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Meaning & Hope – do people turn to God at a time like this?

Since Covid 19 hit our shores, most of us have existed in a state of shock, not quite believing that this is our new reality. Now we’re becoming strangely accustomed to the horrors in the news and the weirdness of the situation.

And all the while we’re trying to make sense of it all.

Why has this happened? Could something have been done something differently? What does our future look like now?

There’s also anger – why weren’t we more prepared? What did we do wrong? Whose fault is it?

We all have a need to at least try to understand why things happen so we can put them into context. And there’s a sense that if we can answer these questions then we’ll find some meaning and learn from it, rather than it just being a random happening after which we will all go back to ‘business as usual’.

Many people find a sense of meaning through religion and spirituality. But what does something like Covid 19 do to people’s belief (or non-belief) in God? Could this pandemic cause people to turn towards God? Or will people reject such ideas given all the hardship?

monk holding prayer beads across mountain
Photo by THÁI NHÀN on Pexels.com

Religious feeling and disasters

History offers us clues as to how people respond in the wake of such catastrophes. An annual study of over 12,000 people in Canada between 1995 and 2012[1] found that natural disasters do increase religious feeling in those who already have some sort of belief.  82% of those interviewed already had a pre-existing belief (mostly some form of Christianity) and they indicated that such beliefs became stronger after disasters (such as wildfires, blizzards and avalanches) injuring a significant number of people. Attendance at religious services also tended to increase in the aftermath.

What’s interesting is that the study’s findings suggested that people react differently to serious economic crises/catastrophes. There appeared to be a drop in religious service attendance after such events (by 26% for every 1% increase in such disasters). The author put this down to there often being practical action one can take in response to economic crises (claiming assistance from the government, insurance etc) whereas a death/natural disaster is the ultimate indication of our powerlessness as human beings – there is nothing we can do. And it’s this feeling of powerlessness that makes it more likely that a person will turn to God.

Jeanet Sinding Bentzen also conducted a global study comparing individual’s religiosity with data on natural disasters[2]. Again, she found that people tended to become more religious if an earthquake had recently hit close by. This correlation appeared to have some longevity to it as well; continuing through generations.

What about disasters that aren’t ‘natural’ as such? Following the most memorable terrorist attack of our lifetime; 9/11, a study of 560 Americans found that 90% had ‘turned to religion’ as a way of coping[3]. The answers ranged from ‘a little bit’ to ‘a lot’, presumably ranging from the saying of a quiet prayer to actually participating in religious rituals or services.  The most likely people to turn to their faith were those who had suffered a ‘substantial stress reaction’ to it all, rather than those who had a milder reaction.

Meaning and Covid 19

The term ‘religious coping’ describes the tendency in some people to turn to religion to deal with unpredictable life events that could otherwise seem to be unbearable. Holding a belief that there is something bigger ‘in charge’, some reason for it all can help people to feel safe and find the meaning and purpose in a terrible situation.

The impact of Covid 19 combines both mass illness and death and dire economic consequences for many. We know that there are some practical steps people can take; applying for financial assistance from the government, using food banks and the like. But will people also turn to religion and spirituality?

While Covid 19 isn’t a naturally-occurring event, its sheer scale and the extent of the impact on how many of us have been living our lives has led some to attribute a higher meaning to it already, particularly given the context in which it came along; in a world that was already struggling with many man-made problems. Some believe it is God or Mother Nature or the universe’s way of taking back control (forgive the Brexit-ism) of showing us we’re not the boss and that we need to heed the warnings to respect the environment and slow down our lives.

In her recent speech the Queen also referred to prayer and meditation, indicating that religious rituals play a large part in her the way she copes with such events.  Given that many of those watching had suffered bereavements already her closing words of comfort “we will meet again” were particularly poignant, possibly suggesting a belief in the afterlife as well as to the reunions of living relatives once lockdown is over.

Of course, finding meaning in events like this is not limited to those who have religious beliefs. Many people are taking heart from the reduction in pollution, the slowing down of life and the re-assessment of values that are happy by-products of this pandemic. The community spirit shown by people volunteering to help the most vulnerable, the gratitude shown for the NHS and the number of those volunteering to help have also given people a sense of togetherness, direction and usefulness. This echoes the 9/11 study’s findings that the most popular way of coping, above turning to religion, was talking to other people (98%) while 36% had donated to an organisation to try to help and 60% had participated in some sort of group activity or vigil. It’s that feeling part of a group with shared values that seems to really help people, whether that group is a religious one or not.

