The Mentor Chapter Twenty-Two – The Blessings Room

June 18, 2023

From the room of rage, I want to take you now into a room of blessings. This is a space to be with our quiet and most precious thoughts – no noise or mayhem, no smashing things up – and the calm that comes from feeling protected and being at peace with ourselves.

I hope in all our lives we will have an abundance of blessings. However, I also know that this may ebb and flow. In some moments we will feel pain, feel unloved or feel alone; indeed, we might suspect that the rawness of the moment is scraping our blessings away. Even then, I hope we might find some solace in a place that we have made with love and happiness, and that can nourish our weakened state. A room of blessings which we have built to go back to when we feel a little lost.

This is the part of the exhibition I will come back to time and time again. I will return not just to remind myself of people, ideas and moments that have shaped my life, but also to bring in new people, new ideas and new moments. It is not a place to preserve things, like a museum of dusty old memories, but a place to re-energise us. It is a lifelong personal power pack, where the renewable fuel is love, kindness and hope, and where we may find the confidence and courage to be ourselves, and to go again.

The essence of everything I have written about so far will be in my room of blessings, but to talk about some blessings and not others, might create a false impression of importance and priority. You will know this exhibition can only be a small window that I have opened to let in a little light. As Martin Shovel and Martha Leyton would say, it is but a story written on a grain of rice. Far more importantly, therefore, it is all our stories that the world must see, feel and hear. This is how we learn, how we grow, how we look after each other, how we mentor and how we are mentored. It is our collective wisdom and goodness that will change the world, so we have to pool our blessings and tell our stories. Remember the answer to everything is all around us in plain sight. Our blessings can then be the soundtrack to the paths we take.

A room for our blessings is a lovely way to pause gently, to notice them and to feel replenished by them. However, it takes time to reflect properly and it takes time to notice. I do urge you therefore, if you can, to sometimes step aside from the swirling winds of the moment, and to find a sheltered place for your thoughts to settle. I know from my mentoring work that we are not always very good at framing things kindly, and as a result we do not always notice all that we have and all that we bring. I will therefore share one blessing to show how we might relish, even more, some of the things that make our lives special.

I hope we can all include friendship in our room of blessings. Friends from when we were at school, from work, from the school gate waiting for our children, from our hobbies and interests and networks. But, perhaps there is another blessing in friendship to notice – that of the unlikely friendship. The friendship that comes from the intersection of lives on different paths, but which then opens up new worlds and new perspectives we might never have seen or loved.

I was first aware of Carolyn Kirby when I joined the Law Society Council in 1999. Shortly after my first Council meeting she was the elected Deputy Vice President and was on track to become President two years later. I didn’t know her at all, but I knew she was a judge and, in my small-boy-from-Wiltshire eyes, my unconscious biases would have made her seem quite formidable.

The very first time she spoke to me was shortly after I had been elected by the Council’s membership to be their representative on the main management board. I thought she was about to say something supportive and welcoming, but instead she told me how disappointed she was that someone very special on Council, who had served for many years, had not been elected (because of me). It was one of those moments that leave you feeling a little unsure what to say. She wasn’t cross with me or in any way undermining my credentials, but I didn’t have the words to reply.

I reflected afterwards that it wasn’t harsh or pointed, but how I hoped one day I might have a friend like Carolyn who would be my advocate when I was in need of a voice to speak up for me; someone who would step in to make a difference and who would do so out of love and caring, not for any self-interest they might have. I was lucky to meet Carolyn on that day, and it has been an enduring blessing ever since.

For the next two years I watched how Carolyn became a brilliant leader of the Law Society; especially in the way she always stepped in with courage when most of us only observed. To speak up for people and causes, because it is the right thing to do, is her second nature. She was also a brilliant executive – in my whole career I have never seen anyone facilitate or chair a meeting with as much control, good humour, grace and care. Every item heard, every contribution valued, every decision reflecting the room, every point of disagreement respected and treated on its merits. It was a wonderful thing to watch and Carolyn was (still is) brilliant at it.

I suspect that I have learnt more about executive decision-making, reading a room, and building consensus from her than anyone else in my career.

I also got to know the other Council member that Carolyn was referring to in our first conversation. She was right about him too. He was a wonderfully gifted lawyer and a generous, kind and passionate leader as well. Despite the result of the main board election, he accepted me with charm and gave me so much good advice as I made my way at a senior level within The Law Society. It was yet another blessing for me to learn how magnanimous someone can be when events do not always turn out as they might have hoped.

Carolyn was the first woman to become President of the Law Society. It was, and always will be, an historic moment for the institution; Carolyn’s approach however was never to rest on this milestone, and she dedicated herself to every meeting, every cause and every person who needed her time. The Law Society is much maligned, but from the inside I saw this particular President’s extraordinary dedication and selfless duty, and always carried out with her usual humour, grace and care.

To be a serious person, embodying what it means to represent something bigger and more important than oneself, and yet not to take oneself too seriously, is rare and precious. We should value such people when they emerge, because they are people to follow. It was genuinely a privilege to notice someone who simply wanted to serve and who did so with a gift for inspiring others to walk beside her.

As the years have gone by Carolyn has become a wonderfully kind and generous friend to me and to my world of work. She is a mentor in every sense of the word, an exemplar of kindness and generosity, and I have loved learning so much from her. It will be a story for another time, but Carolyn’s love and friendship means more to me than I can easily say. She has rescued me more than once, and I will be indebted to her forever.

A few years after her presidential year, Carolyn had become the Chair to the Council of Governors for Cheltenham Ladies’ College. The Ladies’ College is an institution as prestigious as Eton, but without the baggage of educating so many bloody awful politicians. Carolyn asked me if I would consider joining the Council and at first I was very reluctant. My personal politics are more socialist than privileged, and I was for many years a member of the Labour Party. It seemed to me to be a non-starter. However, Carolyn asked me to keep an open mind and to understand the College, its ethos and its example, before I made a decision.

What I found was inspirational leadership, especially in the pupils, and in so many of the teachers and staff. I also had the privilege to be part of a selection panel appointing a new Principal, and to the day I die I will never forget the feeling I had when the successful candidate made her presentation on her hopes and ambitions for the value and importance of education and life-long learning. It was a pinch me moment of joy and inspiration.

There are so many moments where, thanks to Carolyn, I have witnessed selfless, kind and inspirational leadership – all done without expectation of reward or recognition.

Carolyn is, in some ways, my most unlikely friend. Not because our values are different or because our hopes for the world are not aligned, but simply because we met by chance at the intersection of two very different paths. What a blessing this has become and her friendship is even more precious as a result. It has been a joy to be close enough to see her positive influence on so many people and on the issues that matter to her. A true blessing indeed. May we all have unlikely friends who share with us moments that we would never have experienced otherwise and who help us to grow and be better people for knowing them.

And may your room of blessings be packed full of reflective joy in the people you know, the moments you have shared with them, and in the support that you have felt with them.

Carolyn, thank you for your love and friendship; you will have mine forever.

Take care. Paul xx

To be continued…


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