Giving thanks

This morning at work we had an informal staff meeting, during which everyone (there were about twenty of us present) was asked to ‘check in’ – a technique used in the psychology practice that underpins the work the charity does. When you check in, you simply tell the other members of the group how you are feeling, and any other information that you wish to share. Today, for example, we all talked about our experience of the summer, where we’d gone on our various holidays and how we generally felt the season had gone. We also talked about our work, sharing our successes and any challenges we had faced. At the end of the meeting one of our facilitators and two of our young people turned up and joined in, which felt really lovely and inclusive.

I must be honest and admit that I usually begin sharing sessions like these with an attitude more befitting of a petulant teenager than a grown adult. I feel a bit awkward and embarrassed, and I can’t concentrate for worrying about my ever increasing to do list and how the gathering is delaying me actually getting any work done. But as soon as the sessions begin I start to relax. And today, as I listened to all the positive things my colleagues said I felt a warm glow and a real sense of pride at being part of such a fantastic and inspiring team.

It strikes me as I write this how sad it is that few people take the time to really get to know the people they work with and spend what is, let’s face it, the majority of their waking lives in close proximity to. When work builds up and you’re feeling the pressure it’s far easier to fire off an email than pick up the phone or meet face to face. It’s also easy to let small niggles about another person build up so that, before you know it, your whole relationship has deteriorated beyond all repair, with you treating one another at best like automatons and at worst with ill-disguised contempt rather than as fellow human beings with feelings, wants and needs.

Key to the checking in process is the act of congratulation – praising people for the things they have done well, and saying it from the heart. It really means so much to be recognised for your achievements, not in a generic appraisal email but in person and in front of your co-workers. This is why, despite the inevitable frustrations that arise in any workplace, I’m so thankful to work in an environment where people genuinely care. Don’t get me wrong, we’re hardly the Waltons of the work world – far from it – but it’s certainly a world away from the hard, corporate environments I’ve worked in before. And you know what? At this stage in my life, that’s more than enough for me.

How could I not be inspired working alongside these fab young people?

Acts of charity

I’m currently reading Khaled Hosseini (he of Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns fame)’s wonderful new book, And the Mountains Echoed. In it (don’t worry, no spoilers ahead) there’s a character who makes great gestures of kindness, but who only ever does so in a very public way. In other words, it could be said that were he not to get recognition and praise for his actions, he might not feel it worth doing them in the first place.

This morning I rose early to run from my flat in Clapham to the flat my boyfriend’s just moved out of in Camden. I needed to do the run as part of my half marathon training, but had selected the route as I’d been asked by my boyfriend to pick up the last of his things, and latterly also by his flatmate to pick up the sofa cushions from the dry cleaners. None of this was any trouble as far as I was concerned, I was happy to do them a favour and help out.

When I reached the dry cleaners and discovered there was an outstanding charge of £35 on the cushions, however, I’ll admit my spirit of generosity waned somewhat. Fortunately I had brought my cash card and was able to pay, after which I duly traipsed back to the flat to put the aforementioned covers back onto the cushions – which turned out to be far from an easy task given their size and the amount of feathers that flew out with every squeeze. Fifteen minutes and several swear words later I was standing in the living room triumphantly surveying my handiwork in successfully reintroducing the cushions to their covers – the downside being that I was now ankle deep in feathers and the living room looked like an illegal cock fighting ring. Cue an impromptu tidy up mission and more cursing, whilst the part of me that had so happily agreed to do the favour in the first place steadily began to regret the decision.

The main – rather uncharitable -thought that went through my head at that final moment was “they’d better appreciate this,” which is when I drew a parallel with the character in the novel I’m reading, and also when I wondered the following question: Is doing someone a favour any less charitable if it’s not the act of doing the favour that gratifies you but rather being thanked for having done it? Furthermore, do we as human beings have a deeper desire to help one another or to help ourselves? Which is the most prominent driver?

Those who do favours for others gladly and happily without grumbling or expecting thanks are clearly the most admirable. But surely there’s still something to be said for the rest of us mortal beings who do favours for others and do then expect thanks in return? After all, there are plenty of miserly souls out there who would rather stab themselves in the eye than do a favour for someone else in the first place….Right? Or wrong?

The paranoid extrovert

Human personality theories tend to divide people into two categories; extrovert and introvert. Whereas once it was accepted that for an individual to rank highly on one scale they must automatically rank lower on the other, later theories such as those of Carl Jung claimed that it was quite possible for an individual to exhibit characteristics of both, though one would be more dominant than the other.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, extroversion is “the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self.” Introversion, therefore, is “the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life.” It follows, therefore, that extroverts are generally more talkative, outgoing and gregarious, and their introvert counterparts quieter, more withdrawn and less at ease in social situations.

What category, then, would the world’s writers and artists predominantly fall into? Is the spectrum as wide for this sub-category of the human race, or do the lines blur into one another a little more, like watercolour paint bleeding onto canvas? I only ask because I am (or at least I like to think I am) one of these strange creatures, and because whilst I would put myself firmly in the extrovert camp if asked the question, on further thought I wonder to what extent this is really true. Or rather, whether it’s possible to be an extrovert on the surface, but an introvert deep down inside, where insecurities breed like cancer and one thought spirals into a tornado of many.

Sometimes, for example, I’ll be mid-conversation with someone and my brain will put the brakes on and whisper like a bully in the school playground, “They aren’t remotely interested in what you’re saying, you know, it’s only through politeness that they’re pretending to be.” Even if the person with whom I’m conversing does seem genuinely interested in what I have to say, the voice in my head eats away at my confidence, making every word seem – to me at least – more laboured, less relevant, or just plain wrong. It’s a type of paralysis – thought paralysis, if you will – that makes me want to stop talking and run away and hide. And it’s really rather odd, because if you asked any one of the people closest to me they’d laugh and say that isn’t me at all.

Perhaps it’s wrong to link introversion with insecurity and a general lack of confidence. Many introverts may be supremely confident in themselves and their abilities but simply have no interest in hogging the limelight in social situations. It’s quite possible that makes them more rather than less confident, because they don’t feel the need to seek praise and affirmation in the way the extroverts do.

The part of the definition of being an extrovert that both grates on me and resonates with me is the “obtaining gratification from what is outside the self” part. Why do we extroverts feel the need to seek approval and reassurance to validate our place in the world? Why can’t we accept what is and be happy with our achievements irrespective of praise? All questions that my inner introvert is just dying to answer…

Not sure this picture – taken on my Raleigh expedition in 2011 during filming of a ‘music video’ – quite illustrates my point about being an introvert….