big society (distilled)

29 03 2011

Between 250-500,000 people marched in London on Saturday to protest at the government cuts. Marched with passion, marched to make a bold, political point. Is that the Big Society? It was certainly a Big March. The question for me is how can we tap that passion that happens on a large scale in the capital city on one day and turn it into action on a small scale in our local area that lasts a lifetime. That takes a bit more commitment and is a whole lot less glamorous. The Big Society, distilled into the grotty stuff.


In my previous post the i in the big society I distilled Rowan William’s thoughts on the Big Society as being about active empathy – if we do not think outside of ourselves, and are not prepared to act for those in situations that do not directly affect us, then the Big Society falls at the first hurdle.

And as the first two (and so far only!) commenters pointed out, in their different ways, that we can talk about this stuff as much as we like, meanwhile nothing is being done. So I thought this post would be different. Not just a place for musings and thinkings and challenges. But somewhere we can think about that active empathy and then decide how to act. We can be accountable to each other, and decide what we are going to do differently to be a part of the Big Society. But let’s not call it that. Because the words on their own are a meaningless artificial construct, a political gesture desperately in need of a theology. Let’s call it being a part of God’s transformative kingdom.

What will we promise to do? I will promise to go to the St Helier, the Wrythe and Wandle Valley Local Committee meetings to learn more about local issues and make my voice heard. They are very dull! Are you planning to actually do something? Maybe we are already doing it. Football clubs, debt counselling, reading to school kids, leading Brownies, picking up dog poo, starting neighbourhood watch, helping at a youth club, inviting people to church, starting a card-making club, shopping locally, campaigning… the list is actually, really, endless.Let me know.

And if you are going to, then tell us on the comments page. And be honest, I would love to know if anyone is actually planning to do anything different, or if we are already saturated with ‘doing’, if we think the whole thing is a bad idea… or whatever else you think.

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8 responses

29 03 2011
c2drl

Thanks Kevin, I really need a challenge like that!

Actually it is quite hard to respond to the Big Society or the Transformative Kingdom when you are retired and in your 60’s. The Big Government and the little society sees you as part of the problem for being there, not part of the solution. (Heaven knows why we’ve been there paying our whack for years and years!)

To volunteer for something you need to feel passionately about it and most of the things I feel passionately about don’t need volunteers. Well I did volunteer to steward for my local running event a couple of weeks ago, so thats me done then.

i try to convince myself that I am at my best making insightful and dynamic comments on people’s blogs and putting the world right through the pages of my newspaper, but actually the newspaper doesn’t publish my letters and people don’t read my comments on the blogosphere.

So what do I actually do?

Well I spend quite a lot of time enjoying my three grandchildren. It can’t be doing good because I enjoy it. But it does help one mum do do some good work in caring for other children and another to do a some great work in another sphere. And it feels to me that it is the best contribution I can make to the future of the world by encouraging and helping positively to shape three people who will make a difference when I am dead and gone and no longer being a burden on society. I don’t think this counts on the Cameron society index though.

I pray. I am sure that this too doesn’t feature on the Cameron index although it may on the Kevin Transformative Kingdom index. But only if I pray for the right things! Once again I enjoy praying so I guess that means it isn’t worth much. The thing is God seems to enjoy it too, he encourages me to go on with it and he does sometimes answer in remarkably good ways.

I give money to charity, usually but not always Christian ones. But I don’t buy Fairtrade goods so I am possibly on the Cameron index but definitely off Kevins.

I clear the snow for my invalid neighbour and I put out her dustbin etc.

I help others when I can and pray for them.

I’m not sure how all this fits in with your question. Perhaps I’ll stick to making comments on other people’s blogs.

29 03 2011
Edge

A challenge, eh? Gadzooks! On guard!! Have at ye, sir!!!
My wife said something today that really challenged me too. She said that people don’t seem to realise that this Government’s cuts programme is not a temporary state of affairs to be managed until we can get the economy back on its feet and then everything returns to normal. No, she said that the reality is that things are NEVER GOING TO BE THE SAME AGAIN.
I believe her. So this isn’t really about the Big Society; it’s about the next society. The New Society.
It is already being re-shaped and fast-tracked through its storming, forming, norming and performing stages.
And as for me, well, as ever, I find myself sleep-walking into it assuming that I’ll probably be okay and someone will clean up the messy bits or catch the poor sods falling through the black holes somehow.
I thought about going on the big march on Saturday, but I really wanted to play football and watch cricket and I’d had a tiring week in London already. And what if all the people who are actually in favour of the cuts had marched too (yes, many people voted for them), would we have had to fight each other in Trafalgar Square?
And I think about getting more involved in local politics but I used to do that and it was all about jumble sales and jargon and bigotry and now I think it’s futile and depressing. And I hate the fact that the young generation are so not interested in politics, but I also see where they’re coming from, grandad. Who can blame them?
And I look at the various slogans and positions and activities and contradictions inherent in the so called tax justice campaigns and I’m astonished at how economically illiterate and judgementally incompetent some of our new moral leaders are. And that’s just the Daily Mail, of course.
And like c2drl I’m thinking about shouting REALLY LOUDLY on blogs like this but I know that no one really thinks this is an effective way of communicating and, anyway, I don’t know what to think and I don’t have much to say that’s worth shouting about just now.
I can always pretend that I’m making some sort of difference in transforming the world by helping God bring Heaven to Earth. But don’t ask me to show you the evidence to verify my endeavours in this regard. I fear it may not be particularly robust. If they ever arrest me for being a supposed agent of transformation, I think with a decent lawyer I might be acquitted.
So, something is definitely coming. Big Society, New Society, call it what you will. Who knows what it will really be like? A mix of good and bad, I suspect. Surely, someone ought to care? And I do. A little bit. But I’m not sure I have the passion or the energy or the conviction to know what the right response is at the moment.
Your challenge is a fair one and I do need to do my bit. But it may be a bit small-scale and low-key and a bit rubbish.
Can we all start by boycotting the Daily Mail?
Oh, I already do. Bugger!

