I recall when I was plumbing that the foreman wanted me to run a series of pipes into what was going to be a laboratory. The pipes were lines on a plan. As I began to sort out the job I realised that the pipes they wanted would not all fit into the space available. My foreman Bill was not very complimentary about the architect and draftsman. “If the stupid @*#* had added up the sizes of the bloody pipes they would know their scheme would not work! It’s easy to draw lines, much harder to install pipes!” he said in graphic plumbers’ language. As tradesmen we got used to this sort of muck up. The architects dreamed up things that just could not work in practice. The people at the coalface could have told them that! We had to adapt and make it work as best we could.
I have found this sort of thing again and again in chaplaincy workplaces. Managers will dream up new schemes or ways of doing things and when the people on the floor see it they say, “That can’t work! Get real!” Often there is little real consultation or listening to the people who have to make it work. I know that as a Night Shelter Trust Board we have sometimes come up with ideas, but when we have talked to the man who has to supervise the shelter he has said sometimes “No, that sounds good but won’t work in practice!” Managers and boards often do not listen to the people at the coalface, and can indeed make life difficult for them by not doing so.
In my career in the Church, in chaplaincies and community groups I have found the same thing. Sometimes I have been part of the perpetrators on a board, sometimes I have been the frustrated coalface person. Because of health issues I did not get much sleep last night. Today I have found myself trying to make something work. It was a difficult and frustrating time. I know that if the powers-that-be had listened to me I could have something much better going. Life would be easier and there would be more control. In the midst of the frustration of today, a tired me got angry all over again at decisions made by those who are not there to try to make them work. I felt like my dream was being limited, wrecked and distorted. I felt like I was trying to do the impossible and was angry because my warnings about this happening fell on deaf ears.
The clock cannot be wound back now, and we have to do the best we can, but it is none the less heartbreaking. A friend of mine often says, “Build a bridge - get over it.” I guess that’s what we often have to do. Life and work will never be perfect!