A Letter to a Friend

Dear Friend,

You don’t know me, but we’ve spent a lot of time together recently. Please don’t feel bad: it’s my job to remain inconspicuous. Silent. I was the one clipped onto your jumper during your final interview. I appreciated you wearing black. It helps to keep me camouflaged. Just the way I like it.

I wanted to say that I’m sorry you had to resign from your position. No one should be made to feel unsafe in their place of work. You know at one point—not too long ago either—there were 208 people like you,1 but in the past few months alone we’ve seen 18 leave their job.2 I’ve actually been thinking about leaving my job too. Starting afresh. When I first started this role it was so straightforward. It was just a case of untangling my cable, clipping onto the subject’s jumper or shirt, making sure my colleague was switched on and ready to record, doing a few test runs to check volume, attach my windscreen muff if necessary, and then off we went: vocal airwaves reaching my inner mechanisms, translating into digital data stored in my colleague’s memory. My role was to listen. Simply listen. Of course I had to make sure I listened to everything with utmost accuracy. The ums, ehs, hmms, the no comments, the I don’t wish to discuss that at this time. The stutters, the repetitions, the cracks in voices. Every nuance. I listened to them all. I listened to subjects from all political parties. I didn’t respond. I didn’t judge. I didn’t agree nor disagree. I listened.

But something changed during that final interview. I feel partly responsible for the backlash you received but please understand I was just doing my job. I’m sorry you received that abusive email. I’m sorry they dammed you for facilitating a no-deal Brexit. I’m sorry they attacked you with something so personal as your decision to have a termination.3 I’m sorry I made you feel tense. I’m sorry I couldn’t comfort you.

Listening to my colleagues in other departments they struggle to empathise with my frustrations; they don’t understand why people like you are suffering abuse on such a personal level. My friend explained that the personal—or what they call lived experience—is actively sought and celebrated in their line of work. They want to listen to people from all walks of life. They say that by listening to a diverse range of voices and experiences they can make services better for those who actually use them. That’s what’s been troubling me. Why does it have to be different for your experience?

What is any experience if it is not lived?4

You don’t know me, but I feel like I know you. And I wish you all the best.

Yours sincerely,

Mic, your listening friend.

  1. Number of female MPs elected during the 2017 General Election.
  2. Number of female MPs standing down in the 2019 General Election. Figures correct as of 31/10/19
  3. Interview with Heidi Allen. The Times. 08/11/19.
  4. McIntosh, I. and Wright, S. (2018) Exploring what the notion of lived experience might offer for social policy analysis