p.s. I apologise if anyone finds ‘Gadzooks’ an offensive term. BUt not really.

30 03 2011
c2drl

Well there you are Kevin, apathy wins. Well don’t ask a question if you don’t want the answer.

I was just thinking to myself, well who else do you think to, that my Mum and Dad risked everyting when they did their bit for the country in World War II. They saw it as creating a future for this country and the world and they handed on to my generation a world with hope and ethics, not perfect but I rememebr it being good even if very short of money.

What have we done with it? Somehow we have let it slip through our fingers, we have created a new super rich, a new amoral pan european unelected ruling class, a huge gap between rich and poor, and made it more difficult for the poor to climb out. And we have allowed cynicism and hatred to take root, viz the anarchist demos. Oh dear, what a legacy to hand on, maybe with that record I really don’t have anything to offer except the experience of doing it wrong.

30 03 2011
Kevin

C2drl, I am not quite sure I agree with your revisionist history! Your parents generation fought against tyranny and the destruction of their future rather than for specifically creating a future in itself; though that might be splitting hairs. They handed on a generation with hope and a sense of community, but also repressed by terrible experiences and terrified of showing emotion. From what I hear, when the rose-tinted spectacles are off the 1950’s were not all that good. None of that their fault, because they accepted the challenge of their day, a far greater challenge than many have to accept these days in this country, and they then suffered the consequences.

Some of what you have said about now I agree with- there is a super-rich, there is an unelected ruling class,and there is cyncism – but then, it is easy to be cynical. That is why the situation has got like it is. And it is not all bad. Not everything your parents generation gave their lives for has been lost, though each generation will always have to fight again, in their own way.

Take the demonstrations on Sunday. The freedom to do that – and they weren’t anarchists (well, only the inevitable few) – they were people exercising their right to be angry at their government and standing up for themselves. That is part of what your parents generation fought for. As is the fact that we are still a democracy, flawed as it is. As is the NHS. Etc…

All is not lost. It is always, like the church, one generation from being lost. So we must offer what we can. Experience, skills, humour, hope, love. To name but a few…

30 03 2011
c2drl

Thanks Kevin, I take the encouragement and I certainly support people’s right to protest although it was the “few” anarchists that I was referring to and I don’t in any way support their wanton violence and destruction.

I can’t resist saying though – what an interesting take on the world’s view when the remembered experience of somebody who lived through a period is labelled revisionist and the opinions of selective historians who didn’t are labelled as “the truth”.

Of course it was only one person’s experience, but just one personal example. I was able, as the son of a van driver to get to grammar school and on to a good career and I was by no means untypical. My own sons have benefitted from that indirectly. That van driver was himself able to rise to the top of a respected profession.

Today what happens? We, for dogmatic reasons, level down so hardly anybody receives an education appropriate to their ability and there is little hope for people to build a future.

Anyway we, or rather I, have digressed from your topic, for which I apologise.

Big society? When I heared the concept i was excited. Now I’ve heard the talk I am cynical but will give it a try. Will it walk the walk – it hasn’t done yet but we shall see. There isn’t much else on offer so lets give it a whirl!

Of course we could start a revolution and ask the French to come and bomb the government. But then we haven’t got any oil.

30 03 2011
Kevin

Fair point about history – who to believe, what stories to believe… And grammar schools made a huge different, and ability to be socially mobile is severely under threat now, unless one wants to move from upper middle class to wealthy elite. That seems to still be possible.

As for the French, we already have their main nuclear power company supplying our electricity, so why not go the whole hog and let them bomb us?! We jest, of course.

31 03 2011
Edge

The one thing we know about history is it is subjectively viewed but most of that stuff really happened. The future is much more slippery, but equally vulnerable to revisionism, I’m sure!
Anyway, you challenged us to do something. So I did. I listened to a recording by Dougald Hine of a talk he gave earlier this week which my wife attended.
He says some very interesting things about the history and context of the Big Society. His prognosis is thought provoking and his challenge is, er, rather challenging. Attitudes may be more useful than opinions as we muddle our way through this emergent landscape.
Try this link and scroll down to the embedded audio file if you are interested:-

http://newpublicthinkers.org/?p=44

1 04 2011
Kevin

Thanks Edge, interesting article from Hine – it’s good to be connected with other thinkers from a different sphere. The question remains: what are we going to do with our society? Or as some may say, without society.

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