It’s history, not

In the late 80’s and early 90’s

I was proud to be part of a bold experiment.

The Level Best campaign invited disabled people, carers, professionals to get involved. To explain what they wanted to see from council services in Kirklees in West Yorkshire, taking in the conurbations of Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley and the surrounding rural areas.

It was small scale, focused on a specific community of interest and primarily about local welfare services.

It involved a reference group, not unlike an assembly, public meetings, focus groups, research questionnaires a range of techniques drawn from different professional and community approaches.

It resulted in significant local changes and showed how engaging people effectively brings real and lasting results.

There are many examples of how measures to promote people’s active participation can make a real difference in governance and the quality of our lives. We need to take these lessons to change the way our societies and their institutions work.

One such idea is presented here.

The constructive pressure from Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the opportunities afforded by adopting ideas such as citizens’ assembly and localised practical responses to our challenges will help us develop a more sustainable approach to life that can arise from the people themselves and provide opportunities that are different from traditional work models.

We need to think and act differently.

Unkindness

This situation is something of an analogy.

Manjula was the kindest person I’ve probably ever met yet she’d be let down badly by people throughout her life.

I also try to be kind and considerate and I’m beginning to realise it doesn’t work well when others are insensitive, thoughtless, can’t appreciate the ‘other’ and are ultimately unkind. I know, I know I’m a naive 63 year old.

I’m now isolated, in quarantine at home, the street is blocked by fencing on either side of my house, the washing machine is disconnected, I’m unable to shop. Lucie is confused and I can’t walk her. I’m disrupted.

Sowbhagya who works for me is also in a difficult situation quarantined with a sticker on her door confined to a postage stamp house separated from her son.

On the positive side I am in a comfortable home, received home deliveries, stocked up the freezer, Lucie is a street girl and can figure things out. I am extremely fortunate, there are people in terrible situations and have been for months. I should complain less and be sensitive to their situation.

This situation is however completely unnecessary and could have been avoided with a little thought and care.

Two weeks ago the owner asked if they could use the downstairs house for a couple of months. I readily agreed as we have no guests in the current situation. I use it but can manage. There’s one of me and counting the ground and first floor house it’s four bedrooms, library, two lounges you know the sort of thing. Help others, share it out.

The five members of family: grandparents, parents and daughter were living in an apartment in Bangalore and were concerned about the increase in the spread of the virus. At least one of them has underlying health conditions, and the elderly are from a vulnerable group. Once we discussed a few conditions primarily about looking after my stuff and complications about shifting the washing machine plus getting confirmation this was a temporary arrangement (many of my friends were suspicious it was a con to get back the houses) but I checked that one out specifically.

It was a hard thing to do emotionally. Manjula died a year ago. This is our home. She moved and properly set up the Mysore Bed and Breakfast when we took over the downstairs house around eight years ago. But I could so I should help. They could exclusively have the downstairs house with me and Lucie upstairs, separate entrances etc.

They moved in ten days ago.

The adult son of the owner who I deal with now informed me after six days, he’d been tested positive for coronavirus and would go into isolation in hospital.

The rest of the family and I were tested the next day. It seems that the only one other who tested positive was his daughter and she’s now with him in hospital.

Of course it’s just one of those things we have to deal with the best we can, everyone around the world has the same challenges. However, we’ve spent almost three months in lockdown being careful not to get the virus. That care paid off as we’ve had no cases in our layout Siddarthanager, until now, that is.

Now we have what seems to be a completely avoidable situation. Were they suspicious that they might be carrying the virus? Probably, otherwise, why go for a test the day after arriving?

If there was a suspicion a test should have been taken before shifting from Bangalore or gone to their isolated rural farmhouse rather than completely disrupting our lives.

It’s a practical problem but was quite an emotional pull letting them use the house. Manjula’s room was downstairs and for her last few months we created a lovely set up for her. This was her place I was letting go. I’d asked for her picture, the one on which we’d placed flowers every day for a month and then every month to be left on the wall. I discovered they’d taken it down and stuffed it in my storeroom down there. It’s now upstairs with five other pictures of her so maybe a bit over-the-top.

It’s now reflected, when I said at the beginning, kindness met by at the very least insensitivity, to me and my situation and to Manjula even after she’s gone. People don’t care for others enough.

The world is in a sorry state, we just don’t care. The virus, climate change and our responses are actually symptoms of that malaise.

Our world becomes smaller

Lucie couldn’t believe it. She’d adjusted to our road being closed because a neighbour was positive. Walking up and down the street, escaping via the park, squeezing through the railing at the road end. She could manage.

