Let’s face it; we as men find it difficult to have conversations with each other especially as we age. In doing so we keep not only our challenges and emotions to ourselves we fail to try and get a handle on where to seek support or get help. In the main many of us deal with nothing more than the daily challenges and struggles of life from employment (or unemployment) as the case may be, break down in relationships or friendships, the kids have moved out and are getting on with their lives, financial stress and more. Each of these things, left alone, can lead to social isolation, depression and more. One of the key things I have learnt, as I have aged and working in the aged care sector, is that often the simple approaches are also the most effective.
For the last nearly decade I have been part of an Aboriginal men’s group based in the inner City of Sydney (Australia) called Babana. Babana is a local word for Brother and the group is very much centered around the needs of individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who come together to talk about what’s happening in their lives. Taking the form of a traditional Indigenous yarning circle its nothing more than conversations, stories and yarning. In fact, yarning circles is a simple technique that has been used for thousand of years across a multiplicity of Indigenous groups across the world – and not only is it a simple technique; it can be life changing. And yet these sorts of circles happen all the time and take many forms in todays world, workplace and communities.
For example, it might be a team meeting or just a couple of mates sitting round the table on a Friday afternoon having a few beers – either way they are powerful because it gets us talking and gets us listening.
Back to Babana Aboriginal the one thing that I have witnessed is the importance of putting the right listener and facilitator in the middle. In this case Mark Spinks, Chairman of Babana, who not only sets the scene for how the circle works but also the flow and tone of the conversation. The rules are simple; those who want to have a yarn go for it and those who just want to listen within talking are more than welcome. As we head around the circle the stories and challenges that emerge begin turning into opportunity and networking as people, drawn from different backgrounds and lives, begin to identify themselves in the stories of each other.
For me, both personally and professionally, this anchoring technique used by the Yarning circle model is perfect for how we engage our elders into driving both solutions and opportunities within community. Some months back Mark and I visited one of our communities in New South Wales called Kempsey and used the yarning circle technique to both relay news and information and gain feedback, insights and more. The result was a greater and more detailed approach to some of the projects we are working on when it comes to creating more opportunities for our elders; for them but also design led by them. But it was also a process of opening up and for some to discuss burning issues – such as suicide in the community which deeply impacted a number of them.
Many had experienced loss but found it difficult to discuss and talk about. It just so happened that Babana had an immense amount of experience in the area and the result will be an opportunity for us to bring people from community for the organisations suicide prevention awareness day being held on the 13th of September.
So what important lessons have I learnt that I can factor into my every day? Especially when it comes to community and our elders:
The simplest of approaches often have the greatest impact
Listening to others in a judgement free zone (formal or informal) enables the identification of both challenges and opportunities
The diversity of the group will always lead to better answer, greater support and a faster way through the toughest of challenges
You don’t always have to do the talking!
For more information: https://www.un.org/en/events/indigenousday/
About the author: Mike Hercock: State Manager NSW and the ACT for ANNECTO https://www.annecto.org.au/ annecto clients include people with disabilities, older people, families and carers who want advice, advocacy and support. We deliver personal services to help you feel safe and comfortable at home.
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