Indignance and intolerance; useful values?

…this week a community led initiative in South West Cumbria called the Millom Alliance won an award for creating a communications campaign that helped the community address a very real and incredibly thorny problem. A perfect storm of circumstances had conspired to threaten the delivery of health services for the people of this remote, rural and spirited Cumbrian town. As is so often the case, the storm became a catalyst for positive action and change. As politicians would say, “The crisis was not wasted”.

STEAM-13But of course before politicians become interested enough to get involved, the beginnings of many good things and of much great change are forged in heated often torrid fires of indignance, anger and mounting intolerance. Sometimes starting at the individual level but ultimately growing to groundswells across communities and geographies. If you think of many of the great reforms or step changes in societies, the abolition of slavery, the fight against racism and the campaign of the suffragettes, the qualities of anger, indignance and intolerance have played a central mobilizing role. I can only imagine that as Emily Davison threw herself under the Kings horse just over a hundred years ago, she was not thinking “should I do this or perhaps write a short white paper outlining the opportunities available to society through a process of female emancipation”. I’m guessing she’d realised the time for action was now. The marching on the streets and the forging of the Millom Alliance arose in no small part due to mounting anger across the community that Public Services were becoming unable to provide the services the towns people needed and deserved, and intolerance of the potential future scenarios that local people saw as being completely unacceptable. The steam was coming out of Milloms ears and they were simply not prepared to be ignored any longer.

There needs to be room for righteous anger and intolerance in societies and institutions. The famous parable of Jesus and the money lenders in the temple is probably one of the earliest examples of the value of anger and intolerance; maybe the middle and working classes should have drawn upon this example in our more recent financial past! But moving on swiftly, the bible doesn’t say that Jesus was “slightly miffed” or that he subsequently wrote a letter to his local council or even drafted a quick blog post (note to self)…he was just downright angry and left no-one in any doubt about this. More avid readers of the bible will tell you that his behaviour shouldn’t be viewed literally or seen as an excuse for radical action and moreover the complexity of the scriptures means that the bible is quite naturally full of contradictions, and every one of them is true…yes, I’m still figuring this one out as well! But if the bottom line is that Jesus kicked seven shades of silly out of the money lenders tables, then I’m good with that…lets not over analyse the analogy in our attempts to avoid action.

Passion is often cited as a desirable thing to have in ourselves, our loved ones, friends and colleagues. If you watch any sort of competitive sports activity you will find yourself applauding or decrying the presence or absence of passion in the participants. Fans and pundits alike always talk about the team or the individual that “wanted it more” as being the one that prevailed. Passion and desire it would seem, are desirable qualities when it comes to achieving things. But the online definition of “passion” (all hail Google) is “a strong and barely controllable emotion”. I don’t know about you but I’ve yet to see a job description or role in public office that calls for the requirement to possess strong and barely controllable emotions. Perhaps President Clinton was just misunderstood in the exercise of his strong and uncontrolled emotions.

But the future has and always will belong to the discontented and as Margaret Mead put it, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

So here’s to community, here’s to Millom, here’s to spirit, here’s to people power, here’s to passion, here’s to some well directed and positively channelled indignance and more than just a healthy smattering of intolerance and here’s to going some way to proving, again, that Thatcher was wrong when she said there was no such thing as society, if society is the sum total of our individual relationships, families and communities, then it would seem that when the rubber hits the road there is little else of value other than society.

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