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Making innovation work for good. T:@inspirechilli

Sunday 28 September 2014

Back to the knitting

The ‘stick to your knitting’ down fall of another hectoring politician has an important message. Far more than what Marx described as history repeating itself as tragedy and then comedy, what we face is the ‘blind spot’ of a humanity unable to recognise itself in the drama.

My thesis is this: the issues that ‘civil society’ are engaged with are all ‘canaries in the mine’ that point back to a source of poison gas within ourselves.  If we could deal with the gas in the mine, the canary wouldn’t keep suffering. And young people are our biggest canary, most reflective of the chaos by which humans fail to love, communicate with and bring out the best in each other – whether in families, organisations, or communities.

If I look back on my working life, at least a third of it has been spent trying to solve inter-relationships that have got in the way of offering effective services to people.  And if I look across the charity sector, I see organisations that are hosts to so many human dramas, within a tragi-comedy where charities are competing against or trying to work with other organisations with the same character flaws. All in the name of a charitable mission that is lost under the Game of Thrones battle for sustainable funding and ‘recognition’.

The HR, change management, partnership, governance, funding, and workforce development approaches we use to shape our civil society are all unfit for the position we are in. None of them come from a position of how to love and work with each other in a shared community of purpose.  They are rational systems, but the human emotions we are dealing with defy their logic. What we face are the paisley pyjama bottoms of fallibility.

When Newmark said stick to the knitting; when Major famously talked about back to basics; both unintentionally touched on a deeper truth: that the knitting and basics are the messy human flaws and vulnerabilities we like to blame others for – problem families, feral youth, etc – but are best personified in the everyday actions of ourselves. I wouldn’t like to imagine what pyjamas the cabinet and its shadow wear each night, let alone who paid for them. The point is that it’s irrational for us to believe that we are led by saints whose only intent is to serve. Just as it is irrational for those in power to criminalise others for being in positions of poverty.

In my experience, charities deal with the faulty ‘knitting’ of family systems, politicians, social class and gender structures, and personal conflicts between ourselves, that have ‘stuck’ various people with intolerable challenges.  We must to get back to that fact.  The laws, values and habits that define the knitting patterns of our society and ego all need urgent renewal.  If pyjama politicians, sting-obsessed journalists and funding-obsessed charity leaders are not up to that task, then it’s time for someone else to take a lead. Who wants to shape a different tribe?  I so dearly do...

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