Helena Kennedy on Ethics in a Changing World: what is the common good?

Travelling between meetings I heard Helena Kennedy on Radio 4’s Start the Week, trailing her speech on Thursday on Ethics in a Changing World. Long overdue as a topic, and great that Helena is addressing what makes for the common good. She speaks about losing the capacity to feel shame, and the value we put on public service.

What my work on cross-sector collaboration has taught me is that just as people stand most to gain from appreciating one another’s strengths and weaknesses, and working with them, so do sectors and organizations. Both the previous UK government and this one are ambivalent about the nature of the relationship between government, business and civil society: Blair, Brown and Cameron/Clegg see the value of dialogue between the sectors, but do not how how to make it a genuine conversation. Ministers in this government understand better intuitively how to relate to civil society organizations – valuing them as independent of government, not seeing them just as adjuncts of policy delivery- than many of their predecessors in the past government. But Cameron/Clegg have a lot yet to prove: many in the charity sector will not see this government’s commitment to the Big Society as meaningful and positive until civil society organizations themselves can show how the current environment has been liberating for them, and produced more benefits than under Labour. As for business, Blair and Brown established positive leadership on tackling climate change, and business valued that kind of political leadership. Cameron/Clegg need to do the same for skills and critical infrastructure.  

Basic dialogues are exchanges of set-piece positions (better than monologues which cut out the other); more advanced dialogues, indeed conversation at its best, are present to what emerges in the dynamic interaction between two people, or within a group. The task of a mediator (Helena and I have both been recently accredited as CEDR mediators) is to bring out what people really want to communicate despite, rather because of, the agenda that they set themselves. Only in so doing can communication be creative, and begin to become productive. The web makes it more possible that we can create environments where we can speak to one another as a group defined by a common good, even if, or precisely because, none of us has all the answers. I do not know what my pschoanalytic colleagues would say, but a free flowing conversation taps the unconscious “constructively”, because it allows for enough “play”. As Donald Winnicott once said, play is not the opposite of work – but of coercion.             

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2 Responses to Helena Kennedy on Ethics in a Changing World: what is the common good?

  1. John Carlisle says:

    I am not sure of this mediation thing. When is it needed, does it actually get in the way or create a dependency, and when should it stop? Whilst I would be happy to sit at the feet of Helena Kennedy or Lucian while they make their case I would lose part of my flow if in what should be a normal conversation I was aware of their presence and role.Do you know David Bohm? "…awakening…the process of dialogue itself as a free flow of meaning among all the participants. In the beginning, people were expressing fixed positions, which they were tending to defend, but later it became clear that to maintain the feeling of friendship in the group was much more important than to hold any position. Such friendship has an impersonal quality in the sense that its establishment does not depend on a close personal relationship between participants. A new kind of mind thus beings to come into being which is based on the development of a common meaning that is constantly transforming in the process of the dialogue. People are no longer primarily in opposition, nor can they be said to be interacting, rather they are participating in this pool of common meaning which is capable of constant development and change." David Bohm – Unfolding Meaning p 175This I can revel in.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Most conversations of course are, and should be, between two people. Mediation is useful if there is a dispute, or if not a dispute, a situation where two parties cannot easily by themselves address a challenge and overcome it. But rather than put the responsibility on a third party to find the solution, or take on the risk, they themselves do so, with the mediator’s facilitation.The reason for mentioning mediation on the topic of conversation is more to do with the thinking behind it – going beyond set piece positions, exploring needs and interests, and enabling people to take decisions themselves.

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