By Lynne Knight
In his magnificently haunting and heartbreaking film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ (scene pictured above), Ken Loach poses the question: What kills more people: sharks or coconuts? The answer is coconuts. He then goes on to demonstrate how this happens.
We may leave the cinema railing against ‘the system’ (the all-powerful sharks), but, for me at least, the real problem lay with the intentions and actions of those who were charged with its implementation - those who were actually there to help (the coconuts), but for the most part seemed unable to do so.
Why? Because they had somehow lost their ability to respond as human beings to another human being in need of help and, crucially, respect.
And yet it doesn’t have to be difficult. The film isn’t about killing the sharks, bringing down the system. Daniel, his young friend Katy and her kids, and many others in the film demonstrate how facing difficult situations with kindness and common sense can actually empower and enrich people.
Relationships matter. From the most intimate relationships, right through to our relationships with our planet and all its inhabitants.
Using the 16 Guidelines to improve your relationships
By focusing on the skills and attitudes we bring to our relationships, our recent venture into the 16 Guidelines provided a very rich antidote to feelings of helplessness and anger at difficult situations - in our own lives and in the news.
We weren’t high-tech, and we weren’t all religious. Just 8 to 12 people coming together to discuss one of the guidelines each week: respect, forgiveness, gratitude and loyalty.
As a facilitator I had previously scoured both the 16 Guidelines book and website, mostly plundering them for quotes and examples of people who had exemplified these 16 qualities. We sometimes ranked the quotes, and as we discussed them we found new depths in the 16 qualities, and often (very usefully for discussion) paradoxes. Just how did Aung San Suu Kyi square her loyalty to the Burmese people with her loyalty to her family? Would we have done that? Could we? Should we?
Never underestimate the power of the open question
And it became ever clearer over the course of this (and previous) Guideline workshops that not only did the discussion benefit from an initial period of at least 20 minutes of calming meditation, but that gradually expanding meditation instructions to teach skills in introspection are crucial for supporting the whole process of change.
The 16 Guidelines resources are fabulous - easy to use, whether as facilitator or student, and infinitely flexible. I particularly loved the quotes, and each week provided a handout peppered with wise words from all ages and cultures. Sometimes I included a meditation outline in the handout, and sometimes inspiration from life stories. People always took them, and some shared them with family and friends.
So thank you 16 Guidelines - and thank you Ken Loach.
“When my two brothers and I recently went together to a family party, we quite spontaneously began talking about the kindness our late parents had shown us as we were growing up - indeed throughout our lives - and how much we appreciate it. We’ve never talked like this before, and, at least on my part, this was prompted by the discussions we’d been having in the 16 Guidelines Course.”
“I value having the opportunity to further enhance the qualities, skills and attributes that I feel lie at the heart of effective relationships. To be able to do this in a supportive group and to be gently guided through the process of discussion and meditation is really working for me in terms of my personal learning and development.”
“I am enjoying noticing small changes within myself and within my interpersonal relationships with people e.g. not responding too quickly with my immediate thoughts and feelings within a given situation, 'noting' my responses, 'holding back', being more patient - this has had the effect of reducing/preventing defensive behaviours from the other person/people involved. I also feel calmer, more assured, within myself. I feel this is due to practicing meditation, a new way of being for me!”