Wisdom From My Nanna

Last week, I was on the closing plenary panel at The Kings Fund, as we reflected on what we had learned together about ‘PopulationHealth’ across the UK. There were some really excellent contributions throughout the day.

 

Councillor Matthew Brown, leader of Preston City Council, talked powerfully about the new economic models they are using there and the incredible regeneration they are seeing. Councillor Becky Charlwood, spoke about the great work being done across the city of Leeds and how strong relationships enable them to flex around complex legislation. Mayor Andy Burnham spoke with humility and realism about the power of devolution and the challenges they face as a city in Manchester in giving kids a great start in life and ending homelessness. Liz Gaulton, Director of Public Health in Coventry, spoke about how the Marmot principles are radically shaping the future plans of the city in thinking about inequalities and how they face them together. Prof Kate Ardern, from Wigan, talked about how we need to change our relationship with power and work radically differently with our communities. Prof Dominic Harrison from Blackburn brought his wisdom on how we face up to multiple unhealthy risk factors. Perhaps the most important contributions from my perspective were from Carina Crawford-Khan, lead organiser of Citizens UK and Dr Charlotte Augst, CEO of National Voices who asked us to reflect on how “Powerlessness leads to ill health” – that’s a statement worthy of pause and much reflection. Power is the ability to act. Anger without power leads to rage. So, if we don’t radically change our relationship with power, we can never see true population health – rather we have disempowered people who feel angry and unable to be part of the change we need to see.

 

The reality is that all of the things we long to see in society will not happen unless we ourselves are willing to change. In all the uncertainties we face and admidst the brokenness of our political and economic models, how do we stand firm and find a new way through to a way of being together that is socially just for humanity and sustainable for the future? In reflecting on all of this in the final panel, I drew on the wisdom of my Nanna.

 

My Nanna, Joyce, who is 97 years old this year and who still wakes every morning to play Mozart and Chopin on her beloved piano, has always been one of the most important people in my life. In our family, we call her “Yoda”, because she is strong in the force and exceedingly wise! This 5ft tall lady, who taught me to bake, spent hours helping me with my music and can still whip my butt at scrabble and rummikub, is a truly remarkable woman.

 

When I was a boy, we used to talk to each other whilst making ginger biscuits. My Nanna is a deeply spiritual woman and she used to tell me about her favourite bible verses, one of which is from the book of the Prophet Micah, Chapter 6 and verse 8. That verse says – “God has shown you the best way to live – act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God”. I think those three statements hold profound and ancient wisdom that we need to draw on in the complexities of what we face together now. What does that actually mean for us in practice, as we try and transform culture, relationships and behaviours? I suppose I think it’s pretty simple.

 

Firstly, as leaders and as people who want to see change, we must act with justice. We must care deeply about issues of injustice in our society and be willing to challenge it whenever we see it. But we must not just care, we must act. We have to be willing to put justice into practice in what we build. We’re beginning to see this, and it’s exciting!

 

Secondly, we must love mercy. I think that means we have to love the principle of mercy and therefore we have to love people with mercy, or as I put it at The Kings Fund, with real kindness. I love what Prof Micheal West says, when he talks about looking at people with kind and fascinated eyes. We did a lot of thinking about the need for a different kind of power. I think we need to unashamedly talk much more about love and the transformative power it holds. MLK said that love on it’s own is anaemic – it certainly can be. Power alone is destructive. But power and love together is a force to be reckoned with! We need this kind of love in the power that we hold to keep mercy at the fore and kindness as our way of being.

 

Thirdly, we need to walk in humility WITH our communities. I replace the word God here, with communities, not because I don’t believe in God (I do), but then Nanna and I used to talk, she would tell me that walking humbly with God means walking humbly with other people – with your community. It is worked out in the practice of every day life and being willing to interact with and be changed by the person you most look down on or despise. Nanna isn’t a fan of people getting too big for their boots. She sticks her tongue out at arrogance and blows raspberries at pride. She’s not into titles or pretensions. As a true elder, she knows humility and walks in it. I have learned so much from her and it has shaped so much of who I am and how I choose to spend my time. We must learn to sit with, be with, learn with and create the future with our communities. We don’t have the right to dream up plans and do them to people. Together with, is the kind of humble, mercy-loving, justice-acting way that we so badly need. Without those under-girding, foundational truths, we will never see true population health. Our guiding principles and undergirding culture will shape what we become together.

 

In a time of so much uncertainty and complexity, we do well to stop and draw on the wisdom of the elders. And so I offer that of my lovely Nanna – in all you do, make sure you act with justice, love with kindness and walk in humility with your community. 

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Adam Smith Was Wrong!

I have recently been at a brilliant gathering of people, down in Sussex, called ‘Sparks’. I always find it to be one of the more helpful imaginariums which I spend time at and love the diversity of the people who come. What follows is some learning I’ve taken from my good friend, Mark Sampson and his fabulous PhD thesis.

 

Adam Smith famously stated: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.”

 

Like Mark, I disagree with him! I do not believe that self-interest is the basis for individual interaction and whatever we are told, the unrestrained free market is not benevolent!

