How to live (properly and well) in the 21st Century

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Why do we get the urge to publicise our private emotions and relegate our family and friends to cameo roles while we worry over the ups and downs of reality show characters or celebrities to fill the void of emptiness and loneliness? Why do we try as much as we can to act out a role, convinced that what we consume defines how successful we are, how independent we are, how worthy we are of attention?

Because it’s what we respond to best. Because deep down, we prefer the conformism of running the rat race like a hamster on a spinning wheel and the standardised consumption of “keeping up with the Jones”. We prefer the quick fixes of consuming, because we fear freedom – the freedom to be what we want to be rather than what we think others want us to be – embracing our complexity and tolerating our contradictions, doing things for the pleasure of doing them without calculating how we appear to others.

Whether it is our libraries or our post offices closing, our parks or our open spaces and other things not being looked after anymore, what can help us recover through the recession in a way that builds collective spirit and social solidarity?

The Big Society should not come from above, directed and “ordered” from government and enforced, basically, in that they cut services and then say “if you want them kept open you have to provide the people to run them”.

In some of our towns and cities this is happening even as far as the repair of potholes in the roads is concerned and the cleaning of the sidewalks. People, council tax payers, when complaining to the council, were told that they could have brooms and such provided to do it for themselves. The council, they were told, did not have the money to do it.

Having said that, when you look at our continental European neighbors, such as and especially Germany it is the norm there for the people to sweep and keep clean the sidewalk in front of their homes, etc. In fact, it is a legal requirement and that also extends to keeping the path free of ice and snow in winter. No one complains about it; they just get on with it, and often in neighborly cooperation.

Parks and open spaces can, indeed, to some degree, be run with, though I hasten to add not (entirely) by, volunteers and it will actually be one great way to involve the entire community of users, maybe even the young people, often referred to as YOBs. Doing some volunteering in the parks and open spaces of their neighborhood may, actually, give them a sense of ownership, but also of belonging and self-worth.

I do believe that many of our young people who do cause problems suffer from despair and a serious lack of self-worth and self-confidence, even though they act as if they have all the self-confidence in the world.

It is, I think, to some extent our serious consumerist society that is causing our ills, including the YOB culture and such like. In fact, I think that it is more than just to some extent; I believe the majority of our society's ills can be laid at the door of consumerism. And it is not just us, as people, who are to blame for this consumerism. Nay, it is our very governments.

We are told to go and spend, spend, spend, our way our of the recession, despite the fact that that does not work and we are told that we need this or that new and then to recycle what we no longer want.

Goods, that is to say, products, are no longer made to be able to be repaired, with very few exceptions, and everything has an obsolescence of a year to three factored in. If things work on after that you are lucky, and then things break down, as said, they cannot be fixed; they are made thus.

Things need to change and I do not mean here only things in a physical sense, as in products and goods, but the way we live, the way we travel, where we work and live, and how we interact with one another, and how we take care of our community assets.

It is time that we got off the idea that government has to do everything for us. In fact, I do not even think that that is a good idea for government to do everything for us. There are many things that volunteers and we, personally, can do things as well, maybe even better, than can government.

The most worrying sentence in the English language, as far a myself and many other people are concerned is “I am from the government and I am here to help you.” It also makes us dependent on and slaves to and of the system.

While I am the first to want to keep the welfare state – in its basic and original form – that we have in Britain there are many things where government has no place in our lives and many places where we, as people, individuals or groups, should get things done ourselves which we demand at present that the government do.

Time for some real changes and those changes begin with us and must come from within us...

© 2012