Hope

So people find hope through faith, whether that’s faith in a God or faith in the people around them, in kindness and the power of good. Hope for positive changes in the way we live in the future and hope that, ultimately, we will be OK.

But at a time like this, when death is around us in a way most of us haven’t seen in our lifetime, I think many of us will also be saying a quiet prayer or two, for the people we love, for those in our communities, for the world. After all, what have we got to lose?

[1] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/06/180605172518.htm

https://www.technology.org/2018/06/29/disasters-do-make-people-more-religious-but-only-when-people-are-injured/

[2] https://blog.oup.com/2019/10/natural-disasters-make-people-more-religious/

https://academic.oup.com/ej/article-abstract/129/622/2295/5490325?redirectedFrom=fulltext#supplementary-data

[3] https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/nejm200111153452024

Coping in the time of Corona

It’s bloody horrible at the moment isn’t it?

Over the course of a week or so we’ve gone from a relatively normal existence (albeit with worries about developments in other countries) to total lockdown. And even though we had an inkling that this was coming, the reality has sent many of us into shock. There’s still a part of me when I go to sleep at night that thinks that maybe when I wake up it will all have been a nightmare and we’ll all go back to talking about Brexit. But we know now that it won’t – this thing is here for the long haul and we have to try to learn a way to live in this new reality. So how do we do it?

Living with the fear

There’s certain physical side effects of living in such frightening times. I’ve noticed a growing bubble of fear in my stomach and a hollow legged feeling that reminds me of times of shock or heartbreak I’ve gone through in the past. But previously these feelings have been relatively transient – and gradually lessen the further away I got from the upsetting event. But this feeling now, this yoke of fear round our necks and general sense of foreboding will be here for some time and is society-wide.

Until this point I think we in the West have unconsciously had an impression of having some sort of safety net underneath us. We knew in theory of course that bad things happen ‘over there’, somewhere else in the world. But they didn’t happen too much in our country and not to us. But now that safety net appears to have been whipped away and all bets are off. We feel as if our lives as humans are suddenly precarious when in fact they have always been so – we just hadn’t really known it. Because you can’t really ever know these things in your bones until you or someone you love goes through it.

So the question I’m having to ask myself now (as are many others) is whether my definition of ‘happiness’ is wide enough to encompass the current situation.

Can I find contentment while living with fear as my companion? Until now, I’ve had certain ‘prerequisites for happiness’ – the knowledge that my family and friends are  healthy, well and safe and are likely to stay that way, at least for a while. But now I and we are being called upon to stretch our concept of happiness to accommodate much more fear and uncertainty than we have ever had to live with before.

The signs so far are, I think, that it is possible to do this, provided we find a way to live on a daily basis, enjoying the moment and without projecting into the future. People are finding pockets of contentment and happiness in the freedoms we do have left: the freedom to go for a run, writing and posting a letter to someone we love and miss, walking the dog or FaceTiming with friends and family. And of course there’s the ultimate freedom that Viktor Frankl talked about – the freedom to choose one’s reaction to a situation.

Indeed, there’s an argument to say that this whole experience is like a (very scary) rocket-fuelled course in mindfulness – it’s forcing us into the moment and waking us up to our lives and what’s important.

photo of person holding multicolored heart decor
Photo by Marta Branco on Pexels.com

Love love love

One of the cruellest element of this illness that its contagiousness means we can’t go and give the people we love who are most vulnerable a cuddle and take care of them.

Previously, I’ve been accustomed to showing love to the people I love in the way I want to – driving across the country to see my parents when I wanted to for example. With that option taken away and with worries for their health and safety setting in, the strength of the love you have for them is highlighted to you. It’s poignant and it’s painful but it’s still beautiful.

Because love is still love even if you can’t channel it in the way you’d like – Viktor Frankl, in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ talked about his love for his wife not being dependent on whether she was there or not, whether she was alive or not. The love you have has a force of its own and is independent of whether that person is able to ‘receive’ it and whether one gets to see them.

Are you a human being or a human doing?

I’m also learning to regard the situation as some sort of spiritual training. In life I’ve always been a ‘doer’. I’m not alone in this, particularly living in London where life can be pretty non-stop.  But when you’re forced to sit on your hands for a period of time, all sorts of interesting things happen. Decisions that you’d made and plans that you’d hatched before this all hit now seem a bit less clear cut. Having some of my control taken away from me is enabling me to let go of fixed ideas as to how things should turn out.

