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Rabbi Robyn Ashworth-Steen talks to us about how her feminism, spirituality and career in social justice have intersected with her mental health.

We discuss the possibility of redefining our community-centred identities as well as what we might learn from those who have gone before us.

Follow us on Twitter and more at https://www.bio.link/livelyminds

Find out more about our show at https://www.anyamedia.net/livelyminds

Transcript

W: Hello, my name is Will.

E: And my name is Ellie.

W: Lively Minds is a UK-based podcast about mental health challenges that go beyond the ebb and flow of the everyday.

E: Led by people with lived experience, this podcast is less about how we deal with our mental health and more about how we understand it in the first place.
If anything comes up in this show that you need support with right away, for signposting to services including those outside the UK and Ireland, please visit our website, anyamedia.net/livelyminds.

So today we’ve got the wonderful Rabbi Robin Ashworth-Steen with us. Hello Robin, it’s lovely to have you here.

R: Hi, I’m so happy to be here, delighted.

E: Thank you so much for coming and joining us. So Robin, would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and about what you do.

R: Yeah, happy to. It’s always funny introducing yourself, isn’t it? Because there’s
so many different places to start. So I’m trying to think what might be the best way to tell a story of my life and where I’ve been. But well, at the moment I’m um, principal rabbi at Manchester Reform Synagogue, which is a progressive synagogue in the heart of the city of Manchester. I’ve been in that role nearly six years now and it’s probably worth saying given where our conversation might go that I’m the first female rabbi in Manchester and that has been quite an experience. Before that, um, lots of study to get to that point. Before that I was a human rights lawyer in Manchester and London and I specialised in public law and asylum law, um, which was really fascinating and taught me a lot about law and justice, the difference between the two and what it is to fight and, yeah, how hard it is to be in broken systems – maybe again, something we’ll talk about.

Um, and apart from that, I’ve got a 10 year old son, a cat called Bella, a husband, have said that in a weird way! And I’m Manchester born and bred, well, born in Yorkshire, but really from Manchester. Um, yeah, that’ll do. And I’ve wanted to be a rabbi since I was 11.

E: Awww

R: So I have been wanting to do this career. I know such a geeky little 11 year old and I went to rabbi school assuming everyone wanted to be a rabbi since they were a kid. Turns out just me and one other person and everyone else was like,
“No, I just thought it was a good career later on.” But yeah, I was firmly ready to go.

E: It’s funny that you wanted to do it since you were 11 but chose another incredibly difficult and hard working career path before becoming a rabbi.

R: Yeah, it’s funny isn’t it?

E: But I’ll be a lawyer first!

R: Yeah,to be as we know in Judaism, Israel is the word for the Jewish people and it means to struggle with God and that struggle is like integral to what it is to be not only a Robyn in the world but also a Jew in the world. So yeah, well I wanted, I came out of university having done theology and religious studies and it was taught in a very particular way. I was at Cambridge, it was very Christian focused and it was also very not about, it wasn’t about how you related to the text, it was much more objective. And I found that quite tricky. And I couldn’t bring my community, my Judaism to Cambridge. And I have to say it was the unhappiest times talking about mental health. That was really my lowest point being at university. Yeah. So I came out and I just felt I wasn’t quite ready. I wasn’t quite old enough to be a rabbi. Lots of people do go straight in, but not me at 21. I wanted to just live life a little bit. So chose human rights law, ’cause it felt like it really expressed my Judaism. It felt very connected to me. Um, and then when I’d done that for a few years felt like it was the right time to jump into the rabbi.

E: How do you understand or define the concept, concepts like mental health or mental illness?

