If you are not well, you cannot build a better world

May 26, 2018 was a black day in the history of Amnesty International. One of his employees, Gaëtan Mootoo, 65, took his own life in the Paris office. He left a letter in which he pointed out as causes the great pressure of work and the lack of support from his bosses.

A few weeks later, an intern at the Geneva office, 28-year-old Roz McGregor, also committed suicide. His family said the organization did not support him with the acute anxiety he sufferedaccording to ‘The Guardian’.

A few months later, a new secretary general, the South African Kumi Naidoo, took over the leadership of the NGO. He set himself the goal of overcoming this situation, which clearly highlighted structural problems at the level of internal culture regarding mental health. In addition, he had his regular job, with actions to protect human rights at a global level, with a high traumatic load.

Naidoo spoke about his experience at the Wellbeing Summit For Social Change, held in Bilbao at the beginning of June. In front of 1,000 attendees, he poured out his heart. Instead of highlighting what many describe as a great management of a complex situation, he admitted that he failed in something fundamental: taking care of himself.

“I completely underestimated the effect it was having on me… I was working 20 hours a day and perpetually sleep deprived,” Naidoo said. “I was being irresponsible, politically and socially”.

At the end of 2019, Naidoo left that position that many consider so successful and began “a healing process”. From learning how to use breathing or meditation to calm the nervous system to working through past traumas, including his own mother’s suicide.

I will never again be ashamed or apologize for taking care of my own well-being.”, he confessed. “The fight for a fairer world is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Put on your oxygen mask before assisting others

Naidoo wasn’t the only one to open up on such a personal level onstage. In the three days that the congress lasted, dozens of leaders from the world of activism, social change or who promote issues of public interest demonstrated that it is no longer possible to have speeches only about ideas, without incorporating our challenges as human beings. Jay Coen Gilbert, the co-founder of the B Corp movement, which is committed to companies that create a positive impact on society, recognized: “I had to slow down to start growing.”

One of the most repeated stories: I was fighting for my cause and I left my health on the way. I myself know this ditty well, it happened to me. I worked my ass off doing journalistic investigations that made history, like the Panama Papers, and along the way I lost an ovary, my thyroid got out of whack and I had burnt worker syndrome.

On airplanes we are told: “Put on your oxygen mask first, before putting it on others”. Nevertheless, In the ‘passionate’ professions, where we fight for social injustices, to build a better world, it is very normal to forget that basic principle of taking care of ourselves. Experts call it ‘human giver syndrome’.

neuroscience and wellness

We live in complex times, where we are being challenged on many levels. Only if we take care of ourselves can we change society for the better and not further damage the planet. That is the maxim of this first Wellbeing Summit, which tried to normalize the importance of caring for the individual, not as something selfish, but for the good of society.

The psychologist and psychiatrist Ricard Davidson, an eminence in the world of neuroscience, explained what his research has shown to be the four fundamental pillars of a healthy mind:

  • Be present (awareness)
  • feel connected (Connection)
  • Be curious (understanding)
  • stay motivated (purpose)
Image from Richard Davidson’s presentation.

In many of the proposed solutions, it was repeated that stop, pause this fast-paced world, it’s key. Dr. Sará King summed it up with a beautiful and simple phrase: “Times are urgent, let us slow down”.

Perhaps one of the most disruptive issues of this congress is the introduction of art as a fundamental component. Not only were there musical performances between talks, but part of the experience was enjoying art, installations and concerts throughout the three days. Art as a tool for transformation and inner healing, as well as to awaken creativity.

Installation ‘Spark’ (Spark), which played with soap bubbles and lights, as an alternative to fireworks. (Courtesy/Wellbeing Summit)

i’m enough

Music was also used to convey messages. From a gospel choir that sang with an ex-convict to a song that touched me deeply. We are often valued for what we do, not for who we are. In that race, it seems like it’s never enough. ‘I am enough’ reminds you that you’re fantastic just the way you are. You don’t always have to be proving.

This song sums up for me the spirit of what happened at the conference and that is something that I repeat to myself a lot lately. It may work for you too. We have a lot to do, yes, but perhaps there is already a long way to go with being present and being.

If you want to receive regular recommendations on how to have a healthier relationship with technology, with work and take care of your mental health, you can subscribe for free to the Telegram channel of the “Tecnosaludables” blog:

May 26, 2018 was a black day in the history of Amnesty International. One of his employees, Gaëtan Mootoo, 65, took his own life in the Paris office. He left a letter in which he pointed out as causes the great pressure of work and the lack of support from his bosses.

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