Our Society

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I haven’t listened to Radio 5 Live’s morning phone in for quite a while. I gave in after one too many occasions on which it seemed simply to be inviting bigots to air their views in public.

I tuned in this morning however, and, to be honest, it hadn’t changed very much. However, one call really made me think, but probably not in the way the caller intended. The caller said this…. “.. What with the Jubilee, the Olympics and Euro 2012, this is the best year of our lives”.

I was staggered by that. Leaving aside the merits of any one of those events, I don’t want to get into that discussion, it made me think about what most people actually view as enjoyment and fulfilment. I can concede that, if you were a sports loving royalist who happened to be able to attend every Jubilee event, every Euro 2012 game, and all of the Olympics, then you’d have a pretty good time. However, I suspect the majority of people are not in that position, and yet, a lot of people seem to get caught up in some spirit of forced merry-making, because other people says it’s good for them. Now, I hope I am not a kill-joy, I enjoy a good party as much as the next person, and I actually attended some Jubilee events (in a professional capacity) where it was heart-warming to see communities coming together. I couldn’t help wondering, nevertheless, why it should take the celebration of an anniversary of a distant monarch to bring them together.

This led me to thinking about what it is that makes people feel satisfied, happy and fulfilled. For me, that comes from within, I wouldn’t dream of pinning my hopes of fulfilment on some state-manufactured celebration. Who are the kinds of people whose idea of a good time depends on what some authority has prepared for them? I am a firm believer that we create our own happiness, but, maybe I am in the minority. I makes me sad to think that there may be so many whose idea of happiness depends on whether or not their country is staging a major sporting event.

Perhaps it’s the same impulse that drives people to watch endless TV soap operas instead of getting on with their own lives, and to hero-worship celebrities as if some of their fame, fortune and fulfilment will rub off on them. Perhaps they are also the kind of people who read fantasy novels on the commute to the boring job rather than doing anything about the monotony of their own daily existence.

I hope this doesn’t sound glib, and I fully understand that there are many obstacles which stand in the way of people taking control of their own lives and reaching their destinies. That shouldn’t stop us trying, however. We all need our own little bits of autonomy. I believe we should all make our own happiness, and, where we can, we should do our best to help others do the same for themselves.

For me, the best times of my life are about things that I make happen; about sharing experiences with friends and family; and about myself and the people around me growing as human beings. We should live our own lives and make our own celebrations, not wait around for the Olympics or Eastenders to deliver for us.

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Comment by Jeff Mowatt on June 23, 2012 at 18:05

John, It was one of these events, Euro 2012, which really brought home the helplessness I feel in a personal struggle to "move the goalposts" on social enterprise. As I discovered, I was not the only one to see the contrast between what we going into a sporting event, compared with social causes.

Before anything else, earlier this month it was a conversation about the concept of 'Creating Shared Value'  on the Guardian's Sustainability Hub that brought me to ask Mark Kramer whether rather than seeing the opportunity to profit from solving social problems we might instead see the opportunity to deploy profit toward the social problem rather than focus on shareholder return. I offered the example of our paper with a primary purpose of reforming childcare, in Ukraine..

That was enough to have this and earlier comments removed and for me to be placed on moderation. It has been a persistent problem, with those who want to deny this issue media exposure . 

Marcel Theroux was then featured in a documentary on the street children in Kyiv, an aspect of our own focus. He asked - 'Why Isn't More Being Done?' I could explain that to him in great detail, if permitted.

I drew attention to the issue of prostitution. That of our politicians in the service of moguls who between them have offshored more than 53 billion dollars in the last 2 years.           

Finally this week on BBC4 Kate Blewett's documentary a 90 minute examination of the treatment of disabled children in Ukraine. The very issue that we'd raised 6 years ago and been defamed for since. Even back in 2006, it has meant it being removed from a BBC Community Action Network and worse since

This had been the cause to which my colleague, our founder,had given his life. He'd been dismissed, even after putting it right in front of the US Senate. With him, the lives of thousands of vulnerable children dismissed also.

I had failed to do what was needed to save him and these children and the feeling of helplessness came from what seemed to be obvious. I was not a media celebrity.       

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Comment by Mandy Hall on June 22, 2012 at 10:09

I think its called Inertia, John.  We've suffered from the same problem in our local community for years. I'm viewing this year as an opportunity to get balls rolling in my local area. Our local AAP was handing out some money to promote a 'Lets Join In' campaign - directly linked to the Jubilee and Olympics.  The troika of the local 'popular front' as we are becoming known as, wanted to apply for some money but came across the old stumbling block of venue until we approached a local school (with trepidation) where relations had been prickly for years. Suddenly, we are now going to be holding what will be the biggest event in the locality for years (if it comes off... looks at the rain clouds) and now we're discussing the future partnership work we can do in a very positive manner. 

People are fed up, they want a bit of glitter and those of us who are active in the community tend to get frustrated and tired as everyone else, if having a special party for the olympics / jubilee will get them fired up then why not?

The trick will be to keep the momentum going afterwards - our popular front is fired up to do that but hopefully we will have the community solidly behind us this time. 

Comment by David Reid on June 20, 2012 at 15:32

Having read your post I was somewhat surprised by your downbeat assessment of communities/people uniting around a cause, theme or an occasion. Yes, people should live their own lives and not through others or something, that said, its my view we should not rule out people finding one form of happiness whilst coming together with like minded people.  I would however, agree with your possible suggestion that in our society people/communities find it hard to communicate with each other unless there is a reason to do so.

Comment by Kim Townsend on June 19, 2012 at 14:25

Hi John! Interesting post. There's something actually that I like about the quote "this is the best year of our lives" - the collective "our" is as if we're one big community and these events are going to bring us all together around something which is happier than recessions and cuts and protests. I think that's quite a nice thing to think.

Isn't it OK to get some happiness from the fact that our country is staging a major sporting event? I know lots of people who are excited about the prospect of getting together with friends to watch it, and communities who are organising special celebrations around it. OK, they might not say it's the best year of their lives, but it does mean that they're looking forward to the summer with that in mind.

Isn't it really like any community event? My church is in it's 125th year and we've organised a programme of events to celebrate. I don't think any of us draw amazing levels of happiness just from the fact that our church building is 125 years old, but I would say that its a year in our communities' life that we'll remember because we've had a BBQ, and a Victorian themed ball, and a visit from the bishop etc etc. and we've all enjoyed ourselves, and strengthened friendships and community bonds.

Well, thats just my thought, that its OK to draw happiness from occasions that bring us together with other people. But I do understand what you are saying, and it is sad that some people lack role models and perhaps don't feel very fulfilled, and I guess all the endless hype and celebrity rubbish on TV doesn't help that (saying that I do watch some of the celebrity rubbish myself from time to time!).

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