R: So I’m going to answer this in a way that I think is quite a feminist answer, I think. So instead of talking about definitions and the thinking of it, I’m going to talk about how it feels. So, um, one of my favourite writers, Audrey Lord, who’s, you know, was a wonderful black scholar and poet and writer said that the phrase should be instead, ‘I feel therefore I can be free’ instead of ‘I think therefore I am’. So I feel therefore I can be free. And that for me really sums up how I want to live in the world and what good mental health is like, is one, is about me being able to, feel what I need to feel, in a kind of safe way, in a held way, so that I can be liberated, so that I can thrive. For me, when I’m in bad mental health, for one, I know they’re quite binary words, but when I’m not in a good mental health place, for me it tends to be that I’m surviving and not thriving. Um, so, and also my world becomes very small instead of large and vast. I’m much less able to connect to not only the people around me but also just, this is gonna sound ridiculous but like I forget there are trees and like there’s nature. I just go so inward that I can’t see outward. So that’s what mental health feels like for me. It’s about the balance within, it’s about being connected to my feelings so that I can be free, so that I can be out in the world and can survive, not that I’m, you know, contained and completely within.

E: I think that makes sense. And I like the idea of balance as well. And I love the Audre Lorde quote, and I love her as well. She’s amazing.

R: Amazing, there are so many things she wrote that completely blew my mind,
like completely transformed the way that I understand the world. You know, like,
kind of just, she broke down all these myths that I’d held about how the world should be. And when she wrote, “I feel therefore I can be free.” It just completely, like it usurps patriarchy, all of those oppressive systems, ’cause it says you’re allowed to feel and actually feeling being in connection to your needs as a woman, it’s very hard to do. And it’s not about knowledge, it’s not about what you hold and what you know, it’s about how you experience the world. And that, that for me transformed everything. And I only read that like two years ago, and I’m 40 now. So I was like, “I wish I would have read that I was like 12, you know, how different my life would have been if I’d have understood that’s how the world could work”.
E: And that’s a lovely way of understanding mental health as well because it means that you can be crying and wailing for hours and in huge amounts of pain but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having a period of bad mental health or mental illness, it just means you’re expressing the feelings that you’re feeling, which is really important.

R: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s such… I mean, I know I carry this myth with me and I have to fight hard against it, um, that, you know, crying or expressing anger, particularly Audre Lorde’s great on anger as well, is a sign of weakness that I’ve lost control, that I’m not, um, you know, being a good worker or a British, you know, stiff up a lip and that it’s a weakness. And actually feeling the feelings and all of them is vital. Like we’re human, it means we have empathy, it means that we’re sensitive to the world around us and it is just allowing all of that.

And like we say in the balance, you know, you don’t want to be subsumed by it, that you want to be able to move through. But I know from doing like meditation, there are some brilliant Jewish meditation retreats that it’s about noticing all of that and not you know not fighting against the feelings but just riding alongside them noticing them as best we can rather than becoming them I guess that’s the kind of the distinction

E: I like that, like being with them but not becoming them

There’s a lot of reasons why i wanted to talk to you on our podcast but the areas in particular that it would be really interesting to hear from you about, a kind of, how your conceptualising of mental health intersects with both your spirituality and in a kind of personal sense and whether they change in tandem with one another or whether they kind of are two separate understandings. And obviously like your experience currently of being a woman in a theological leadership position adds a whole other load of further questions to that kind of…

