A (kind) revolution
They say, for most, it takes a lifetime to understand what one can do in a lifetime.
For me, 30+ years of “working with Communities” for the UK Civil Service, a Local Authority and Academia represents a lifetime.
A lifetime of understanding where things could and should improve.
A lifetime of seeing possibilities, but managing expectations and disappointments.
A lifetime of how not to “work with Communities” – these words chosen, with particular care.
As a quick resume; across the 30+ years I’ve:
- been part of teams with large amounts of money to spend within strict, often ill-conceived, rules;
- been part of a team with an immense amount of money to spend, with the pretence that the initiative was led by local people;
- worked with large institutions, mainly “blue lighters”, tackling Crime and Disorder in communities, where money was thrown at the problem and where initiatives, centrally designed, were rolled out, almost on a whim;
- managed a Local Authority’s version of Neighbourhood/Community Development on a small estate, spending a little money, monitoring grant spend, justifying examples of “good practice” for both informal and formal politics; and (latterly)
- led a PHE initiative looking at the health of the poorest fastest in 9 different Northern locations.
So, while my physical looks may not see me in the George Clooney or Brad Pitt bracket (ask my partner, she would concur) I believe I am a poster boy – of sorts; a poster boy of how not to “work with communities”
Perhaps not what you might expect me to say, but all that lifetime experience, I think, puts me in a peculiarly perfect position. I know what to do, but I’ve never had a mechanism, a system in how to do it. Until ABCD came along…
You see, during my working life, I’ve lived through the following conditions when “working with Communities”. I’ve been there when:
- money and grant rules were paramount;
- the concerns and (P)politics of the grant bodies and those who are bankers of the money were king; and
- the needs and the wishes of the community were lost and, most criminally, the community was institutionalised to show they were somehow “leading” the plans.
Admittedly my final role was slightly different, but the dead hand of bureaucracy was still evident. However, it was in this role, that I first came across the work of Cormac Russell, ABCD and Nurture Development, with whom I am delighted to have been given the opportunity of working.
My passions are many, but a central one is to ensure we all have the opportunity of living well. And we are able to do this through living, healthy communities. As I write this, as a species, we are slowly emerging from the greatest existential threat of the past century or so – the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some, me included, see these tragic circumstances – lest we forget those lost – as an opportunity to reignite Community living, to actually come together to live well and support each other – and thereby (to borrow the title of a much-admired book) rekindle democracy.
It can almost be summed up neatly by the old (political) adage – From every person according to their ability to everyone else according to their need
However, it is clear that the very nature of the change that we can enact, is not political, and may well go some way to extinguishing the adversarial nature of modern politics – left v right; Climate change believers v deniers; free marketeers v collectivists, etc
The opportunity presenting itself is, I believe, initially based on two distinct levels:
- how can we, individually, change; and
- how, by doing so, do we change the make-up and purpose of community and the wider society?
But, naturally and most critically there is also a need to define what is meant by Living Well?
I am of the opinion, from my experience, that the “stuff” we need, is the very stuff that keeps us alive and functioning. Everything else are hopes, wishes, dreams and objects.
I hanker not to quote or promote Maslow’s theory (as personally, I think it is too inflexible) but as a concept it does offer us the beginnings of a road map. It suggests that the basic needs of us all are water, shelter, sleep, clothes, belonging and self-worth.
Few may argue that the list is too extensive, others not extensive enough. I argue that it is too rigid a concept and it is rooted in another age. It ignores the constant ability to interconnect – especially in this a greater technological era – and so experience has taught me to start looking elsewhere for what we need.
I favour the 5 “pillar” system expounded by psychologists, which goes something like “Living Well”, as humans, means we have
- Agency – the subjective sense of having control over our life, having power to make decisions and shape the future;
- Security – Feeling safe in our environments and relationships is central to being happy and healthy;
- Trust – in and by individuals, communities and society;
- Connection – having a sense of meaningful identity and place in the world; and
- Meaning – ability to live a meaningful life, whether through work, relationships or creative pursuits
These for me make greater sense. And so, to Live Well, as heavily sprinkled throughout the short descriptors above, we need each other. We need community. Community as a verb. And we need to define what type of community we want to live in. One that is open-armed and inviting, benevolent, compassionate, generous and caring? Or one with our arms folded, guarded, wary and scared?
I appreciate that in a world driven by and for monetary reasons, a simple reply could be that the panacea of all ills is having more money or a job, a simple idea to grasp, yet too simplistic an answer.
I believe, that having something meaningful to do as a job, and its value, are important, in terms no less of a health benefit, but to Live Well is to be beyond being an economic unit – fit only for the office, factory floor, farmyard or field as predicated, in the main, by our present teaching systems.
