he wouldn’t let others get the upper hand with him. I asked the workers, did they identify with the boy in any way? Did they see themselves in him? ‘Yes, yes, I can be stubborn too’ each worker noticed. ‘How is your stubbornness useful to you?’ I asked. ‘I can stand up and fight for what I believe in, for things I’m passionate about, to challenge what’s not okay. I won’t back down.’ they reflected.

Something in my colleagues’ responses got me thinking about being from the South Wales valley communities where MyST operates. Perhaps it was the passion, and the aptitude for protest. All of my colleagues in the discussion that day hail from different valleys in the area, as do the boy and his grandparents. Despite nearly 25 years of experience of living and working in South Wales, as the daughter of an English family, I can only be relatively culturally ignorant about the intricacies of Welsh valleys’ family life. Using my ignorance as a resource, I asked my colleagues to tell me more about what they instinctively know about how grandparents should be treated around here.

‘Well first you need to know the right words’ they told me. It’s not grandma and grandad, no-one talks like that. ‘It’s Nan and Bamp, Nani and Grancha, or Nain a Taid.’. Grandparents are people of dignity, integrity and pride. They are the heads of the family and are treated with the respect they undoubtedly deserve. The Welsh valley’s matriarch is legendary; food is always on the table and she knows the business of everyone in the street. The Welsh valley’s patriarch won’t give you a cwtch or say he loves you but he shows you his love by providing for you, it might be money, it might be a lift, it’s often sorting out your car.’

‘What does it mean to transgress these rules?’ I ventured…. Eyes widened, breath was blown. ‘It is proper serious to disrespect an elder’ my colleagues agreed. So now I better understood those emotions being expressed in the office recently, and with my own realisation, my colleagues also became more consciously aware of the importance of the transgression of those cultural rules that they all implicitly know.

The beauty of bringing something into awareness is that we give ourselves a choice about how to be with it. In work with this particular family, recognising the strength of feeling evoked by the boy behaving in ways that appeared disrespectful to his grandparents meant that workers could watch out for the risk of becoming angry with the boy. Realising their cultural knowledge as a resource, workers could also explicitly offer the boy and his grandparents opportunities to consider the place of these themes in their relationship.

What is so often a reliable gateway to expand our awareness of what might be going on? Following our feelings. Could it be that our hearts already know more than our minds have yet realised?

Jen & Jael

A Gwent Partnership Board Service