R: Yeah. So I think for me it’s all one of the same. You know, I practise Judaism. I am Jewish because I just am. It just is. It’s just not something you choose in any way, even if you’re, you know, choosing to step into Judaism, there’s a sense that you’ve just kind of, you know, it’s preordained that you’re just part of it. So I am Jewish. I choose to practise my Judaism ultimately because I think the world would be better for it and I feel better for it as well. And I think I probably wouldn’t do it unless that was part of it. Urm, I think it’s really interesting because I come from the background of progressive Judaism, reform Judaism. And that started in the kind of 18th century with enlightenment and was really a reaction to the times then of becoming citizens of the world, of science leading the way and reform Judaism out of that time became quite a rational and quite a reasoned religion or urm, expression of Judaism. So they would take out like any references to anything quite mystical in our liturgy that we couldn’t believe with the capital B and are, you know, you could say that some of the spaces became quite sterile because of that. And spirituality wasn’t something that was lifted up and talked about in that kind of way. It was more about what you did and how you were in the world. I think that recently, urm, there’s been a shift back to kind of some of the heart of Judaism, which is all about mystical experiences and spirituality. And a lot for me, I’ve really experienced, there’s a great charity called Hamakom, which is a Jewish meditation community, and they do lots of meditation, chanting and things that have been kind of lost really through the Holocaust, teachings and practitioners, urm, and really kind of uplifting that. But you know, Judaism, being part of a community and Judaism is really communal, means that I’m better balanced. I mean, if you look at the NHS steps to well-being, you know, they’ve got those five steps to well-being, connection and, you know, physical exercise and all that kind of stuff. Judaism and being in community is not, I don’t think it’s exclusive to Judaism, offers all of that. It just, you know, ritual, coming together in community. We have a really counter-cultural radical idea of Shabbat, for example. So like Friday night, Saturday evening, Shabbat in Hebrew means to cease, to stop and we’re told, mandated for a whole day to just stop what is routine, to not play the capitalist game of productivity, but simply to be. To be with people, to be with nature, to be in community, to be, to light a candle, two candles, to have some food. Urm, and those kind of rituals bring, even when I don’t want to be with people, bring me with, into people, it’s often the best thing. It gives me routine, it helps me step back and really, it might, how I’d express it, see what’s holy in the world, but you’d have other ways of being able to express that if that word was difficult. But you know, being able to connect with something greater than myself, whether that’s nature, whether you call it God, whatever, in the world, the world does not want me to do that. The world doesn’t want me to stop. It doesn’t want me to be with other people in community because I think that power comes from communities coming together and the system doesn’t like that. So for me, all, everything I need really is built into Judaism. Urm, I say that with hesitation because there’s a lot within religions that are also really problematic, but the Judaism I practice offers so much in terms of keeping me in sync with you know the calendar, nature. I have to kind of stop and we’re coming up to Passover, to Pesach, and all of a sudden I have to stop and think about what slavery am I in? Where are people, you know, enslaved around the world? What can I do to create liberation? You know, and all of those things are so powerful and helpful and takes me out of the everyday and gets me to see the bigger picture. So for me, it’s all intertwined.

W: Is there, do you think, a tipping point though, where one transitions from the sort of ebbs and flows of wellbeing and I really sort of liked your descriptions earlier of learning to sort of sit with those emotions, acknowledge those emotions, express those emotions. Is there a tipping point between sort of that and what one might call mental illness as such, where it goes beyond those daily ebbs and flows where it becomes something more entrenched? And if so, how do you interpret that?

R: How do I interpret the difference between mental health and mental illness, do you mean?

W: Yeah.

R: Yeah, I mean, I’m not an expert in like mental illness at all. So I’m not, I don’t wanna say too much, but obviously there is a point when, well, I don’t know, what I would say is, I know lots of people in my community would say they suffered with mental illness or have, you know, periods of bad mental health and that Judaism and the practices it offers, offer tools towards that. It’s a toolkit and you may need lots more different tools if you’ve, you know, have a particular diagnosis maybe or particular experiences to do with trauma or anything. It can’t all be encapsulated, but I do think the Judaism and being in community, again it’s not exclusive, can offer so much. And within Judaism there’s this really interesting thing about looking back at the Torah, the Bible, the Five Books of Moses and the prophets and everything and people look back and try and create diagnoses on some of the characters early on, which is kind of like a very complicated thing to do because they didn’t live in that world. And it’s also, you know, this scientific trying to understand mental illness away from the person and just put labels on it is really problematic as well. Urm, but there is something that within our liturgy and our stories, we have a whole range of people experiencing life in different ways, and all the uniqueness and variety, which is quite wonderful as well. And that can be a great place to talk about mental health, mental illness and the stigmas, the oppressive systems that um, police mental illness, which is what I kind of get really worried about, and the systems that we try and hold people in that are completely unhelpful to it.

I’m not sure whether that answers the question particularly, but some reflections anyway.

