After a solo walk of 900km a few years back, walking through England and France, I came away with the pervasive sense that we routinely give our power away.
I tried to write a book about it, a kind of self-development book, but all my words just seemed so clangingly familiar, and shallow. It seemed impossible to write a sentence that didn’t sound like a cliché. It kept falling apart in my hands.
I thought maybe a story, a work of fiction, may have the chance to convey the same thing but with more chance of being read and engaged with. Perhaps it’s only story that has the chance to cut through. But as I wrote it, I saw myself joining the realm of entertainment, as one has to leave reality behind to write a story people will publish and people will read.
Nothing wrong with entertainment of course. Life can sometimes feel like one stressful day after another, and it can be a hilarious comedian or a Netflixathon that sees us through. Our lives are deeply enriched and expanded by the entertaining delights of music and poetry and art, in all its forms, and our education draws on the great artists who, whilst entertaining on some level, could touch the timbre of the times and reveal the deeper truths of who we are or are in danger of becoming.
But are we not in danger of distracting ourselves into oblivion? Forgetting who we are? What social achievements we are capable of, when we work together? As far as I can see, too many of us are swallowing the deeply disturbing peddled narrative that 'there’s no point'. We are losing what we are not using. We are losing our critical faculties. People are taking advantage of our mass collective disengagement in the pursuit of riches, power and influence, with reckless disregard for the health of our societies and our shared home.
Despite the challenges of writing fiction, with this mindset, I have tried nevertheless to walk the tightrope of an entertaining read and a deeper one, and The Journey of Water is the (near-finished) result. Dear me, who knows if I have succeeded. I really don’t know. I will learn soon enough.
But I have been struggling with this fiction writing endeavour, in terms of the creation of yet another 'distraction'. No doubt someone smarter than me will sit me down and point out where my reasoning is flawed. But for the moment, from where I sit, far too many people join, or attempt to join, the ranks of storytellers, while far too few people walk the world of reality, see with clear eyes and say it like it is, and try, with others, to help improve the world around us. And routinely, if the latter are in public life, they are ridiculed, by us.
The politics we deserve
I have been travelling around England of late, caught in the farcical world of conveyancing chains, working remotely whilst waiting for my home. I have been shocked by the countless people I have met who rattle off abuse about someone in public life and when you ask them about what they are saying, it is clear they have thought very little about it.
Every time we criticise thoughtlessly and publicly a politician, or a known person in public service, we turn off good people from joining their ranks, and help to perpetuate society’s ill-health. If we have young children, they are learning from us, and may amplify our effect.
If one spends a day or two in political life, or joining an effort to address an issue of public concern, one rapidly learns that societal problems are complex. They do not fit neat little ideological boxes or soundbites. They require well-led, thoughtful, well-informed, diligent, collective effort over time to improve. There can be many challenges and setbacks. There are rarely quick and easy 'wins'. Anyone prepared to roll up their sleeves and engage, regardless that they may, in the end, have themselves limited impact - but they sign up nevertheless - deserve at the very least, our respect. Yes they'll make mistakes, just like you and me. But when you dump on them thoughtlessly, you signal to everyone who is listening that it's acceptable to do that - you contribute to the toxicity of public life.
As we’ve been warned before, we get the politics we deserve. We get the governance we deserve. If you sit on the fence and throw stones, don’t be surprised if the town slides down the hill, along with everything you do care about.