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Towards an Holistic Democracy

Author: Marion Turner-Hawes

Thoughts for 2017

What a whirlwind we've experienced this year. I feel numb, dumbstruck; I also feel this cloud lurking on the horizon as I wonder how we will react and cope with our fear, our excitement or our anger as we approach this year of uncertainty.

So much is bubbling away beneath the usually calm and composed British exterior. Our structures, our lawmakers and enforcers, our civic leaders, governments and officials usually hold it all together and give us reasons, structures to believe in, but these are changing. Many of us are beginning to question everything.

In the UK we largely live our lives through consent: consent with our laws, with the Police, following a common set of values, of rules. We might not always agree on all of these but, as Jo Cox said, there is so much more that binds us than divides us. But for some of us finding that commonality with each other is proving increasingly difficult. Our anger at change, at poor decision making or, most of all, of being forgotten, feeling unrecognised or unheard, is driving us to question and to challenge the people and structures that have traditionally governed in our lives.

MPs seem powerless to effect change, even if they are reliable. Local councils are now starved of resources and often funding seems to target, not the many, but narrow projects for the benefit of the few. I suggest we are fast approaching a time when many good folk of Communities and of Nations, will soon ask the question: What is the point of any of this? We pay them money, but how are they actually serving our needs? How are they enabling the many, us, and not just a handful, to succeed? 

Some of us are realising that the 'survival of the fittest model' really has no place in a society of nearly 70 million people.

As they preside our ever-decreasing funds, providing ever-reducing services, for ever-diminishing numbers of people, it becomes ever-harder to have our voices heard and to influence change. I think that our reasons for believing in these old systems of governance and decision-making will soon collapse completely. As Government's direct funding of local Councils is set to reduce to zero in the next few years, we could be forgiven for asking: Why do we need these structures? What benefit are they actually bringing to our communities, and to us. And if we don't need them as they stand, why should we use our hard-earned money to pay for them.

It often surprises me that those in 'power' never see just how corrosive it is to our principles of collective consent for them to constantly seek to control all opinions and thoughts and to close down any expression of decent or alternative perspectives. And, with the very existence of our Councils under question, who from among us will vote for their reprieve when the time comes? 

And believe me, if we carry on in this direction, it will come.

But the crisis isn't just for them, really it is for us. Increasingly many more of us want our say, or conversely, feel less interested in the role of councils or even Government. After all, what effect do they have on our lives. For as they say: 'No matter who we vote for we always get 'the Government' or 'the Council'. 

But amidst all this cynicism we are forgetting our own role in society and in our communities.

I have a strong faith in us. I believe we are decent people. I also know we are very capable and that we can surprise ourselves, and those in 'power' when we step forward - not only to demand - but to create more. 

At the heart of our society is one reality that we need to come to terms with, as we strive to learn how to thrive together, and from which there is no escaping. The many millions us in this country, and many billions in the world. And we aren't going anywhere else. It is crucial that we learn how to live together, and make progress together.

As citizens we have rights and responsibilities. In recent years many of us have become clearer about our rights, but not enough of us accept our responsibilities with the same rigour. This is a shame, because the moment we learn how to celebrate that we have responsibilities is also the moment the greatest gift to human beings, becomes reality - the gift of choice

If we continue to step away from 'taking' and 'owning' responsibility then we rob ourselves of the things that many of us really want: the right and the ability to craft the kind of lives we dream of - to be powerful in our own lives.

It's the moment we stop waiting for the 'powerful' to hear us, and start to discover our own power and how to use it. The most powerful position in a car is being in the driving seat; being in the passenger seat or the back seat might afford you an opinion or even the opportunity to direct, but the ultimate choice and control lies with the driver, the person taking the responsibility to lead. So how do we all get to be in our own 'driving seat', and how do we chose where we are driving to all at the same time, without crashing into each other?

And, 'if we all choose to 'be in charge', how on earth are we going to learn how to live together, surely it would just be chaos?

Well I don't think so, because at the heart of this challenge is us, and we all have a great deal in common. We all need to have a roof over our heads, food to eat, a way of keeping warm; we need company, to feel loved and cared for and to feel safe; we need to have a sense of belonging, to be valued and to be able to contribute; and finally we all need to be heard and have our needs met. And magically, the only people who can help us do this is us. As one slogan declares: 

"We are the people we are waiting for."

No person is an island and even in our wonderful diversity, and, at times, our great separateness, the one thing we all long for is also us. Our only challenge however (and it's the big one) is how to learn to live well, respectfully and compassionately together so we all get to thrive - not just a handful of us?

A society where just a few of us get to control everything, hold on to most of the resources and throw a few scraps for 'the others', won't cut the mustard any more. We are beginning to realise that the present systems are not fair, not efficient and not effective at helping all of us meet our needs. And we are increasingly realising that we don't have to accept these inequities any longer.

The challenge though is that we still haven't quite worked out that real change isn't about choosing 'him or her' - i.e. someone else who we perceive to be powerful and then chucking our lot behind them.

The challenge is to choose us and realising that each of us is powerful, particularly when we choose to accept that we are responsible for meeting our own needs, not anyone else, and that given our many skills and abilities, we are well capable of doing this, particularly when we choose to do this together.

This is not just because 'a good idea', it is something that actually works, and the rewards can be wonderful - - so much better than the present 'aloneness' that so many of us are experiencing.

So maybe all this chaos we are living through is the birth-pangs of the 'adult' in each of us, coming to the fore. Perhaps we can create not a 'representative' democracy where others speak for us, and where we have to influence them to get our needs met, but instead an holistic democracy where all are heard and we all take part, share and work together, to co-create communities, where we are all valued and we all are able to flourish by cherishing each other.

This is my dream for 2017, and given the way many of us fear our world is moving, I know this is the vision I want to give my energy to creating. How about you?


The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Towards an Holistic Democracy © Marion Turner-Hawes 2017.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.