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Christie Watson on humour, compassion and why nursing and writing belong together

Christie Watson on humour, compassion and why nursing and writing belong together

Elizabeth Oldfield speaks to writer and nurse Christie Watson. 18/05/2022

Christie is an award–winning novelist, memoirist and professor of medical and health humanities at UEA. She was a registered pediatric nurse for 20 years spending most of her career in pediatric intensive care and as a resuscitation officer.

She speaks about humour as an antidote to darkness, why nurses’ stories are so rarely told, how she found meaning in the practice of care, and why compassion is what we should be judged on.

 

 

Read a full transcript here:

Elizabeth   

Hello, and welcome to The Sacred. My name is Elizabeth Oldfield, and this is a podcast about our deepest values, the divisions in our common life, and what would it take for us to have more empathy and understanding about people who are very different from ourselves. Every episode I speak to someone who has some kind of public voice or profile. This series has ended up being almost all writers because of various scheduling challenges, but they’re writing about really different things from a range of different perspectives. And if you scroll back through our episodes, you’ll find Archbishops, artists, people from all parts of the political compass and a range of spiritual and religious beliefs. I speak to them about their deepest principles, or hear some of the journey that’s made them the person they are today, and I reflect with them on how we can be part of the solution, not part of the problem when it comes to our deepening tribalism.   

In this episode, you’ll hear a conversation I had with Christie Watson. Christie is an award–winning novelist, memoirist and a professor of medical and health humanities at UEA, which is quite a title, it sounds like you could fit quite a lot into that. She was a registered pediatric nurse for 20 years spending most of her career in pediatric intensive care and as a resuscitation officer.   

We spoke about humour as an antidote to darkness, why nurses’ stories are so rarely told, how she found meaning in the practice of care, and why compassion is what we should be judged on. I really hope you enjoy listening. 

Christie, we are gonna jump straight in at the deep end, no chit chat, to kind of try and creep up on this concept of the sacred. Having had a very small amount of time to ponder – and to just frame this for new listeners, when I ask guests what is sacred to them, it’s really not necessarily a religious concept. It’s much more the deep values and principles that we try and live by, that kind of anchor us and one way into it sometimes is to think if someone offered you money to give up on this thing, you would maybe be less likely to give it over because that would be somehow offensive, is one of the clues. What bubbles up for you as a possibility? 

Christie   

That’s a really good way of describing it. And I suppose I was a bit worried about my answer, because I felt like maybe I should say something really profound. But I’m going with honest and the honest answer is that the thing most sacred to me is humour. And I think if someone offered me all the money in the world and said, you can never laugh again with your friends, I would say, No, thank you very much. And I suppose I’ve been thinking a lot about humour and laughter, and joy and all those things, particularly, at this time, in our kind of pandemic world – I’m not going to say post pandemic world, because it’s not really. But it does feel like we’ve had such a turbulent time of darkness for the last two years that humour has never felt more important to me, maybe. But I also reflected on my decades working as a hospital nurse. And actually, on the darkest of days, the thing that often got us through the day was humour. And it wasn’t done callously, or fortuitously, it was quietly, something like between colleagues to be able to face all the horror and trauma that we were also dealing with. So I think humour is just so important and so undervalued. 

Elizabeth 

My mum was a nurse, two Aunties were nurses and my nanny was a nurse, and my undying memory of them is that exact black comedy in moments of health crisis. Even after my nanny died, my mum and my two Aunties, just in absolute fits in the funeral home, because they were talking about a cardboard coffin and wondering what would happen if it rained. And just the real defining aspect of that, I think, for people who’ve been really close to the deepest things of life, the hardest things of life, maybe. And I’m really looking forward to coming back to that. But first, I want to wind back, I want to kind of fill in a bit of your story and get a sense of the soil that you grew in, the ideas that shaped you. So I’d love you to tell me a bit about your childhood, particularly any philosophical, political, religious ideas or any other kind of ideas that were formative, but just paint me a Picture of little Christie running around with pigtails. 