 

We have allowed economic language not only to inform reality, but to create it. The language and vocabulary of economics is performative – it creates the world around us. Why would we think that self-interested economics will lead to goodness in society when we do not believe that in other parts of society or our own lives? It is not true of our relationships in our families nor in our friendships, so why do we allow a split mindset in how we think about work?

 

Some economists (Robertson and Summers) have argued that we should promote self-interest in policies and act out of this same motive in business, but altruism in other areas of our life, like our family and charitable work. This is ludicrous!

 

As Kate Raworth has so eloquently demonstrated, this current model of economics is dividing us, isolating us and slowly destroying us. It may, in some ways have gotten us to where we are, but it is neither capable nor kind enough to give us the future that will lead to a more connected and healed society and a more sustainable planet. Enlightenment thinking holds very little light for us now. And so, it is time to let it go, to lament its failure and discover together a new language and a more sustainable model for a reimagined future. Some of this requires exchanging the language of scarcity to one of abundance, renouncing the doctrine of growth for one of equilibrium, repenting of our obsession with competition and embracing relationship and collaboration and replacing self-interest with the notion of gift, reciprocity and mutuality.

 

This requires us to dig deeper into a spirituality and a paradigm shift in our thinking which embraces incongruity! The beauty of mutuality is that it recognises that there is personal benefit to the giver as well as the receiver in any gift-exchange interaction and it strengthens the bond of relationship. Since I watched the Christopher Robin movie, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about upsidedown triangles. Our current economies are built in pyramids, with those at the top “earning” and holding absolutely vast sums of money. What if we gave our most and prioritised those considered at the bottom as the most important? In the NHS we think a lot about ‘equality and diversity’ but often do little about it. For example, most of our waiting rooms and clinical environments are incredible unfriendly for people who have an autistic spectrum condition (ASC). What if, when designing these spaces, we didn’t tag on some kind of tick-box exercise afterwards to show we’ve considered people with ‘disability’ in a vague sense, but actually put them at the forefront of our thinking and planning? What if people living with ASC were at the very forefront of our planning decisions? Incongruous, perhaps, but a different kind of economy, which feels to me to be altogether kinder.

 

In my last blog, I explored how it is isolation (and competition caused by our need to try and overcome our human limitations) which cases poverty. What might we imagine together of an economy in which we prioritise relationships first, and worked together WITH those often left at the bottom of the pile or tagged on as an after thought? What might our planning cycles be like, if we slowed things down and really collaborated WITH our communities and truly considered all the benefits of mutuality? I believe we are at a moment in which the facades are well and truly down. We can see more clearly than ever just how broken our current economic system is, the true effects of putting our faith in the ‘free market’ to create a fair society and a sustainable planet and the realities of allowing our policies to be shaped on the notion of self-interest. It would be insane for us to continue with such a broken model, but it will take ongoing bravery to undo it’s myth in our minds, breakdown the strongholds of the many vested interests and to be part of a corporate reimagining of something based on mutuality and even incongruity!

 

In the end, I believe that when we deal with our root issues and become more healed, we are far more motivated by love than self-interest – and I see this every day! We are made in the image of God but allow ourselves to believe much less of ourselves. To quote Charles Eisenstein, “it is time for us to tell a more ancient and far more beautiful story which our hearts tell us is possible.” What if Milton Friedman was wrong and the business of business is not business? I know that may seem ridiculous, but what if the business of business is to ensure that every life matters, that we are more connected and living in a more sustainable way? What if it was the business of business to make real what really matters to us all? What else might a reimagined business of business be? And what effect might that have on how we think about economics and how we collaborate for a more mutually beneficial society and planet? I think we see this in many models and forms of business already. There are some wonderfully ethical and gentle businesses – I think this is especially true of smaller businesses where relationships are both vital and strong. It is the impersonal banking sector in particular, built on an economy of debt, with multi-lateral corporate giants that holds us prisoner.

 

The reason I am writing about this on this blog is that so much of our health and wellbeing is governed by our philosophy of economics and it is the language of economics which shapes so much of our thinking and reality. So, be careful how you speak about it, find some better words and let’s begin to shape a new future together for the sake of the wellbeing of humanity and the planet!

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Truth about Poverty

Tweet One of the best things I have been involved in over the last few years, is the Poverty Truth Commission and it has helped me to learn just how utterly complex and wicked poverty is as an issue. I’m currently reading an absolutely brilliant book by the theologian Samuel Wells, called ‘The Nazareth Manifesto’. [Continue Reading …]

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A Healthier Story

Tweet So, we start 2017 with General Practice “skating on thin ice”, the NHS as a whole “creaking on the edge” and major concerns over funding and waiting times. Why don’t we step outside of that rather repetitive and boring story, and find a new one together – one that resonates far more with the [Continue Reading …]

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How Well Are You?

Tweet I have the joy of leading some health and well-being retreats with a good friend of mine, who is a life coach. The retreats look at the idea of alignment. Human beings are unique and beautiful, incredibly intricate and are made up of layers, like an onion. Some of those layers are individual and [Continue Reading …]

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