Changing yourself

In order to change others, you first need to change yourself. Unless, of course, you’re already perfect.

Now I can’t believe that I’m the only person to commit the first part of that quotation to paper and I’m not even sure that’s its true for everyone. Yet I do feel that effecting change comes with more power when it comes from those who’ve experienced the problems that the proposed change deals with and have, thus, been part of that change themselves.

I mention the perfect bit as, like some other men, I used to feel that I was so. Literally, maybe, but not in reality. It was, indeed, a cover which allowed me to behave less well than I should have, especially in my relationships, while thinking that what the other people got in return excused that behaviour. It took me many years of therapy and the self service version that is now a normal part of my psyche, to change something that I was, in fact, extremely reluctant to change. It was the other side of the coin and I thought that changing the face of the coin meant changing the obverse. I now realise that it didn’t and I and my relationships are the better for it. Moreover, it has helped me to do things that I always wanted to but never dreamt that I could. In my case, writing, with my first book published and the second to be published before Xmas. The latter, “The Other Side of the Doors” will be launched at Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town in January. Who would have thought, when I worked in my first charity job in the 1970’s and used to frequent Owl, that I would be making use of it in this way? Change can certainly be good for you. The important part of change, however, is whether it is imposed or, worse still, arbitrarily imposed, or whether you are part of the process. Which brings me, in my usual roundabout fashion, to my topic this week.

In the 1980’s, Will Hutton described a 30/30/40 society. One in which 30% of the population were fairly wealthy, 30% not too badly off and 40% were very poor. Thirty years later and the reality is worse than he described and, seemingly, getting more entrenched. Indeed, it is now official. This current generation of young people will be worse off than their parents. The first time that this has happened that anyone can remember and beyond. It is also now admitted that work is no longer a way out of poverty and even John Major has said that privately educated men dominate our public and business life. Yet, in the same week, research was published to show that, once social factors are stripped out, a private education provided no better (and sometime a less good education) than the state variety. Perhaps what you get from a private school is a social network that will stand you in good stead for later life. When you look at the upper echelons of the present government (one of the less competent ones in my lifetime) you cannot help but feel that that is true. Could it be any different? Of course it could. As I continually remind people, the future hasn’t yet happened. Indeed, as one of the lucky generation, who were, in my view, the recipients of over 200 years or progress, to our parents, we were evidence that it could be. This can probably be traced back to the Midlands Enlightenment during which working people, through institutions they created and controlled bettered themselves as never before. In doing so, they played an active role in creating a civic society of no little vibrancy.

We can do this again and need to if we are to slow down this relentless rush to the bottom. Except, of course, for that small percentage at the top who, bear in mind, have more in common with similar people in other countries than they do with the fellow citizens of their own. Last week John McDonnell, a Labour MP, talked of setting up a Peoples’ Parliament. More power to his elbow.

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