In a world of broken dreams

Friday, 19. August 2011

If you are honestly living what you dream of then you are very fortunate indeed and have developed a rare gift. If you have hyped yourself up to believe that your life sparkles when it doesn’t really then you have reached an advanced level of self-deception with which you are also deceiving everyone else. If you have reached some eastern contemplative state where all reality seems the same to you thenbon chance but please do something useful with it…

If you are marking time while dreaming your dreams and worriting daily about how to fulfil them then you are firmly in the vast majority of the population. Whether the things you dream of are possible or delusional isn’t really the question. What matters is that you have your life invested in an existence other than the one you are actually living.

When this applies to acute concentrations of people, say youth in our inner cities, it can become, as we have recently seen, a dangerous and unstable situation. All those young people were innocent children once who could have been gently but firmly guided towards contributory participation in our world. What actually happened is that no adult had the skill, the courage or the decency to intervene in their lives and so they were left as the psychic victims of consumerism: advertising; bling; the arrogant strutting of popular culture; the nasty back-biting that takes place all day on television, hideous video games, and then the far more dangerous impact on the ground of drug culture and gangs.

Result: madness, mayhem, chaos, tension seeking release, the intoxicating power of being a destructive force who can’t share the house and so will damn well tear it down. Then they’ll take you seriously.

It isn’t just them, however. It’s almost all of us. During my spell of hospitalisation I’ve been studying the people taking care of us and I’ve got some case histories to share with you, three of them:

1) Female ambulance driver, aged 41: lives alone but close to parents; wants to be a speech therapist but rejected for the degree course; could read when she was 4 and served as teacher’s assistant aged 7 at rural school; suffered some kind of ill health (too painful to talk about) in her twenties and became an ambulance driver on the promise (now withdrawn by the NHS) that there was a career path through to Paramedic (now degree intake only). Has passed the degree access course with distinction but told that she lacked suitable experience. Steve’s career diagnosis: no one has ever taught her how to apply for a degree course and so the middle class kids who have been coached will always get her place; told her to identify and start reading key course books and arrange weekly voluntary work to beef up her next application. Hope she makes it.

2) Male nursing auxiliary, aged 44, Nigerian, married with 3 kids; wonderful, dignified, giant of a man who worked 20+ years at TCN level for a Danish shipping co in Nigeria and stupidly left his job to come to the UK for a postgraduate course in advanced logistics. Can’t get back and onto a full expat package because of institutional racism in the shipping industry. Stranded in the UK and desperate to get home. Knows he made a terrible mistake. Steve’s advice: write extremely cunning CV and letter to target competitors of former employers, hinting that his knowledge of their secrets will bring commercial advantages to a new employer; negotiate moderate step towards full package instead of demanding the works. Return home to family property and contacts. Hopefully, in happiness.

3) Female catering assistant, aged 26, LWP who is training in social work; utterly charming girl who laughs off the everyday trials and tribulations of serving barely edible food to people with dementia and terrible physical illnesses all day long for just £7.30 an hour. Not highly qualified and not even ambitious. Just “likes to see people smile” and would be glad to work in care with old people if she could get a qualification. Luckily she can, after her boyfriend gets a good enough job to sustain the two of them. Because at the moment they barely have enough to survive on.

Three examples among scores that I encountered, starting with some would-be singers and writers working in intensive care, flowing past all the women hoping to escape into a good marriage or motherhood, coalescing around the older people, in their forties, mostly women, wanting more from life than bedpans and blood tests, night shifts and whatever…

One solution would be to make their work nicer. To take out the capitalist concept of them as merely labour input, get them off compulsory 12 hour shifts and compulsory night shifts, give them a clear career path with incremental salary increases and decent pension rights. Change the terms and conditions to reduce paperwork and stress. Give them more support in specialising and training for it. Invent a way to favour and promote the talented, which really doesn’t exist at the moment.

These people are as far away from looting and rioting as it is possible to be. Their levels of empathy, commitment, love, dedication, are outstanding (though they could and should be sharper on the job and that’s where promoting talent would help). Yet almost all of them feel exploited and they yearn for holidays. They long to be able to express their own personalities through their work. They are people, people that we depend upon, and instead of making up idiotic theories about the macro aspects of healthcare we should have the wit to design systems that nurture their amazingly valuable contributions. If they walked out, if they became disaffected, the whole culture would smash to pieces.

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