Know what you are doing...

Finding out what needs to be done is a first step towards competency. Learning how to do it is another.

"The Word was in the beginning, and that very Word was with God, and God was that Word. The same was in the beginning with God. Everything came to be by his hand; and without him not even one thing that was created came to be." St John, Ch.1, v.1-3

We must all start somewhere but some beginnings are better than others. We do need help, answers to our questions, and instruction in order to grind into action. If what we are told is not said with love, chances are we will have a long learning curve ahead as we try to fathom the essentials from our mistakes, laboriously paying for it all ourselves. If someone who loves us already knows the answers, we can skip ahead and make good progress quite fast. So, the good news is that God is love, and that God loves us all, and that if any one of us opens our ears and listens to him, he will tell us what we need to know. Although, this deep truth doesn't always seem to match our experience. Yet, no-one can learn nor achieve anything without him.

My grandfather used to say to me “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.” I didn't ask him to tell me that; he was motivated by love to say it. It is a simple and catchy phrase which deters one from the infinitely negative implications and knock-on-effects of doing any job badly, from a small task around the house for oneself and one’s family to a professional-level contractual work that affects vast numbers of families, workforces and the planet. To choose to do a job well is to make a choice in favour of love; self-respecting love, respect for the ones we know we love, and respect and love for all the people who we know God loves, even though we do not know them ourselves.

Over the years, other caring seniors in the workplace have also shared with me their vital maxims. Things like “learn as much as you can.” Don’t under-estimate the value of these few words, do take them to heart, because they can be antidotes to much bad-instruction that you have been subjected to over the years, such as deliberate limitations imposed upon your understanding. Even seemingly irrelevant knowledge that we may never need to recall again can be a spark or a stepping stone that helps us to ignite an interest in something that is crucial for us to know, to enable us to pass across a dangerous current of counter-knowledge that would block essential progress and understanding. I haven't needed to know someone very well in order for them to recognize that I am loved by the God who loves them. They may also see something of their daughter, sister, mother, or friend in me that has prompted them to share something very helpful. If you don't know anything about something that you wish to be competent in, be kind to yourself and "buy a children's book to begin with" and grow your own comprehension from there. Okay, so this doesn't sound like a short-cut, but you might never get a clear understanding if you only attempt to read higher-level science-based books that assume a foundation of knowledge that you have not gained. Be kind to yourself and raise your intellect gently to where it needs to be.

It is at Easter that I appreciate most the importance of "knowing what I am doing". Re-enactments of the crucifixion with the words “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do,” sear into the consciousness of those of us who have repeatedly heard through the course of the past year how inept meddlers are just “doing their job as they’ve been told to do” without any grasp of the concept of competency nor accountability for the consequences of their actions beyond their receipt of a pay packet. So, from experience I would urge you to “be a responsible person”. Before taking any course to enable you to do a particular job, especially a course that may licence you to practice something that has any real impact upon the lives of others or the planet, learn as much of the subject, context and content as you can beforehand. You might be learning to do something that ought not to be done.

Know what it is that you wish to do, then (provided that it is a good idea and a proven way to do it well) develop your skills so that you can “do” what is required, to as good a standard as possible, in advance of taking a professional-level course. Check out the course options beforehand, and learn how different professional organizations approach and deal with the same problem you wish to deal with, or adjoining areas of concern, in different ways. Try to understand the problems, the clients' perspectives, the political regulations, and economic responsibilities to be sure that you are investing your future in the right course. Accept that what is written in a brochure or on a web-page could just be clever marketing and unrepresentative of what may actually be asked of you as one of their students. Get the reading lists and study the recommended books, and discover first whether you agree or disagree with what they are saying. Are there publications and authors that you assess as being far better? Collect relevant newspaper and magazine articles that demonstrate the efficacy or otherwise of a particular practice or view. Would the academics still let you on their course with your opinion? Then, if the answer is “yes”, accept that you are not yet an expert in their eyes and must still work through a challenging foundation that they will choose for you with the intention of shifting the faith you hold in what you are doing from its sound and reasonable convictions.

Take every opportunity to get feedback. Don’t be afraid to approach people who know more about the practice than you do and try to understand their views, values, and rationale much better. There might be a good reason why their thinking on a subject differs from yours. Also, try answering questions and giving explanations to someone who definitely knows less than you do because they might ask questions that get you questioning too, and expose your own knowledge weaknesses. Discovering what you don't know is essential if you wish to fill any gaps in your knowledge. Similarly, accept constructive criticism and thank anyone who points out a mistake that you have made. Don't hesitate to apologize and make good what is wrong.