Of course, inevitably, I’m still attached to some outcomes, like desperately wanting the people I love to be OK. But other, lesser aspects of my life, wanting to move house for example, that seemed so certain beforehand, have become much looser now. It’s like I’m developing a sense of wonderment or curiosity about what’s going to happen next rather than being certain as to what should happen.

Drown out the noise

One of my mum’s favourite phrases is “don’t make a drama out of a crisis”. I never really knew what she meant when I was a kid but never has it been more pertinent than now.

We’re surrounded by a lot of ‘noise’ about the situation: from the media, the Internet, the people in our lives. And a lot of it isn’t helpful. I must have now received emails from every service provider I’ve ever used in my life referring to these ‘strange’, ‘unprecedented’ and ‘unimaginable times’. Such emails may be necessary (for some reason I don’t understand) but they also serve to heighten the anxiety. There seems to be no escape from the situation.

I’m aware that some people continue to imbibe the news by the bucketload but frankly I haven’t got the stomach for it. Because what I’ve found is that my brain cannot be trusted with the contents of the media. If I read something about numbers of fatalities my brain immediately turns that into an inevitability that I’m going to lose the people I love. That’s not mathematically accurate but there’s where my head goes. And I imagine it’s the same for lots of others. Too much exposure to the media detracts from our ability to take this thing one step at a time, one day at a time or even one hour at a time. If we try to do any more than that at the moment, we’ll be overwhelmed by our feelings.

My litmus test when I start to feel tempted to read a particular article or glance at a newspaper is the following:

  • is it likely to be helpful to me to read this? and
  • is it likely to affect the way I act or don’t act?

If the answer to these two questions is ‘no’ then I won’t read it.

It’s also a good idea to be discerning in your interactions with others. I’m one of those people who tends to ‘end up talking to’ people I barely know in the street. It’s important to be friendly of course, especially at the moment, but I’m learning how to discern quickly which conversations are likely to be helpful. For example, if the other person is a neighbour who knows about a scheme to help the vulnerable in our area, that’s important. Contrast that with a conversation that is likely to create more drama with gossip or speculation about what’s going to happen next, how many people are going to die etc. That, I can live without. There is nothing to be gained here from panic.

This applies to friends as well as acquaintances.  There will be times when friends phone, text or email to offload their fears on to you. Sometimes we will have the emotional resources to handle that. Sometimes we won’t. Our job is to be aware of our own emotional state and our capacity to manage that stuff. If I think it will send me doolally to listen to it at that point in time I won’t respond for a little while or I’ll make an excuse to end the call. We’re all being depleted by the anxiety we’re carrying around so we needn’t feel guilty for stepping back a little from contact on occasion. It’s ok not to answer the phone sometimes or to respond to a text or email at a later point when you’re feeling stronger. Being highly responsive is not the best idea at the moment anyway – that’s how the whirlwind of social contagion is growing.

Find new distractions

If you’re anything like me, you usually intersperse your working day with regularly checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, BBC News etc. In normal times it provides a bit of light relief. Not anymore.  We need to find new distractions. Ones that take us away from the reality of the situation. No more walking down the street, eyes glued to i Phones like the zombies in Shaun of the Dead (not that we can really walk down the street anymore anyway). We all need a break from this situation or our brains will explode. Programmes, books and podcasts about nature and wildlife will be our saviours at the moment. So will fiction, comedy (often of the dark kind) and anything that grounds us and gives us a sense of before and after, like history.

I hope that you all keep yourselves safe, physically of course, but also mentally inasmuch as that’s possible. We’re all in this together.

The biggest addiction you’ve never heard of

Addictions are often pretty obvious. They manifest in public, humiliating ways. There’s the classic idea of the alcoholic, the Phil Mitchell from Eastenders type, stumbling around, incoherent, hurling abuse or slumped in a corner. Or the drug addict, ill-looking, emaciated and shifty a la Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting.

But there are other addictions that are much harder to spot. They’re insidious and go under the radar. They often ride shotgun alongside more well-known addictions. They’re not recognised as a problem until they’ve bedded in and become an entrenched way of life.

Let me give you a real-life example. Someone I knew who struggled with relationships. She didn’t know where the boundaries between her and other people should lie. What was her responsibility in a relationship and what wasn’t. She perpetually focused on what others wanted and needed and spent most of her life trying to take care of them. She lacked a sense of self. She wasn’t sure of her own opinions, where she stood on things. She felt she was missing the necessary emotional scaffolding for life. So she clung to other people; to their opinions, their sense of direction, their instincts. She borrowed the internal compasses of others in the absence of her own.