Christie  34:54 

Oh, I never had pigtails. I had a shaved head for much of my childhood, but I was definitely not a pigtail girl. So I grew up in Stevenage, which is a new town just on the outskirts of London. It’s only actually about 30 miles away, I think. But it’s a million miles away from London in many ways. And it was a very working class area I grew up grew up in, I grew up in a in a council estate where all the kids played out the front, we used to play Kirby’s all day long. And the moms would come out and shout when it was tea time. And, you know, it was kind of idyllic in a way. We didn’t have any money. But we, we had a real community. And there was a very strong sense of love and family and connection, and community and all those really good things where I was growing up. And everyone sort of walked to the local school and everyone knew everybody, and everyone looked after everyone else’s kids. And so I grew up with mum and dad and brother, and my brother is just a year younger than me. And I grew up in a very, very working class, Labour, very opinionated, political, book loving world, where, you know, I can remember sort of Thatcher years with my granddad kind of throwing ginger beer bottles at the television and lots of swearing and lots of passion and hundreds of cousins and massive family events. So it was never lonely. I was always surrounded by lots and lots of other family, friends, kids. In terms of faith, my mum was a kind of occasional churchgoer, believed in God. My dad was a staunch atheist. So they had rows about religion quite a lot. But kind of loving rows, it was a very, you know, it wasn’t black or white or polarised or divided. It was just we lived in a sticky grey area in my family where everyone had an opinion that was listened to and valued. And so it was quite ripe for ideas and for finding things out. Yeah. 

Elizabeth   

And there was the shaved head. One of my childhood classes is dealing with nits at the moment. So that’s my immediate association of a shaved head, but it was more of a style choice, a self expression? 

Christie   

Yeah, it was a definite style choice. I was walking around in DMs and my shaved head… I don’t know if you remember you might be a bit young, but I had Grolsch bottle tops on my on my shoes, and I wore a choker. And I don’t think I can swear on this podcast? But I had a badge that said F off for many of my teenage years. So I mean, it was quite a look, Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth 

Where were words, stories? There were books around, there were ideas, were you writing at that stage? What was your personal relationship with that? 

Christie   

So I grew up in a house full of books. And my mom, my mom now is still an absolutely avid reader. But it was my dad who was a storyteller. And so he would tell a story, a week later, it’d be the same story slightly differently told or longer. And, you know, for years for example, I thought he knew everything about astronomy, and he’s telling me all the stories of the stars and, and the planets. Turned out I found out after he died that he was just making it all up. They were beautiful, beautiful stories. And so I fell in love with story I think more than words or language or meaning. It was storytelling that was all around me everywhere I looked in my family. And that’s the thing I absolutely loved the most and still love the most. 

Elizabeth   

Yeah. So you had this incredible foundation of stories and books and you’re clearly extremely bright but left school at 16. What led to that? 

Christie   

Yeah, it seems like quite a strange decision now. So the school that I was at wasn’t particularly academic. I had great friends there. But the standard of learning was pretty shoddy, actually, when I was there. And so I felt like a square peg in a round hole the whole time I was there really. And most of my learning was done at home or through books or at the library. So my childhood was very idyllic until I got to about 13/14. And then I became a wild child with a capital W. I was searching for meaning in absolutely everything. I went through a phase with my friends of sort of, obviously risk taking hedonistic behaviour, but also exploring every single religion that you could possibly name. One day I’d say to my mum, I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, or next week, I’ve decided to be Hindu now. I mean, I would read all religious texts, and quote from it, and I had dreamcatchers in my window, and I was burning sage. And so my room smelled of vanilla musk and sage for about 3 years – Body Shop vanilla musk, and the smell of burning sage. So I was fascinated. And my mind was just absolutely alive with ideas. I was so thirsty for knowledge, and I wasn’t getting it at school. So I left as soon as I possibly could, basically. And I moved out of home, which again, feels astonishing to me, as the parent of a 17 year old, but I left home, left school and I went to be a volunteer. Because I was directionless, really, and I worked in a centre for people with learning and physical disabilities. And that’s when I was around nurses for the first time and I fell in love with nursing. 

