20th Anniversary Zebra Collective Events

To mark our 20th anniversary, we are hosting events throughout 2023 to raise and develop discussion on contested areas in our sectors.

Conversations that Challenge

At our launch session on 22nd March we considered: Are we sure we’re so amazing? Attended by 22 participants it was a stimulating discussion. We’ll be announcing our 2nd session soon.

Are we sure we’re so amazing?

I’ve been working with people since the 1980s, and in that time I’ve seen many welcome shifts in language, with devaluing and depersonalising terms such as ‘the mentally handicapped’ consigned to the dustbin, and others such as ‘the elderly’ and ‘the homeless’ on their way. 

Then there’s language that’s sticky, and even in the ascendent, such as the highly questionable diagnostic terminology of psychiatric ‘disorders’, such as ‘ADHD’, ‘PTSD’ and ‘BPAD’. 

But over the past 10-15 years, there’s emerged a whole new discourse in the helping sectors – one of celebrating ourselves and the work we do: we’re told – and we tell others – how ‘amazing’ we are, and how ‘fantastic’ is the work we do, how ‘exciting’ is the next opportunity, and so it goes on. And here at Zebra Collective, this concerns us. Why?

Because we’re not sure how we can be so sure our work is so amazing. How do we know? We may have good intentions and we may work hard – but are we sure that our outputs translate into such ‘brilliant’ outcomes for our intended beneficiaries?

And even when they do, is this effusive, celebratory language appropriate to the serious, sobering contexts in which many of us work – where people are struggling with some of the toughest challenges life can throw out? Particularly where these challenges are exacerbated by reprehensible political choices – such as ‘austerity’ – which are, in our view, appalling social injustices? 

Should our language and our tone be different? Should we be more sceptical re our impact? Should we be more grounded in our language and tone? Should we exhibit more humility? And should we be naming and protesting the injustices more explicitly and more consistently?