The Scottish Government stats on homelessness came out this week. Depending on how you read them, (thanks Emma Dore of Shelter for this analysis) the number of folk who are experiencing homelessness is going up or maybe down. Those numbers are important but they don’t tell me if what we should be doing is working, or if there is more to do.
I spent a day this week on our Farm, first with students from Napier University who have raised around £7,500 for Cyrenians (see photo, I am the one on the left!) and then with some fellow CEO’s with whom I shared a course last year (lower photo, showing my best side!)
In both cases, the chat from visitors about what they saw happening on the Farm and what they heard about the rest of our work was extremely positive. It is an extraordinarily uplifting experience to see these reactions to our work. It’s more than nice words – it has a positive, physical impact on those who visit and myself as I see the impact it has. It is a gift in itself and one that I greatly value.
I compare those responses to how I felt when I heard the story of a phone call that our Fareshare depot received a few weeks ago. The request was for a birthday cake for someone in their 60’s who had never had a birthday cake in their life.
We had a cake and it was sent over right away. I don’t know about you, but that story also hits me physically. The thought of feeling you were never significant enough to another person for them to buy or bake a cake for your birthday. It made me want to weep for him.
The Enlightenment philosopher David Hume said that “reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions”. We deal with the world first and foremost by how we feel about what we experience. Our rational brain responds to and is guided by those initial emotional responses. In simple terms, the fight, flight or freeze response comes from our neural cortex. We either follow our gut reaction or have a capacity to feel and choose another response.
I know the work we do is superb because of the emotional response it brings out in others and in me. I know we have much more to do because of my emotional response to what I would articulate as an injustice experienced by the person who’d never had a birthday cake. I know it’s an injustice because of how I respond to how I feel about the story I heard.
It’s those emotional responses that get me going in the morning, those gut feelings that drive me to do more, much more than the numbers and the debates about what they might mean.