Elizabeth   

Did what you saw there connect with that search for meaning? 

Christie   

Yeah, I think because I was so interested in people and so interested in meaning, what it means to be human, why we’re here, who we’re meant to be. And so I really was looking for something that would challenge me philosophically. But also searching for stories. And nursing is full of stories, nursing and writing are really just stories. And so I found this place, this perfect place where no day was the same, where I was working with people who were teaching me things on a daily basis. And I was puzzling together people’s lives in a really interesting way. It’s the most privilege and fascinating type of people–watching I suppose to be able to care for somebody and work out what’s going on with their whole life, which is the act of nursing, I guess. So yeah, I found a place for the chaos in my brain. 

Elizabeth   

Yeah… I’m really glad you said that, because you’ve written these two beautiful books about nursing, and in ‘The courage to care’ about nursing but also care and social work and adoption and loneliness and the structures that we set up. And what I kept writing down in the marginalia was, well, this is philosophy, this is theology, because you are telling stories about people’s lives, but continually calling people, readers, back to these questions that we usually, I think, can only look at out the corner of our eye, about death, about what a human being is, about what a good life is about – what do we mean, how do we live? the human thing is also helpful because that it like sweetens the pill, right, of the philosophy and you embed it in these beautiful stories, but one of the things I wanted to ask you is how consciously are you doing that?  

Christie   

Yeah, I sort of fell into writing nonfiction because I’ve written two novels at the start of my writing career, which was 13 years ago now, 14 years ago now, and I always imagined that I was chasing story, and storytelling and language. And so I started out with fiction, which I absolutely loved. But I couldn’t quite get to the thing. And I was thinking very deeply about what it means to be human, I suppose that’s the thing I’m always trying to get to, in all my research, in all my work, in both nursing and in writing, and also, you know, the world was seeming to me at least to be becoming a very dangerous place for so many people. So I fell into nonfiction, I started writing about nursing, and I think it struck a chord with people, partly because it was one of the first kind of big commercially published nursing books that had been published in the UK, at least, since Florence Nightingale, so it was a kind of hole in the market. But there was also some real benefit to try and understand why there was that hole in the market, you know, there was a real need for stories about compassion, and stories about understanding, what connects us as human beings and empathy, and the quiet power of those things. And I think people needed to, or perhaps wanted to, see themselves reflected in nonfiction, so there was a real moment in nonfiction where it became really popular to, I suppose, translate real life and real stories and real situations, I guess, so that we can feel less alone, you know, in our state of humanness 

Elizabeth   

Yeah. It was really noticeable, as someone who comes from a very strong nursing legacy, how little I understood about their world until I read your book, and how our kind of cultural imagination of medicine and ill health and life and death is told through the stories of doctors. Almost every medical series or medical book I can think about is about doctors. Why was there such a hole in the market? Why haven’t these stories been told? What’s your theory? 

