What Really Matters

According to Professor Bill Fulford, author of ‘Essential Values Based Practice’, values “are everywhere and guide our actions”. Dr. Russ Harris, author of the ‘Happiness Trap’, describes values as “how we want to be and what we want to stand for”. Dr. Hilary Abbey and Lorraine Nanke of the University College of Osteopathy consider values to be “what really matters” to people, arguing that “the more we choose to act on the basis of our values, the happier, more fulfilled and resilient we will be”. I agree with all the above but would add that we are often completely unaware of what it is that really matters to us or why we choose to do some of the things we do. Reflection on our actions is sometimes necessary to expose those underlying values that we take with us everywhere, guiding us in those actions, even if we don’t realise it at the time.

My wife, Sarah, volunteers at a refugee centre in South London helping non-English speakers speak English. As a teacher at an all-girls secondary school, she’d met many parents who were unable to speak English. Sarah decided that when she retired, she would teach English to non-English speakers as a way of supporting them and their families, particularly those with daughters to help them become “successful young women of the future” which was Sarah’s ex-school’s motto. Supporting young women is a matter of vital importance to Sarah. Of course, in the Covid-19 lockdown, there can be no classes, so Sarah volunteered to support refugees and their families by delivering food parcels.

Yesterday, Sarah received a message with an address for delivery in SE25 which she later learned from Google was Thornton Heath. That’s a long way from our home by bicycle, probably a two hour round trip. Sarah asked me for help with directions as she wasn’t sure how best to get there. After trying to explain where it was, I volunteered to go with her for several reasons, not all of which were immediately obvious to me but make perfect sense when I reflect upon it. I volunteered because I care deeply about Sarah; I don’t want to think of her getting lost – which she finds stressful – or being hurt, as cyclists can be, on busy roads. We both enjoy cycling and experiencing things together as we go along. I also like to help others. It was a bright and breezy spring day, it was  good exercise for us both and we got to ride up to Beulah Hill where the views of London are spectacular and, the recipient of the food parcel was so grateful they couldn’t thank us enough. Clearly, there were many values at work here guiding our decisions. We certainly felt fulfilled by the praise we received, and we thoroughly enjoyed our journey together.

While we were waiting at the refugee centre for the food to be packed into the bicycle’s panniers a young woman arrived carrying a clothing donation. I asked if she wanted to get past us and she said she was happy to wait until we’d finished. Standing in line, we started a conversation and we each asked how the other was doing in these challenging times. She said she’d been trying to find a job just before lockdown but hadn’t succeeded in finding one. She was ‘just about getting by’ with a little private online tuition in French and English literature but, despite this, and probably because it matters to her, here she was, wanting to help others!

“What do you do?” she asked me. I had to think about that for a moment. Of course, I am an Osteopath, a clinic tutor and a team leader at the University College of Osteopathy clinic. However, in the last few weeks, because of the Covid 19 pandemic, my life has changed dramatically, and I have become something else again.

I have become a steep curve learner, spending most my time – when I am not with my family – in a new virtual working environment, working together with my UCO colleagues to provide support to one another, to our students – particularly those who are so close to qualifying, to those people whose treatment plans in the UCO clinic were cut short prematurely, to the vulnerable and the elderly patients. Like many of my colleagues, I had to upskill very quickly to manage these changes. It hasn’t been at all easy with many mistakes along the way. After feeling cast adrift from the familiar pattern of life that existed before the UCO clinic closed its doors, I now feel I have done something worthwhile and I feel a great sense of achievement as a result. It isn’t perfect, I would prefer to get back to the real UCO clinic again and see colleagues, students and patients. Nor is it over, that maybe some way off.

For now, though, I feel fulfilled. I have acted consistently with my values and supported the people important to me in my life – in addition to my friends and family – and the feedback and gratitude received from colleagues, students and patients alike has been excellent, making it all worthwhile. Change has forced us to act and we have acted together according to our collective values. We can be very proud of what we have achieved as a consequence of our actions.

By Peter Simpson. Team Leader, Clinic Tutor, OsteoMAP Tutor and Lecturer