E: Yeah, no, that does answer the question. I mean just for context, I think my view has always been that, like, we all have mental health in the same way that we all have physical health and so sometimes we go through periods of being more poorly than others. That’s sort of my perspective which I think ties into the kind of not placing all the kind of blame or things on the individual. I’ve never heard that about trying to go back and diagnose people from the Torah and at first I was like, because I hate diagnoses really, it was like, oh no, well no I don’t hate diagnoses, anyway I dislike diagnostic labels so I was like, oh that’s so problematic and then I was like, although actually as a thinking exercise that is potentially really interesting.

R: Yeah, yeah I think it’s helpful and unhelpful isn’t it, as you say, what’s helpful about it is not necessarily, you know, diagnostic labels but knowing that, as you say, we all experience a spectrum. And I know there’s, you know, a mental illness is another kind of conversation, but about mental health or how we experience the world. So you’ve got Jeremiah who, that some people say is manic depressive, someone who really experienced, and I’ve got loads of feel, I’m going to try not to go on tangents because I’m obsessed with Jeremiah, it’s not helpful. Urm, but you know, he talks about suicidal thoughts, the burden of being a prophet for him, and God kind of becomes quite abusive in that. It’s really complicated. And the labelling isn’t helpful, but what is helpful is knowing that a man existed many years ago who struggled with the world around him and expressed things that I can, in my darkest moments, can read and think, “Yeah, that’s where I’m at. I can feel…” And that poetry speaks to me. And that’s really interesting.

And I, I also think that like, you know, there’s Ezekiel the prophet who has these wild visions of the world, like chariots from, you know, amazing things – a valley of dry bones, all meant to be prophetic visions. And people say, you know, was he bipolar? Was he this? Was he that? And that gets away from who he was and how he was experiencing the world and what he had to offer and also just how he was and what we’ve captured and what we can take from it today. So I think it’s kind of, not doing it to try and label him, but actually being with them as people and how they experience the world, is a, gives us, gives me more permission to experience all my feelings as well. It feels important to me.

E: Yeah, like our minds are age old and have always been dealing with these things.

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E: You’ve talked quite a bit about being in community and im, how vital that is to both Judaism in particular but to, but just in general as well for whether that’s for other religions or in non-religious contexts. Your role as rabbi is sort of leader of said community. As you mentioned you are the first female rabbi in the northwest. I guess I wanted to know how that kind of role, of being a female in a position of religious leadership intersects with you trying to sort of either practise good mental health care within your community or I guess with yourself as well.

R: Mmmmm. Yeah, I’ve got so much to say about this.

E: A whole PhD’s worth?

R: A whole PhD’s worth, Ellen, yes indeed.
(both laughing)

R: Yeah, I’m really interested in this at the moment. I guess two main thoughts come up for me and what you’ve just said. A really interesting question. First, I think that being a female leader full stop really, or a woman actually, in any kind of position, the systems that we inhabit, be it work or, you know, whatever really, newspapers, anything, the um, they’re designed to ensure that we are thinking about ourselves, our bodies and how we are in the world and not the bigger picture.

So what I mean by that is that when I’m under like acute stress or something isn’t going well at work or anywhere else, my default is to self-doubt and self-blame. Just default. Like I’m obviously doing it wrong. I’m obviously not good enough. I should be smaller in every way. Like I shouldn’t be saying so much. I need to step back and I can’t do it right. Um, and I now can see really clearly that the systems we’re in, which are patriarchal and oppressive generally, are designed to, for me to do that so that I can’t actually reach my potential and that I’m completely alone in it. I feel that I’m alone. I forget that there are allies and people out there in community. And I think, you know, that happens in religious communities and it happens everywhere – that there are women and that we live in these kinds of societies. They’re kind of designed that, that we’re caught in those.

