I heard a brilliant phrase today, from a Guardian article in which David Dimbleby comes out and criticises the British press for their extreme right wing bias and for blatantly discriminating against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Jeremy Corbyn has stood consistently for social justice in every speech and every act he has performed since taking up the mantle of leader and has been pilloried for it, in the press, by the Tories and even from the right wing of his own party.
LIke millions of people, the cynicism of politics has been getting me down for many years, the shift to the right, the shift away from social justice and social care to greed and self interest, the cruelty of central cuts to health, the erosion of human rights, the encouragement of racist narratives around immigration and terrorism, the denial of the environmental unsustainability of how we are living as a society and as a species.
Within all of this, Jeremy Corbyn has surfaced as a complete anomaly, with his spotless record on social justice and human rights, he has demonstrated he has consistently stood on the right side of history. Regardless of your political stance, no one can deny his integrity to living his own values and beliefs, including the creation of an inclusive democracy in which everyone has a voice, as evidenced by the Labour pre election manifesto which was co-created with party members and affiliated interest groups.
That he has been consistently ridiculed for this has baffled me. Why would you so viciously criticise someone who is clearly a good man? Disagreement is fine, but the relentless character assisination of someone who is plainly of good character and who wants the best for everyone has been hard to watch, and hard to understand.
But then, in the phrase ‘lazy pessimism’ I started to twig …
This phrase perfectly sums up the attitude, not just of many politicians, but of many members of the public who have lost faith in the ideals about justice, fairness, equality, care and citizenship which formed the post war consensus and led to universal rights to health, education and the welfare state. In fact, more than this, when we meet someone now who espouses these values we see them as extreme, or possibly mentally unbalanced.
Jeremy Corbyn is doing nothing more than standing for the values we signed up to after the second world war and led to the biggest flourishing of British society ever seen summed up in the 1960’s phrase ‘Britain never had it so good’ . But in 2017, following more than 30 years of moving further and further to a right wing ideology and the erosion of those universal rights, we are no longer community, no longer caring concerned citizens, we are no longer trying to make the world a better place.
We are, at best, surviving, trying to be the fittest in order to not be pulled down, trying to get what we can from an ever decreasing pool of resources and opportunities, watching those around us who are less able or less healthy, falling through the widening gaps the current ideology must inevitably create to feed the bottomless greed of the few.
There’s a wholesale amnesia, a denial of what is really taking place, and Jeremy Corbyn is one of the few people who is calling this out and really offering a choice – asking us to be conscious about what we really want our life, community and society to be about. We know what he stands for, but what do we stand for?
And this is not just Britain, on a global scale we are seeing the ravaging effects of our failure to stem the unrelenting greed of the few to amass all of the power and resources available at the expense of the many and of the planet which is seen as an infinite resource to be pillaged, rather than a delicate eco system on the brink of collapse.
And so when an older person shrugs and says ‘oh well, that’s just how it is these days’ . When a young person laughs at the idea that they should consider making a contribution to their local community. When senior managers implements cuts without consultation. When we have pangs of conscience about our consumption of resources but refuse to allow that feeling to guide our behaviour. When we are sceptical about the motives of those who stand for social justice, environmental change, a different way of doing politics, we are no better than the politicians who sneer at each other every day in Westminster.
We have become habitual cynics, or ‘lazy pessimists’ .
What are the implications of living the identity of the habitual cynic or lazy pessimist on our lives, our families, our communities, our organisations, our society and our planet?
I want to touch briefly here on the incredible work of Otto Scharmer and his team in MIT through ULAB – a free global participatory education platform that offers a model for co-producing social and organisational change through working in ways that are co-operative, empathic and intelligent about how we bring change about in an era of constant uncertainty and complexity.
The ‘U’ is a diagram for the journey we must take if we want change to be inclusive, effective, sustainable and beneficial for all. It requires we start at the top of the U by acknowledging our own beliefs, biases and agendas about the challenge at hand.
It invites us to connect with all parties – our colleagues, our fellow community members, service users, managers, leaders – anyone who has a shared stake in the problem or challenge in question and to adopt an attitude of inquiry with those people, holding back our own needs, feelings, beliefs, our own habits of judgement and our desire to fix or solve prematurely.
The learning tools for this journey are about deep listening, action inquiry, objective study and holding space for something new to emerge from the group process, to respect the intelligence of the collective and trust that what emanates from it will be greater than the sum of its parts.
This involves refusing to take control, refusing to dominate and lead from the front. It requires trust and the skills of collaborative leadership , a co-productive way of working quite different from our current paradigm of ‘charismatic leaders’ who masterfully take us forward with a powerful vision we can buy into .
In the U journey, we co-create the vision, we surface our most deeply held values and we design our actions in congruence with them, together. And we learn from what we do. We know we don’t know. We try things out. We evaluate how well our actions are serving us. We look honestly at the impact of what we are doing and change it if necessary. We are open, curious, and motivated not by winning, or dominating, or status or being right, or by fear of failure. We are motivated by our shared and earnest desire to make things work and to make things better. We are the opposite of cynical and pessimistic, we are open, we are willing to work together, across divides if necessary.
This is not pie in the sky. Millions of people have taken and are taking part in ULAB across 170 countries across the globe with thousands of projects or ‘prototypes’ being co-created which are about everything from new ways of delivering public services to how to ensure a clean water supply to a remote African village.
This is not media worthy of course, because our press prefers stories of ‘lazy pessimism’. We are encouraged to see hope, optimism and idealism as niaive, and people who are altruistic, socially engaged and differently motivated as strange or suspect.
In ULAB Otto talks about the voices of judgement, fear and cynicism which get in the way of us opening our minds and hearts to exploring options and considering different social possibilities.
How does this relate to my coaching?
Well, first of all it absolutely chimes with the work I have been doing on ‘values’ as the gateway point to action. When we are in touch with our values, we know what it feels like to move towards or away from them and can design our actions accordingly, in line with our true purpose, our conscience if you will. Described in dictionary.com as ‘
Secondly it resonates with my personal mission which is to work with an awareness of how the actions of individuals impact on the wider system – be that a relationship, a family, an organisation, a community or wider society. What we think and what we do has impact. We need to see that this is so and choose what we do in alignment with what we really believe to be important.
The inner and outer voices of cynicism and judgement – usually motivated by fear – are what gets in the way of us connecting with our true values and acting on them. Our beliefs in our own helplessness, or in the pointlessness of trying to have any affect on any aspect of life are what keep us powerless, passive and locked into ‘lazy pessimism’.
I am very interested to see how this election plays out as the values of both leaders – Corbyn and May – are held up to the light so we can see what they are really made of. I feel excited that something unexpected could happen, and wonder if a new kind of society, a new way of sharing power and involving people in decision making is possible.
I guess the example of ULAB has shown that it is possible, on a community or organisational scale. How amazing if Jeremy can pull this off, in the face of such adversity. To think, in 8 days time we might be on the brink of a new society which values all people and invites us to make a small sacrifice of comfort for the wider benefit. That is a society I want to live in.