BY TYRONE KELSEY
Hello, NAMI Washtenaw County!
First of all, I’d just like to let you all know that the enormity of being elected president of this organization has brought mixed emotions. On the one hand I’m sobered by the scale and interdependencies of all the connected pieces and parts of what we do. From fundraising to ensure that we “can keep the lights on,” as one director put it, to the team of directors responsible for ensuring operational excellence and good governance, the army of passionate volunteers, and working to develop and deliver our programs and presentations. On the other hand, I’m excited and energized about the possibilities of how all of these pieces and parts working together can make a difference in completing our mission of improving the lives of persons affected by mental illness.
Initially, what this all means to me is that I have a lot to learn. My learning approach has been shaped by my middle school experience, where somehow or other I ran into the concept that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Well, I’m the self-appointed prince of stupid questions (I got over that fear a long time ago!). I have found that in asking questions I learn more, but also that others have similar questions on their minds. Such questions help others on the team increase their awareness and understanding of why we’re working together, what we’re working to accomplish, and how to better go about accomplishing it. To that end, I often ask these questions: “But why? Why are we engaging in this activity? Why are we doing it this way?” My response to the answer generally is yet another “but why?”.
Warning: Sometimes this mindset can be irritating because it invades a comfort zone. It kind of forces people to step back a bit and look at things from a different, and initially frightening, perspective. As a grassroots organization we are motivated by the pain and chaos of our lived experiences. We are emotionally attached to our stories, which prompt us to be engaged in a very hands-on way. As a result, we’re very close to the mental health “tree(s)” that we’re working on with the intention of bringing them to better health. Pausing to ask and answer questions about what we’re doing and why helps us to consider how to be more effective and efficient in caring for the forest. Eventually the fear tapers off and the verbal expressions of “oh, I see” begin to emerge, which then gives rise to new ideas and bursts of creativity and innovative thinking.
So, my initial focus over the next few months will be to help the organization think differently, or, said another way, to think about what we do in tending the trees by stepping back to consider how we are shaping the mental health forest. How can we gain a view of the forest, define it, and determine where the most urgent areas of care are needed. And how we might better structure ourselves and work collaboratively to develop a shared vision and plan of action to ensure the proper care is provided.
What has become obvious is how amazing we all are at tending to the various areas of the forest. Thank you all for what you do so passionately! Thank you for all your support of this fantastic organization. Please tell all your families and friends that we’re in need of their input, their time and their donations! Feel free give me a call or send an email on your thoughts and questions. I believe that there are opportunities for doing things more effectively and efficiently. And I’m looking forward to this journey, where I hope we will all discover avenues of critical, creative and innovative thinking.