Our Generous Society


“What is the best thing about being blind?”, I asked a twelve-year-old young man, blind since birth. “Reading under the bedclothes”, he said. “And the worst?” “Not being able to ride a bike”. Through shopping and cinema trips and a few games of chess, we had got to a point of understanding and trust that allowed such direct questions. Separately, we were helping with remedial reading for some young people with behavioural difficulties, some very troubled. There came a moment of sudden insight: blow the uphill battle of structured remedial reading! Putting these guys on the front of a tandem bike could give their blind peers the thrill of their lives…and, if we are not mistaken, a few of those who cannot see will wax lyrical about reading. It worked an absolute storm.

 

The variety of the voluntary activity across the Blackmore Vale is astonishing. On the environmental ticket, just this year and despite Covid, I have witnessed path, pond and river clearing, litter picking, Himalayan Balsam eradication (wet and messy), bracken bashing (fun but exhausting), stile mending and tree planting. There is a myriad of governing, managing, coaching, remedial, mentoring and guidance roles and projects provided by volunteers in schools, clubs and places of worship. Help and support for the lonely, the less able and the elderly is also delivered daily by a legion of volunteers. The gifts of time, knowledge, understanding and spirit by so many are truly generous. 

I am struck, though, by the lack of generosity when society acts en masse. As soon as there is the whiff of a shortage, it all becomes “me first”. The consumer seems to be at the top of every policy tree such that a trade deal delivering a lower cost bottle of wine is seen to justify putting our livestock farmers in further jeopardy downstream. A focus on the least cost, maximum availability, far from giving us more choice has led to dominance by the biggest and most powerful. We have experienced the dangers of this top-heavy over-reliance on the few many times over the past fifteen years or so, sector by sector. The vulnerabilities persist. Worse, the consumer-led, market-based approach has still not enabled us to define a fit-for-purpose Social Care system in tune with our needs and wants as people, parents and children. Our welfare system is scarcely more supportive with its high hurdles and deliberate, deterrent delays and it just became even less generous with the loss of the Covid uplift. Poverty may be a crime but it is rarely the poor who are guilty of it. 

Generosity should be the new watchword: generosity in our expectations of people; generosity in the opportunities we create for others; generosity in what we provide for the vulnerable; generosity in our recognition and thanks for the help and support we ourselves have received from the many around us – there is no such thing as being self-made. We should be generous, too, in our praise of the great exemplars in our midst.     


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