Peer Voice Project

Peers are the Leaders we Need, by Christina Carney


It’s been nearly two months since all of us were thrown into a new way of life, courtesy of Covid-19. And while the climbing numbers of Covid fatalities and the economic impact are devastating, the creativity I’ve seen gives me hope.

Creativity: “the use of the imagination or original ideas.” (Oxford)

Creativity has never been just about making art, or music, or dance or writing. Creativity is about seeing possibility. Innovation (which derives from creativity) often comes from necessity and never in my lifetime have I seen the need for innovation and creativity more – or more people answer the call.

In the last few weeks I’ve had several conversations with Peers working in the mental health and substance use field and have been in humbled awe at how quickly they’ve worked to adapt to ensure the people they serve are getting their needs met. Whether it’s figuring out how to facilitate groups online or on conference calls, to a Peer respite house trying to have meaningful engagement at full capacity and still keep everyone safe, to making sure people can get their meds and see a doctor. Peers are using everything at their disposal to keep recovery front and center. With more stress comes more struggles with mental health and substance use. We need these services more than ever and Peers are more than up to the challenge.

“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” Leon C. Megginson

Although this quote talks about survival, I see it as more than that: it’s how individuals and societies evolve and thrive. There’s been so much conversation about normalcy, whether it’s wondering when we’ll get back to “normal” or what the “new normal” will look like. To be honest, I don’t want to go back to the old normal – to broken and corrupt systems that marginalize and oppress. There’s nothing sustainable about the way we’ve been doing things whether it’s the economy, the environment, or our health care systems. Peers have been working in these systems for years as change agents and it’s like chipping away at a mountain. Slow, arduous and seemingly impossible to make headway. But what Peers have always done – and are continuing to do – is to make sure the people they are serving are at the heart of everything they do. Their work is grounded in empathy and compassion. Wouldn’t it be grand if that was the new normal?

Peers are the leaders we need now.

Mutuality is one of the core values of Peer Support; minimizing power differentials is key as Peers build relationships with those they’re working with. Our culture has been “power over” for so long – is it possible to shift to “power with”? Authenticity, honesty, open-mindedness, and respect are the other core values. How much would you love seeing all our leaders adopt these values for themselves?

To all Peers: I see you and I believe in you. Keep doing what you’re doing.

You are the leaders we need now.

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