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Teamwork is often promoted as a valuable transferable skill both by universities and employers. However, for many the sheer mention of this type of group activity is enough to fill them with dread. This is a shame, and I want to use this blog to explain why.
I’m definitely not one for sports, but even I cannot avoid the discourse around women’s football and Euro 2022. Much has been written about the talents and skill of England’s Lionesses, of which I know very little. Equally there has been disquiet around the overwhelming whiteness of the team, an inequality I am very familiar with throughout my studies of crime, criminality and criminal justice. Nevertheless this blog isn’t about inclusion and exclusion, but about teamwork. Football, like many activities is not a solo enterprise but a group activity. All members need to be able to rely upon their team mates for support, encouragement and ultimately success. If a player doesn’t turn up for training, doesn’t engage in sharing space, passing the ball and so on, the team will fail in their endeavours. Essentially, the team must be on the same page and be willing to sacrifice individuality (at times) for the good of the team. But football isn’t the only activity where teamwork is crucial.
One only has to imagine the police, another overwhelmingly white institution, but with a very different mandate and different measures of success. Here a lack of support from team mates could be a matter of life and death. Even if not so severe, the inability to work closely with other officers in a team can make professional and person life extraordinarily difficult to maintain. It has repercussions for individual offices, the police force itself and indeed, society.
Whilst I’ve the made the case for teamwork, it is not clear what makes a good team, or how it could be maintained. Do all teams work? Personal experience tells me that when members have very different agendas and lose sight of the main objective, team work can be very challenging, if not impossible. There has to be a buy in from all members, not just some. There has to be space for individuals to develop themselves as well as the wider team. However, when the individual aims continue to take priority over the collective, cracks emerge. The same experiences suggest that teamwork cannot be accomplished instantly regardless of intent. Teams take a long time to build rapport, to bond, to gain trust across members and this cannot be hurried. Furthermore, this process requires continuing individual and collective reflection and development. So where can we find an example of such excellence (outside of the wonderful Criminology Team, of course)?
I recently watched the BBC 4-part documentary My Life as a Rolling Stone. Produced to mark 60 years of the band, the documentary explores the lives of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and the late, Charlie Watts. There were lots of interesting aspects to each part, but the most striking to me was the sense of belonging. That the Rolling Stones are a cohesive team, with each member playing very different parts, but all essential to not only the success of the band, but also to the well-being of the four men. Alongside discussions around creativity, musicality and individual skills, they describe drug taking, alcohol abuse, romantic relationships, fights, falling out and making up. There were periods of silence, of discord and distrust and periods of celebration and sheer personal and collective joy. Working together they provide each other with exactly what they need to thrive individually and collectively.
These men have made more money than most of us can dream of. They have been to parts of the world and seen things that most of us will never see. All of them are heading toward 80 but keep writing and performing. More importantly for this blog, they seem to illustrate what teamwork looks like, one where communication is key, where disputes must be resolved one way or another, regardless of who was right and who was wrong and where the sheer sense of needing one another, belonging remains paramount. I could use a dictionary definition of teamwork, but it seems to me the Rolling Stones say it better than I ever could:
“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime
You get what you need”(Jagger and Richards, 1969).
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans
(Max Ehrmann, 1927)
Last week marked International Poetry Day (21 March 2019, to be precise) and it seems only right to consider this form of narrative in more detail. When I was younger (so much younger than today)[i] poetry left me rather cold. Why read short, seemingly impenetrable bursts of language when you could read whole books? To me, it seemed as if poetry was simply lyrics that no-one had got around to putting music to.[ii] Looking back, this may have been the folly of youth, alternatively, I simply was unable at that time to see the value, the beauty of poetry, both written and spoken.