And Gloria Steinem, who’s a political activist, has a great saying that I was introduced to recently about trying to move from personal fault to collective fate, which I love. And I’ve been using that a lot to think through, you know, if I’m thinking about myself that, you know, I’ve done a bad job or that I failed at something, I’m trying really hard to step back and go, well what, what’s the system done? What’s it designed here? What isn’t working well? It’s not about me, but actually where’s the system? Like, who’s not being lifted up? Where’s, why isn’t there support here? Whatever it is, to try and move to that. And I think that’s a big part of gender within roles. And with the clergy roles in particular, I think so much is broken. I really do. And that’s partly what my PhD is going to be about. But I think it’s a real symbol of the world that we live in. This capitalist world where our value is all about productivity. And I think post COVID it’s worse than ever. Um, we have to, you know, our value, it isn’t, but the world tells us our value is how much we’re outputting and doing. That resting and slowing down is lazy and that we don’t have value and worth. And I think post COVID, because now we know we can do things online, there’s no way, even in our homes, become workplaces, like the lines between all of that has got so blurred. And I’m really concerned about that. And religious institutions are part of that world. So the clergy role becomes one that is, um, all consuming. And we don’t actually model what I think communities can be, which is counter-cultural to that narrative, which is about valuing rest, valuing justice, space for conversation, seeing what arises within us. The role for a clergy usually, across the board, this isn’t just Jewish, six day a week, 24/7, evening or weekends, no family time. And I think that what a shame, like really, there’s so much that religious communities could do, spiritual communities. Um, and we end up asking so much at the heart of the community and it kind of relies on that. And I think being a woman as part of that is even more so ’cause we often carry the narrative as women of having to do it all and not ask for help. That’s the narrative we’re sort of given the myth of it all, so even more so, and it’s a male model really, the clergy in some ways, it’s not been adapted by feminist thinking or any kind of thinking to create something that could be completely different and counter-cultural.

E: And that thing that’s completely different for, I guess, not even just religious, female religious leaders in the community, but I guess female leaders of any kind of social community like that, would you have ideas for what that better model would look like? Would it be less hierarchical? Because it would be so awful to think as a community, you know, “Oh, we’ve failed to care for our rabbi,” or “We’ve failed to consider our leader as one of us who also has their own kind of, you know, need for space and struggles and things like that.”

R: Yeah, yeah, it’s really powerful. And I think, you know, having this kind of model also does no favours to the people in the community, because what happens is, and this is everywhere in religious communities, that the core volunteers also get to a point of burnout. So we replicate what’s happening with the clergy with volunteers, and it’s just a terrible model. So absolutely, it’s about for me collaborative approach and the hierarchy. You know in most religious communities there’s a, not all of them but quite a lot, you’ve got the THE person with the knowledge and the training who stands up front and imparts knowledge to those you know congregants down below. And a much better model would be working together at job sharing but also really skilling up people, empowering them to lead on everything, every aspect of community life and doing so collaboratively, doing so in ways that are um, so different to the world we live in. So, you know, what would it look like for a three day a week or a four day a week? Lots of different people working together as a team. Loads of communities don’t quite work in that way. So I still feel like I’m at the edges of seeing actually what could be done. And I spoke to, I’m quite close with a couple of nuns who live nearby who are part of a great order, the Sisters of Zion. And I keep saying to them, “Wow, you know, you’re part of a female collective.” And like, “Robyn, it’s just as bad.” So I’m not sure that’s the answer either. So um, but there is, there must be somewhere out there, some sort of way that we could transform how it is at the moment. Because it’s not sustainable and no one’s going to be one part of communities that are, you know, able to actually to put someone’s value and mental health for want of a better word front and centre, their wellbeing. That’s a bit of a failure from everyone’s point of view really.

W: And do you think that there’s potential benefits presumably for wider society at the same time? So if this can be addressed within religious communities, presumably that approach to better mental health and wellbeing could expand further out into wider society as well?

