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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care
CYC-Online Issue 137 JULY 2010 / BACK
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Cooper's Motor Mart

Laura Steckley

Recently on a rail journey south, I saw something that interrupted whatever train of thought I was on at the time and sent me thinking towards this month’s column. There, two stories up on the side of an old, red brick building, were words made up of white bricks solidly mortared in amongst the red “Cooper’s Motor Mart”.

It has a lovely ring to it. I wonder: how long ago that building was built?; what happened to the motor mart? (alas, I couldn’t see it from the train); and who was Cooper? He (I’m assuming he) was probably the owner of the motor mart, that much seems obvious. I imagine when he had his clever signage constructed, he envisioned running this motor mart the rest of his working days, or at least investing in the people who did. The sign seems to reflect the more enduring orientation people had to their commitments and investments than nowadays.

It makes me think about Kraft’s recent hostile takeover of Cadbury, a longstanding British confectionary manufacturer that is best known for its chocolate. Cadbury’s board appeared to give little serious consideration for the long term health of the company or well being of its workers; Kraft even less. Minimal effort was made to justify the takeover on any other grounds than the short term gain of a few managers and shareholders. Reputations are built over the long term, and Kraft appears unconcerned about its own reputation as well. Within a week of finalising the deal, Kraft reneged on their promise (made during the takeover battle) to keep the Somerdale factory open. Over 400 workers have lost or will lose their jobs. This factory is over 80 years old and was built during a time when companies made long term investments in their workers and communities; it had social facilities on site, including playing fields and a recreational sports ground. I can’t imagine Kraft will make a comparable investment in the replacement factory they’ll be setting up in Poland. In fact, the Polish division has just been sold to a Japanese company.

This example is like countless others, and we appear stuck in the short term. Our financial deficits and bodily surpluses reflect the runaway train of immediate gratification. Our politics are stuck as well, with long term investments rarely considered worth the short term political costs. Measurable, often short-term, targets have eclipsed investments in substantial change in our compulsion to quickly achieve effectiveness. There is an inbuilt disposability within the relentless, compelling drive of consumerism – it is reliant on it. Technology industries call this “built-in obsolescence”.

I wonder about how this contextual static affects the way we think about and approach our practice? In the grand scheme of things, we play a relatively short role in the lives of most of the kids and families we serve. It is hard not to become impatient or look for shortcuts. Yet there are no short cuts in the hard graft of developing and maintaining healing relationships with kids and families, many of whom have been treated like a short term problem and then disposed of. Yet while we share only a brief spell of their journeys, our impact should be enhancing and enduring. It took me a long while to realise that this impact did not come about during some pivotal world-changing event that occurred for the kid (like the dramatic moment of insight as portrayed in the film Good Will Hunting). Rather, it is usually gradual, accruing through the minutiae of the everyday. (And, if you peer below the surface, it is easy to identify this in the film as well.)

This, then, is the challenge of making the most of the minutiae within the short time we have. There are no throw away comments and it is often the little things that matter more than we ever realise. The conscious, deliberate use of the seemingly mundane, insignificant, everyday requires a patient, focused commitment to the long term. Maybe, in the midst of all the pressures for quick fixes and short term solutions, it’s good to just pause and remember this.

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