The three ways of a good society

In springtime Shared Future Director Jez Hall is feeling hopeful. In our Easter 2021 blog he reflects on the behaviours that build a good society: Altruism, democracy and stewardship.

Relating back these big themes to the work we do at Shared Future on local democracy, climate change and to support mutual aid. And it all started with a dream.

I have a dream!!

Always a good way to start a blog, but in this case quite literal. Last night I had one of those long complex dreams about public speaking, where I felt unprepared, and then woke up just as I delivered my first thoughts to a waiting world. And in the fuzzy zone between wake and sleep wrote down three ideas. They sparked this blog. Some random thoughts that, as we emerge from lockdown, and embrace a sunny Easter week, seems pretty apt.

How do we build the good society that we dream about?

Gifting and altruism

At the heart of a good society must be a culture of gifting and altruism. Gifting more than half-priced glitter wrapped Easter bunnies of course. Proper gifts. Gifts of fellowship and collaboration. In a video on our website from a few years ago we discussed sustainable livelihoods. That is, the sensible and rational ways that people get by when money is tight.

It starts with being able to see that when we have the chance to help others, then they can maybe help us out too. Not today, or even tomorrow, but when the chips are down and we need help. That is the core of Mutual Aid. Behaviour that is resilient and altruistic. Gifting without expectation of immediate recompense or repayment.

Kindness tree from The Alternative
Kindness Tree from The Alternative’s Easter message

From that simple act we become powerful. Or, as better put the other way round, in The Alternative’s Easter message:

“Do you argue for change but hope someone else will effect it? Protecting your comfort zone, by claiming you have no power, is a de facto investment in your powerlessness.”

Do something powerful… offer a hand-up, not a hand-out to someone local, nearby, in your community this Easter. Because community is a verb, an action, and a habit that we must practice.

The process towards becoming democratic

In another recent blog for the YouthPB Accelerator website, I wrote about the institutions that shape young lives. Like family and school. Neither are very democratic.

To live a democratic life ‘in community with others’ means un-learning some things. That is what we do in our Citizens’ Juries and Assemblies.

Photo by Sophia H. Gue on Unsplash
Photo by Sophia H. Gue on Unsplash from the YouthPB blog
Creating spaces where people can deliberate and dialogue together, before coming to a democratic decision, recommendation or conclusion.

We all know when things are going badly. Like when we switch off during that ZOOM meeting as the little voice in our head says “I’ve been here before, so-and-so is just elevating themselves and not listening to anyone else”. To be fair, we all become easily lost in our thoughts, in our own stories.  Focussed on listening to the echoes of our own voice.

To stay engaged and trust in process we need to follow a good deliberative process. Live by and within structures that are democratic, and rooted in democratic values. Within civic education there are described a whole range of democratic values. These values aren’t born to us. They are ideas that we need to learn and practice. In terms of this blog I come back to the importance of ‘practising what we preach’. Especially valid at Easter time, if we can briefly take it back towards its Christian roots. And equally valid as a life lesson, whether you have religious faith, or have none.

Stewarding: If you govern locally the top is more controlled?

Governance is at the heart of democratic process. Through legitimate good governance we learn to trust the rules and regulations we live by. Yet we live in a world, something fairly true in the UK at the moment, in which many feel divorced from our democratic structures.

I recently read a description of what might be called a ‘basket-case country’… you know the ones where we despair and wonder if it might not be better to send in the strong force of law to restore some order. But we also know that that an over heavy handed approach often begets more anger, and more violence. Democracy, and democratic power needs to flow up from communities, not drip down from above.

Lancaster and district Climate Change People’s Jury. Image © Shared Future
Lancaster and district Climate Change People’s Jury Image © Shared Future

In my dreamworld I wondered if we could start to sort out our own problems. Echoed in a recent democratic campaign in the UK that calls for neighbourhood-led democratic revival. Local solutions, rooted in a care for people and planet. Local democracy based on principles of local stewardship. That seems about right?

Stewardship, a belief that humans are responsible for the world and should take care and look after it, is a message that resonates across the political landscape. There is a deep strand of self responsibility, consideration and ‘conservation’ in all our mainstream parties.

In our Citizens Assemblies on Climate Change, and in many other local democratic processes we’ve run through Shared Future, it is heartening to see how people with different perspectives and backgrounds came together, with a common message around climate stewardship.

We can trust the people… if we in turn trust their ability to make considered and wise recommendations for people and planet.

Bar no-one, and allow all voices into the debate.

Am I being too utopian here?

It seems to make sense that the more we can do ‘for ourselves’, the less that needs to be ‘done to us’. Do you argue for change but hope someone else will effect it?

Not me. Not Shared Future. We can do our democracy locally. We can do that here.

Happy Easter everyone. Don’t eat too much chocolate. Have fun.