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Self, other, group, system

A recurring thought over the last year has been the question of whether the work I do locally, on a voluntary basis, has any significant impact.  In my reflections on that, I have tried to be even handed and note that while there are problems in how patients and the public are involved and listened to – or not – I also have to look to myself.  Is there more I could or should have done?

However, as well as the perspectives of the self, or other, you can also view  the whole thing as a collectivity.  There are, perhaps, two aspects of this.  One is about point of view and focus.  It’s to stand outside the system and focus on it all, not just one part.  The other is about the way we are all subject to broader social and environmental forces: in that sense you can describe a group of people (meeting, organisation) as more than the sum of its parts (I’ve written about this before, here).  When both aspects combine, you tend to think not so much about blame or accountability but what is likely to happen next, under what circumstances.

One formulation of this sort of thinking is this:

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.

These different ways of thinking can apply at all levels, from a meeting through to the pandemic and how humanity deals with climate change.  We can blame governments (rightly) or ourselves (probably) but taking the collective view, we are more likely to ask why are things happening as they are?  What will happen next?  Is there anything that can change that trajectory.

So where are we heading?  I suspect we are at a point in a pattern of history similar to the 1930s.  Some bad things are likely to happen, probably one or more significant wars.  I had hoped the pandemic might take the place of such an event and allow us to have a ‘reset’.  Similarly, global co-operation to tackle climate change could play that role.  But it doesn’t appear it is going that way.  Perhaps we need the equivalent of another World War II before we have a Marshall Plan, United Nations and the welfare state.

But having thought about it from the collective point of view, it’s worth coming back to the individual perspective.  What can I do to create change whether through the impact of my own actions or influencing decision makers?


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