Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Date: 31st October 2011

How to Make a Life

You are a citizen when you are defined by your contribution, by what you create in the company of others, not by what you consume…

We need to find ways for all of us to act together as citizens on the truth in Winston Churchill’s statement: “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”

Mike Green from Citizenship and Person-Centred Work

Modern economic and social theory has failed to capture this important dimension of citizenship. Philosophical theories like utilitarianism and liberalism and the accounts of rationality used by modern economics are badly distorted by their inability to understand the need to give, the need to contribute and the reality of obligations.

The Medicine We Bring

I believe what Native Americans believe: that every person born to this earth is born with gifts. It’s totally impossible to be born without them. No one’s birth was a mistake. We all come here with something to give. And it is in the giving that these gifts become medicine, for the world, for the tribe, for the family the school, the agency. The health and the wholeness and the vitality of any community requires 100% participation of every member of that community. 

Denise Bissonnette from Citizenship and Person-Centred Work

This is a hard truth. It demands that we ask ourselves what has been lost and what will be lost every time a child with a disability is terminated before its birth, or killed just after its birth. What is lost every time an older person or a person with disabilities is ‘hurried towards death’ or is just left, segregated, within a care home.

It seems that society doesn’t always want to take its medicine.

We are choosing to be the kind of society that only values the shallow and the temporary. We want to be happy, at any price; but we don’t want to have to show love, pay attention or take care. Perhaps we think we already have all that it takes to be human within ourselves – we just don’t need other people. Or perhaps we only value the famous, the rich and the powerful.

But, if this is so, we are on a long journey to deep disappointment.

True value cannot be found within inevitably scare and fleeting moments of celebrity or in the enjoyment of rare pleasures. True value lies all around us – in every moment, in every person – but it can only be found in love – not self-indulgence.

Citizenship and Higher Purpose

Citizenship is related three ideals of democracy that are at the core of person-centred work. First, all people are created equal, which means that everyone is equally entitled to reach for their higher purpose. Second, in order to reach for higher purpose there must be equal opportunities to do so. Third, our work as citizens is not simply to receive but to give back; not to reach for our own higher purpose, but to do so in a way that contributes to the greater good. Pursuing these ideals strengthens society and enriches culture for us all.

Beth Mount from Citizenship and Person-Centred Work

Beth Mount is the real inventor of person-centred planning, although her work has largely gone unrecognised in the UK – perhaps because in her hands it is too subtle for the kind of industrialised approach that was encouraged by the Valuing People White Paper.

What is important about what Beth is saying here is that notions such as person-centredness must also be tied to a broader concern with citizenship. This means making two changes to how we currently think about both ideas.

First, we must recognise that the notion of person-centredness only really makes sense – and it does make sense – if we begin to see human life as having real purpose where each individual has their own purpose, their own distinctive role to play. Human beings are not just animals, merely meeting their needs; human beings are individuals, each with their own distinct contribution to make.

Second, we must stop treating citizenship as if it is primarily a political concept – that we are citizens because we are a certain kind of member of a certain kind of society. Citizenship is something we create, we create though our own individual contribution. This means it has an important and foundational moral character – it offers a pattern for how we should be with each other. This means that all of us can be citizens, can strive for citizenship, even when we live in a deeply paternalistic, meritocratic or oppressive society.

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