From Ken’s Desk December 2010

A week ago another tragedy hit the South Island of New Zealand. This is of course on top of the 7.1 earthquake that shook Christchurch on 4 September. I am referring to the Pike River coal mine explosion that was responsible for the death of 29 miners on the West Coast. Pike River is located up the Grey Valley north of Greymouth, the town where I was born. My mother was born at Nghaere, a stone’s throw from the mine. Her dad drove a truck for the local sawmill. The death of these miners represents the ever and present challenge of working in rugged areas, in demanding jobs, and in harsh conditions.

Extractive industries, which have formed the backbone of the West Coast (timber, coal and gold), are tough and dangerous activities – the history of the Coast is littered with stories of injury and death. But Coasters are a stoic lot – historically we don’t expect things from others – we get on with things and keep going. As my dad reminded me when I was growing up, “There are no free lunches. You work for what you get.” This ethic is born out of the working class culture that is so much the West Coast. I am reminded of the whakatauki, ‘Moe atu nga ringa raupo’ which translates to ‘Marry a man with calloused hands’. The meaning behind this is that calloused hands are earned through hard work which is based upon the idea of a good work ethic.

As I have managed my own sadness (because this is the community I was born in to) during this past week, I was moved to tears by picture after picture of grief stricken mothers with their children. It was the absence of dads that was so poignant. We have lost the men in our community, but the loss is magnified to the partners and children who will no longer enjoy the richness of being with their children as they navigate to waters of growing towards adulthood.

The photo is of a group of tall nikau palms on the west of the Paparoa Ranges almost exactly opposite the Pike River mine. The long shadows formed remind me that the men, although no longer alive, leave their own shadow on the landscape.

It is interesting the response to this tragedy. People who want to be helpful are piling into the community to support those impacted by the mine disaster. There is a very real danger of what I term ‘impositional helping’ – when people think they know what’s best for others, without taking the time for conversations about what may be needed. In these major events people can be caught up in the hype (suitably subdued of course) and not trust their own natural processes of grieving and distress. How to fit individual needs and timeframes for working through personal distress into collective processes is a real challenge.

I prefer that we consider ‘invitational approaches’ that allow us to offer our support and assistance. This respects the autonomous decision-making of those who we are there to serve. We all approach our own processes in our own timeframe and what might work for one person may not for others. Invitational approaches are less likely to rob people of their confidence, dignity and respect. It also puts them firmly in the driver’s seat of change. This in turn translates into intrinsic motivation for whatever change is necessary

Published on Wednesday, December 8th, 2010, under Announcements, What Ken thinks

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