Tie your Camel First

Dementia Care
March 8, 2017

This arresting phrase comes from a Hadith, a report describing what the prophet Mohammed said or did on some occasion: ‘Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah.’

This means that people should take their own responsibility first for achieving a good outcome, and then trust God or the universe that this will happen.

I came across these words in the report of a Compassion in Dying project with Somali women: to read this thought-provoking and informative report click HERE.

There are some brilliant messages in the report about planning care with people from different cultural backgrounds from our own. It certainly made me realise that I have sometimes thought I was being culturally sensitive but, in reality, got it really wrong.

For example, did you know (I didn’t) that Somali food is not highly spiced, and so Somali people often can’t eat Indian food?

The women who took part in the study said that they were given very spicy food at events or in hospital, which they didn’t like. It seemed that, when they asked for halal food, people who know lots of Muslims from the Indian sub-continent, assumed all Muslims eat very highly spiced food, rather than asking these individuals to choose for themselves. Mental note to self: don’t make assumptions.

Back to the camel

I wish I’d known on Monday about the advice that the first thing to do is to tie your camel up safely.

A carer who’d had a bad experience of a relative’s care gave me a right telling-off.   This person told me there is no point in trying to embed the Mental Capacity Act (MCA) into health and care practice, because, though it sounds wonderful in theory, nobody is listening and nobody cares.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the size of the task, we must first tie up our own camels, I should have said.

In the world most of us live in, this means, I think, that there’s a step we have to take, before we say I’m being unrealistic to ask that we all put, at the heart of our practice, the wishes and feelings of the people we support.

We must all do our best to take responsibility, ourselves, for how well we enact the MCA in our professional lives. Care staff will copy how more senior staff behave.  This means they can pick up almost without knowing it a habit of listening to people, of learning about their wishes and feelings, and basing how they support someone on a real knowledge of what the person likes and doesn’t like. Or, given a bad example, they will copy that really fast in their interactions with people too.

I’m not well up on the world of camels, nor am I very sure that this next bit will make any sense at all, so feel free to put me right.

But it seems to me that, if we all tie up our own camels, or actions, properly (by reading the MCA Code of Practice, and living it in our daily actions), we’ll soon have a whole herd of healthy camels, or, rather, we’ll all happily be putting the MCA into practice every day. And we’ll have a whole care setting full of happy people whose freedoms are not restricted except when it’s really necessary, to keep them safe from harm.

Rachel Griffiths
Rachel Griffiths

Mental Capacity and Human Rights Specialist

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