Fiddling while Rome burns

Strange pictures can pop into your head a few hours after midnight. Metaphysical mishaps occur during these waking dreams and the messengers of Morpheus miss their cues. Figures pose themselves maladroitly in postures that signify strange, prophetic metaphors. On a field of white, as if conjured, there appeared to my mind’s eye the figure of a Roman soldier in full dress.

He’d fallen on his backside, landing seated and with legs stuck straight out before him. He was surrounded by fallen and broken columns made of a white, porous stone that was densely pitted and pocked. The columns had a brittle, hollow quality like dry bones that had been sun-baked for long years. Whatever purpose their strength had once served, they were mere rubbish now.

Key supports in my life bear the economic, community and civic weight of my existence. For example, splitting household costs with others extends the buying power of my salary, enabling me to live in a safe, picturesque area. Continuing to work while developing my coaching practice keeps my bills paid and extends the amount of time that I have to get the business fully operational. Connecting reciprocally with key subject matter experts allows me to access other perspectives and relevant skill sets as I learn.

These are functional, strategically placed columnar supports. They bear up under the strain of my life’s cost in terms of its relative daily demands. Loss of any single one of them would create an immediate crisis and replacements would have to be found. Otherwise, the whole structure would fall in and ruins would be all that remained of the original vision, purpose and legacy.

I’m pretty knowledgeable about the things that are essential for my particular life at an existential level: spiritual, relational, physical, intellectual, economic and emotional needs (the weight of the roof) are all held up by the practical means by which I fulfill those needs (the columns). Loss of connection or of utility in any of those practical means creates peril for the whole structure.

But- what if I told someone else what kind of a job they needed? Or where they should study for their professional credentials? Maybe I feel that they should just quit their day job while they’re getting their business started. No need to divide time and energy, right? So- I could come up with all kinds of ideas for which columnar supports would be best for them. Just start sliding them into place as I see fit and maybe knocking out a few that aren’t needed.

I don’t know what someone else’s plans are. What they envision as an acceptable or an ideal quality of life. What their body, soul and spirit require. Even if they tell me, it’s a secondhand report. It’s going to lack the impact, information, nuance and resonance of first hand experience. There are all kinds of advisors in the world: carers, coaches, community, parents and professionals. Just- don’t go moving supports in or swapping them out because you believe that your expertise trumps someone’s lived experience.

The plain truth? It doesn’t. Build your legacy. Help others build theirs. Don’t conflate the roles or the structure could be harmed. If there is significant damage because of an attempt to provide support without deferring to the client’s agency, it’s a structural or systemic insult. It’s an unintended, unwanted complication. It may still be catastrophic to the client. In legend, Rome was in flames while Nero fiddled. In that narrative, he was an ineffectual leader too removed from the experiences of his people to respond in any relevant way.

A little mindfulness can serve to remind all of us that our gifts are best exercised in service to others. Using these gifts ON others isn’t an ethical or sustainable practice in any role. The sense of urgency that drives many interventions- the idea that we must DO something- is very much akin to the idea that an emperor in antiquity witnessed his city in flames and responded with the abysmal absurdity of fiddling.

As a community of people and professionals in care roles, we have to resist the lure of the immediate response. We’re in this for the long game. Sitting with our inner reality and its attendant ego, needs and perspective and tending to it is a necessary prerequisite before engaging with others. We use a mindful refocus so that we respond instead of freezing, reacting or running off in the face of client related concerns.

Piercing the veil of our own personal and professional prejudice through intentional, unhurried inquiry, we find an enhanced clarity. Insight dawns, like the sun spilling into a darkened room. With insight comes compassion, connection and the potential to collaborate well towards supports specific to that client’s real and felt needs. NOW we’re ready to be of real help.

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