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.