How dare one put into question the social, humane, cultural and economic values of public services? Experiencing these values cannot but make anybody who lives in Britain today feel the urge to protect that sector. This is what happened to me last week. For us unemployed people, the day before the sign-on trip to the JobCentre is always raising some form of anxiety about ourselves. Have I applied to enough posts, did I check all the vacancies available, have I made a real effort at understanding whether I need further training, how long have I been unemployed for now, what will I say when asked how I am getting on with my job search, what will I say when ask if I’m all right, what will I say when asked what I will do next, etc. The day before my sign-on appointment affect how I function in the world. I tend to try to stay at my desk and at my computer even if I don’t manage to achieve anything, I tend to forget about other activities I may be involved with (volunteering, having to take a trip to the library, meeting people), and turn myself into a ball of accountability for my actions and into a tower of justification for my own social existence. This is usually accompanied by a feeling of worthlessness, low spirit, hopelessness, restlessness and bad sleep. Last week being worse than it had been to date, I decided on a strategic planning of my sign-on day. 1- go to the JobCenter; 2- go to the Career Services (yet again) to review my cv; 3- go to my GP to talk about my difficulty to sleep. That sounded like a lot of going and doing when feeling down, but nevertheless, one stage at a time.
Stage 1: the soft spoken woman at the JobCenter called my name twice. I didn’t hear her the first time, then didn’t really make out what she was saying and asked for her to repeat. Yes, it was my name that she was shyly pronouncing wrongly. I sat down at her desk, she hardly looked at me. All there is to know about me is on her computer after all. Asked how I was getting on, I felt my lips shaking, my heart racing, a ball in my throat catching every words that were attempting to come out. Slow tears blurring my vision. She lifted her head, stopped seeing me as the person behind the screen of her computer and, instead, as the person behind the tears of my powerlessness. She didn’t say anything, didn’t try to comfort me, didn’t attempt to seek explanations. Instead, she took the job search diary from my hand, folded it in two and inserted it in my plastic folder, handed it to me in silence and said goodbye. She knew I wanted out of there as quickly as possible, she knew that it was vital for me to keep my dignity, she did the most humane gesture she could have done.
Stage 2: as I waited at the Career Services I tried to gather my nerves again. Feeling tearful will not get me anywhere, I need to understand the problem and find a solution. An advisor here was bound to help me. The man came and sat down, looked at me, a pen and a paper next to him, his whole body asking me “what can I do for you?” in silence. Silence broke out, finally, as I started to explain why I was here. Asked what I thought was the problem and being unable to answer, these crippling tears came back again, how I hated them at that precise moment, this man was here to help me, why was I starting crying on him. He stood up, asked me to stand up, put his hand on my shoulder with a gentle squeeze then, in a low voice, said “come round to a quiet booth”. He unsuccessfully tried to get me water, told me it was all right, said he will take few minutes to read my cv, that it was all right, that I was all right. And finally I was all right.
Stage 3: I’ve only gone to my GP once in the past 2 years, only to get a prescription mind you. I don’t tend to use doctors, it’s in my family culture that it is rarely the case that a doctor can do what you can’t. After all, I know myself more than anybody else do, no? When my vision started to blur behind tears, yet again, and as I tried to whisper an apology, she stood up to get a tissue, then said “after all, that’s why you are here, so don’t worry”. She asked me precise questions, questions I could answer to, she finished my sentences when I felt my answers were suffocating me, then checked for my approval, agreeing silently on a nod when necessary. Softly, carefully, mindfully, she offered me help. She added her kindness, understanding and professional sensitivity to the immensely rich values embodied in our public services and their workers.
Because they take care of us, public service workers should be preciously looked after.