Christie   

I think it’s gendered and 89% of nurses are women. And, you know, I think there’s a huge element of that going on. But, you know, the fact that as a writer and a nurse, it didn’t occur to me for so many years to even write that myself, has had me looking deeply into my own soul and wondering whether I’ve internalised some sort of misogyny or, you know, what was that about? It didn’t occur to me for such a long time. So I think it’s about the structures that we live in the patriarchy and it’s very gendered. But I do think there was a moment as well where our value system in the West, particularly in the West, that had become about isolationism, individualism, commercialism, about globalisation, about the self, about the cult of use, external beauty, and all the wrong things. And so I suppose people were searching for a place to think about the right things – community and kindness and compassion and what makes us human and what connects us and empathy and treating others like you want to be treated, and I suppose some people would go to those to those places through faith. And I guess this is a place for secularism, so that the values can still be there but in a kind of, in a different way. I mean, I guess I’m saying exactly the same as many Christians say, every Sunday. But I’m saying it as a nurse, and I think, I think as a nurse, nursing is a kind of faith in itself anyway. And for somebody like me who has flirted with faith of every description my entire life, it feels like a really good place. Because it’s a universal language. It’s a language with many accents, but it’s a universal language, it is one of the oldest professions in the entire world. And it hasn’t really changed all that much throughout history. It’s always been there, nurses will always be there. And so for me, it felt like perhaps the act of nursing is a faith in itself. And it’s a faith for people that perhaps don’t believe in God, somewhere that they can believe in, it’s almost like the NHS has become a kind of faith in itself, hasn’t it? So, so that’s why I think it had a moment. We were desperate, everyone was desperate. And I think potentially everyone’s even more desperate now. But that’s, that’s another story. 

Elizabeth   

So you left school, and through this volunteering with people with disabilities found nursing as a source of kind of meaning and stories, and you write so beautifully and so eloquently about the profession. I’d love to hear the journey of you beginning to write and publish novels, and then being a writer becoming your primary identity. I know you went back during COVID, and nursed in the Nightingale. It’s not that nursing is no longer part of you, but how was that given the strength of the way you talk about nursing? What was that like in terms of identity? And I guess emotionally? 

Christie   

Yeah, I didn’t see it as such a, an obvious split. So when I wrote my first fiction, ‘Tiny sunbirds, far away’ it wasn’t doing very much. It was kind of just sort of dying a death. And then it won the Costa first novel award. And suddenly, I was in the middle of this sort of media frenzy. And the media frenzy was about the fact that I was a nurse and I was also a writer, and it was almost infathomable for people to comprehend this fact. And so one of the headlines, for example, was ‘nurse hopes to set pulses racing with new novel.’ I mean, it was really… 

Elizabeth   

They put the time and energy into that… 

Christie   

Yeah, ‘Nurse pitted against heavyweight Julian Barnes for big literary prize.’ So everyone seemed quite obsessed with the fact that I was a nurse, and it just felt so far removed from writing for people in the media. And for me, as I said to you, nursing and stories, they’re the same thing. Both things are about trying to get to what it means to be human. And so it wasn’t so far removed for me to think of myself as a nurse and a writer in the same way that there are many Doctor writers around the world and there always have been. But yeah, I ended up doing a master’s in creative writing at UEA 14 years ago, which was how I really fell into writing in the first place. I was on maternity leave from paediatric intensive care. And my daughter slept all the time. She was just one of those babies that just slept and my NCT moms were just so jealous. 

Elizabeth   

I was holding back, working in my soul on not being envious. 

Christie   

Yeah, so I wrote, you know, I started writing a novel because I had all this time on my hands and I wasn’t used to not being at work in a hospital doing 12 and a half hour shifts. So I was used to being very busy. And then I did an evening course in beginners creative writing. And I wrote a short story. The tutor of the course said it’s very good, I think you should be doing an MA and so I sent it – I Googled MA creative writing and UEA came up. If I had researched it a bit more I would never ever have sent it off because it was notoriously difficult to get into. And I didn’t know so I sent the short story off. And I got in and I got a scholarship on the basis of the short story despite having no degree or even an A level to my name. And they very kindly accepted me on the course and that was kind of the life changing moment really because suddenly, I was around writers for the first time in my life. And where I grew up, you know, you got to trade. There were a few nurses, but you got to trade. And so I wasn’t really around, although I was around books, I had never been around writers or artists or creatives. So this just felt like my square peg in a round hole was suddenly gone. And I was a square peg with lots of square holes all around me. And it just felt like home. And that short story became the first novel. And so that’s how I navigated it. But during that MA year, I still nursed a couple of days a week, because financially I had to, and I was travelling backwards and forwards from Norwich to London, and my daughter was two at the time. And I was reading her the reading list, when she sat in the bath, I’d sit on the toilet and read her Dostoevsky or whatever. So it was a real turning point. And it was a real privilege. And, you know, I just feel incredibly lucky that I managed to somehow wangle a place on that course. And I’m now a professor at UEA, where I began. So it’s all been quite circular, and quite beautiful. 

