The goods we need

As good work practitioners we are involved in a radical transformation of our practice through critical inquiry and creative action. We seek to make a difference in our different contexts. We aspire to do good work. But good work is illusive. It is more than a quality product or service. It has something to do with the way we do things and not just what we do. And fundamentally, I suspect, it arises from within, from qualities we bring to the task. Such work calls for a kind of mastery beyond routine or rote action. Good work requires active attention to what we are doing, why we are doing it and what is happening as a result. It requires a mind to gain understanding and make good decisions, and the will to fix onto worthwhile goals. This feels like hard work.

Which is why, in my experience, we need two other ‘goods’ to help us do good work. We need good friends and good questions. Good friends are not just acquaintances or buddies with whom we have a lot in common and whose company we enjoy. Good friends are often quite different from us, and those differences can make them think or act in unexpected ways. They can sometimes seem like strangers. Good friends offer us a different viewpoint and, sometimes, a critical perspective on our action.

We don’t just fall into these kinds of relationships. Friendship like this cannot be taken for granted. I found good friends in my PhD supervision group. They challenged my assumptions and wouldn’t let go when they felt I needed to dig deeper in my reflections. Good friends have the courage to talk back, to push against my hubris. Good friends, in words from the Book of Hebrews, provoke one another to good work.

The second ‘good’ intrinsic to good work is good questions. The point of a good question is not a correct answer. In this sense the question is just a means to an end. But good questions don’t have simple answers. We can, of course, treat interruptions to our action in a simple way by asking “what can I do differently?” There may be other ways of doing things and we can try them. But this may not be a ‘good’ question. A good question will probe deeper. Good questions push us to pay closer attention. They tease out our assumptions about the ends and not just the means. They suggest different horizons. They can transform black and white into colour, and help us hear the harmonies behind a simple melody. Good questions transform looking into real seeing, and hearing into true listening.

Good work doesn’t just happen. It calls for informed, courageous choices. I make no claim to do good work but I aspire to it and I know the importance of good friends and good questions in achieving it. As a learning community, I hope that GoodWork will provide a space for us to explore this, each of us in different ways, in our daily practice.

And so, some questions to explore:

To what extent do you experience yourself as currently doing good work?
To what extent do you hunger to do good work?
Which of these primary goods (good friends and good questions) seems more important or helpful in pursuit of good work?
Are there other “goods” that good work depends upon? Are there other pillars that support good work?
What questions linger in your life, right now, nudging you towards good work?
Are there significant blocks to overcome or dissolve in order for you to do good work?
How might good friends help you address these?