Sunday 3 October 2010

A classless society to be a big society?

We are not a classless society. From where you are sitting, it may look like it is, and I commend you and congratulate you on your luck. I suspect you have been born into a different world to mine and many others. If you are sitting there raising an eyebrow in slight bewilderment about the concept that big society needs to address class issues, then let me try and explain. I am not comfortable with the task of explaining, because it is a complex issue that I will inevitably end up breaking down into a small blog post, but I have to try because annoying trends are emerging.

A while ago I said that I didn't think the big society could work in my street. I acknowledge fully I was wrong. I missed the point. The point, of course, being that the big society is very much alive and well here, but that due to cultural differences, we are welcome, but only when assistance is required for very specific problems. Otherwise, there is a language and cultural barrier which through no fault of anyones seems to be insurmountable at the moment. I believe that in 10 years time this will not be true. I believe this very much.

So after much soul searching, I came to the conclusion that I'd missed the point of big society, and that perhaps being a complete and utter sap, I believed in it more than I'd actually realised, because actually, attending conferences, discussions, joining in with debates online on Twitter, talking to people and trying to change their viewpoint of the world and trying to establish who the people are who can help me change the world a tiny little bit - all of that is the big society. It's about people giving up their time to share, talk, collaborate, inspire, challenge and discuss. It's about sparking epiphanies in others as much as it is about getting something out of it for yourself. Well, for some of us. :O) It's about giving something up for no reward, I think, about sharing with people with no expectation of reward, only a deep seated aspiration to try and change the colours of the world slightly for those who might come after.

My motivations, I suspect, are being questioned in some quarters. It's simple. I might come across as being exceptionally stupid and naive but I am a reasonably good judge of character - and this judging is usually done when people aren't aware they're being watched. I don't mean stalked - I mean people watching - the same people watching that we all do. The small difference might be that I do it consciously - perhaps not, I don't know. But I watch how people deal with others, above them, at the same level as them, below them. Process the data, and make decisions. Decisions about whether someone is the right person to trust. Decisions about whether someones motivations are the same as mine. Decisions about risk taking, rewards or lack of them, being trusted myself and about faith.

I do this for everyone I come into contact with, truth be told. From political leaders to friends, at every level. I can't help the way I am. It's how I roll. I give information freely to people, but it's filtered, always filtered until I trust someone.

Why is this important?

I grew up at the bottom.

Big society requires people to come together. It requires ideas and trust and faith and good intentions. It requires the commitment to give your time, ideas, enthusiasm and passion to some one or something with no hope of return or reward. It's not an easy thing to do. It requires excellent communication skills to convey your ideas. It requires immense confidence to stand up in situations you are terrified of being in and bely no signs of your fear but instead project the concrete absolute projection of believability. You're not fooling anyone. You're not lying. If someone saw how scared you really were, they might think you were, because they would be judging the person in front of them on their own social experience and not the social experience of the person in front of them. But it is necessary to stand in front of these people, these people who are not your people, to ask for money, acquire funding, acquire benefactores and gain support, which creates noise, which results in success.

Some of us are more comfortable than others. Some of us acquired a 'sod it lets see what happens' attitude somewhere along the way and the fear dissipates in the reflection of other peoples questions, curiosity and interest. Some of us are chasing something a little more elusive than job roles, a boyfriend who can pay all the bills or fame and glory. I can't speak for everyone who comes from where I come from, because you know I've not met anyone else yet who comes from where I come from and finds themselves here in this insane world of endless possibilities, or certainly what looks some days like a world of endless possibilities and other days looks like nothing short of an insurmountable obstacle course where I simply don't have the skills, any of the skills, to negotiate it.

But I don't want to hear only one conversation. I want to hear everyones voices. I assume the government wants to hear everyones voices, despite someone from the Tory party slapping down some of the disabled Twitter army last night. I'm going to assume her crass ignorance is in the minority. In order to hear everyones voices, please make sure you ask. Everyone. Don't expect everyone to be gobby enough to come to you. Don't expect everyone to be ballsy enough to come to you. Don't expect everyone to have come to the conclusion that there is nothing to lose and only in trying, in asking the difficult questions, in pushing harder and harder and harder is there a chance that a small tiny piece of the world might look different, might come together, might be okay. Not magnificent, but simply okay.

In order for the big society to happen, money is needed. In order to get money for your project, you have to, essentially, pitch. The thought fills me with absolute terror. I'll do anything to avoid it, absolutely anything. I don't think I'll be alone. So what do we do? Who do we go to? Who will advocate on our behalf? Who will be the presentable, eloquent, confident voice for us?

Is that even the answer? Or is the answer to actually teach people how to speak for themselves. Give them the tools. Allow them to practice, hone their speeches and their skills and then go and take their fire, passion, enthusiasm and care to the table and not choke on the words before a sentence has passed.

A conversation has to involve all. Please, will someone work out a way for everyone to have a voice?


  1. Much of Big Society is common sense that should have been applied long ago. Much of it is also a coat of paint on austerity cuts imposed by international financiers and administered by our politicians. Many will truly suffer in desperation and some will take matters into their own hands. These are dangerous times.

  2. Russell> I am worried that the only place left for those who care about something will be digital refuges unacknowledged or seen by the wider world. Which is exclusion in itself.

  3. Nobody will advocate on your behalf Louise - if you are passionate enough about something you will simply swallow your fear and get out there and speak up. Don't think that eloquent speakers don't suffer from nerves - in fact some of the best speakers have at some point gone through a terrible time with them - but they face their fears because they realise the alternative is to curl up and die (metaphorically speaking). If you are passionate enough about what you want to do, eventually the fire inside you will be so strong you will have no choice but to get out there and speak (in person, not just on the net). Speaking from experience here ;) Don't worry, your courage will come!

  4. Hi Frankie - it seems the time has arrived slightly earlier than anticipated. Thank you for your comment, it's a timely and much needed calmness. You're right. If you believe in something, you have to be brave enough to stand up and state your cause. Otherwise others will only ever doubt that you believed in it in the first place.