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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4 Things to Do If You Are ‘Isolated’ at Home Because of Corona Virus

I’ve been thinking about how people can best use their time, if they are stuck at home during this Corona Virus, Covid-19 Pandemic. Some people will be asked to ‘self-isolate’, along with their household for 14 days because they have symptoms of a high temperature and/or a persistent and troubling cough. Others will be asked to do the same for 12 weeks if they are pregnant, over 70, or usually receive a flu-jab on the NHS (due to having an underlying health condition or on medication that suppresses their immune system). The reason for all of this is to try and suppress the spread of this virus, and maintain health in the wider community until we are sure we have better treatments and a vaccine that we can use across the population. Obviously, if you’re unwell, the first priority is to give your body time to recuperate by taking plenty of fluids (2-3 litres of water per day), eating well, sleeping and letting your immune system do it’s job, whilst you take paracetamol (at the recommended dose) to control your temperature and levels of pain. For many people, however, this time may feel frustrating, because symptoms will be mild or absent and some will be wondering what to do with the time they have been ‘gifted’.

 

There are 4 things, which I believe we can all do during this time, if we find ourselves in the situation of being in isolation, but not actually feeling too unwell.

 

  1. REST
  2. REFLECT
  3. RE-IMAGINE
  4. RESET

 

REST

This is something which we tend to not be very good at. However, we have been given the opportunity to step back from the fast-paced, consumerist-approach that we have adopted in society and take some time to just BE. Learning to accept that we are where we are and deliberately slowing down will enable us to find new strength and reconnect with that which is most important. Deliberately slowing down our breathing, our pace of walking and learning to calm our racing thoughts allows us to enter into a different mindset. Choosing to turn off our screens and disconnect from social media for good portions of the day allows us to create space in our heads and our hearts for another way of being. I know that social media can be a really important and safe space for many people to continue to connect and feel part of community, breaking down a sense of isolation and loneliness, but if we’re on there all the time, it can really fill our heads with unhelpful traffic and noise, which stops us being able to enter rest. As we rest, we are invited to spend our time differently – to do things that are good for the soul. You could take time to create, write, read, sing, dance, pray, go for a gentle walk, cook, sit round a table and build Lego or do jigsaws with others or on your own. There is no need to accumulate new things, what can you make do with or mend? What old or new hobbies might you rediscover or pick up? How about deliberately choosing not to get a thousand and one jobs done around the house or not rushing into a new decorating project. Just stop for a while, slow-down and rest.

 

REFLECT

When we consider the far reaching potential effects of a global pandemic, like the one we find ourselves in, it causes us to pause, notice more the interconnectedness of human life across the world and the utter fragility of our systems. It should cause us to notice more deeply the injustices upon which we build our society, the insecurity of work and the implications of global capitalism on the poorest in our communities and indeed our environment. During this time, we do well to reflect on what we are learning together. Birds are heard singing for the first time in years in Wuhan – a city usually thick with smog. Destructive air pollution has reduced by over 25% in China and Italy. The canals are cleaner than ever in Venice and global air travel has decreased significantly. Of course, we notice some of the worst bits of our humanity – driven by fear – and some selfishness. But we also see the indomitable human spirit at work – huge acts of love, courage, kindness and generosity. There are amazing offers to help and support with home schooling and teachers are going above and beyond their usual brilliance, thinking creatively about how best to enable their students to thrive. Healthcare workers continue to put themselves at risk and pour themselves into the work of healing. Voluntary food clubs to feed the hungry, delivery services for shopping and medication, community support schemes and the ongoing service of the most vulnerable in our society – it’s amazing. This ability to re-organise ourselves, to connect together differently, to make wider political and economic decisions and find a way to be that feels more wholesome should give us plenty not only to be grateful for but to reflect on about why we put so much energy into maintaining the usual status quo. What good things are we noticing and learning?

