By Neil Scotton

It seems that the last column (Vol 13, issue 5, p14) really landed with many. One response, an email from Belinda Smith, stood out. “Your article really rang true….After 20 years of coaching, I sometimes wonder if/whether I’ve made a difference.”

We spoke.

She shared her experiences of two paradigms: ‘Doom and gloom’ and ‘Hope for the future’. And how in private conversations people are talking about the circumstances we’re living in, yet in professional conversations it’s as though these things have been left at the door. “How do we reconcile these two things?” she asks. “And do we even recognise them?”

It’s worth taking a pause here. There does seem to be a gap between two realities. How does it show up in your experience of work and life?

The question posed in the last column – how, as a citizen, does the way you’re living, leading and supporting make a difference? – also triggered something for Belinda.

“We don’t talk about things in those terms these days, of being members of a civic community.”

Belinda runs ‘Pause Days’. “What would it be like if groups of people met, paused and thought about not just their personal circumstances, but their circumstances as a citizen? What would it be like for that to happen in my city and other cities?”

It’s a good question.

We spoke of how people greet each other: “Keeping busy?”, and the answer having to be “Yes”. Even when we ask “How are you?” we expect a “keeping busy” reply. “It’s a terrible indictment on our society, that we’re measured in terms of busyness instead of being there for each other,” says Belinda. I share a counter-quote from a case study in Laloux’s (2014) Reinventing Organisations: “We’ve got too many important things to do to be busy.” That raises a smile.

Belinda has recently trained as a Street Pastor. It’s voluntary work for others that clearly gives something important back to her. Apparently there are now 14,000 in 300 towns and cities. On the streets, in groups of three or more, they offer ‘Presence Ministry’ – talking, sharing, occasionally helping. I spoke to my son who’s met such volunteers locally. “They’re really good, just chat, never preach”, was his experience. Belinda recounts how often it’s simply being with people who may have lost their way, their friends or even their memory. Stopping one ambulance call apparently saves £300. Because situations can get diffused and atmospheres changed, there’s measurable crime reduction. And of course, someone, a stranger, for that moment, isn’t so alone.

In describing the Street Pastor training, Belinda talks of “the huge cross-section” of people that volunteer. I note another resonance – it’s not just people out late on the street who feel alone. Anyone can; even surrounded by people. By getting involved with others in shared interests and concerns, we connect.

As I reflect on the conversation, one statement from Belinda captures it all: “Being there for somebody is possibly the most important thing you can do for them.”

In our desire to make a difference, perhaps the best place to start is one to one. With others known to us. And strangers. And maybe ourselves. Perhaps the message shouldn’t be “Don’t just do it”, but rather “Just be there.”