R: Absolutely. And that’s how it should be, I think. Like, I think we have so much to give. Not to proselytise or make anyone religious, but for me, the reason I am a rabbi is that I want religious communities to lead the way in showing, in being like a step ahead, like being prophetic. Like, here’s what we could be doing. We could be valuing the person and not the prophet. And we could model communities that work differently, put pressure as well on systems to make change. Um, but at the moment it’s the opposite of that. A lot of our religious institutions are ones where abuse takes place and is allowed. It’s designed to allow abuse to take place. And we cover up. We’re very insular a lot of the time. We don’t like outsiders coming in. Um, again, I’m saying this quite extremely, there are communities that are different to this, but I think generally. So yeah, how much better it would be if we had these safe, exciting, innovative, justice-led communities forefront and centre in our society? Everyone benefits from that. Um, and you know, all pockets of our world should have a person at the heart of it and be able to showcase that using different language or everything but absolutely it’s about from the individual through the community into the wider world. That’s how we understand in Judaism like little kind of Venn, like circles that we do what we do not for the sake of the individual but for the sake of repairing the world. It’s called Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, yeah.

E: It’s come up in a couple of our other interviews for this podcast as well about on a more sort of practical UK health system level, like the need for more funding into community-based mental health care and just services generally and how our kind of like 21st century move, I say “move”, but it started before that, but this like core of rugged individualism that runs through absolutely everything including the current mental health discourse that’s very focused on well-being and like in a not productive way like, “oh is that friend upsetting you? cut them out they’re toxic.” it’s like that’s not like what is that? that’s terrible. um but yeah the concept of kind of like moving to a more community-based mental health care system has come up before in a sort of nuts and bolts sense redirecting funding away from centralised hospitals, well hospitalisation models and towards kind of having better services in the community which is partly how other you know like non-religious communities are kind of created, there’s so many like peer-led kind of groups and things all around the UK and people who meet in the park to go for a walk once a week that’s their, the same kind of community.

And I guess that’s what you were saying, like we should be modelling that kind of everyone’s got a responsibility to one another as well as to oneself.

I guess I just wanted to ask before the end a bit more about like if we were striving towards that ideal how do you think gender would kind of play into that happening and in some ways in a good way in some ways in in not so good a way when we’re trying to create that kind of caring community?

R: That’s a really rich question. I mean I don’t have all the answers at all but I could offer up some reflections on it because I’ve definitely got some opinions about it all. I think obviously anything peer led and community led is great and vital. I’m also super wary that the structures of like, um, violence, for want of a better word, hospitalisations you spoke about, all of that still exist. So we’re still part of that system and there’s some sort of abrogation of responsibility that I get worried about with that because um, it’s not creating a new model. It seems to just be funding something so they can abrogate their responsibility. So I’m kind of like, with that caveat as well. And you really made me think about a quote from a rabbi, an American rabbi, who was very involved in the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King and was a friend and ally to him, marched in Selma and really was very much part of it, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. And he has a line that I’ve been sitting with for weeks now that says, “Few are guilty but all are responsible.”

Um, and I think it’s so powerful because there are people and systems that we can point the the finger out and blame and responsibility rests with everyone. I think for me, like, gender plays into that in a way that as a woman and as a highly sensitive woman as well, an empathic woman, I feel responsibility for everyone and everything. Um, you know, whether you call that a maternal, like mythical idea of what it is to be a mother, I don’t think it actually is, but that is kind of what the gendered stereotype is that we should have mother everyone. And certainly a female rabbi is kind of expected to do that. Um, and I’ve learned over time that it’s moving away from being responsible for, but being responsible to. And I think that’s where liberation can lie for like women and all, you know? So this like feminist ideal is about liberation for everyone, ’cause men and everyone else, everyone’s a victim of the system that we live in at the moment.

So there’s something about what it would it be to have a place where everyone was responsible to each other, but not for each other. And I think that’s, you know, communities offer something – I always used to call Jewish communities
communities of obligation, ’cause we have this really strong idea of like obligation, demand, commandments, mitzvot, and a friend, Rabbi Kath recently said to me, it’s about creating communities of connection, away from that rugged individualistic idea of, you know, this wellbeing with a capital W and, you know,
we’ll be all right as long as we do, you know, yoga in the morning, a bath at 10 o’clock or whatever it is, that actually it’s about being in community of that. So I think that for me there is something that can be, you know, feminist ideals can be brought to because it’s about collaboration, it’s possibly about listening, it’s about dialogue, it’s about being with communities across difference, all of that. Um, but it’s also about unpacking what gender is and the myths of what gender carries with. So this kind of idea that we have as women that we’re responsible for everyone and everything, but what would it look like if we said we’re “responsible to”?

