- When a group of human beings interact there is a scale of behaviour between pacific and agressive, and somewhere along that line lies a personal and social acceptability marker. Any context involving the use of power raises the stakes radically. Violence and the Sacred are always interesting bedfellows, especially in bourgeois, implicit cultures. Religious contexts easily become toxic and dangerous when people kid themselves they don’t have power. Back in the 90’s when I was helping lead workshops for training incumbents I met someone whose colleagues were utterly terrified of him. He thought because he was a vicar he didn’t have any power, so there wasn't a problem. When you talked to his colleagues, what spooked them was his inconsistency. He was terribly informal and chummy 99% of the time, with occasional completely unpredictable flashes of rage which humiliated and terrified his colleagues, for which he never took responsibility, but tried to smooth over by being chummy again. It was the classic pattern of the Young Offender who beats his girlfriend up on Friday night and buys her a dozen red roses and a box of chocs on Saturday morning. Responsibility needs to be taken for the exercise of power and authority. Just because many professional guardians of the sacred feel powerless, it doesn’t mean they are!
- The meaning of our behaviours has to be discerned from who we are in context, but they also create the context in which we act next. The more extreme behaviour becomes, the more it can be seen as a problem and clinicalised. Everyone has repetetive patterns of response we call “Personality” that seem almost absolute, but, paradoxically, people have far greater capacity than the patterns indicate to reinvent themselves in different contexts. How do we measure behaviour in context? What are the routes to personal reinvention, and how do we take them? We all have it in us to assert ourselves inappropriately. Only with agreed norms does it become possible to say where lines have been crossed. That’s where basic rules of procedure and natural justice defend the less assertive against the more assertive, People always need to be listened to and perceived problems dealt with on an evidential basis. That only catches the tip of the iceberg, however, in the same way that whatever we do to try and raise conviction rates for rape and domestic violence, they remain shockingly low. More than blame and breast-beating, we need to promote actively cultures of dignity and mutual respect. How? Let’s begin with the Church of England’s new formal guidelines, to be published in June. The English gentleman amateur thing helps prevent senior staff and others seeking professional help about this, as about other workplace issues. Rigorous training to sharpen personal awareness and skills, like the Integrative Complexity course I have been doing this year, needs to become the norm.
- This whole problem is part of a larger world of stress. For me the guv’nor on this subject remains, even after six years, Affirmation and Accountability. This was produced a few years ago by the Society of Mary and Martha, which helps decompress clergy and church workers. A&A is based on their experiences of the negative forces that bear down on working vicars. We studied it extensively in the diocese when it came out, and I believe it has yet to be bettered as a practical manual for establihsing wellbeing in the UK context. As well as following up the academic leads Anne gave me, that’s where I’m going next, to see how I think we’re getting on practically with the agenda I embraced theoretically as an area dean in 2002 — am I doing it as a bishop? how does it stack up against the new guidelines, coming out in June? Watch this space...
Tuesday, 29 April 2008
Clergy Bullying 102
Valuable personal time yesterday exploring the issues around Bullying in the Church with Anne Lee, social psychologist from Oxford University, who has written and is working on it. There are interesting resources out there, and those of us at the coalface need to develop stronger definitions and models to support better working practice. The Church is meant to be a delivery system for freedom and wholeness. This issue strikes at the heart of what we are about.