Speak to people who buy or otherwise use the goods or services that you are learning how to make or do. Take on board the relevant opinions and values of any key stakeholders in your project (friends, family, mates, and buddies who you intend to work with). They might have doubts and objections that you don’t share, but you still need to listen to them and answer their doubts and objections if you want to rely on their encouragement, support, and collaboration in the future. Do they have a better idea to get you involved in instead?

If the books and articles you are reading somehow fall flat in your mind, or raise too many questions, there is further advice. Put them aside, find something that does spark your interest, and go back to the other reading matter when it seems to come to life and hold relevant meaning again. You might also like to ask whoever recommended the reading to you, why they recommended it? “Before you approach an author to discuss their subject, read all their books or other publications first, and make an intelligent study of them” so far as is possible. Questions like, “what motivated you to write these?” Or “how do you intend the reader to approach this information?” might be helpful starting points for a mutually beneficial discussion, before nit-picking about the fine details in one chapter or another where they really don't make sense to you. Plan what you wish to say first. The answers to your questions may well be included elsewhere but, even if they are not, you would not wish to treat disrespectfully the author of any book that you are prepared to spend much time reading, so be mindful of what you do and say whilst you are busy with the practice of learning.

A general, contextual background-intelligence also needs to be gathered. To do this it is possible to informally “observe people” and other subject matter that you seek to understand. It can be good to visit places, or specific features or events, in order to survey that which you are interested in and to see how it all fits in with your understanding. Visit in all weather conditions, especially extremes (such as heat, wet or cold) that may reveal strengths or weaknesses that you could not otherwise visualize or imagine. Take pictures and record information that you can later study the significance of in more detail, or just take written and audio notes of relevant things that meaningfully catch your attention. Before visiting a place in person, “do research” online, or in a library, to the best of your ability. Librarians are usually there to help and may even offer courses about how to access their resources. If you are qualified to, use a systematic and professional research methodology, or obtain a book to teach you how to do so in accordance with the confines of the Laws that may apply to your studies and the intended use of your findings. Be careful to ensure that the information is reliable, not deceptive, and for a socially-valuable purpose. If you do discover that there is something not-quite-good-enough about your research objectives, all available resources can also be used to seek new angles, lines of inquiry, and better purposes.

Be like a detective, seeking clues and following-up in order to build a dossier of information and to develop the thread of the true story of cause and effect that you are enquiring about. The “true story” could be a “right design brief and specification” for a place or product or the answer to any pressing question. Put your theories to the test with your imagination; imagine yourself in another place or in the place of another person and make a note of your thoughts and observations in that position. Put all your notes and records thoughtfully down in a combined work of illustrated writing, leave well alone until your mind has released its creative hold on the content, then view again with fresh eyes that can see what you have actually produced and not only what you imagined you were recording. Then, appreciate what is good in what you have done and try to enhance it if you can. Then think critically about what is bad and transform it into something good.

Remember that every day is a new beginning and every new job requires a fresh start. Refer back to your records to help you to think clearly and knowledgeably about what you are doing. Don't ever think that you know enough. Keep up the learning for the rest of your career, and the rest of your life, however uncomfortable it may make you feel to admit there are still a lot of things that can be known about what you do which you have somehow remained ignorant of.

Some people believe in reincarnation, which seems to explain why there are rare people who appear to hold amazing amounts of knowledge and display incredible levels of skill and talent from childhood. It could be that they have been learning their profession through multiple long lives. Our individual lives appear to be too short to achieve any degree of greatness. However, we can achieve incredible levels of knowledge where we think together with love. Maybe angels, saints, and ancestors who love us are standing by our side when it looks as though we are alone, and they pour helpful words, images, and skills into our souls. Maybe when we work with people whom we can see, we are filled with a brotherly love that helps us to tap into a sphere of shared knowledge and talent that we cannot connect with when we are alone. Or maybe there are some things that we ought not to expect to know in too much detail. Suffice to know that everything came into being by the hand of God and that there isn't anything in existence that was not brought into being by him. Just do that which love prompts you to do, and do whatever you are prompted to do with love, and love will be what you are doing.

May you do well.

Felicity Newman - 10th January 2021