Apparently the UK has a “social mobility tsar”, and she seems to think that people at the bottom of the ladder should lower their expectations. This seems rather defeatist to me.

It’s true that disappointment lies in the gap between reality and expectation, but my feeling is that a tsar, if they are to live up to such a grandiose job title, should have higher expectations of themselves, and work at addressing the systemic biases that make it difficult for segments of society to succeed.

I’m reminded of Margaret Thatcher quoting the Serenity Prayer as she became Prime Minister: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Surely a government tsar should have the power and courage to change rather more than the height of people’s ambitions?

This blog post follows on from my posts on The Tyranny of Merit and the Eton/Oxford chumocracy, and I share a few thoughts on how people can be supported in their flourishing – or at the very least, not actively disadvantaged by the systems that are supposed to help them.

There is much that tsar Katharine Birbalsingh says (according to this article) that makes sense – idealising dramatic rags-to-riches stories can create dissatisfaction (and the gossip mags already have that covered anyway), creating more jobs in the regions so young people don’t feel compelled to move to London, making sure that those of more limited capacities aren’t left behind, and suggesting that university (with the associated student debt) doesn’t make sense for everybody. And it’s also possible that she might have said something truly inspiring that wasn’t included in the article.

But as reported, her vision is disappointingly anti-aspirational.

Paid work takes up most of the average adult’s waking hours, and much of their headspace. As well as paying the bills, it can be their primary path to personal growth and evolution. It can give them a sense of self-worth and confidence – who knows, maybe even joy. To do meaningful work and be properly paid for it is a worthwhile and appropriate desire. In a supposedly civilised society, it could even be said to be a human right.

Ms Birbalsingh has presumably thought about this a great deal more than I have – she presumably gets paid to do this, while I’m just jotting down a few thoughts for a blog post on a Thursday morning – and far be it from me to tell her how to do her job, but here’s what I would have liked to have seen included in her vision:

  • An education system that nurtures a wider range of forms of intelligence: the current system prioritises numeracy and language, and according to Howard Gardner there are at least 6 other kinds of intelligence, all of which are valuable to society but are under-valued in schools, denting students’ confidence early in life
  • Better funding for schools, including paying teachers a salary that does justice to the importance of the work they do and attracts high-calibre individuals
  • Free education for all up to the end of an undergraduate degree, while also acknowledging that university isn’t a good use of time for everybody, so also…
  • … Expansion of apprenticeship schemes, especially for practical trades and the creative arts
  • Less inequality between the highest paid and the lowest paid, through raising the minimum wage, increasing taxation on high incomes, and curbing bonuses
  • Support, both financial and advisory, for entrepreneurs and solopreneurs, so more people can create jobs and businesses they love

Plus ways to improve health, social connection, and the standard of living through better support/subsidies for things like community gardens and agriculture schemes, and sports facilities and playing fields.

These are just my ideas. I’d love to hear your ideas. There are countless ways that our social systems could be improved, and I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface. Please let me know what you think!


Other Stuff:

I note that Boris Johnson’s ethics advisor has quit. I can’t help wondering if the wrong man resigned. And why do politicians need an ethics advisor anyway? Don’t we have our own inner Jiminy Cricket to let us know when we’re not in integrity? But maybe I’m being disingenuous – I can imagine that the intersection between “politics” and “ethics” can become mighty complicated, which maybe tells us something about the nature of the political beast…

I had a fabulous time at the Fifteen Seconds Festival in Graz, Austria, last week. We had a wonderful panel discussion about the Circular Economy, and then I did a solo talk about chaos as a catalyst for positive change, drawing on material from my upcoming book, The Ocean in a Drop. I’d like to give a special thank you to Aurel Hosennen for doing a fantastic job of moderating the panel, Bernd and Barbara for reminding me that my story is part of the Look Inside Yourself trainings created by former Google “jolly good fellow” Chade-Meng Tan. Also thanks to Sandy, John, Lisa, Allen, Nino and Ellen for the fun, food and friendship.

[Photos by Ellen Leanse]

Speaking solo


With Erinch, Alpaslan, Shikha and Aurel on the panel


Featured Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

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