Martin Farrell

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Queasy about being patronised? Turn that energy around

18 December 2014

Politicians, business people and celebrities have a habit of showering charity staff with formulaic appreciation, but we can use these comments to to confirm our commitment to the cause

Martin Farrell

Politicians do it, business people do it, celebrities do it – often in public, or at dinners, and with an earnest look on their faces. Yes, they reeeally mean it. They say we do such wonderful work. They say we are so important to the fabric of society. Thank you soooo much.

Yuk. It makes me feel queasy. Which is unfortunate, because the last time it happened I was mellowing at the end of a fancy dinner, rather enjoying my coffee and chocolate cake. A politician who might have known better was showering us with formulaic appreciation. We responded with polite applause.

Didn’t he know that beneath the bow ties and evening dresses pulsed hearts of passion? Didn’t he know that most of us who worked in the third sector did so not in pursuit of a self-congratulatory sense of worthiness, but because we had to? Our work with young offenders, the environment, the homeless and those who struggle is less sacrifice, more part of a path to personal fulfilment.

So we need patronising, in the sense of condescension, from no one; it doesn’t sit comfortably in our insides. But we do need patronising in the sense of financial and other support from the worlds of business, politics and the occasional celebrity. Thank you very much.

If you are a politician or business person and wonder if you patronise habitually but unknowingly, please pause and ponder: are you sitting comfortably inside?

I know little about the martial art of aikido, but I understand that practitioners develop the skill to transform the energy of their opponents into positive movement without injury. So it should be for those of us in the sector who feel discomforted by being patronised.

Let’s use the queasiness to fuel our passion. Let’s notice what’s happening and draw on its energy to confirm our commitment and impel us to ever-greater things for those we want to help. With or without chocolate cake.

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(Photo courtesy Third Sector)