Some of my best friends are grown ups

I often quote an exchange, many years ago, between myself and Dave Snowden in which Dave accused me of being anti-religious evangelicals while at the same time being evangelical about my own world view. My response was that I don’t want people to think what I think. I just want them to think, to talk to each other about what they think, and by doing so we will end up somewhere exciting. Not maybe where I thought we were going, but that’s cool because we will have all worked it out together.

You may also have noticed my disparaging use of the phrase “grown ups”. This is my shorthand for those in positions of power and authority who take themselves too seriously, lose connection with those they serve, and increasingly are losing the plot as a result. It is also the tendency to assume the role of grown up in relationships, to infantilise the other person, reminding me of a favourite phrase “to rescue someone is to oppress them”. Things go wrong when some of us think we know better what is good for others than they do themselves.

When I was in Bangkok I went for a long walk around the city, walking along canal sides and rail tracks where people live in desperate poverty. But they were smiling and chatting and setting up stalls to sell food or do laundry and kids were playing with their dogs in and around the rail tracks. I felt safe the whole time and enjoyed the buzz and energy. I contrasted this during the workshop I was speaking at for the UN with the glass and steel tower we were in, full of people in suits perpetrating the myth that without the grown ups maintaining order and structure we would fall apart. It is not true, we don’t fall apart, and frankly the world of the grown ups can be pretty scary and unpleasant, or at the very least dead and lifeless.

My fantasy is a world where we all operate as autonomous, self directing cells in the greater organism of society. Sensing and adjusting on the basis of our own moral compass which we refine and adjust as we experience challenges and changes. Tolerant of the other cells around us doing the same thing we self correct and accommodate changes in our networks but move towards healthy and productive outcomes individually and collectively.

I’m bracing myself now for the grown ups saying “Ah but who defines healthy and productive? We need an overall framework, some sort of ‘ism’ or ‘ology’”. Do we? Don’t we all know when we are happy and at peace both individually and collectively? Don’t our problems stem from allowing others, marketers or religions, to tell us what they think will make us happy and manipulating us as a result? Might we not get on a lot better if we all grew up, took responsibility for ourselves and each other, thought more and talked more about what we are thinking and why?

This is all I hope for and work towards as I truly believe it is our only chance…

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