As a result, her romantic relationships were full of drama – push, pull, “I love you”…“I hate you”… “let’s get married…let’s break up”. Because once she got into a relationship, she couldn’t help but merge with that person. She then lost the power to make choices about whether the relationship was healthy or not.

two persons holding hands

Most of us know at least one person who often acts against their own best interests when it comes to intimate relationships. The friend who perpetually dates womanisers. The family member who jumps from relationship to relationship (often with overlaps between), seemingly never single. The colleague who’s constantly searching for a relationship and when in one seems to morph into the other person.

Underlying all of this is a condition called co-dependency. It’s classed as an addiction in its own right, with a 12 step recovery fellowship to boot (Co-dependents Anonymous). And it’s something that we all need to be aware of.

But is it really an addiction?

You may be reading this thinking “what you’re talking about is not addiction, it doesn’t sound that bad”.

It’s a fair point – it’s often hard to spot where a bit of dysfunction ends and addiction begins. But what we’re talking about are situations where those unhealthy attachments have got so extreme and the person so consumed by their relationships that their thinking and behaviour becomes obsessive.

The brilliant writer Melody Beattie describes someone who is co-dependent as:

‘one who has let another person’s behaviour affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behaviour’[1].

It’s that excessive focus on someone else’s life, behaviour and decisions and reliance on the other person for your own wellbeing that’s so destructive. You feel that if they’re not OK, you’re not OK and that it’s your responsibility to fix their pain. You take on more than your fair share of guilt for situations and you neglect yourself.

Spouses or partners of those with addiction problems can often become co-dependent. Being married to an addict can literally make you ill. Living with someone who’s unpredictable, who lets you down continually leaves a person on edge, nervous, constantly on the look-out for danger. Ultimately it creates a desire to control the addict and to stop their unmanageability. So you may find yourself hiding the car keys or throwing all the alcohol in the house away over and over again to no effect. The ‘end stage’ is that you end up losing all independence and being totally fixated or focused on the other person.

Why do we need to know about co-dependency?

Well, firstly it’s rife. It causes a lot of pain. And it’s not limited to romantic relationships. Its tentacles often reach into our relationships with family members, friends, colleagues and clients.

Look around your place of work and you’re bound to see a few people with dodgy boundaries (another hallmark of co-dependency), be it those who have excessively close relationships with clients or who perpetually get over-involved in other people’s lives.

Those of us in client-facing professions like law are at particular risk of it. Lawyers have a tendency to spend too much time on clients’ needs at the expense of our own wellbeing and that of our families. We think we’re being ‘available’, ‘accessible’, a ‘confidante’ or a ‘trusted advisor’, fuelled by the target-driven culture.  But sometimes we’re also reacting to a propensity within ourselves to try to ‘fix’ other people’s lives. And when our clients don’t follow our instructions or respond to this in the way we want them to we end up angry (passively or directly) and frustrated.

A lot of these dynamics come out to play in my practice area of family law. Clients going through personal issues like divorce notoriously get over-attached to their solicitors. And why wouldn’t they? They’re usually hurting, feeling let down, ‘at sea’ emotionally speaking and they want to know that they’ve got a lawyer who’s going to care enough about them to ‘fight their corner’ or at least stand as a buffer against their ex/their ex’s lawyer. So they attach to their lawyer, feeding a need that might previously have been fulfilled by their partner.  The lawyer then starts to find themselves being called upon by the client to provide guidance in all areas of their life, not just the legal, and at all times of day and sometimes night.

As alluded to above, this is a two-way street and we lawyers have our own part to play in this unconscious ‘dance’. If we always succumb to the pull of such clients’ needs, we unwittingly perpetuate that dependency. By trying to give the client everything they want, riding in like the cavalry to rescue the situation, we may be enabling the client’s dependent attachment on us.

The other issue is money. Many lawyers feel a little bit guilty about how much they charge, particularly with more vulnerable and dependent clients. And that makes us more inclined to do work without charging and to be more and more readily available to the client. While this is understandable and human, it runs the risk of becoming unhealthy and ultimately may not benefit the client. Because all cases end. And if you’ve fostered a dependency with a client then their ‘landing’ at the end of the matter is inevitably going to be a bumpy one.

How can we steer away from co-dependent behaviour?

The first step is recognising if you have a tendency towards it.