Now they’ve shifted the fence to enclose just our house and the neighbours. So Lucie’s patch is small and access to the park tied up.

I completely support them rearranging things so the whole street isn’t inconvenienced. But we’ve been tested and presumably found to be negative. We can only assume that as we haven’t heard from them.

The owners son Manu and his daughter who’ve tested positive are now in hospital.

We’ve spent three months being really careful. I’ve only been out to walk Lucie and cycle in the morning. So how’s this happened?

The owners family called me two weeks ago. The grand parents are elderly at least one with underlying conditions, Bangalore was getting more incidence of the virus, the dad was working from home and daughter not returning to school before September.

If it was available could they come and use the downstairs house? After some discussion mainly about looking after my stuff, (furniture, art, Manjula’s significant picture) I agreed. Happy to help out where I could.

Of course we didn’t expect to have the virus brought into the building (downstairs house). We just have to deal with it. Poor SB is quarantined in a small house and we have this hassle here. We’ll manage and try minimise the risk.

There is however two very annoying things.

He must have thought he may have had the virus before he came here otherwise why get a test the very next day. Thoughtless? Uncaring?

We’ve avoided the virus in the whole layout for months. Now it’s here some people will think it’s down the foreigner …… that’s annoying.

Manjula and I always tried to be kind, helpful and positive. I’ll leave the last word to Lucie.

Why does the foreigner

Save that old stuff

The neighbours think I’m bonkers and a joke.

Art work from every place in India is throughout the house. They can sort of understand that, but it’s not practical or functional.

Why save the wooden wheels, the cart sides, painted chairs?

I remember as a child, the horse drawn wagons, workshops repairing wheels and tailors in every town. They’ve all gone now.

We still have them here but they’ll go. In the eight years of mycycle tours the number of wooden ox carts being made at the workshop we visit has decreased by over eighty percent.

Hopefully some will recognise what is happening and work to preserve the heritage…, fab city, life affirming trees, characterful market, .. beautiful colourful women, skilled artisans there so much wonderfulness. , Otherwise in future years the neighbours will remember the crazy foreigner and realise he was right and understand what they’ve lost.

Social distancing

Social and physical distancing, our new normal, in this time of virus has different cultural implications here in India. For more, check this article

Manjula has helped illuminate, for me, something of the prejudice arising in society related to religion, caste, class, race, gender and colour. Aspects of this will feature in our story.

The virus and society’s response highlights those inequalities. This isn’t solely about two distinct groupings of the untouchables and the non- untouchables (savarnas) It’s far more complex and relates to a finely layered strata that’s not confined to Hindus and India.

The right wing shift experienced in most of our societies, does by its very nature exaggerate these differences for political advantage. The social, economic, political distancing is therefore a tool which we’re now reinforcing.

So here’s the next giant leap. This prejudice, elitism, separation of the haves and have-nots, call it what you will, is nothing new, fact is it’s obvious and everywhere and been here for aeons. It’s fundamental to all our societies but it doesn’t have to be.

The factor that connects all these seemingly dispirate disconnects is the way we organise ourselves, our hierarchy, dog eat dog mentality. It might have served us in the past (that’s debatable) but it (yes including brutal free market ways of organising focussing on growth regardless of consequences) is NOT fit for purpose.

It doesn’t serve our needs.

By ‘our’ I mean everyone and not just the self appointed master class or the people in the ‘developed’ countries and not just humans. Another interesting article in two parts here and here covers this.

It’s no accident that the poor in the UK have been demonised in recent decades to support and reinforce a range of political policies including ‘austerity.’

We’re in a sorry state, in so many ways which are clearly interrelated and need to realise it and act. We have opportunities now.

.

Says he, sitting on a balcony in south India who can’t even activate himself to do yoga.

Our separateness politically, economically, socially, spiritually is not sustainable. Rant over…..

And I’ve just found a New Yorker article helps illustrate aspects of what I’ve tried to cover.

Another article here helps illustrate how extreme this was traditionally in India and how a new ‘other’ forms

A community asset

In the USA some are concerned they may lose their publically owned postal service.

They’re right to be worried. It’s a social good that could be lost. In the early 90’s in the UK I recall conversations in social services about how services such as the postal service helped connect and create healthy communities. Individual posties, and refuse collectors and others who delivered to the home helped people feel less isolated and provide a safety net.