Elizabeth   

Yeah. And in ‘The courage to care’, you write about this return to nursing during the real peak of COVID. And the team you’re on was the compassionate care team. And I’d love you to just say a little bit more about that, about both what you learned there in COVID and that broader concept, what do we mean by compassionate care? What does it require? 

Christie   

Yeah, I only went back for the first peak. So it was a matter of weeks. It was during that very, very terrifying time at the very beginning, when, I mean frankly, we all we all thought we might die. And too many people did die. And you know, it’s just absolutely petrifying for absolutely everybody around the world. And so I found myself the lead nurse for compassionate care at one of the field hospitals, the Nightingale hospital. And we were told our function at that time was to save as many lives as possible. And we quickly came to realise throughout the whole NHS that people weren’t able to save anywhere near as many lives as they wanted to or could, with this just horrendous disease, particularly when we didn’t know what we were dealing with, didn’t have effective treatments. And so the central aim, for me really, in that role was compassion. It felt like compassion is how history will judge us, and it’s how history should judge us. And when I was talking about compassion, and certainly in that role, so for example, from a practical point of view, our team was the Family Liaison Unit who was speaking to families every single day. It was a bereavement service. It was various, you know, it was end of life care, it was the chaplaincy. And we had actually people from every faith and humanists and we had such great chaplaincy support for the staff, for the patients, for the families, that was a really pivotal and important part of what we were doing. Probably I think that was one of the most significant things that we could do. I remember, the Imam couldn’t get there in time, I think, to sit with a patient. There was a Muslim patient. And so the rabbi sat with him and FaceTimed the Imam and sat and, you know, I just think everyone worked so collegiately, regardless of their individual belief system, I think it was a place where the overwhelming belief at that time was in humanity. And so as dark and terrible and awful as it was, there was a real sense of this collective ‘us’ that hadn’t really felt before in hospitals or out.  

Elizabeth   

You use the word resilient a lot, and grit, about nurses in particular. And the book got me thinking about – it’s almost too big to put words on, the sort of bittersweet vulnerability of being alive, which is obviously a nice contained concept, by which I guess I mean, the way the pandemic, in some ways, showed us what nurses already knew, which is that we are not in control, and that we’re all vulnerable, and that we will all require care. And that our deep bonds of love are what define us really. I think a lot about the Lord’s prayer. I pray, ‘Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil’, which I could unpack more, but I won’t, which is basically the sort of – gives me a relatively – I find, in my tradition, a kind of reasonably robust container that forces me to keep looking suffering and evil in the face, within myself, not least, and yet not lose hope. It’s not perfect, but it works for me. What, as someone who has been really interested in religion and spirituality, what are the ways that you have found? You’ve written a book that is both extremely painful to read, and very hopeful. How do you steady yourself, ground yourself? What helps you live in that tension relatively emotionally, and spiritually, healthily? If in fact, you are at times, because none of us are all of the time? 

Christie  

I think that’s the answer. I think none of us are. And I think that that’s how I navigate it, is to recognise that I’m not okay. And nor are you. And when we can talk and sit in that space, it feels like a very honest, sticky margin that we’re supposed to be in, which is not all good or bad. It’s not darkness or light, it’s the in between, the in between spaces. And when I think about, going back to the word compassion, which comes from the Latin ‘to suffer with’, I think, you know, we have lived through this time where we are all suffering with someone else. And the way to live with that, or sit with that is to understand that the word suffer comes from to feel, to feel keenly. And so the avoidance of apathy is central to my life. And I try and feel all the feelings, the bad stuff, the pain, the desperation, and the joy and the hope and the laughter and going again back to the what’s sacred to me is, if I didn’t feel all the feelings, I wouldn’t have the humour. And I wouldn’t be as hopefully as compassionate as I can be. 

