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.

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Metamorphosis

I was thinking over the weekend about isolation and this time of lockdown that we find ourselves in as a result of COVID-19 and I started to reflect on the word ‘cocooned’. When we shut ourselves in and button down the hatches, during a storm, we often talk about it as a cocoon-like experience. But what happens in a cocoon is absolutely remarkable.

 

My four key words for this time are: REST, REFLECT, REIMAGINE and RESET. All of those four things happen within a cocoon, and during the process, absolute transformation or METAMORPHOSIS occurs.

 

Before the caterpillar enters the cocoon, it has consumed a great deal. It has pretty much eaten whatever it wanted to and lived however it pleased. But when it enters the cocoon, it is entirely undone. Literally, it becomes a bit like gloop! It feels to me like many people are having the feeling of being ‘undone’ during this time. And not only individuals, whole ways that we have built our world together are being called into question. This enforced REST is causing us to REFLECT and as we do so, we are beginning to see the world around us differently. We are recognising how separated we have become from the world we live in – we are learning that it is not a commodity to be consumed, but a living, breathing Planet with which we are supposed to have a truly symbiotic relationship. We are learning just how disconnected we have become from our neighbours and are beginning to discover a new interconnectedness across the fragile family of humanity. We are learning just how much time we spend serving our dysfunctional systems and are allowing ourselves to question the validity of the way we are living and indeed the story which we have bought into. We are being individually and corporately undone, just like the caterpillar in the cocoon.

 

For the caterpillar, it must feel incredibly destabilising. Everything it has become up until this point is brought into question. As it starts to unravel within the cocoon, I wonder if it feels deeply insecure, anxious, unsafe, wishing it could stop the process and go back to the familiar ways of being a caterpillar. But the journey of metamorphosis is not an easy one, but it is absolutely vital if the caterpillar is to become what it is destined to be. Inside the cocoon, the caterpillar is broken down into ‘IMAGINAL CELLS’ – these begin to form the caterpillar into something altogether different. The caterpillar can no longer remain as it was, it is being REIMAGINED into something far more beautiful in which it can become a true gift to the world – in beauty, in pollination, in the very story that it tells of transformation and redemption.

 

And so, everything is changing within the cocoon. I wonder what is being reimagined in us, in me, in you, in our shared experience. What are we becoming? Can we really go back to such destruction of the earth we live in – such disconnectedness from the world and the people we live with? Can we really continue to fight one another, hate each other or build walls between us? Are we going to continue to allow our children to be fodder for the machine? Will we ongoingly live with such injustice, caused by our hoarding, rooted in our insecurity? Will our approach to healthcare continue to be so reactionary? Will our politics remain so removed and unrelational? Does our economics have to be so destructive to the planet and so unjust for humanity? Surely, we ourselves are potentially being formed into something altogether more beautiful. We cannot crawl back out of our cocoons as caterpillars wanting to eat ever more leaves. We have an opportunity to leave that all behind, to RESET together and refuse to go back to our old ways. That means things cannot remain the same! Everything must change! Our old ways and means simply won’t cut it any more.

 

If there were any of the old biblical prophets around these days, they would be using another R word. They would be standing on the social media corners, shouting REPENT, REPENT! Repentance. It literally means to utterly change ones mind, or turn around completely, to change your mind about walking one way and walk in another way. In Ancient Greek, the language of the New Testament writings, the word repent is METANOIA. It has a similar root to it as the word for transformation, METAMORPHOO, from which we get our word Metamorphosis – the same process as happens in the cocoon. If we are to be transformed, then we have to be willing to go through the process of repentance, to stop thinking and acting in the ways of the past and to embrace the newness of the future that is coming towards us. God, who is LOVE (and who is not interested in the building of big things which look impressive, but in the renewal of all things), promises to walk with us, to uphold us and to be part of the journey of transformation with us. We are not alone in this. The planet is literally groaning for it, our hearts are longing for it and the Spirit of God is calling for it……Does it feel scary? Yes! Is this time full of pressure and insecurity? Absolutely! But when you stop and consider what we are learning, don’t we owe it to future generations and the planet to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? Currently we are in the cocoon, and we’re being undone. But a day is coming when we will spread our wings again for an altogether reimagined future. Let us hope and take action to ensure that it is one full of love, kindness, wellbeing, compassion, and peace! In the rest and reflection, let us take time to reimagine and get ready to reset!

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The Resilience Myth

Tweet My friend, Dr Sammy Batt-Rawden knows only too well the dangers of just keeping her chin up and carrying on. In this beautiful, but heart-wrenching TEDx talk, she tells her story.   Staff in the NHS (and indeed all our public services) are working against a tide of a huge rise in public demand, [Continue Reading …]

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A Fallow Year

Tweet This coming year of 2019, I am letting my garden have a rest – letting the ground be fallow. It gives space for the soil to replenish and to have its nutrients restored.   I am personally trying to allow much more space this year for contemplation, silence, reflection and the deeper work of stillness. [Continue Reading …]

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A Vision for Population Health and Wellbeing – All Together We Can

Tweet If you haven’t yet had the chance to read the Kings Fund’s vision for population health (and it’s the kind of thing that interests you) then I would heartily recommend that you do so. (https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/vision-population-health). It is a real ‘Tour de Force’ and deserves some significant consideration. I like it because it doesn’t hold [Continue Reading …]

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It’s Time to Say #EnoughNow to Adverse Childhood Experiences

Tweet Last week, I had the utter privilege of co-hosting a conference with my good friend, Siobhan Collingwood, the head teacher at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), at the Globe Arena. We both know the reality of ACEs every day in our communities (see my previous blog) and so wanted [Continue Reading …]

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Goldfish and What They Teach Us!

Tweet Last week, I had the privilege of listening to Prof Sandro Galea, from Boston State University talking on the subject: “What do guns, obesity and opiates have in common?!” It was an amazing walk through the world of epidemiology – and the answer? Well – all three things are hugely important problems, they are [Continue Reading …]

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Cuts and More Cuts – a Disaster for our Population’s Health and Wellbeing

Tweet It amazes me, in this 24-hour news world that we live in, that a further £1 BILLION of cuts to our county councils doesn’t remain on the BBC front page until much past lunchtime! It feels a bit more important than some of the stories being picked by the editorial team instead!   https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-45573921 [Continue Reading …]

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Solutions for the NHS Workforce Crisis

Tweet This week, the Kingsfund, one of the most respected think-tanks on health and social care in the UK declared that the current NHS staffing levels are becoming a ‘national emergency’.   The latest figures have been published by the regulator, NHS Improvement, for the April to June period.   They showed: ■   11.8% [Continue Reading …]

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Building a Culture of Kindness in the NHS

Tweet My morning surgery began today with a patient of mine, who works as  Health Care Assistant (or Band 3) in our local acute hospital trust. As we find across the board in the NHS right now, there are pressures in her department with under-staffing and a very high and demanding work load. She started [Continue Reading …]

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