To Live Well, despite money, is almost the freedom we desire and deserve. And there are implementational changes that can be brought to bear to help us along the road to this freedom – none more so than the idea of a Universal Basic Income, who’s time may now be at hand.
But, what of those who have little or no assets to achieve the aim to Live Well, where and how can they best receive these assets? This too has no simple answer and will depend very much on the individuals. But as a community, we can drive the change especially when wider society and its authorities, I believe, too often asks and expects someone to undertake a course of action without considering some of the basic things required to go forward.
How many times have we heard it said that people should:
- “seek help” – even if they know not where to go;
- “get smart” – even if educational rigours are unattainable or not within the individual;
- “get a grip” – even if they know no of what; or
- “be the change they want to see” – even if they cannot understand that change, realise what life skills they have already to achieve this aim, or if they actually wonder if such an effort is worth it.
It is for community to offer each other general support, by asking of the assets at our disposal – be it knowledge, physical ability or time – which can be brought to bear to aid all to Live Well?
The changes to ourselves and our Communities since Covid-19 struck have left us, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld from all those years ago, in an “unknown unknowns” situation. Our understanding of the virus, its likely effects and its deadly nature, is ever-evolving, and at a societal level, the governing authorities appear to be building the road as they walk.
We are therefore entitled, in my opinion, to start theorising on some of the questions on the essence, the glue, that binds together our present society.
What do individuals and communities want to be? How should we live? What are the ties that bind us, not the issues and beliefs that divide us? I believe, this is an opportunity not just for replacing ties with more of the same, but for altering them, renewing them, replacing what is rusting and old with more advanced ties, reflecting modern living and a community spirit.
This type of thinking also means we will need to change systemically our own lives; from what and how we do our working lives, to the length and opportunities of our leisure time. How we interact with our immediate loved ones, our neighbours, what we do for pleasure, how financially we can change things by offering, for example, Universal Basic Income. By doing so, we rekindle democracy and, I believe, prove correct, Albert Einstein’s well-known thought of
“(not solving)…our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”
We need to start defining the costs and value of our lives singly and with each other. I believe that we know the cost of a person, but lack insight or empathy of the value of a human, a great example has been the slow collapse of the Western economic system.
Historically, following the agreements at the Bretton Woods conference in the mid-1940s, Westernised countries adopted a Keynesian philosophy of economics post-war, and frankly tested it to destruction after 30 years. Its eventual collapse in the late 1970s, ushered in the Monetarist movement, which, also took 30 years to be tested to destruction, seen by the banking crisis of 2009.
Frankly, since then, the State players have tried to hoodwink us that “trickle-down” economics still matters – even if it’s never actually worked – and that knowledge of costs over value remains king. For 11 years we have limped on under the dead weight of these mistaken ideologies.
However, the Covid-19 crisis has turned much of that on its head…I mean who knew, that investment bankers and stock market speculators aren’t the saviours of the world!?! What a surprise!!
No, what is recognised instead are the carers, parents, nurses, bakers, post office workers, builders, cleaners, teachers, firefighters, paramedics, shop workers, factory, transport workers and the many, many more who make up the wider collective “us”; we are community and we can change.
So, as the weeks, months, and potentially years, go by, and situations alter and change, the opportunity to look systematically at what changes can be brought in how we live in society, and how communities can shape this, is there for us to act upon. A kind revolution…
We do this, I believe, by going back to “ground zero”, to individuals and seek what we need, what makes us Live Well and how communities are shaped by this.
We recognise the power of Community as a verb, not a noun; a thing growing and acting and moving and supporting and much, much more than a geography. We adopt an ABCD set of principles and we start with what’s strong and not what’s wrong, in the places we live, work and play.
My overall conclusions are that we are living in the safest time for our species, when we have more control over our existence than any time in history, and yet we also live in a time of great uncertainty, fear, and change
But we also live in a time of opportunity; one to alter forever how we live. We can choose, to be on the right side of history, and use our power for good, to change our lives, to live open-armed, inviting, benevolent, compassionate, generous and caring. We can choose a paradigm shift.
And lest we forget, paradigm shifts never come from the Centre or above. It is always those at the edge who drive the change. From the cosmological transition from Ptolemy to Copernicus, the transformation from the belief in goal-directed change to Darwin’s natural selection, to the rise of the environmental movement following the release of the photographs “Earthrise” and “The Blue Marble” – change is opportunity, knowledge and belief.
Experience tells me these are some key important messages for these immediate times – look after one another, protect ourselves, and Live Well. They herald too the key opportunities for what lies beyond us at the moment.
And what lies beyond us at the moment is something we can alter and change.
I am delighted that with Nurture Development I can be part of this change, part of this kind revolution…