Elizabeth 

The question you seem to be asking to me is, why do some of us not have the courage to care? Like, what is stopping us attending to each other and seeking each other’s good? What have you learned? 

Christie   

Well, when I wrote ‘The courage to care’, actually my publishers were doing sort of PR and blurb. And one of the things they suggested was writing a sort of placeholder that said, ‘everyone has the courage to care’. And I said, No, you can’t write that, because it’s not true. And ‘everyone has the capacity to care’ is what they then wrote. And I said, No, you can’t write that, because it’s not true. And eventually, I suggested, ‘we are all deserving of compassion’. Because that’s true. I’m a great believer that you are given a hand of cards, and your life is very dependent on things that are out of your control, actually, where you’re born, who you’re born to, your experiences in early life trauma. And if any one of us had had certain life chances or lack of life chances, then then any one of us could be in any place, including prison, or the care system, or indeed, Westminster. But I do think that so much is out of control. But every single human being is deserving of compassion.  

Elizabeth   

I’d love you to say a bit about what helps us engage across our differences. Because I think a lot about tribalism, and polarisation. And I think caring for each other, and listening to each other and attending to each other as full human beings is hard enough anyway. And when you throw in, whatever is the big debate of the moment, you know, Brexit, vaccines, whatever you like, it just like sets us even further back from our ability to see each other. How have you navigated that as someone who’s actually crossed quite a lot of tribes, a kind of literary tribe and a nursing tribe? And I know also that you’re writing a book in the future with your daughter about some of these generational things where we disagree. What helps, how do we get out of the hole that we’re in? 

Christie   

I think the answer is that we’re in deep trouble with social media and we need to come off it and stand in front of each other and be in a room together, talk on the phone, write letters. And listen. Really listen. And that’s the only answer. And it sounds really simple. But it is that simple. We need to get off Twitter is the answer. Speaking to myself here, too, I’m speaking to myself here too. Yeah, I can’t see where it ends in terms of algorithms and AI. And the idea of control or the illusion of control that we have, when we’re thinking about these things. And I hope that we will reach a point where we can see that the polarisation we suspect is there is not actually there. It’s just smoke and mirrors to make us scroll. And actually, all these things that we’re talking about, for example, in the book that I’m writing with my daughter, intergenerational differences, and polarisation and values, and everything’s amplified to such an extreme, an unreal extreme on social media. And the moment you have conversation with somebody in a room in real life, those things are not polarising. They’re just differences. And they’re like when I grew up with my family who were arguing about God and about politics and having heated arguments with so much love, and learning from each other. And that’s what can happen. Because we are divided in our opinions. And there’s such beauty in that, that’s how we grow as a society is that we are divided in our opinions. And let’s talk about that. Rather than shouting into a void on social media.  

Elizabeth   

I feel like I can guess the answer to this because of what you said. But did you ever encounter a situation when you were nursing where those types of differences or disagreements made it difficult to have care or compassion? Someone came in who thought something very different from you or from a very different tribe? Have you ever hesitated to care for someone or have to force yourself? 

