Friday, 16 March 2012
A stake in ourselves
Tonight, I read about Cameron’s latest attempts to explain last year’s riots: ‘a mass outbreak of lawlessness … rather than there being any profound social unrest’.
Just as so-called 'Broken Britain' must be a mass outbreak of brokenness, not requiring any real social justice.
I can imagine Cameron coming off the phone during his holiday last year to tell his wife that, while they would have to suffer the inconvenience of heading back to London early, there was nothing to panic about; ‘just a mass outbreak of lawlessness, dear, but no profound social unrest’.
The Tory doth protest too much. The Government has a big stake in making sure the riots are seen through the lens of traditional lawlessness, where the focus of responsibility must always be on the perpetrator and not the society which might have helped shaped behaviour and circumstances. It’s easier for us to be exonerated, so we can continue to blame the stereotypes that define our limited social discourse. Just as it is easier for us to be believe in good and evil, so we don’t have to deal with the complexities of what makes us human.
In recent months, the stake in society catchphrase has been used by the Foyer Federation to talk about the importance of giving young people ‘something to lose’ as part of their deal to invest in a positive transition into adulthood. I believe all this, it's a useful conversation, but today I started thinking about something else: the stakes we as a society have in things which are not so noble to keep hold of. The stake we have in a prison system that locks up people with higher rates of mental health challenges and lower rates of literacy; the stake we have in an employability system which does not reward according to the social value of what we do; the stake some charities have in actually changing nothing.
Think about the concept of disadvantaged thinking. There are teams of skilled marketing staff and fundraisers who are paid to keep on disadvantaged thinking, because they have a stake in a system which rewards them with the donations they need to pay their salary and keep the engine rooms in the charity cruise ship going. Such organisations often have too much at stake to wish to reform. They will use whatever set of tools are available to prove the impact of what they do, so we can all keep on helping people to cope with disadvantage and blame those who can't cope. The status quo - it's not just a rock band of questionable talent, but a challenge to us all.
Sometimes a stake in too much society, in too much of the system, is a stake in the ground. We get locked into mortgages, jobs, beliefs, thoughts, which prevent us from evolving and questioning the injustices that define our world.
At worse, we sometimes pluck a few individuals from the so called ‘underclass’ to offer them a stake in our better world, so they can become more like us – so they can have the same stake in turning a blind eye. And we even turn this into entertainment, through reality TV shows and singing competitions.
I say all this, because I wonder if there is a different type of stake we need to focus on.
Someone reminded me today that many successful entrepreneurs do not have much of a stake in things when they innovate, which enables them to think and do differently. I’m not suggesting, in the case of the young people the Foyer Federation work with, that having limited wealth, opportunity, and social networks is a good thing. No. But we may be underestimating the assets young people do have through their experiences, and the potential they and we have to use those experiences to create social good.
It’s not just all about a stake in society. We also need to create a stake in ourselves. We need to find and use the advantages we possess. I think those advantages might be far more reaching in impact – far more profound an unrest in a positive way - than society has learnt to value, or allowed us to realise.