Friday 22 October 2010

We are all in this together; whether we like it or not!

With the release of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review the media is full of talks of cuts and speculation on how different social groups or individuals will be affected. Appropriately there is concern expressed across the media on how the poorer sections of society and particularly those on welfare benefits will fare as a result of these public spending reductions. However what I want to consider is not what these cuts will mean to your economic circumstances but how they will affect your wellbeing.
Unless you are living ‘of grid’ and totally removed from the wider society or as thick skinned as a Hippo, your wellbeing is likely to be compromised. Even if your circumstances remain unchanged you will be witness to others misfortune. Being social animals we find it impossible to ignore the sufferings of others, even if we choose to do nothing about it. So the prospect of significant job losses, removal of benefit entitlements and the loss of vital public services is surely going to leave all of us the poorer, emotionally if not economically.
This being the case, it begs the question why do we place so much importance on material wealth let alone remain fixated on evaluating ourselves on an individual basis. These cuts, we are continually told, are necessary to get our ailing economy back on track; to eradicate the deficit. But what measures are we putting in place to ensure we never again find ourselves in the position of having to impose so much misery on our fellow citizens? We need the economy to grow so we can then all enjoy prosperity and stability. But how is that going to be the case? Is that what we had before the current financial crisis? I have lost count of the number of recessions and economic upturns I have lived through, so why is this event any different? Surely we are just regrouping until the next crisis befalls us. The need here is not to rebalance the economy but to fundamentally rethink both how we organise it and what it is for.
It is a very basic concept; we live on a planet with finite resources and we are very well aware of that fact, but we persist with a system that is based on the premise that we can carry on growing our economy indefinitely with that very growth dependant on the everlasting supply of natural resources. It doesn’t make sense and it’s time we admitted it.
It is my belief that at the heart of this dilemma is how we value ourselves. We have confused material wealth with wellbeing and focus too much of our (non-renewable) energies on trying to attain it. But more importantly, it is not just the pursuit of wealth that matters. It is our relative wealth in comparison to those around us that is the most vital yardstick. Material wealth and material poverty are inexplicably linked and logically you cannot eradicate poverty unless you also eradicate wealth. It’s a battle we simply can’t win.
So what is needed is for us (as a society not just as an individual) to redefine what we mean by wealth and what it is we value in ourselves and others. That takes us back to the beginning of this piece where I suggested how we shall all be affected by the proposed spending cuts. As social animals what we should be valuing is how well we relate to our society. We gain much more from acting collectively than as individuals and it more than compensates for any compromise to our individual freedom. Most of the benefits we enjoy as humans come from our ability to cooperate and collaborate so why do we persist in measuring ourselves by such an arbitrary gauge as material wealth. The people we aspire to emulate should be those who enjoy the greatest satisfaction from their lives, not those who have managed to accumulate material wealth by whatever means.
We should value ourselves (and others) for how we contribute to our communities and our connectedness with our families, friends and neighbours. For as social animals, it is through this route we gain genuine wellbeing. In addition it is through this collaboration that we are most likely to create the opportunities that will take us toward the sustainable future we need to bring about to ensure our collective survival.
When I mention I am part of a Transition Initiative I am often asked what is ‘Transition’. Well for me it is that process that we must go through to reassess our value judgements and redefine what we mean by true wealth. While this will inevitably lead to some personal soul searching, this is not something we can do as individuals. We must share our thoughts and ideas and listen carefully to the thoughts of others. What may then emerge is a collective solution to the threats we face, which is based on a collective wisdom.

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