When it comes to leadership I’m privileged to spend time with people who think and cultivate models and discourse about it all the time, it’s kind of something that comes naturally to them. They talk about signs of leadership as being people following, and the role of leadership being about seeing and scouting out what’s ahead.
Every single woman I profile in the series this week is and has spied out the land ahead, they’ve set things in motion to respond to change and need, they’ve created or at least heeded to a vision and people have and are following. They’re not on any posters or lamp posts, they’re not politicians, people don’t necessarily call them up for interviews, panels or quotes. But we should be listening to them, we should be seeking their insights and perspectives, we should be considering what they value and what has shaped them. Because in a world where institutions are crumbling under the pressure of simply being an institution all we have left is principles, themes and models of leadership that cause people to follow. These can’t be found in books or political rhetoric or spin or media platforms they’re found in people who are just getting on with it – and a lot of these people are women.
Introducing: Jayme Reaves – Peace & Reconciliation Worker & Theologian
Jayme is someone who I’ve met through robust and humorous theological conversations. I’ve also witnessed her deftly knocking down a frustrating conversation about the presence of women in Northern Ireland and opened up a better conversation about gender. She’s incredibly smart as well as reassuring – she can put people at ease by demonstrating what I think of as canny empathy at the same time as moving them on in their thinking. She’s worked in a variety of post conflict contexts over the last decade and is soon to be community advisor to a community initiative in Dorset, England. She also just completed her Ph.D in Theology specializing in a theology and ethic of protective hospitality in the Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Meet Jayme here:
What do you love about what you do and why?
There’s a particular moment that I love and live for in my work – that moment when the lightbulb switches on, when someone gets what I’m trying to communicate, they understand all the connecting dots I’m illustrating, and they take it as their own. That moment for me – the moment when someone gets it and it changes something, an idea or perception or behaviour or attitude – is where it’s at. Why would you want to do anything else? That moment leads to change, and I’m all about changing things wherever possible.
Can you talk about/describe a couple of personal key moments or experiences that you think shaped your interest and passion for the work and roles you currently hold?
In some ways, I could say that everything has led me to where I am now. One key moment was when I was about 17 and I was agonising about what to do as a career. You have to understand that I was one of these kids that was looking at colleges and trying to decide on what I wanted to be from about 7 years of age, so 17 was crunch point. That was back in my conservative religious days, and despite not being there now, I do feel as if I had a vision. Now I wonder if it was my subconscious, but, either way, in my mind’s eye I saw myself sitting on a desk, legs swinging back and forth, with a blackboard behind me, having a thoroughly stimulating discussion with a group of people in front of me. I remember the joy I felt, the informality and comfort of my posture and setting, and knew immediately that teaching was where I needed to go. Over the course of the years, I’ve found myself in that type of setting several times and each time it gives me goosebumps. I rarely get to teach in formal classroom settings at the moment, and yet the aspects I felt at that time are still there when I work with groups of people about a topic I care about, whether it be theology, peace and reconciliation, historical memory, or social change.
A second key experience for me was living in Sarajevo, Bosnia from 1998-2000. The war had ended there two years previously, but it felt as if it had ended the day before. I was young – 22 at the time – and had never seen anything like that before. It changed me irrevocably. The people I met, the stories I heard, the love I shared, the questions it led me to ask about God and faith – everything about it has shaped me into who I am now.
What is the stuff in your life that you think has trained you/prepared you for the work you currently do and are developing?
Formal education has done a lot. I know it gets a bad rap sometimes – that it’s disconnected from the real world, elitist, etc. – but each degree I’ve gone for has been really helpful in training me and helping me feel prepared for the work I’ve gone on to do. I think it was enhanced by being mentored by some amazing people at each stage as well, so the learning became personal for me. I watched them, I paid attention to how they did it and the changes they were able to bring as a result. It was never purely about books – everything I learned was filtered through a screen (for lack of a better term) of applicability.
Who are the people who inspire you and why?
I’ve been blessed with loads of people who have inspired me along the way. I’ve had a number of mentors and people who have taken the time to teach me their craft (whatever it was), and I’ve taken the opportunity to work with them and learn from them. The most overarching lesson I’ve learned is that they’re human. Every mentor and person who has inspired me has failed in some way or another – and that inspires me too. At the times when I feel like I’m not good enough, I don’t know enough, or I’m not sure of what I think, I remember that they felt that too and it keeps me moving forward most days.
If all the work you do could go your way and deliver the results you dream of what do the communities you live/work in and/or care about look like?
Given that my partner and I are getting ready to walk away from Northern Ireland indefinitely, I have to say that part of the reason I’m leaving is because I’m tired. Northern Ireland is a hard place to work, particularly when you’re in the peace and reconciliation sector. This dance it does of two steps forward, three steps back is exhausting and has the ability to wear on your dreams in a real, heartbreaking way. I dream of a Northern Ireland that is marked by mercy. The calls for retributive justice and humiliation of the other wears me out. The price that sort of thing exacts on your soul is high. I long for bigger moments of mercy and grace – not in a way that discounts what happened here or forgets the past, but in a way that allows people to heal, the live and breathe normally, to laugh and have fun without feeling guilty, and to actually hear and listen to one another rather than just shouting louder to be heard.