Reflections 22nd May

Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

On my Mind


I have found this week unsettling and encouraging, with a distinct lack of normal. At one end, an unsettlingly detached government response to a stream of challenges from the horrifying realisation of implications of the cost of living crisis and its impact on the “just about managing” (remember them?). To more widely the emerging food crisis so clearly articulated in The Economist (paywall), the continuing evidence of the realities of climate change with whole chunks of Australia become effectively uninsurable, and war in Europe that bring levels of brutality we thought were behind us. A dispute with the EU on Northern Ireland that begs for collaboration skills but which is falling into the short term “BishBash” policy, and an arguably justifiable “windfall tax” of energy companies, is short term politicised as “contrary to Conservative values”. Right.

Keeping the embers of a sense of humour alive has been hard work.

Fortunately, the embers were revived by a gentle breeze of encouragement arriving via conversations with those who see past the headlines not just to possibilities, but to actions. From people running companies you’ll probably never hear of letting their staff decide on where they work from, to those who you’ll also unlikely hear of doing the hard work of shepherding communities who have harvested peat for centuries to ceasing the practice in the face of the real lifestyle, culture and financial dissonace that is involved.

All this catalysed into a sense of possibility by listening to Tony Butler talk with Jon Alexander about his New Citizenship Project, and his book “Citizens” in the setting of the first factory in the world, Derby Silk Mill. It is now a wonderful “Museum of Making” that not only brings heritage to life, but creates workspace for those exploring the future of making. Well worth a visit, or even just a look at the website. It’s an inspiring project grounded in generosity in a place that started the industrial revolution, and is around to see its end.

It makes for a powerful metaphor, timeline and lifeline to hope.

Leaders are dealers in hope.

Naploeon Bonaparte

Sticking things together requires energy, attraction, and emotional glue. It is about, as Jon Alexander quoted from one of those “ordinary people” who inspire him, “string, sticking tape and a dollop of hope.

Cohesion (n) 1670s, “act or state of sticking together,” from French cohsion, from Latin cohaesionem (nominative cohaesio)

Hope though, as we are told, is not a strategy. It is a complex quality; a story we tell ourselves about the future, and comes in a variety of forms.

In “Citizens” Jon outlines three sources of hope that determine our behaviours:

  • The Subject Story. Following the directions of a “great leader”, or deity. Follow directions, be compliant, get looked after. Dependence.
  • The Consumer Story. The exercise of self determination. Work as virtue and Possessions as reward. Poverty as retribution, wealth as reward. Independence.
  • The Citizen Story. The practice that derives from the earliest times, before we had places to be citizens of – working together in mutual support. Interedependence.

..he is certainly not a good citizen who does not wish to promote, by every means in his power, the welfare of the whole society of his fellow-citizens.

Adam Smith, “Theory of Moral Sentiments”

I suggest there are now only two sustainable stories – subject, and citizen. The consumer story is ultimately self defeating, because whatever we do will run out of stuff to consume.

Consumer (n) early 15c., “one who squanders or wastes,” agent noun from consume. In economics, “one who uses up goods or articles, one who destroys the exchangeable value of a commodity by using it” (opposite of producer), from 1745.

It is a “ourobouros” model – the snake devouring itself. Right now, as supply chains fragment and natural resources are weaponised, it feels uncomfortably appropriate.

Both the Subject story and the Citizen story are available to us right now. The Subject story has the better P.R. department, the most resources, and a very simple strategy.

The Citizen story involves the hard work of collaboration, risk, exploration and local leadership. It is resonant of the apochryphal (but mythical) advertisement placed by Shackleton for his expedition.

The first lesson of resilience is that “nobody is coming to rescue you”. Understanding that I think is never more important than now, given the complex risks we face, and will determine our actions, our behaviours and our attitudes towards each other.

We each have a choice to make. Subject, or Citizen.

Consumer is no longer available. We need Cohesion.


One the things we most easily lose sight of in a short term “return on capital” consumer world is the future. It is another factor, in addition to the natural world crisis we face, and again purely of our own making.

In a conversation about attitudes to subject and consumer ideas, it became clear that we are on the cusp of losing connection with an entire generation. Whilst my generation of Boomers has become skeptical about government, corporations and brands and Millenials have become cynical, Gen Z is becoming downright contemptuous as they lose sight of opportunities and hope for anything like the lives those in front of them have lived. This research from Deloitte is very polite. The conversation I was part of was not. It was sad, but perhaps inspirational. Boomers and Millenials may regard the consumer story as somehow still an option, but Gen Z do not. We are being held accountable.

Our in trays may seem full, but this is important and will not wait. Again, we need to bring about cohesion.

Inspiring me this week

A great piece from Orion Magazine on making the invisible visible.

To look is an act of choice. Choosing what is observed becomes a political act for someone like myself. Choosing not to see becomes a privilege only the privileged can afford.

—Helena María Viramontes

Anyone can Create. Matters Magazine.

A chance digital encounter between two creators began a worldwide collaborative project that invites us all to consider why we wait to be asked to create. Felt very appropriate as I spent time in the museum of making. It is not only a museum, it is a call to action.

John Lloyd talking to Rebel Wisdom.

A stunning exposition of the power of conversation for it’s own sake. Eighty minutes, so get a coffee or something – but it’s so worth it. Thoughtful , challenging and inspiring. (and for those who know me, at 34 minutes in, he says “everything is interesting. if looked at in the right way” – validation!! :-))

My favourite line: “Things that are made of things are less important than those that are not”

A Closing Thought.

I’m a long standing fan of Jim Rohn’s wisdom. This felt appropriate this week

“In life, the winds of circumstances blow on us all in an unending flow that touches each of our lives. It’s one thing to create change. It’s another thing—often unavoidable—to have change foisted upon you when you don’t expect it.

We all experienced the blowing winds of change. Yet some of us still manage to reach our intended destinations. What guides us to different shores is determined by the way we have chosen to set our sails. The way that each of us thinks makes the major difference in where each of us arrives.

Unforeseen circumstances happen to us all. We have disappointments and challenges. We all have reversals and those moments when, in spite of our best plans and efforts, things just seem to fall apart. Challenging circumstances are not events reserved for the poor, the uneducated or the destitute. The rich and the poor have marital problems. … In the final analysis, it is not what happens that determines the quality of our lives, it is what we choose to do when we discover that the wind has changed directions.

When things change, we must change. We must struggle to our feet again and reset the sail to steer us toward the destination of our own deliberate choosing. The set of the sail—how we think and how we respond—has a far greater capacity to alter our lives than any challenges we face. How quickly and responsibly we react to adversity is far more important than the adversity itself. Once we discipline ourselves to understand this, we will finally and willingly conclude that the great challenge of life is to control the process of our thinking.”

Have a great week.

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