Poetry isn’t meant to be consumed whole, like fast food to be gobbled in between anything and everything else, fuel to get you through the day. Neither is it like googling facts, just enough to enable you to know what you need to know at that instant. Instead, it’s meant to be savoured, to stay with you; like many good things in life, it takes time to ponder and digest. In turn, it takes on its own distinct and entirely personal meaning. It offers the opportunity for all of us, individually, to reflect, ruminate and interpret, at our own pace, according to our own place in time and space. The extract which opens this entry comes from Desiderata which carries particular resonance for me and my academic journey. It may or may not do the same for you, but it’s worth having a look at the entirety of the text, just in case.
An obvious criminological place to start to explore poetry, was always a favourite. Long before I discovered criminology, I discovered the work of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Starting with his novels, it wasn’t long before I stumbled upon his Ballad of Reading Gaol. With its haunting refrain; ‘each man kills the thing he loves’ it is difficult not to captured by its innate melody, as well as the story of the murderous soldier. After studying criminology and spending time in prison (albeit not serving a sentence), the verses take on a different dimension. It is difficult not to be moved by his description of the horror of the prison, even more so, given his practical experience of surviving in this hostile and unforgiving environment:
With sudden shock the prison-clock
Smote on the shivering air,
And from all the gaol rose up a wail
Of impotent despair,
Like the sound that frightened marshes hear
From a leper in his lair
(Oscar Wilde, 1898)
On the surface, poets like the Greek, civil servant C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933) have nothing to say about my life, yet his words make my heart ache. Cavafy’s tale of a mystical and mythical journey to Ithaka which seems to me to represent my educational journey in ways that I am only just beginning to appreciate. Replace the mythical Ithaka, with my all too real experience of doctoral study and you get the picture.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich
(C. P Cavafy, 1910/1911)
Furthermore, The Satrapy appears to represent ambition, desire and above all, the necessity of educating oneself in order to become something more. To truly realise your humanity and not just your mere existence, is a constant struggle. Cavafy’s words offer encouragement and a recognition that individual struggle is a necessity for independence of thought.
Your soul seeks other things, weeps for other things;
the praise of the public and the Sophists,
the hard-won and inestimable Well Done;
the Agora, the Theater, and the Laurels
(C. P. Cavafy, 1911)
Poets like Maya Angelou celebrate gender and race (among many other aspects), identifying intersectionality and the struggles fought and won, and the struggles still ongoing. Despite historical and contemporaneous injustice, to be able to shout from the rooftops Still I Rise in answer to the questions she poses, is truly inspirational:
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
(Maya Angelou, 1978)
Likewise, Hollie McNish utilises her anger and frustration to powerful effect, targeting racism with the linguistic gymnastics and logic of Mathematics , demonstrating that immigration is one of the greatest things to happen in the UK. To really get the full force, you should watch the video!
Cos sometimes one that comes makes two
And sometimes one can add three more
And sometimes two times two is much much more
And most times immigrants bring more
(Hollie McNish, 2013).
To conclude, you have nothing to lose by immersing yourself in a bit of poetry, but everything to gain. The poets and poems above are just some of my favourites (what about Akala, Cooper Clarke, McGough, Plath, Tempest, Zephaniah, the list goes on) they may not be yours, but it doesn’t matter. Don’t rush it, read a little something and read it again. Let the words and imagery play around in your head. If it sings to you, try to remember the name and the poet, and you can return again and again. If it doesn’t sing to you, don’t lose hope, choose another poet and give their work a chance to inveigle its way into your life. I promise you, it will be worth it
Angelou, Maya, (1978/1999), And Still I Rise, (8th ed.), (London: Virago Press)
Cavafy, C. P., (2010), Collected Poems, tr. from the Greek by Daniel Mendelsohn, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf)
Lennon, John and McCartney, Paul, (1965) Help!, [CD], Recorded by The Beatles in Help!. Parlophone, [s.l.], Apple
Wilde, Oscar, (1898), The Ballad of Reading Gaol by C. 3. 3., (London: Leonard Smithers)
[i] Lennon and McCartney, (1965).
[ii] Not always the case, as can be seen by the Arctic Monkey’s (2013) musical rendering of John Cooper Clarke’s I Wanna Be Yours