Much has been made of volunteering in the Coalition Big Society. Probably best described as confusion on how it is funded through plundered ‘dormant’ bank accounts, to how we are all supposed to find the time to volunteer to run this country whilst the politicians work out a way to pay back money “we” have borrowed. Culminating in a relieved glee that even the dude assigned to voluntarily oversee this, Lord Wei, couldn’t hack it and was off to make some cash and spend time in the real world.
I have to admit that the half an eye I was keeping on this was basically relieved that I was not still expected to set up a local school in my spare time; most people I knew had no idea what the Big Society idea was – still – but revelled in the Wei irony anywei.
However, a funny thing happened on my way to Tescos. Whilst regaling my family about this apparent nail in the coffin of Big Society, I started thinking about how the Big Idea had actually properly affected me. How I had actually become more aware of my civic duty. How I did actually realise that although it had been a big government theory that couldn’t possibly work – it had made me more aware of my own responsibility as a person living and working in a struggling country. I had actually changed a bit of my behaviour. I was more aware of those around me. Through Martha Lane-Fox’s constant cry to help those with no digital experience get online so that they could benefit in some small way (digital being my field I widened my horizons… to my elderly neighbour who is hugely active in our local community but can’t work her computer, to my daughters’ schools who struggled with teaching IT), also to my own business in Rewired State, how we could continue our fight for a transparent society into perhaps helping coders of a different generation understand simple things they could do to support this in the large perceived evil organisations they had given their careers to. I am definitely more aware of my very local community, in a tiny way, but does that matter?
Then an even more inconsequential thing happened. I was reading a book where someone volunteered to help on a crime – yes it was a novel and one of those designed to help you sleep well by providing nice short chapters – nevertheless I had a lightbulb moment when I realised that we all sacrifice a bit of our lives to help others anyway, most of the time without thinking.
I have no idea why this sentence in a made up bit of prose nudged my silly brain into a very small realisation, but it did, and the realisation is this: big, brave government statements/policies, that seem to carry an ambition way beyond the reality a democratic society can deliver, are perhaps not actually meant to be delivered as reality. Sometimes, perhaps, the point is to cause disruption, to cause people to cry “Impossible”, to make people work to disprove the theory. If only 1% of those change their behaviour – even if they are completely unaware of doing so, then life may become a little easier for a number of other people, who may then change their behaviour – and so on.
Then I saw how actually irrelevant it was that Lord Wei had said or done anything – I did not know who he was before today anyway but I knew of Big Society ambitions. The point is that some of us are thinking differently, and those few will affect a few who will affect a few &c &c. It’s not going to win a war or make a massive PR-able difference, but it will change a significant number of daily lives. And that is worth it.