Christie   

Yeah, I mean, part of the Code of Professional Conduct in nursing tells you to be non–judgmental at all times, when I was nursing, that was my kind of rule book. And of course, as human beings, you can’t always be non–judgmental 

Elizabeth   

That sounds impossible 

Christie   

And so my Achilles heel was always if somebody had hurt a child, particularly then I found that really difficult. But it’s going back to that belief system that enables me to understand that everybody’s deserving of compassion, and think very deeply and philosophically about the nature of evil. And really try and walk in people’s shoes. Even if those shoes look like the worst shoes in the world that you don’t want to walk in. I think it’s really important to do that. I think some tolerance and understanding is the thing that gets you through the day when you’re working with somebody you perceive as difficult, and they might not be difficult. They might just be having a really horrible day or have received really terrible news. None of us are our best selves every single day. We’re just not and usually there’s something going on underneath  

Elizabeth   

I have so many other threads I want to pull on. I’m gonna honour the gift of your time and say Christie Watson, thank you so much for speaking to me on The Sacred. 

Christie   

Thanks so much. It’s been a great chat.  

Elizabeth 

Oh, I really enjoyed speaking to Christie. And reading her work especially, I did get such a sense of the missing voices of carers of all kinds, actually. Nurses, people who work in care homes, and it’s been a funny old few years where we suddenly realised the value of that kind of labour. But there doesn’t seem to have been an accompanying spike necessarily in individual stories coming through or indeed in pay or social status in any way that seems to last, which makes me question the underlying value system that we’re operating on in terms of what a good life is, and what we’re impressed by. I mean, that reaction is just classic, when Christie’s first novel came out, and you’ve got ‘nurse pitted against literary heavyweights’. And it also made me realise how little I know of my mom’s stories and my nanny’s stories and my auntie’s stories. My mom was a nurse, and then a midwife. And I remember being taken to the labour ward, when she’d forgotten something, or dropping off a card and seeing blood everywhere. But not really knowing anything else about what she did day to day, or what it meant, really up until I had my own babies.  

Christie really clearly sees nursing as a source of meaning, as a faith really, definitely as a philosophy, that you care for people, you care for anyone and you pay close attention to them. It really comes through in her books, this sense of seeing a whole person, caring about what flavour of jelly a child with really significant learning disabilities loves, the thing that will make them smile or knowing enough about someone’s care plan to realise that when they freak out, if you turn off the lights, they will calm enough for you to be able to help them in their pain. That attentiveness is a really beautiful and dignified thing. And it’s also shot through with this sense of when systems make it difficult for you to deliver the care that you want to, that’s not just a professional thing, that’s a kind of vocational wound.  

The mix of darkness and light is so evident in Christie and in her writing, I sort of wish I’d had more time to unpack some of that. Such a sense that she communicates how when you walk with people in pain and in sickness, and you hold people’s hand in the worst parts of their life and you clean up their bodily fluids, it’s a deeply spiritual practice and brings you really close to life and to humanity in humans, in their least glossy and guarded form, in their most tender and vulnerable, and beautiful and ugly moments, I guess. So hearing the context of Christie as someone who’s just been really hungry for meaning and has explored all these religious and spiritual paths, made sense of the philosophy under her writing and the kind of depth that her public voice offers.  

And I am, of course, challenged by her summary of the damage of social media, because obviously I know this, I’ve spoken to enough people 100 episodes in and I know enough about the algorithms and the seeming bad faith behind a lot of the strategic and profit driven decisions on these spaces that have become our public spaces, have become our public squares, have become the scaffolding for our common life, to be nervous of social media and its ability to help us bridge divisions. But I’ve also made some amazing real life friends on there, who I would never otherwise have met, from completely different tribes. I’ve had really meaningful conversations. And I am someone primarily interested in powerful communication and effective communication of our deepest things and our most precious things. And it’s such a great tool when it’s working. But maybe I should leave. What do you think, answers on a postcard or in a tweet? That’s all for now. Thanks for listening. 

 


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Elizabeth Oldfield

Elizabeth Oldfield

Elizabeth is host of The Sacred podcast. She was Theos’ Director from August 2011 – July 2021. She appears regularly in the media, including BBC One, Sky News, and the World Service, and writing in The Financial Times.

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Posted 18 May 2022

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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.

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