I believe that we are all on a spectrum in our relationships ranging somewhere from healthy secure behaviour to serious co-dependency. If you start to realise that you are swimming a little too close to the deep end then it’s important to start to educate yourself about co-dependency. There’s some fantastic books out there. Just reading about it can bring a measure of relief as well as the knowledge that there’s a name for it and ways of taming it.

And that’s the next step: change. It’s something best worked on consistently over time, either with a trusted friend or sponsor or with a therapist.

Recovery is possible and with trusted people by your side you can think about and work towards your vision for how you want to behave in relationships in the future. Each step that you then take along that path will take you away from the co-dependent ties that bind.

Good books and resources about co-dependency

Codependent No More – Melody Beattie, 1992, Hazelden

How to Break Your Addiction to a Person – Howard M. Halpern PHD, 1982, Bantam Books

Codependents Anonymous – http://coda.org

  1. P36 Codependent No More

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] P36 Codependent No More

 

Sober Lawyers Discuss…Work Christmas Parties

Annmarie: Jo, we wanted to have a chat about the festive season and dealing with work Christmas parties when you’re sober or trying to cut down or stop.

I think for many people this time of year is a tricky one. What’s it like for you as a sober lawyer?

Jo: If I’m completely honest, I have to resist the temptation not to go to parties! But I do have to attend some things or risk people forgetting about me or worse thinking I’m dead 😦 When I first stopped drinking I would pre-plan things to say to avoid embarrassment for example ‘I’m up early in the morning’ or ‘I’m not drinking tonight’. People would often try and urge me to drink.

Do you think this has changed more recently – the encouragement for others to drink?

Annmarie: Oh I remember that feeling well – of trying to decide whether to pretend I was on antibiotics or to make up some other excuse. Sometimes I’d say I was allergic to alcohol – which no one ever believed!

I do think things have changed – the impression I get is that for those in their 20s now it is considered more ’normal’ to be sober and that fewer questions are asked of those who don’t drink. I also think the younger generation are better at not asking such intrusive personal questions – there’s much less of all that “are you planning to have kids?”, “why don’t you drink?’ etc etc.

Are there any Christmas parties that you reckon are still fun sober?

body of water
Photo by Artem Saranin on Pexels.com

Jo: I agree – I now say I’m very on trend because young people don’t drink these days because of the scrutiny of social media.

Although, I think it’s natural to feel a bit shy or want to stay at home in the warm it is important to try and go. There are events I like to go to – where I genuinely want to catch up with people I know will be there. Once other people have had a few drinks I find that I feel just as merry as they do….and I have a great time. I find I don’t stay to the bitter end these days. How about you?

Annmarie: I agree. While I do love staying in and watching Masterchef, I think sometimes if you can give yourself a little push to go out then you can often end up enjoying it. Or you can choose to leave the party after half an hour!

When I first stopped drinking I thought I had to stay to the end of parties and be the ‘life and soul’ cos I wanted to prove that sober people are still ‘fun’. It was exhausting. These days one of the pleasures of being sober is knowing when to leave the party (usually before people start repeating themselves over and over)…

What tips do we have for people navigating office parties this year that they might be feeling a bit uncomfortable about?

Jo: I worry that there won’t be anything nice (and not too sugary) to drink. So, I might let the organisers know that I am not drinking. If they have trouble thinking about what to buy in you could point them in the direction of www.joinclubsoda.co.uk. If you feel too uncomfortable to do this the think about bringing your own non- alcoholic tipple.

I might also feel a bit self-conscious – maybe set yourself up as the party photographer. Be the person posting on social media – it’s great for networking and people will appreciate it. Any other ideas?

Annmarie: I like these. A great antidote to feeling awkward in social situations is to make yourself useful in some way! Find a person who looks like they feel even more uncomfortable than you do and have a chat with them…that tends to work a treat.  And I also increasingly warn organisers in advance that I don’t drink too – otherwise you run the risk of ending up with boring water instead of something a bit more interesting.

There tend to be loads of BD events in law and I think you can find yourself overrun with invites to such things. So I find what works for me is to be discerning about what I say yes to – I feel much more comfortable at events where there is a focus that is about something other than drinking – so something with an interesting speaker (often from outside law) always appeals to me or an activity or event held in an interesting venue.

So how about the dreaded dancing at work Christmas parties, Jo. Do you do this as a sober lawyer?

Jo: Well back in the day I was a good dancer (no really 😊).  Now I feel a bit fat and awkward. But the truth is no one really cares about other people’s dancing. Unless they are really drunk, they are more worried about the standard of their own dancing!  Everyone enjoys seeing someone else’s dancing, no matter how ‘bad’ it is.  In Brighton there are parties where it’s drug and alcohol free – with quiet zones and food. I quite fancy going to this kind of thing.  What’s your dancing like?

