Exclusive: trees and change movements by John Walsh

Author: Carol Read
Commentator: Carol Read

Posted in: Change Activation
From: Issue 3

WHAT WE THINK

This is an exclusive blog written for us by John Walsh @JohnWalsh88 following a serendipitous moment in time on Twitter in November 2014. A single comment by John triggered the most fantastic discussion about change and change movements with a whole host of people that did not know each other. This was an amazing experience and really showcased the power of social, a key point that we are covering in our Virtual Book Club with ‘A World Gone Social’. The debate was not an orchestrated tweet chat but much more. It covered Change Day, health pledges from councils and how a social movement can form connecting others from a range of backgrounds. I hope you enjoy John’s blog as much as I enjoyed taking part in the discussion.

Carol Read, Transformation Fellow at Horizons Group, NHS Improving Quality @CarolLRead


Trees and change movements

 “There are rich counsels in the trees”  – Herbert P. Horne

Twitter and social media are fascinating phenomena. They connect, teach and create. Recently the authors of this article talked on twitter about change movements in the NHS. We ended up describing it as a tree. One of the participants even took a photo of a tree near their home and posted it so we could visualize more clearly what our words were working to describe. The analogy of a tree to the change energies in the NHS seemed to us a rich, simple and meaningful picture of what we were all committed to for a service we love.

These movements in healthcare are different but all fundamentally work and hope for a better and more inclusive health service. A service that is innovative, integrated and deeply caring. A service rather than a system. It is a people first approach and wishes for potent patient – carer – staff alliances for good healthcare and culture for all. So why is this like a tree? Where do these two realities coincide and coalesce?

Trees have deep roots. They need these deep roots to survive and move. This deep rootedness reaches out below the surface to find the best source of nutrients to feed themselves to grow. These deep rooted foundations give trees a solid base for growth to reach a great height. Our change movements must develop deep roots too. Only then can they really grow and spread. They must seek the best nutrients and these nutrients they will find in deep places. Compassion, care, kindness, vision and values must be the nutrients of any great change movement. Sometimes in services we are very good at doing surface things. We write a new policy, create a new post and have an event with badges and fanfare. These may be fine but they don’t usually change anything. They are never transformational in themselves but a necessary part of the solution. They are tinkering on the edges of change. The challenge to the change movement is how we do the deep work. How we make sure the tree is fed with the best inner nutrients. This is paradoxically the easiest and most difficult work. It is easiest when we do it in an intuitional way, when we act with others as the best people we can be. We find it difficult because our emotions and thinking gets in the way sometimes. This is a real challenge to the change movement. How can we connect with the deep? It there that people find connection, help and inspiration.

Trees have many branches and each branch is different. The tree doesn’t reject any of its branches. All have a purpose and value. The change movement has many forms and expressions. We are all branches of the same tree. We may grow in different ways. There is unity and diversity. No one branch can claim to be the whole tree. What connects us is the same life – sap – running through the whole body. Social movements always do start at the edge. They have to then move to the centre where most people are. Such movements are both horizontal and vertical. They go across and up. They go across positively infecting masses of people with their message of hope and change. They also need to go up to where power is. The civil rights movement in the USA did not start at the top. It started with peaceful protests and a woman on the bus saying ‘No’. It however succeeded with the support of President Kennedy, his brother the Attorney General and President Johnson. US Marshals were sent to enforce an end to University education segregation. An authentic change movement will grow and spread its branches so that all of the birds of the air can rest and nest there. A movement for the NHS must be a living alliance of patients, staff and carers. All bringing their gifts and contribution. If a movement cannot create the space and dialogue for this alliance and people, it cannot be an authentic movement as it leaves people and their talents out of the work and debate.

Trees grow slowly yet solidly so must our movements. Ralph Waldo Emerson the American writer speaks of how, ‘The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn’  This does not mean we cannot do amazing things now. Of course we can. We need to act now while laying the seeds for the future in all we do. It’s really important that change movements grow and grow organically like a tree. We may be very tempted to try to just set something up. The truth is that a deep experience, reflection and shift in acting and thinking usually precedes any powerful movement. We are all a people called to build now and vision what tomorrow could be. The complimentary aspects of action and vision dance together in all true change movements. It is important to carry people with us. If we are too far ahead we can lose people. Every branch has a finite weight ( and finite value ) which it can carry. Supporting and feeding each branch and knowing it’s strength allows the tree to become stronger and attract different birds of the air to its shade.

Trees also go through seasonal change. Summer, winter, spring and autumn all have their call and effect on the tree. The French spiritual writer Jeanne Guyon wrote about winter and trees. Her comments have a strong relevance here. She writes, ‘Throughout the long cold winter, the tree certainly looks dead….That tree is actually undergoing and submitting to a process that preserves its life and strengthens the tree!…..Winter is necessary for the tree if it is to live, survive and flourish.’ This is an interesting lesson for social and change movements. They may go through a winter. They probably will. Yet this period can be a process of sinking their roots, developing their clarity and protecting and nurturing their treasure. The tree teaches us that cold seasons and difficult climates can happen and we need to learn how to cope with the chill and thaw.

The Turkish writer Mehmet Murat ildan wrote that, ‘Why pay money for the horror movies? Just go to a street without trees!’ We may not all agree with that. What is certain is that a service without movements for transformation, care and change are potential horror stories. Trees receive their nourishment internally and externally. The sun and rain plays a big part in their growth and development. We in the NHS will receive our transformational nourishing and nurturing from within and without too. The truth is that those technically ‘outside’ have so much to share and teach us in the NHS. All teach and all learn. Wisdom is an everyday thing. It dances in so many places, experiences and encounters. All we need is an open heart and mind to hear and accept its message. The authors hope the tree of change and compassion can spread in the NHS and far in every other service too. This has to be so as a renewed NHS and unreformed and unrenewed Social Care or vice versa would just cause the same old problems. We need all services to discover their deepest and most wonderful identity and gifts. To work together with all to create the care that people both need and deserve. A care that is filled with kindness. There is a beautiful quote one of the authors shared; ‘ A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions and the roots spring up and make new trees.’ That sums it all up. May all our trees grow and flourish!

If you enjoyed this blog by @JohnWalsh88, you can read more of his work at his blog site: yestolifeblog

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Carol joined the Horizons Team in December 2014 as an NHS England Fellow and curator of The EdgeNHS...


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