One of the features of my life over recent months has been the kindness that’s been shown to me and which I’ve witnessed around me. We don’t talk a lot about kindness as a virtue these days. Often I’ve heard it used semi-pejoratively. ‘Too kind for his/her own good.’ That sort of thing.
In my experience however kindness is more often allied to strength of character not weakness. And my recent experience has shown that again and again.
I have seen colleagues, often ones who have not even been close, pull together to work on each other’s CVs, give advice, provide encouragement and a shoulder to cry on. It’s been truly impressive. Even folks competing for the same jobs have given genuine support to one another. Increasingly we’re living through everyone’s triumphs and disasters sharing the pain and the joy. (Although the joy is in slightly short supply right now.)
So it was fantastic this week to begin the process of winding up a colleague’s service. Not because I hate them and want them gone. Quite the reverse. It was great because he had a job to go to. He is stepping out, sideways and downwards. Having dusted off an old professional qualification he is exchanging impossible deadlines, hellish hours and huge responsibility for a job that carries less of each of these.
What struck me most was his contentment. I’m sure this was not an elaborate act either. No, he had decided to live a simpler life. It was tremendously impressive. He had dared to imagine living differently, put together a plan and gone out and put it into practice.
It’s great when a plan comes off.
The dynamic of so many colleagues leaving is a happy-sad one. Each leaver carries everyone’s best wishes yet with every departure the pool of those left behind gets smaller. Everyone thinks a bit harder about when their chance may come. It combines a sense of being the last chick in the nest to fledge with the dimly remembered snotty-nosed angst of always being the last one picked for a team. Each of us asking, ‘When will it be my turn?’
I spoke with another colleague who intends to come in and work right through his last day. It’s what he has always done and he doesn’t see why that should change now. His only concession was that he might come by train on that last day just in case he might have a ‘sherbet’ on the way home. I’m not so sure that I would want to do that but everyone has developed their own way of coping.
I have seen and experienced kindness too from strangers. When I was last in the job market this interweb thingy was not even a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. But now it’s possible to job search and network on a scale that is simply mind-boggling if you stop to think about it. In the comments posted on this blog and on the Guardian Cuts Blog, where I moonlight, people have been overwhelmingly supportive. Even when they’ve administered some tough love of the ‘pull your socks up and get on with it’ variety.
There have been some Mr and Mrs Angry comments but there’s a lot for taxpayers to feel angry about and very few have been genuinely malicious. I did think being called ‘lame’ by one was a bit harsh. And my kids are still making a mewing sound every time I enter a room inspired by my being described as a stray cat mewing in the night. But one of the reasons I started to write was to demonstrate that evangelical deficit reduction has a human cost attached to it. Even faceless, nameless legions of pen-pushers are people. A bit of personal abuse feels like a price worth paying to get that message across.
Blogging has also helped me get – in the words of the song – Back in the Saddle again. In fact a phrase like this was used in one of the Guardian comments so, in times of trouble, I now hum the tune. Without articulating how I have felt along the way I think I would still be lurching around trying to get through all this. I still lurch a bit but now I lurch with a purpose.
So if you too are contemplating what to do this weekend in the face of redundancy, working on an application or rewriting your CV for the umpteenth time – good luck and best wishes for your success.