Annmarie: That sounds fab. I’ll never forget my first time dancing sober in a nightclub. I think I drank 5 cans of Red Bull, was really wired and felt so awkward! Luckily it gets easier. I don’t mind dancing sober now and I’ve been to loads more concerts and music festivals sober than I did when I was drinking. They’re a great way to let go and release tension. I find weddings fine these days too. But work Christmas parties can still be a bit more awkward. Nowadays I just go with how I feel – if I feel like dancing and the music’s good then that’s great. But I don’t force it if I’m just not in the mood. I’m well happy going home early-ish and having some Horlicks in front of the telly!

I hope that with this blog we’ve helped others who might feel a bit out of place or awkward at parties this festive season feel a bit less alone. Don’t forget that everyone has their vulnerabilities and it’s actually often those funny traits and quirks that people like most about us.

So if you find yourself at a party this Christmas and someone’s drawing attention to you for not drinking alcohol, remember that it says more about them and their attitude toward booze than it does about you.

Any parting shots, Jo?

Jo: I think just try to enjoy all the moments that go to making up the Christmas season.

Annmarie: …and if you don’t enjoy something then don’t worry – you’re not the only one!

Sober Lawyers discuss…’the drinking default’

Jo:

Annmarie, we recently discovered that we are both ‘sober’ lawyers. I’ve been sober for more than 11 years and you for more than 13 years*.

We have also set up our own businesses. Do you think that’s a coincidence?

Annmarie:

I think not. I reckon that being sober in a country where that’s not the norm indicates a bit of independence of spirit that goes hand-in-hand with having the gumption to start your own business. It suggests a desire to break free from the mould.

Do you think it’s still the norm in law firms to be a drinker?

Jo:

Yes and no. I think there are people who drink a lot and people who drink to keep up appearances but would probably rather not have to drink. They feel, probably rightly, that their career prospects rely on turning up to social functions where drinking is the default.

Annmarie:

Yes, that’s something that I hear from lawyers in therapy a lot. There’s that pressure to say yes to a drink at work functions even when you don’t want to. In some firms, it is still seen as part and parcel of being a ‘good laugh’ or a ‘good team player’ to be a drinker.

I did a vacation scheme when I was a big drinker and then turned up at the same firm to start my training contract 18 months later sober and had changed quite a lot in the interim…

Jo:

So, alcohol related social events are ok for those that want to partake (as we did once) but what about those that don’t? Do you think this may explain the lack of diversity in the top jobs or at partnership level?

Annmarie:

I think it probably does, partly. It’s getting better but people can still feel a bit marginalised if they don’t feel they fit in with the ‘majority’ culture at their firm.

The younger generation of lawyers are teaching us a lot though – that they want to have the opportunity to build relationships with workmates in a setting that doesn’t revolve around alcohol and which also fits with their lifestyle and other commitments.

 

two brown and blue ceramic mugs
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Jo:

My worry too is that ‘the drinking default’ excludes those whose cultures and religion do not revolve around alcohol or where it’s prohibited. For example, Muslim people will find it awkward (perhaps impossible) to navigate this culture and therefore their advancement.  So, what would our recommendations be for firms or membership organisations thinking about changing their culture?

Annmarie:

I’d suggest that firms get their staff’s creative juices flowing by asking them for suggestions of how they think their firm could support them in a move away from a drinking culture. There’s tons of options out there… sporty, arty, sightseeing, teambuilding, foodie activities.

Also, with the move to more flexible, agile working practices do you think it’s possible that we might also see a move away from networking activities taking place in the evening, which tends to be more associated with alcohol?

Jo:

Yes, absolutely. Why not have a morning event (say training) ending at the spa?  Or a social incorporating an afternoon tea?  I’d ask that organisers consider that breakfast meetings can also exclude those with caring responsibilities as do evening networking events.

Annmarie:

Yes! So important to think more broadly about people’s responsibilities rather than limiting it to those caring for children. Perhaps firms could be encouraged to make specific mention in their diversity policies of the need to be inclusive in their social and networking events.

In the lead up to the ‘festive season’ it feels particularly important that everyone feels thought of and taken into account.

Jo:

Let’s talk again soon about life as a sober lawyer.

Annmarie:

Absolutely!

* sober meaning we don’t drink alcohol or take any other mind-altering substances.