 

RE-IMAGINE

What might be possible together? Can we imagine a world with less commutes and more digital connection? Doesn’t it seem more possible to cut global emissions a great deal more quickly, when we’re forced to focus our attention? Could we work and earn differently and be more generous with wages and leave, so that we don’t see so many people left in such a vulnerable state. If we can find the ability to be so kind to each other at such a time as this – why not more so all the time? As we’ve recognised the fragility of our lives and existence, are the grudges we hold worthwhile? Are we able to forgive and reconnect? Might we adopt a way of life that is more about sharing and regenerating than grabbing all we can? Isn’t community one of the most delicious and richest of experiences? How can we build more of it? Can you sniff an economics that is more about wellbeing than profit and a politics that is more about connection and participation in our life together than centralised sovereignty? How about an education system that doesn’t treat our children like fodder for the machine, but invests in their ability to build a beautiful future. Have you seen how relationship really could be the foundation of our public services? So how might we think differently about our governance structures and the way we organise ourselves – think ‘Radical Help’ (Hilary Cottam), ‘Doughnut Economics’ (Kate Raworth) and ‘All Our Welfare’ (Peter Beresford) – plus many more. Can you imagine a society in which we really put the wellbeing of all people and the planet at the heart of what we do? If so….why would we continue with a way of being together which is so detrimental to both?

 

RESET

Our invitation, therefore, is to reset. This invitation comes from the earth itself, from our deepest longings, and from the source of all love and life itself. We don’t have to continue living in the story of selfishness and scarcity. We have shown ourselves that there is a more ancient and wonderful story of connectedness, restoration and hope, to which we all belong. We don’t have to go back to how it has been. Step by step, we can use this ‘kairos’ moment to walk into a new future together. A future in which we heal our divides and regenerate our planet, forgive our deep, historical wrongdoings, rebuild our ruins and restore our relationships; do away with injustice and create reconciliation. It’s time to reset. Are you ready to press the button?

 

Here is a beautiful poem, by Kitty O’Meara, to help us rest, reflect, re-imagine and rest.

 

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How Does Change Happen? Part 2

Tweet 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 [Continue Reading …]

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I Am a Medical Feminist

Tweet One of my fellow speakers at TEDxNHS2019 was the amazing Dr Sarah Hillman. We both graduated medical school in the same year, and have both become GPs, but Sarah has taken a more academic route. I was blown away by the power of what she has to say and believe every doctor and medical [Continue Reading …]

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Poeting an Alternative Future

Tweet As part of the ‘love and kindness’ series on the Black Swan Podcast, I interviewed the brilliant  and award winning Spoken Word Poet, Matt Sowerby. Matt is 18 and lives in Morecambe Bay. I find his words to be beautiful, challenging and moving. Here are the links on iTunes and Spotify if you want [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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How Do We Build a City That Works For Everyone?

Tweet I recently hosted a couple of conversations for people in the city of Lancaster, UK, in which we explored this question together: “How Do We Build a City that Works for Everyone?” We framed the conversation (which we had using a ‘World Café’)from two current and important concepts. Firstly, the great work of Kate [Continue Reading …]

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Population Health and the NHS 10 Year Plan

Tweet https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/nhs-10-year-plan   This is an excellent blog from Sir Chris Ham and Richard Murray at the Kingsfund and highlights some important issues that deserve real consideration and debate. Get a cup of tea, reflect on it and then join the discussion. Here are my reflections on it.   Improving population health and closing the [Continue Reading …]

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Facing Our Past, Finding a Better Future – Adverse Childhood Experiences

Tweet This week I had the privilege of listening to Prof Warren Larkin, advisor to the Department of Health on Adverse Childhood Experiences. This is something I’ve written about on this blog before and Warren has made me more determined than ever to keep talking about this profoundly important issue. This blog draws on his [Continue Reading …]

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Healthy Schools

Tweet Last week, I had the privilege of being at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School. The school is a beacon of hope in this area. I found it extremely moving to walk round, with Siobhan Collingwood, the visionary and big-hearted headteacher and see the incredible love displayed by all staff towards the amazing children there. [Continue Reading …]

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