Time to Reimagine the Future!

So many voices are saying that we can’t go back to how it was. We don’t want to live at the same old exhausting pace anymore. We don’t want to continue to harm our environment nor accept such staggering inequality. This quote below is actually from Sonya Renee Taylor, not Brene Brown!

One of my favourite stories to read my kids when they were younger was ‘The Great Green Forest’ by Paul Geraghty . It talks about the destruction of the Amazon Rainforest and how one day, the man on the digger stops and listens to the forest and realises he can’t do his job any more. He can’t be part of this destructive way. So he gets off and walks home and never returns, whilst the forest envelops his old machine and regenerates. It used to choke me up and the kids would look at me and wonder why I had tears strolling down my cheeks! Our world does not have to be shaped by the idea that we are ‘homos economicus’ – the selfish, self-centred, self-made man of the neo-liberal era. That is OVER! And all neuroscience and developmental psychology points to a very different reality anyway – one that we have perhaps been blind to. The truth is, we’re actually wired for empathy and compassion, but the systems we have created have warped our behaviour. But through all the pain and difficulties of COVID-19, something in our corporate memory has been awoken of our interconnectedness to the family of humanity, other species we co-exist with and the biosphere we co-inhabit together. We simply cannot go back to how things were – everything has changed.

 

Change doesn’t just happen because we want it to – that’s a good start, but vision alone is not enough! I’ve been spending a bit more time in my garden of late. I love gardening. For me it is the place of my best personal development and growth. Last year, I let the whole garden be fallow – I just left it. This year, when I came to plan what I wanted to grow, I found that I have a lot of clearing to do. There are things I need to “uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow”, before I can “build and plant”. It’s particularly amazing to me how florid certain weeds, like creeping buttercup, can be! The networks of roots in the soil, take quite a bit of digging out. For me it’s a great metaphor for our mindsets, fixed beliefs, thought patterns and subsequent behaviours. If we’re going to make space for a kinder and more empathic, life-giving way of thinking and being in the world together, then we have to be willing to root out our old ways to make room for that which we want to plant and sow.

 

To take this garden metaphor further, once the ground is clear, my seeds aren’t going to grow on their own and I’m not going to cultivate a harvest overnight. I am going to have to work the land (thankfully some of this has been done by previous garndeners and I am grateful for what they have sown). I am going to need to build frames to enable good growth and ensure the soil remains cared for and the plants watered. I’m going to have to protect the seedlings from birds, rabbits, slugs, flies and all kinds of other pests, whilst recognising there is providence for them too! There is a tenderness and a ferocity to gardening that helps us to think about how we co-create and labour for the kind of world we want to be good ancestors of.

 

And so let us do the work together. Let us clear the ground, begin building the frameworks we need to co-create the world our hearts are longing for. In Morecambe Bay, we’ve been thinking about the areas of politics, economics, society and ecology. There are many others, but here are some things we might want to consider and build towards (there is further reading/material to engage with if you feel like going a bit deeper In the hyperlinks):

 

Reimagining Politics

 

Patrick Chalmers is currently writing a series in The Correspondent which helps us face up to our own political illiteracy. He invites us to explore together what we mean about politics and how we engage with political ideas, like democracy. Many people have been writing for a number of years about the broken nature of our political system. Well, now we have a chance to reimagine it, let’s grab this bull by both horns and engage with it fully.

 

Here in Morecambe Bay, we’ve been exploring what it might mean to develop a politics of love and kindness. We agree that the basis of a politics of love is friendship, deep listening and the embrace of the ‘other’. It means loving our enemies, doing good to those who may seem to want to harm us and choosing the way of peace. It involves seven key principles:

 

  • prioritising the poor
  • protecting and promoting the wellbeing of children
  • instating women to ensure full equality in everything
  • caring for the sick
  • restorative justice for those in prison
  • welcoming strangers – particularly refugees and asylum seekers
  • caring for the environment in which we live (locally and globally) by being responsible in how we steward the earth’s resources

 

What does that mean in practice? It means holding spaces for communities to come together and talk about the issues that really affect them. We’ve found the Art of Hosting really helpful in creating a framework to do this. It means deliberately building relationships with ‘the other’ through initiatives like ‘The Poverty Truth Commission’. It means creating trauma-informed practice and building a culture of hope. Do we dare to do the work required to reimagine, reinvent and reinvigorate this space? Can we throw off our apathy and cynicism and engage with the stuff that shapes how we do life together? We must embrace a politics that is much more local, participatory and engaging.

