By David Robinson on Medium October 2017. Republished with permission
Over the last couple of weeks I have talked about the importance of meaningful relationships and suggested 6 principles for an approach to tackling social isolation that involves fundamentally rethinking how our community works. I explored the first three and suggested some things that might change. This time I am going to consider principles 4 to 6.
4) We all need help at some point in our lives. Some need more than others
If I want my holiday jabs in a busy working day I‘ll be happy with a 7.00 appointment and a clinician I don’t know. If I need regular treatment for a chronic condition that keeps me housebound and alone for days on end I will want a doctor I trust and time for a conversation. This is the difference between a customised service and a personalised one. The first has often been displaced by the second but it shouldn’t be either / or. Different people at different times in their lives need both.
What might change?
5) It is easiest to form relationships with people who are near to us.
There are sound reasons why some services are centralised. It is clear, for instance, that the regional stroke unit can provide care that the cottage hospital could not. However many services are wrongly centralised without regard for the diseconomies of scale and at the expense of the relationships which are integral to the quality of the provision.
What might change?
6) Digital connections shouldn’t be the enemy of real relationships. They should be the beginning.
Banning phones or limiting the use of social media isn’t sustainable even if it is occasionally tempting. We have to fathom out how the digital world can better serve the real one. What might change?
I was talking to a social worker a while back. She told me about an elderly woman who was living independently until a nasty bout of the flu. The woman stopped eating properly and taking her medication and within months moved into permanent residential care. A second woman in apparently similar circumstances was taken ill at the same time. She belonged to an allotment group and had done for many years. When she was sick group members took turns to share their meal with her, checking on her daily “for a chat”. The arrangements were in place until their friend was back on the allotment.
The first woman is not happy and she has become a cost to the state. The second is happy and costs nothing. No one was asked, trained or paid to support the second woman. No one would even call themselves a volunteer. They were “doing what anyone would do.”
We can build organisations and processes which design out the human instinct, we often do. Or we can build structures and systems which embrace and sustain our second nature in a society where meaningful relationships aren’t a bolt on, an exceptional act of charity or an emergency response to a crisis but are nurtured naturally and embedded over time – the new normal. In my fourth blog I will share some of what I have learnt about this so far and begin to suggest some next steps. Do please continue to contribute to the conversation.