One of my friends uses a ‘Kindness Chart’ with her children: each time they are kind, they get a star for it. When the jar is full, they get a reward. So far so good.

Yesterday she caught them at the chart, felt tip pen in hand, adding a few extra stars in. Presumably hoping that she would not notice the difference…

I like this: clearly they understand the importance of kindness, and also the joy of reward, so worked in tandem to cook up a plan to get there faster.

Turns out that humans (even small ones) are pretty good at subverting systems.

Today i am at a Clown conference.

It’s not my natural space: my clown like moments tend to be more accidental than planned. But then perhaps that’s true for these clowns too, because they are clinical clowns: healthcare professionals who use clowning in their practice.

So far, they seem kind, but i’m still acclimatising: to them, to here, to being together.

On Friday i will be on the stage, to perform, to share, to be seen. But today i am largely invisible, which is easier in the Netherlands because nobody (not even the clowns it seems) really tries to stand out.

I’m hanging out: listening, watching, tuning in. I don’t know anyone, so there are no familiar greetings: this event happens every two years, and it’s clear that many people here are friends, are connected, are (re)convening. So in that sense i am a stranger, albeit an invited one.

There’s something odd about the idea of a Clown Conference, like imagining them doing tax returns or washing socks. In theory i know it happens, but my engagement tends to be in the performance.

i often try to find a connection before i speak: it makes it much easier for me, which is no surprise, because it’s easier for most people. To be together, to be familiar, to be with friends, gives us a safer space to perform. Sometimes i find an excuse to walk out on stage before i speak, to see people, to be familiar, to find my feet.

I overheard one conversation: someone talking about their clowning in practice (if you are a regular here, you will know that i’m quite interested at the moment about the ways that we are ‘in practice’).

He described how he has his routines, his act, his performance, but that he calibrates it, he tunes into the space before he performs.

For many of these Clowns, the context of their performance is paediatric care, and in some cases palliative care. It’s harder to imagine a harder context, but perhaps that’s why, to these people, it seems such a vocational one.

He described his performance as if it were easy, but the calibration as a difficult thing: reading the room, reading the emotion, reading the energy. Tuning in.

Someone else told me a story this week: in a time of great upheaval within their own organisation, they called their manager, who was on holiday. They apologised, but said that they needed ten minutes, which they got. And they felt better. The ten minutes made them feel less alone.

Being together, understanding each other, being kind. A desire to fit in and be accepted perhaps, as well as a need to find our own identity in a crowd. These are part of being human.

Our humanity is not a layer that inconveniences formal systems, not a prize to be claimed, or a type of engagement to be demanded. It is the system.

Sure: we inhabit Organisations that look, and feel real – but they are not. They are made up, imagined to serve a purpose and a need.

As we reinvent our Organisations, as we evolve our systems, we should consider the human, the kind, the compassionate and fair, as the foundation, not something we bolt on or squeeze in.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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