These days you hear a lot of talk about the ‘new normal’ or ‘nothing’s normal’ or some variation of ‘things will never be the same again’. That is true. But then that has always been true even in uninteresting times. Everything is always changing. Sometimes it takes a massive global event for us to see it though.
At the moment, though, it seems that the direction of travel for change and for those influencing change isn’t positive and isn’t pushing us towards a more inclusive, equitable world. While a spotlight has been shining on the #BLM movement, in the shadows LGBTI+ rights have been curtailed in Poland, Chechnya, Russia, and counting. The UK is preparing to strip Trans people of their rights. China has brought in legislation for Hong Kong that contradicts its international agreements, and has continued its expansion of artificial islands in the South China Sea. The US continues to act aggressively towards its own population (especially women and minorities) and other countries for personal political gain. Brazil refuses to curtail the deforestation of the Amazon.
In many countries the space for civil society, social discourse, advocacy and engagement is shrinking with new laws and restrictions being imposed on NGOs, charities and other civil society organisations.
Does it seem like I’m painting a bleak picture of the world? A good crisis is never wasted by those who have something to hide. But a good crisis is also the time when we can rise up to the challenge. I personally know many colleagues who have engaged with their communities to strengthen the community response to Covid-19 despite the instructions of government (which is often inappropriate or inadequate for the actual need on the ground). Many organisations have had to reconsider what is essential and focus on those most in need, along the way finding many more people that are willing to help and willing to engage in community mobilisation. We will need community mobilisation as we tackle the harder challenges of frayed social cohesion; villages, towns and cities coming apart at the seams because of decades of underinvestment; increasing deprivation and widening inequality. We will need to reconsider what it means to be social impact organisations or indeed what civil society is. As the Covid-19 pandemic rumbles on and shifts into the Covid-19 recession (or depression?) much of what we once took for granted will fall away and we will also see that our economic, political and constitutional structures are not quite as permanent as we once thought they were.
So what to do to keep making sense of what’s going on around you?
- Remember your principles and values: everything will be tested these days and keeping your own moral compass facing in the right direction is crucial to survival
- As what we do changes and as how we do things change, remember your ‘why’ (thanks Simon Sinek): What’s your purpose or goal? Remember there might be many different routes to achieving your goal and when there is so much changing in the world, be prepared to reconsider ways to achieve what you want (remember no Theory of Change has simply one route to it)
- Scan the horizon: As I mentioned last week it is important to pay attention and not to panic. Keep an eye on what’s coming over the horizon, either as an opportunity or a threat.
Finally remember this: these might look like dark days, but they are not. It’s all in your attitude (which is in reality the only thing we actually can control): how you approach any situation is important to whether or not you are successful. And if we can be successful at building social cohesion during a time of great change, the worlds that we want to live in will be stronger and kinder places.