 

Reimagining Economics

 

In Morecambe Bay, we believe that an economy of wellbeing is what we need to build together. This means doing away with stigma and the idealisation of growth at any cost and replacing it with a much kinder way of stewarding the earth’s resources to create sustainability and justice. The New Internationalist is clear – We cannot grow our way out of poverty.

 

Here is a framework created together by 170 academics In The Netherlands and helpfully summarised by the brilliant Jason Hickel, which provides a hopeful alternative:

 

  1. Shift from an economy focused on aggregate GDP growth to differentiate among sectors that can grow and need investment (critical public sectors), and sectors that need to radically degrow (oil, gas, mining, advertising, etc.)
  2. Build an economic framework focused on redistribution, which: establishes a universal basic income, a universal social policy system, a strong progressive taxation of income, profits and wealth, reduced working hours and job sharing, and recognises care work.
  3. Transform farming towards regenerative agriculture based on biodiversity conservation, sustainable and mostly local and vegetarian food production, as well as fair agricultural employment conditions and wages.
  4. Reduce consumption and travel, with a drastic shift from luxury and wasteful consumption and travel to basic, necessary, sustainable and satisfying consumption and travel.
  5. Debt cancellation, especially for worker and small business owners and for countries in the global south (both from richer countries and international financial institutions).

 

Hickel is clear. “We have a word for what’s happening right now: recession. Recessions happen when growth-dependent economies stop growing. It’s really important also that we don’t confuse economic de-growth with economic contraction. One is pressing the brakes to avoid a collision. The other is a compete and utter car wreck. When a tree or human or any natural organism reaches full adult size and stops growing we call it “maturity”. We would never call it “stagnation”. That we routinely use the latter term to describe the economy shows that we have no plan, no end in mind… just perpetual expansion. What we need is to build a different kind of economy altogether: an economy organized around human well-being rather than around perpetual growth.” Kate Raworth’s work on the Doughnut Economy is another way we can think about the future. It’s so exciting to see the City of Amsterdam adopting this as their model for the future.

 

Reimagining Society

 

Society is built and shaped by our values and what we value. In Morecambe Bay we’ve been reimagining what society might be like if we reassess those values starting with love, kindness and empathy.

 

To reimagine society we need to reimagine what we mean by the welfare state, or social security. It is broken, but it can be reimagined and indeed has been by my wonderful friend Hilary Cottam in her book Radical Help. Here is Hilary in a brilliant conversation with the world-class Economist Mariana Mazzucato and Tom Loosemore about the reimagining of welfare for the future.

 

We need a welfare system that is primarily shaped by relationship. Hilary Cottam’s six foundational insights on how to do this are so much food for thought. 

In this one page Hilary exposes everything that is wrong with our current system and gives us the permission and the flexibility we need to reimagine and implement an altogether kinder and more practical solution to the issues we face in the 21st century.

 

Two of the core pillars of the welfare state (and btw the concept of state needs to be fully reimagined also, if we are to create a just and fair world in which we live in peace together) are education and health. Both need reimagining and there isn’t space in this blog to go into all of this now, but here are some thoughts on where education and health need to move towards, but Hilary’s principles can be applied to these and many other sectors also.

 

Reimagining Ecology

 

There are so many incredible voices speaking into this right now and the earth is literally groaning for us to listen to what it is saying to us. Can we listen to the narrative of The Great Green Forest? Will we allow ourselves to be forever changed, to repent of our abusive and unkind domination of the ecology, and turn instead to the gentle stewardship of the land and all living creatures to which we are called? There are so many prophetic figures calling us back to this original purpose of humanity. One of my favourites is Alastair McIntosh. This is well worth a listen, if you’ve not heard him already.

 

The tectonic plates are shifting. We are moving from a patriarchal, toxic-type of masculine and dominant-sovereign understanding of how we shape the world towards a much more feminine, inclusive, collaborative and empathic one. Embrace it. Nurture it in yourself. Let this fresh wind blow fully in your face and shake off the dust of the past season that clings to you or the cobwebs which pull you back. The future is calling us. Can you hear it? Listen. Take a breath. Open your eyes. See what lies ahead. Link arms in hope and determination. Let’s go there together.

