None of us knows the truth about what happened to Madeleine McCann so why do so many people think they have the right to judge the ‘correct’ way that Kate McCann ‘should’ behave? The endless conflicting leaks from the Portuguese police and the suppositions of the media feed the worst voyeuristic sides of human nature. It is similar to slowing down on the motorway to look at a car crash. As ever, it leads to judgement and criticism of what others ‘ought to’ do or have done but this judgement often comes from ignorance of the detailed reality of the situation.
One thing must be true and that is that Kate McCann is in the middle of a nightmare. None of us knows the truth but surely we do have a legal system that is based on the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. In the meantime she appears to be dealing with the situation by trying to achieve some kind of normality in her daily life with her twins. As a way of relieving stress this is as good a one as any, and those who criticise the fact that she is able to choose a pair of earrings and a decent set of clothes to wear every day could benefit from considering how important it is to hold yourself together for the sake of those around you and dependent upon you, as well as for yourself. She could well fear that if she lets all this go then she will completely fall to pieces and she surely needs to be as centred as is possible for the twins, for the search for her daughter and to deal with the pending case against her by the Portuguese police.
Many of those who write and criticise her apparent lack of emotion may not have experienced a sudden death or tragedy in their lives or recognise the numbness that can occur as a result of a traumatic event. Our first son died suddenly at 2 months’ old and people could have accused me of not seeming to care because I did not cry in front of other people. But it did not mean to say that I didn’t cry in private: every day for a year and often since; in my car, in my home, in my room.
People have compared her behaviour with that of Rhys Jones’s parents, whose grief was evident in their interviews after their son’s murder. Each person shows and experiences emotion differently and a death has a finality about it that allows a person to grieve wholeheartedly and eventually obtain acceptance and closure. The daily toll of living with a missing child would surely gnaw away at you in a very different manner. It might be helpful for people to understand that in psychological terms we all tend to project our own deepest fears, insecurities and experiences on to those who are the subjects of a major media story of this kind. It happened with Princess Diana; it is happening here.
Perhaps we could all try to accept that there is no perfect way to be, no perfect way to grieve and that judgement of others – particularly of those whom we have never met – is generally inappropriate. Perhaps we could all try to accept that we may never know what happened that night in Portugal and until we do it is neither appropriate nor helpful to criticise.
The way Ming Campbell has been treated by his peers in the House and by the media is quite amazing in the light of the Age Discrimination regulations brought in during October 2006. The whole purpose of this legislation was to ensure that people were not discriminated against in any way on the basis of age. And yet BBC Radio 4 and other stations regularly refer to the issue of Ming being too old and during an interview this evening there was agreement that a person could, similarly, be ‘too young’.
If this conversation were to take place in the workplace it would be subject to litigation in that noone should comment or joke about age in a negative way: people should be judged on their skills and competencies and nothing less. How come politicians and the media seem to consider themselves to be outside this law I wonder? Surely these are precisely the people who should be broadcasting the need to regard people as human beings rather than as a number. If these people were to make similar comments about gender or race they would be pillaried or worse: why do we let them get away with blatant ageism?
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I had breakfast with a client this week. He was telling me that his organisation is now measuring staff performance every quarter and this necessitated fitting aspects of an employee’s behaviour into boxes on the appraisal template. Predictably he felt that this was undermining the complexity of human beings as even if someone does not achieve a particular target number in one box he or she may be adding immeasurably to the organisation in some other way – eg relationships with colleagues, clients, staff morale, administration, etc. I find the increasing focus over the last ten years on targets and measurement is demotivating for many people. It is also extremely time-consuming and many managers, whose main skill may well be in a technical expertise rather than in people-related activities, frequently procrastinate in carrying out appraisals. This can culminate in the further demotivation of their direct reports, who perceive the procrastination as an indication that the manager does not take their personal development seriously.
Yet governments, management consultants and HR departments continue to insist on treating people like machines that can produce x number of widgets in an 8 hour day. In my view this undermines the richness of what it is to be human. It also does not take into account how humans can think laterally and creatively so as to ‘tick the boxes’ but not achieve real progress – take as an example an NHS hospital who met the target of not having patients waiting in corridors by giving the corridor a Ward name! Another example was that patients should not be allowed to wait on stretchers for a long period – so the wheels were taken off the stretcher and it was called a bed. There are countless other examples of the futility of targets in education, the police force and in organisations as a whole. They can limit thinking and over-ride practical common-sense by rewarding the wrong things. An example of this was a police force who arrested not only the muggers but also victims of ‘have-a-go’ events in order to gain more points through achieving a greater number of (measurable) arrests in order to meet their targets.
I am not saying that targets should be completely discarded, only that they should be seen within a broader context so that other less tangible factors can be taken into account in measuring a person’s performance. Even John Nash who invented Game Theory eventually came to see that measurable targets cannot be applied to all aspects of life - so why do we continue to do so? People cannot be reduced to numbers: we are much more than that.
Tonight they showed the film of Princess Diana and Dodi in the moments before they died. How wonderful that amidst the ups and downs of life they looked so happy. How important it is to attend to those people and events that make us smile, make us feel valued, make us feel loved, loving and happy. Each experience is, in itself, what makes a life. Sometimes we are too focused on tomorrow to notice what happens today. To me this film just demonstrates how important it is to be in the moment, to fully sense it and enjoy it in whatever form, because – like them – we never know whether it may be our last. Today, now, this hour, this minute, this second, is precious: notice it.