When leaders give up their plans and learn from their people
By Susanne Hansen, Support assistant at a group housing in Denmark
On the last Monday of August, a colleague and I, went for a weeks ‘resident holiday’ with three of the residents at the home for people with reduced physical and mental functioning, where we work. It was my first experience of a ‘resident holiday’, and I was excited. We drove our minibus to a rented cottage in the countryside. The sun was shining, and the joy of anticipation was great among the three residents. The house contained a swimming pool, air hockey, whirlpool and five rooms. It was located in an open landscape, overlooking fields.
My colleague and I had discussed beforehand what we should see, do, experience, and achieve. We felt that we must give the residents a lot of experiences and that we must be able to show our employer that we had used our time well. So, we had a plan with many options.
On the first day, we unpacked and established ourselves in the house. The residents enjoyed sitting on the terrace with coffee and good food. We talked with them about the plan for the next day. We explained that we were to go on a trip to the nearby fishing village and have lunch at the harbour.
However, the next day as soon as we arrived at the harbour, one of the residents said: – Now, let’s go back to the cottage. She kept repeating it. Her movements were fluttering, she is easily overstimulated, and there were many impressions and sounds at the harbour. We sat down outside an inn and ordered food, hoping peace would settle in too. However, great seagulls soon landed on the empty tables, to eat leftovers, and create noise. Wasps swarmed around the food, and unrest soon spread among our residents. So, instead of exploring the village any further, we decided to return to the cottage.
When we were back, calm soon spread among us all. My colleague and I then decided to lower our expectations of everything we thought we “should” see, do and achieve. Instead, we wanted to stay in the cottage and support the peace it gave the residents.
We must adjust to slowing down
My colleague and I lay down on a sun lounger, keeping one eye on our residents. We soon found they are all three smiling. They look at us. They watch the fields. They talk a little together. They are completely relaxed. One of them goes to his room and takes a dinner nap.
We are quiet together. We consciously limit our flow of speech. Soon enough resources start to become visible in our residents that we have not seen before. A language without words emerge, and an atmosphere of calm is created.
I bring paper and colour pens to the table and start drawing. I leave it up to the others if they feel like to join in. I do not say anything. I just start to draw. One of the residents reaches out for a paper. He also wants to draw. He makes a picture of me with long hair and big ears, a sun, and his walker. He writes our names and spells out the letters aloud, this to my great surprise as he usually has minimal language. He laughs out loud at his drawing, pointing at me, caressing himself on the cheek and says, “sweet”.
They clearly express that they want to stay here in the house and just BE
In the evening we offer a film. There is only one of the residents who usually would watch film, but now all three participates. One of them by habit goes to bed at 8 pm, but he this evening he is awake until 11 pm. The one who always goes to his own room stays in the living room with the rest of us, something my colleague, who has worked here for 12 years, had never experienced before.
My reflection after the week is how much we can learn from people with physical and mental so called disabilities. Their senses are sharp, and they pick up the energy you bring. If you make noise, they make noise. If you are calm, they become calm too. Calmness is contagious. We all need calm, much more than we realise. It became such a pleasant experience for all of us because we followed the the desires of the residents, who had a sense of appreciating the peace and quiet, instead of following our own ambitious plans.
BEING is the teacher
I am very grateful for my work. It is a great training ground for inner development.