Share This:

Share

How Does Change Happen? Part 2

This question has become extremely important to me, in my work around how we tackle health inequalities and social injustice. It’s all too easy to take sides, point fingers and play the blame game. But if our political system teachers us anything, it is that this kind of didactic, oppositional approach to life, brings about little change, if any.

 

Over the last few years in Morecambe Bay, we’ve been exploring the power of Social Movements and how we can best work with our communities to effect real and lasting change. As, I said in part one of this series, we’ve been very affected by the need for personal change and the need for deep listening. Change begins with us and this requires genuine humility and deep listening, putting ourselves into uncomfortable situations and surroundings. How can we possibly make decisions for communities with whom we have never spent any time? It’s important that we do our own work and reflect on what we hear and be willing to change our way of working as a result. Series 3 of The Crown, highlights this beautifully with the inauguration of Prince Charles as The Prince of Wales. His relationship with his Welsh tutor utterly transforms the way he sees the plight of the welsh people and indeed his understanding of power, but it only comes from being immersed in Wales and having some significant challenge brought to his world-view.

 

Personal change does not just happen through encounters. The encounter with ‘the other’ invites us into a deeper journey of change. It’s why I have personally also found The Enneagram to be such a helpful tool when it comes to dealing with my own internal issues and mechanisms. For me, as a type 7, it has helped me to understand why I run away from pain and needlessly distract myself from the present in search for ever more stimulation. I have had to face this head on, in order to learn to become more fully human and the best gift I can be (nowhere near there yet!)….

 

I believe we will not see societal change if we are not, ourselves, willing to be changed. Personal transformation, however, is not enough, vital though it is. In thinking about wider social change, I have been really influenced by the philosopher, Valerie Fournier. She talks about three key components which are necessary to drive change within communities. Firstly, she says we must cultivate anger. Initially this seems like quite a strong statement, but what she is referring to is the need to stir a corporate sense of passion around injustice. I have certainly found this to be an important aspect of enabling change in our communities. If we’re not careful, we can spend much of our waking life asleep. If we are to be truly woke to the issues we’re facing across our communities then we must create a space in which people can become stirred to care enough about the reality of the status quo. We have found that people across Morecambe Bay really care about the fact that people living only a few miles apart can have a 15 year difference in life expectancy and an even bigger gap when it comes to years lived in good health. Our experience is that if we give no voice to the discontent within the communities, especially for those at the receiving end of systemic injustice, then we can end up going round in circles, unable to move forward. We definitely don’t want to remain in the place of anger, but it can be harnessed as an incredible energy for good. 

 

The expression of anger is an important part of The Poverty Truth Commission process. Those who are subject to poverty and at the receiving end of the coldness of ‘the system’ need to be given voice to express what that means for them and how it impacts their sense of wellbeing. I think in Britain, we’re not particularly good at ‘anger’. It’s uncomfortable for us. It doesn’t feel polite. We would much rather keep things under wraps and hide away that which makes us feel ashamed. However, when we choose to be present enough to suspend what we think we know about poverty and the experience of it, and really listen to the harrowing reality of it, in another human being and then go on to build relationship and even friendship with that person….then we too are invited into that same anger, not to rage against the machine, but to use the power of our ‘fileo’ (friendship) love to become an agent of radical change. 

 

Anger harnessed in this way leads to Fournier’s second step in social change: ‘Challenge inevitability’ – challenge the inevitability that things must always be this way. When we think about issues like poverty, health inequality, social injustice, adverse childhood experiences – things which feel ‘too hard to change’, it’s easy to resign ourselves to the notion that things will always be this way – therefore we should just ‘keep calm and carry on’, and just do what we can to ‘help those less fortunate than ourselves’….but all this does is reinforce the same old story. Social change requires that we challenge the inevitability of the status quo and that means challenging the world views we hold and the stories we tell ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we must therefore create a greater division between rich and poor or make enemies of ‘the elite’. It’s about taking ideologies that we hold to be ‘true’ and asking probing questions of them. In fact, it’s about giving them a really good shake and uprooting those that are deeply damaging and throwing them on the fire. There are great examples of this kind of work in economics – Kate Raworth in her book ‘Doughnut Economics’, or Katherine Trebeck in her book ‘The Economics of Arrival’ – both challenging economic theory built on GDP and obsessed with growth. We see it in Hilary Cottam’s tour de force ‘Radical Help’ in her challenge to the transactional basis of the welfare state. Bev Skeggs and Imogen Tyler, sociologists both challenging the way society is set up. Rob Barratt, challenging the way we think about education. 