W: Sorry, could you expand a bit more on what you mean by the difference between “responsible for” and “responsible to”?

R: Yeah. This is something I’ve been working at for years because I did not understand it when I first heard it and I think that’s because I’m so firmly in the camp of I am responsible for everyone. So ‘responsibility for’ is if I am told someone is upset or in pain that it’s my job to go and look after them, that I need to call them, check in with them, be with them and their kind of mood and way of being impacts on how I am and who I am as a person because I am responsible for them, like I am to my 10 year old son, right? I have a responsibility for Gabriel, um, to make sure he sleeps and he is well and is getting a good education and all those things. Um, I have no other responsibility for anyone or anything apart from my cat actually, responsible for her. She’s, I’m not sure, it’s not clear with the power dynamics like that. Um, I don’t know. Um, so I’m responsible for them definitely. And I’m ‘responsible to’ other people. So, and I think what ‘responsibility to’ means is that I’m responsible for being alongside them in realising their own responsibility, if that makes sense. So in a community, I think, and there’s loads of books written about this, it can be really codependent and it can be very tricky where there’s like a rabbi or priest or whatever who feels ‘responsible for’ the community. And what that means is that the community expects so much of them and can get very angry and very bitter when that expectation isn’t met. And also the, um, and this is true of other leaders as well, the leaders feel undervalued, not loved, burnt out because of those expectations. A ‘responsibility to’ system would mean that everyone’s equal, everyone, and the power dynamic shifts as well. Like, you know, a community member is responsible to me to check in how am I doing and my responsibility is to them but not for them. It’s not subsuming them, it’s being alongside them and encouraging them to take responsibility and also express their responsibility.

E: Yeah, that makes absolute sense. I was understanding it as responsibility for someone is exactly what you said and is that, and yeah it’s been an awful behaviour pattern that I’ve had in the past where I’ve, especially when it’s like someone where I’m not really getting any care from myself but I would drop absolutely everything, this is ‘responsibility for’ someone, drop absolutely everything, decide it’s my response, like feel that it’s my responsibility to make sure that that person gets better from whatever it is and then the flip side that is that if they don’t it’s my fault and I’ve failed. Whereas ‘responsibility to’, which is how I would deal with those situations now, is I would go out of my way to try and make sure I do what I can to put other supports in place for that person and to guide them in the right direction and like you said maybe help them to realise their own responsibility or help to try and pull together a community of people around them that way, which is healthier.

R: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the classic thing, isn’t it? It’s like also synonymous with ‘power over’ and ‘power with’, as you were saying. It’s like ‘power over’ is, I’ve got something that I can help you with. You might not have wanted the help, but I’m here to give it. But I’m here doing it. Yeah. And I have what you need. I know what you need. That’s ‘power over’. It’s oppressive. ‘Power with’ isI’m alongside you, you know, I am here for when you need something and if I can offer that I will be there with you, alongside you and it’s ‘power with’. And that actually subtly it’s a huge shift, all the balance then shifts and I think that it would be a safer, first and foremost, more inclusive and more boundaried and clear space as well if we could step into that. But it is definitely something I’m still working on because it’s,

There’s a lot to work through to get to that point, isn’t there?

E: Thank you so much, Robyn. It’s been so lovely to have you and so interesting, as always.

R: Yeah, such a pleasure. It’s great.
I’m going to sit with all these thoughts for the rest of the week.
Yeah. Thank you so much, Will and Ellie. It’s been great to be with you.

E: Please note that this show does not constitute medical or therapeutic advice and is not a replacement for seeking professional help. You can find signposting to support on our website at on yourmedia.net/livelyminds

W: On next week’s show Ellie and I will be reviewing the series so far and picking out and reflecting on our most memorable moments.
(whooshing)
(soft music)

Lively Minds is an Anya Media //// Still Ill OK co-production

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