One of the mantras of Big Society is that we all need to find time to do more, to give more, to help others more.
Now we can moan about this being poorly timed, or a fig leaf for cuts or whatever. But this misses the real point.
Which is that, in my book, it completely misunderstands the nature of community, why we need it and how it helps. It seems to go against the grain of human nature and millenia of evolutionary biology. Because for most of us, most of the time what motivates us to act is our own self interest. How we make things better for ourselves and our loved ones.
Most communities don’t develop as expressions of human kindness and generosity. They don’t build around some desire to ‘place make’. Or around shared public statements of values, intent and belief. Congregations maybe. And cults. But not real, diverse, vibrant communities. There are plenty of ‘place making consultancies’ that tell us otherwise, and politicians who really value compliance over powerful communities. But real communities (as opposed to planners confections) develop as a social response to a multiplicity of self-interests being negotiated.
Real communities develop because they help their members to live the kind of lives that they want to lead. They are a human evolutionary response to attaining a competitive edge. To help us survive and then with good fortune, thrive. Community helps members to explore their potential and develop their lives as they would wish.
So the starting point for the process of community building is not finding more time to help others (laudable though this is) or philanthropy or some demonstration of social responsibility. It is a thorough understanding of self interest; of the kind of life you wish to lead and the potential that you wish to develop. As this becomes clear so to will those with whom you have to make common cause, with whom you have to co-operate and perhaps compete.
And as you start to understand that your self interest can only be met in relationship with others, and they understand the same then the development of vibrant and real community, as opposed to some Orwellian fiction that ‘shapes character to that chosen by the electorate’.
Which is why I advocate, as the starting point for community development, not community organisers, but community coaches, who help people to clarify their own self interest and to build their power. Which they nearly always do by building their networks and relationships. And once we have a critical mass of people pursuing their self interest with power and compassion through constructive engagement and association, lo and behold, we have a community with oomph, with enterprise. We have ‘Big Society’.