The Magic of Independence

By Elaine Shaw
IOA Ombuds

When my husband traveled with me to Seattle for the IOA Conference a few years ago, I made him come to the Pecha Kucha event. “Pecha-what?” he asked without much interest. For those of you who don’t know, Pecha Kucha is one of the defining institutions of the IOA annual meeting. It is a time when a few brave souls weave their work, their life, their essence into a creative expression in brief 20 slide/20 seconds per slide presentation with a spoken (or sung!) narrative. My husband was reluctant, but agreed to sit through just one. After 6 or 7 speakers, each more creative, intense or emotional than the last, he was delighted. “You work with an amazing group of people.” (Interested in the 2020 online Pecha Kucha gatherings? Learn more.)

Indeed. I do. You are an amazing group of people. That’s why it’s daunting to imagine being Ombuds for Ombuds! As the first IOA Ombuds, I take this responsibility very seriously and I hope I measure up to your expectations. I have been reflecting on why some of you may choose to be in touch.

In my first weeks on the job, I have been quite busy. At first, I noticed I was a little self-conscious with my Visitors. Would I say the right thing? Would I listen well enough? Would I pass the test? In each case, before I knew it, I was caught up in the story. I was curious and engaged. I found my rhythm. As amazing as they are, Ombuds are just people.

It has occurred to me after these early experiences as Ombuds for the IOA that the power in this may very well be my independence. I may not be the most erudite or innovative conflict resolution professional, but I am someone who understands the profession; someone who has had experience similar to yours; someone familiar with the challenges, hopes, fears, dilemmas you face. And, I am not your teammate, or your supervisor; neither your co-worker, nor your partner. With my IOA Ombuds hat on, I can be a different kind of ombuddy to you; not your advocate, rather your thought partner.

For our Ombuds practicing in China, I have heard that the term ‘Ombuds’ can be translated using the Chinese words that mean ‘specialized listener.’ A Specialized Listener can be present for you in a way that no one else can. During this odd time when you may feel less able to be present in a physical way with your Visitors, don’t underestimate the cost of bearing the stress of what’s unknown not only for your constituents, but also for you. You may be familiar with working remotely and virtually from your Visitors or this may be terra incognita for you. You may be comfortable knowing that your institution’s leadership understands the value of your office or you may worry that the current crisis might lead to the closure or shrinkage of your office. You may be coping with the challenges of too many people at home with different agendas (work, school, socializing) or too few if you live alone.

Each of these endless days, I am trying to practice the kind of self-care I advocate: endeavoring to do at least ten healthful and positive things. Moving my body (walks and yoga), mindful meditation or prayer, learning, writing, physical work, project work, a little art, a little music, connecting with others and fun.

Whatever your circumstance, you now have one other lifeline, one other way to connect, one other way to care for yourself: the IOA Ombuds. You may reach me via phone: 512-766-6455 and email: [email protected].

I have been re-reading Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul and resonated with his chapter on the “The Economics of Soul.” I think about the creative, important, deep, soul work we are privileged to do with Visitors and share Moore’s thought: “Creative work can be exciting, inspiring, and godlike, but it is also quotidian, humdrum, and full of anxieties, frustrations, dead ends, mistakes and failures….The ultimate work, then, is an engagement with soul, responding to the demands of fate and tending the details of life as it presents itself.”

May you tend the details of your current, uncertain life however best you are able. If you think an Ombuds might come alongside to be with you, I would be honored.



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