Well since those remembered discussions we’ve reduced costs of delivery, reorganised the services endless times, utilised technology, using a tremendous amount of effort and other resources. Why? To reduce the cost of the service to the consumer? No, it now costs more. Ok, to improve the service? No, there’s now fewer deliveries and more limitations. Well, is it better for the employee? That’s very subjective but I’m told that it’s not for a series of reasons. So why has there been so many ‘improvements’? In my view it’s to reduce operating costs, to increase profit potential and sell it off. And what happened? You know.

I write this as someone who’s family has worked in Royal Mail for many years and who’s worked as advisor on helping it to be a more responsible responsive organisation in terms of employee wellbeing.

So was privatisation a success? yes in terms of creating a profit for investors, and admittedly some limited income for government but in terms of being an asset to our community, in my view it’s not. We’ve lost the social value.

Storytime five

When the lovely Poppy my granddaughter was born I arrived one day with a boxful of picture books from when her father Ben and uncle Oll had been children.

Today’s stories are two from that collection by two of my favourite author/illustrators Michael Foreman and Anthony Brown.

I also like the books as they introduce issues that are important, whatever our age.

The first is dinosaurs and all that rubbish by Michael Foreman

The second is a walk in the park by Anthony Brown

Games people play.

Annoying things in India

I often explain on a cycle tour how much I love India, at something like eighty percent. I have after all chosen to adopt India as my home and married a beautiful Indian woman. However there is fifteen percent I can take or leave and maybe five percent that’s ugly that, I hate. That last bit includes the violence and aggression but also milder forms of behaviour. Examples of this might be Babu’s giving you the run-a-round or businesses not understanding customer care.

In my view this results from the extreme hierarchy and the deference expected of people. It’s reinforced in the home, at school or college and at work. Do what you’re told and don’t question things. Know your place and don’t challenge the way things are, seems to relate to caste.

Even in the simplest of situations it feels like your treated like a child.

Today was a case in point. It might seem a simple thing, and insignificant but I think its part of that overall problem. I’ve investigated this and now realise all the mobile phone companies are the same.

I’m at the Airtel shop, I’ve gone as my phone is not working, I’m told that the SIM card was faulty and needed replacing. For them to issue me with a replacement I need ID. I have a copy of my passport on the iPhone and after some kerfuffle get a print out. Sorry sir we need to see the original hard copy.

I’ve been a customer for maybe over 7 years. It was the number used by Manjula so is very significant and sentimental. I’ve provided my ID to set up my account, it’s on their system THEY KNOW WHO I AM but still they require an established customer to prove who they are but it MUST be the actual document. Just to get a replacement SIM card for the faulty one. This will be my fourth trip to the Airtel shop. Inconvenience sir, no problem.

I object to the employees but they treat us as children because that’s how they’re treated by their managers. Who can blame them? Employees are expected do as they’re told and not question things. Treat people like children, they’ll behave like children and not take responsibility.

For years I’ve delivered workshops in London and a roadshow for TATA that’s about empowering employees to make decisions to be able to innovate, be creative and focus on creating a quality customer experience.

That’s not valued here and is nigh on impossible to create in a system that prioritises deference, doing as you’re told and not in any way thinking for yourself.

Sad.

My tolerance levels are diminished since Manjula died. She’d just laugh at me.

 

UPDATE

I went back to the Airtel shop with my ID card, fully annoyed but relatively calm. The new SIM was issued and installed by me later that day. Just don’t ask about the need to install it in a simple-smart phone before finally installing it in a smart-smart phone. BUT it still didn’t work so on my 5th trip back to the Airtel shop they’ve admitted that the SIM card and the rigmarole in visits 3 and 4 we’re unnecessary. I’m told it will be working by tonight. What lessons I can take from all this, I’ve no idea and I’ve lost the will to live.

New thinking

I’m from a disunited kingdom (formerly known as the U.K.) . It’s a toxic mix of failing system and careless immoral politicians accentuated by austerity policies and the acute damage of Brexit.

If seen through the eyes of those outside (yes that includes me) the situation has fluctuated between sadness, spontaneous laughter, pity and unbelievability.

But we shouldn’t despair. As a lifelong believer in the glass is half full it surely provides an opportunity for difference to emerge. We might yet escape Armageddon and The Age of Khali but we must present progressive alternatives in Britain and around the world. I’m encouraged by three things I’ve recently read or listened to….

Reinventing organisations

Eckhart Tolle’s Awakening and podcast with Oprah

A recent article in the Guardian about a progressive approach to democratising the economy!

More info can be found here, here and here.

All of which point in a similar reinvention direction about both personal, organisational and societal change involving localising and engaging people.

Maybe new age thinking, levels of awareness and consciousness, point to areas where we can change. In my view it’s imperative that we do and challenge the demagogues and extreme right wing shifts.