 

At the same time as challenging inevitability we just also incept our thinking with possibility of an alternative future, asking ourselves some powerful ‘what if?’ questions. I wonder what an economy might be like if it held wellbeing of people and the planet as it’s core principles? – a question they are asking in Scotland, New Zealand and Iceland. What if we had a society in which women (change women for any other subjugated group) were treated as true equals? I wonder what education might be like if it were truly future orientated and took climate change seriously? If we challenge what is, it allows us to reimagine what might be.

 

New ideas though, are not enough. The undermining of our current realities opens up the possibility for Fournier’s third aspect of social change, which is to ‘Create moral alternative economies’. We must move from anger and challenge, into experiment. Appreciative Enquiry is a great approach to help us move into this space. It allows communities to focus on what is strong, rather than what is wrong. If we’re going to experiment with new ways of building society, politics, economics etc, we need to so on strong foundations. Once we have cleared the ground in our minds of what has been stopping us find kinder ways forward, we can then focus in on – ok – so what is good?

 

As a result of this approach in the Poverty Truth Commission, for example, we’ve been able to work together on designing the kind of job roles that would really help someone navigate the complexities of the health, social care and welfare system, when they are on the ropes. We heard the anger about where it isn’t working, challenged our own thinking that we can’t really change things and have begun to experiment with the ideas put forward by people on the receiving end of unkind and punitive processes. We’re creating a moral alternative economy. When our city council in Lancaster, recently voted to protect the rights of gypsy-travellers by buying their land and promising to ensure it is fit to live on – they also responded to the anger of deep injustice at what was being proposed (the selling of their land), challenged the inevitability that they had no choice in solving the matter and instead intervened with a moral alternative economy, that protected the ‘poor’ and actually worked for the benefit of everyone. Or, we could take an example from education: When a teacher refuses to tow the line to isolate a student and have them face a wall all day and instead finds a more creative way to understand their student’s anger, challenging the inevitability of school exclusion (and all that will lead onto) and finds an alternative way to help them process their trauma and make the system work for them, rather than the other way round – that teacher is creating a moral alternative economy. You see? We can begin to do it everywhere! And when we begin to experiment with new ways of being together in communities, we begin to tell each other a new and altogether more loving story than the one we’re currently living in. The more we experiment and either fail or succeed, the more we discover how to build a society that works for the wellbeing/peace of everyone and the planet. 

 

So, where do you need to listen more deeply, to allow yourself to be made uncomfortable by the palpable anger that is underneath the surface, or sometimes erupting onto our streets? Why is the anger there? What does it tap into? Where is it coming from? Who is it aimed at? Is that anger able to be channelled in a way that can leverage an altogether more loving and kind society? What inevitability in your personal or our corporate thinking needs to be challenged as a result? What ‘truths’ need to be questioned? What space might that clear for new experiments to emerge? What if those experiments began to interconnect and learn from each other, sharing resources and encouragement along the way? What might then become possible? What if we actually took a breath and decided to genuinely think and work in this way? Can you see the change ahead?! Go ahead and start creating it!

Share This:

Share

Love Society – Part 2 – Triads, Weaving a Web and Panel

Tweet Bev Skeggs gave us so much to think and talk about with each other. If you haven’t had a chance to watch her amazing talk yet, then please do so! You can find it in Part 1 of this blog series. She left us with a question – “How can we build value with [Continue Reading …]

Share

Love Society – Part 1 – Prof Bev Skeggs

Tweet   Here in Morecambe Bay, a very eclectic group of us are having some conversations about how we might reimagine life together based on love and kindness towards people and the planet. In April, we were together around the theme ‘Love People’ and in May, this became ‘Love Society’.   To help us and [Continue Reading …]

Share